When Jon Gruden came to town, people weren’t thinking it was time for a rebuild. However, six months into the Gruden experience? It seemed like it might be the only option. Gone were Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper and in their place, the Raiders were flush with first round picks in the 2019 and 2020 NFL Draft — picks they were desperately in need of given their overall lack of talent.
For many, this would be a long and slow process. But then came Day 1 of the 2019 free agent tampering period and it appears that Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have other ideas.
On Saturday night, the Raiders made the biggest move any team will make this off-season in trading for arguably the league’s best receiver, Antonio Brown. In an instant, an offense completely void of NFL talent became a lot closer to dangerous — and it only cost them a third and fifth round pick.
My initial thought — beyond pure excitement — was how this move might impact the next few days as free agency inched towards the starting line. Would this be the type of thing that lets free agents know the Raiders are interested in winning soon? It was a genuine question because no free agent wants to sit through multiple years of growing pains as young guys learn the ropes.
My question was answered resoundingly over the next 72 hours as the Raiders made a couple of key re-signings and then a pair of expensive new signings — all of which communicated the message that 2019 will not be a throw-away year.
Last week, the Raiders re-signed guard Denzelle Good and then on Sunday, they re-signed defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins — both of whom figure to be starters or key rotational pieces this season.
Then came Monday.
Nine minutes after the tampering period opened, the Raiders had reportedly reached an agreement with offensive tackle Trent Brown on a four-year deal that would make him the highest paid tackle in football. For many, this move was confusing. For a team with so many desperate needs, why an offensive tackle? After all, this was not even 12 months after the team spent two of their first three draft picks on tackles last season!
The answer, it seems, lies in looking around the division the Raiders play in. When you face Von Miller, Bradley Chubb, Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Dee Ford and others so consistently, you had better get your tackles right. In Brown, the Raiders get a 25-year-old player they clearly believe can be a long-time starter to pair with last year’s first round draft pick, Kolton Miller. And with a quarterback who got knocked around a lot last season, I’m not sure there’s a price too high to pay for that.
But the Raiders weren’t even done yet. As the day came to a close, news broke that the Raiders had reached another (expensive) agreement, this time on the defensive side of the ball with Lamarcus Joyner. The deal is reported to be for four years and worth something in the neighborhood of $42 million.
Finally, the Raiders were doing something about that defense.
Joyner seemed like a perfect fit for the Raiders from the start — a guy who could pair with Karl Joseph at the safety position, as someone who was more primed to play the ‘center-field’ role that isn’t Joseph’s strong suit. In fact, Joyner could also slide in at slot corner if needed (moving newly re-signed Erik Harris back to safety), giving the Raiders some more coverage options — which they’ve desperately needed. Also of note is that Joyner is just 28 years old.
In sum, it was a busy — and exciting — day in Oakland. I know that seasons are not won in free agency, and that most deals struck quickly turn out poorly — but at the very least Raiders Nation got the message that this team wasn’t ready to roll over. The Raiders have definitely gotten better over the past few days and with four picks in the top 35 still in their control, the future remains bright.
As the sun rises on Tuesday, the Raiders still have plenty of cap space left — upwards of $30 million — and so it might be the case that they aren’t even done yet. Regardless, the future is brighter today than it was yesterday — and that’s a good thing.