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Raiders murky future, Jordan Love’s play, NFL power rankings and more

The Las Vegas Raiders only identity over the past 20 years has been failure and chaos. It needs to change, but the issues are myriad.

Who are the Raiders?

For decades, team owner Al Davis made sure his franchise — whether in Oakland or Los Angeles — had an identity. They were tough. They threw the deep ball. The flaunted the rules. They kicked ass.

Throughout the 1970s and ’80s, only the Miami Dolphins won more games than the Raiders (198-189). They won three Super Bowls and dominated with household names such as quarterback Ken Stabler, defensive lineman Howie Long, Greg Townsend and Lyle Alzado, linebackers Ted Hendricks and Matt Millen, and offensive linemen Jim Otto, Gene Upshaw and Art Shell.

In the current century, the organization is 133-203 for a win percentage of .396. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns aren worse. For the Raiders, they have as many relocations as playoff wins since 2003.

The Raiders were a brand. An iconic one.

Now? The brand stands for nothing. It’s a transient franchise with no philosophy and most importantly, no touchstone wins.

In 2017, the Raiders hired Jon Gruden to replace Jack Del Rio after a 6-10 season. Gruden, who coached Oakland from 1998-2001 before being traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, returned home. He did so on an outrageous 10-year, $100 million deal.

Through three years, Gruden’s contract looks more albatross than genius. The Raiders are 19-29 with zero playoff appearances. With Davis being one of the league’s more cash-poor owners, Gruden has ultimate job security despite his lackluster record.

When Gruden took over, his first major move was jettisoning star edge rusher Khalil Mack and two draft picks to the Chicago Bears for two first-round choices, along with third and sixth-round selections. Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock turned those picks into running back Josh Jacobs, corner Damon Arnette, receiver Bryan Edwards and, through trades of those picks, Maxx Crosby among others.

While Crosby is promising and Jacobs is a quality back, nobody would send Mack away in his prime for that package.

The Mack trade is only one example of the ineptitude we’ve seen from the Raiders during Gruden’s tenure. They traded a 2018 third-round pick for receiver Martavis Bryant, who played eight games in sliver and black before being released.

The following year, Oakland acquired another mercurial receiver from the Pittsburgh Steelers, this time Antonio Brown. The Raiders surrendered third and fifth-round picks in the deal. Unlike with Bryant, Brown never played a down in silver and black before being cut.

Entering 2021, Las Vegas still has Gruden (for seven more seasons) and Mayock running the show. The Raiders lag significantly behind the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers in the AFC West, largely because their defense can’t typically stop Patrick Mahomes or Justin Herbert.

Offensively, Derek Carr is fine, but he’s also entering the penultimate year of his contract with 2022 holding no guaranteed money and a $19.8 million in cap savings if he’s released. He’ll be 31 years old next offseason, leaving the Raiders to either extend the division’s third-best quarterback, or move on while knowing Door No. 2 isn’t always better.

The decision on Carr is critical, but it won’t matter if the franchise doesn’t begin to function properly. Over the last two years, the Raiders have gotten off to good starts before fumbling down the stretch, finishing 7-9 and 8-8 respectively. Some of the 2020 losses were meltdowns, famously including the Week 16 loss to the Dolphins at home. It speaks to a culture built more on emotion than process or scheme, resulting in wild swings from week-to-week.

Right now, the Raiders are the new toy in Las Vegas. They’ll sell out every game because it’s the NFL, and the honeymoon phase is still in effect. However, if the losses mount and the lack of recognizable stars continues, interest will wane and Allegiant Stadium will be packed with visiting fans heading to the Vegas Strip for a long weekend.

Gruden enters Year 4 of his program no further along than he was on Day 1. The Raiders are an afterthought, just another franchise hoping for everything to break right.

For decades, the Raiders meant something. They were important. They were the NFL.

Today, the Raiders are a reminder of once was.

Power rankings

Top 10 dome teams of all time

1. 1999 St. Louis Rams (13-3, won Super Bowl XXXIV, Kurt Warner won MVP)
2. 1998 Minnesota Vikings (15-1, lost NFCCG, set points scored record)
3. 2009 New Orleans Saints (13-3, won Super Bowl XLIV, seven Pro Bowlers)
4. 2009 Indianapolis Colts (14-2, lost Super Bowl XLIV, won first 14 games)
5. 2001 St. Louis Rams (14-2, lost Super Bowl XXXVI, Marshall Faulk won MVP)
6. 2006 Indianapolis Colts (12-4, won Super Bowl XLI, five Pro Bowlers)
7. 1998 Atlanta Falcons (14-2, lost Super Bowl XXXIII, first dome team in SB)
8. 2016 Atlanta Falcons (13-3, lost Super Bowl LI, Matt Ryan won MVP)
9. 1979 Houston Oilers (11-5, lost AFCCG, six Pro Bowlers)
10. 2015 Arizona Cardinals (13-3, lost NFCCG, seven Pro Bowlers)

Quotable

“For me, at the end of the day, I believe in me. I know what I have in the tank. And we talking about age is 32. I’m young. In football, you can say it’s old, but you either do it or you don’t. This game don’t change for me. I’m still fast and still strong. And too, the games last year, I just had an issue where I didn’t take enough time to heal up properly. That was just my decision on going out there and just playing. There’s no excuses, things like that. I’ll be ready to go.”

– Tennessee Titans receiver Julio Jones on returning from injury and his expectations for 2021

I wrote extensively last week about Tennessee acquiring Jones and what it means for the Titans entering training camp, and the motivational factor shouldn’t be forgotten. After playing only nine games for a miserable team last year, Jones will be amped up on a franchise with real upside. If he’s healthy, there’s a case for he and A.J. Brown as the league’s best perimeter duo.

Podcast

Random stat

The Cincinnati Bengals have the longest drought of not drafting a First-Team All-Pro player. The last instance was 2010, when they took defensive tackle Geno Atkins.

The Denver Broncos (2011, Von Miller) and Buccaneers (2012, Doug Martin) were the closest competition.

Info learned this week

1. Russell Wilson makes clear he’s happy to be with Seahawks

An offseason of smoldering trade talk, dashed in a single day.

Last week, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson talked to media after OTAs and clarified his stance on going forward with the only pro team he’s ever known. The former Wisconsin star said although he was frustrated after the campaign, which ended in an upset loss to the Rams in the Wild Card round, he doesn’t want to be dealt away.

For Seattle, this is welcome news. Without Wilson, the Seahawks would be the worst team by a significant margin in the NFC West both now and into the future. Additionally, with the 69-year-old Pete Carroll at the helm, the time to win is now.

Wilson, 32, is entering his 10th season in Seattle. After reaching the Super Bowl in his second and third campaigns, the Seahawks are yet to reach another NFC Championship Game. Playing behind makeshift lines and on run-dominant offenses, Wilson apparently reached something of a breaking point after another postseason ousting.

The positive for Wilson? Seattle general manager John Schneider built ups round him this winter, adding guard Gabe Jackson via trade before signing tight end Gerald Everett away from the Rams.

With D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett on the outside, an improved line and a quality back in Chris Carson, Wilson and the offense must perform optimally to wallpaper over a middling defense. If it can, the Seahawks are a top-flight contender in the NFC.

2. Dolphins keep young, core piece in Baker

Miami is building a youthful roster with staying power. On Sunday, it took another step.

The Dolphins signed 24-year-old linebacker Jerome Baker to a three-year, $39 million extension with $28 million guaranteed. Baker, who has racked up an average of 101 tackles over his three NFL seasons (228 in the past two), anchors a unit largely built on a secondary which includes expensive corners Byron Jones and Xavien Howard. Now, the front seven gets more settled.

While Baker getting $13 million annually — seventh among non-EDGE linebackers — is a nice chunk, it’ll likely represent a bargain in future years. The salary cap is set to explode in 2023 with the influx of new TV and streaming deals, and when it does, the cap hits which seem large now will become average.

For Miami, a team with cap flexibility, signing Baker a year early is a smart move. Keep from having to sink money into a large franchise tag while also sending a message to the locker room: perform and get paid.

3. Le’Veon Bell makes poor decision with slam of Andy Reid

If you’re waiting for a reunion between Le’Veon Bell and the Chiefs, it might be time to move on.

After being released at midseason by the Jets, Bell signed on Oct. 17 with Kansas City. Looking for a title after distinguished seasons with the Steelers, Bell linked up with the Chiefs in a much-ballyhooed move at the time. The return was less than stellar, with the veteran back notching 254 yards and a pair of scores.

On Saturday, Bell let everyone know exactly how he feels about his brief tenure with the Chiefs. The free agent criticized Kansas City head coach Andy Reid on Instagram in a comment, typing “I’d never play again for Andy Reid, I’d retire first.”

After struggling mightily the past two seasons, Bell would be well-advised to lay low and take a one-year offer should it materialize. Going after a respected coach with legions of disciples around the league isn’t doing himself any favors.

While Bell might have a beef with Reid for not getting enough snaps, it’s equally possible Bell didn’t deserve them over rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire and veteran Darrel Williams.

4. Crux of mandatory minicamps are upon us

This week, 26 NFL teams hit the field for their mandatory minicamps — six have already finished theirs — signaling the end of the offseason programs.

After June 17, we won’t see teams at their facilities until late July, when training camps open up and we start revving up for the season ahead. While it’s a minor mile marker on the road to the Super Bowl, it’s something worth noting. We’re done with the main part of free agency, the draft and OTAs. In a few days, check minicamps off as well.

The main thing this week? Avoid serious injuries. Do that, and it was a rollicking success.

5. An extra history lesson with two all-time greats

June 11. Birthday of both Vince Lombardi and Joe Montana.

Montana turned 65 years old last week, a tough sentence to type for a guy who still feels young and yet grew to love Montana as his childhood icon. Time flies.

While he’s been eclipsed by Tom Brady in the eyes of many as the game’s best quarterback, Montana retains his luster. Four Super Bowls. 1990 NFL MVP. The ultimate comeback kid. Montana was ahead of his time in 49ers head coach Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense, using a combination of nimble feet and an accurate arm to destroy defenses on a weekly basis.

Happy Birthday, Joe.

As for Lombardi, he’s arguably the greatest coach in NFL history. In eight years with the Packers, he won five titles including the first two Super Bowls while appearing in six championship contests overall. His Green Bay Packers remain the only team to three-pear (1964-66) although because the first two are pre-Super Bowl era, it’s criminally forgotten by many.

Fun story on Lombardi: before getting into big-time football coaching, he started his odyssey while teaching at St. Cecilia’s High School in Englewood, N.J. There, he coached both on the gridiron and hardwood, taking the job as Boys Basketball coach despite never seeing a game. In 1945, he guided the team to a 21-3 mark and won the state championship. In football, he won a national title there in 1943. His quarterback? Joe Paterno.

Two cents

This past week, Carolina Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold and, most notably, Washington Football Team edge rusher Montez Sweat made unwanted headlines.

The topic? The COVID vaccine and whether it’s appropriate for media members to ask players about their stance on the topic.

While everyone deserves a right to medical privacy, it’s also something which will inevitably impact the league this season. Therefore, while each person asked about their status or opinion in relation to the vaccine has every right to deny answer, each of us in the media have a right to ask it.

Unquestionably, this is a subject with many viewpoints. Some fans believe players should be publicly aired out for not getting vaccinated. Others feel it shouldn’t be a talking point. I disagree with both sides. There’s a middle ground which must be deftly found.

Last season, the NFL bent constantly to make sure every regular-season game was played while trying to keep the integrity of each contest intact. Don’t expect the same flexibility now that players and teams can avoid outbreaks.

Ultimately, nobody likes talking or writing about this. I’m sick of it. I’m sure you’re sick of reading it. But the story around vaccination rates in the NFL is a monster, because come autumn, it could play a role in who wins and loses more than a few times.

Bottom line: teams that are more vaccinated than others have an advantage, and we’re duty bound to know which those are. The only way to find out? Ask.

Inside the league

We’ve seen plenty of big trades this offseason, but we might not be done.

The Philadelphia Eagles and tight end Zach Ertz are still an item, but the expiration date is looming. Ertz hasn’t shown up to OTAs or minicamp, and with only one year remaining on his deal and the team’s internal fondness for backup Dallas Goedert evident, it’s seemingly only a matter of time before general manager Howie Roseman makes a deal.

I’ve reported extensively on this situation since last summer, when FanSided broke the news of contract talks being dead after brief extension talks in August. Since then, Ertz struggled through an injury-plagued 2020, where the Stanford product caught 36 passes for 335 yards and one touchdown over 11 games. In the previous three years, he was a Pro Bowler.

At 31 years old and with free agency on the horizon, the Eagles have a choice. They either accept a Day 3 pick for Ertz and move on, or play this out with a player looking for a fresh start.

As for the team who makes the most sense, the Buffalo Bills have been linked consistently to him. Buffalo has third-year man Dawson Knox, but he’s had issues with drops. Another team to watch? The Bears, who have former Eagles quarterbacks coach in John DeFilippo. He had a front-row seat to Ertz’s talents for two years and could push to add the veteran to pair with Cole Kmet.

As training camp approaches, so does a soft deadline to move Ertz. Keep an eye out.

History lesson

Monday Night Football is the longest-running show on television, dating back to 1970. The first game featured the Cleveland Browns hosting the Joe Namath-led New York Jets.

While there have been a litany of amazing individual performances through the 51 seasons, few were more impressive than Dick Anderson’s in 1973.

The Dolphins’ cornerback intercepted four passes against the Pittsburgh Steelers, returning two of them for touchdowns. Anderson, who won Defensive Player of the Year that season, led the league with eight thefts and recorded half of them on a single night.

Miami won the game 30-26 in front of a delirious Orange Bowl crowd before repeating as Super Bowl champs a few months later.

Parting shot

Of any remaining free agent, Richard Sherman is the most intriguing.

Despite being 33 years old, Sherman brings both name and talent to whatever team he signs with.  Although he missed 11 games for the San Francisco 49ers last year, Sherman has largely been durable throughout his 10-year career, a stint which has included five Pro Bowls and three First-Team All-Pro squads.

Last week, Sherman noted he’s waiting to play for a contender. Looking at rosters of the top teams, the Packers could use a corner. So to could the Bills or Chiefs, among others. However, perhaps the best fit? Sherman’s old haunt, the Seattle Seahawks.

The Seahawks lost Shaquill Griffin in free agency when he signed a three-year deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars in March and haven’t replaced him. Sherman isn’t the long-term answer, but for a team with championship aspirations, he’d be a good fit for 2021, especially being so familiar with the scheme and infrastructure.

Seattle needs a corner and Sherman needs a home. What a story that would be.




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