PFT 2019 storyline No. 5: Will the Raiders’ chemistry experiment work?

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Hard Knocks is coming. For better or worse.

As the annual training-camp non-real reality show prepares to descend on the Raiders, the Raiders will be preparing for their last year in Oakland. The Raiders made it clear, weeks before accepting the assignment, that they didn’t want to do it.

So why didn’t they want to do it? Jon Gruden arguably is the most media-savvy coach in NFL history, with a nine-year stint at ESPN making him an even better communicator than he already was. Once a team with a strong national following, a decade-and-a-half of mediocre-at-best performances from the Raiders have turned a previously potent brand sluggish and stale. What better way to begin the process of turning things around as the team prepares to move to Las Vegas than with an exclusive five-week platform on HBO?

The real answer may rest in concerns that the current iteration of the Raiders represents a chemistry experiment at best, a Frankenstein monster at worst. The organization has collected pieces and parts that may or may not fit together, starting with the rush trade for (they got a great deal) and pay (they possibly didn’t get a great deal) receiver Antonio Brown.

But the potentially strange brew and combustible stew goes beyond Antonio Brown, who talked and tweeted his way out of a franchise that had one of the best quarterbacks in the league under center. The Raiders also paid a gigantic premium to Trent Brown, a failed right tackle who turned a right-place, right-time, right-team stint as a left tackle in New England into a major free-agent deal. So the Raiders forked over record money, and then flipped Brown back to the position at which he previously struggled.

The Raiders also used a hard-earned fourth overall pick on defensive end Clelin Ferrell, a perceived reach who will be relentlessly comparied to Khalil Mack, despite any and all protestations from the team that Ferrell isn’t supposed to be the next Mack. Another first-round pick went to running back Josh Jacobs, who will be expected to step right in and make fans forget about Oakland native Marshawn Lynch. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, not great.

Then came the embrace of guard Richie Incognito, a volatile and combustible personality who won’t be a problem until he is. The move epitomizes Gruden’s current desperation to win, with the franchise securing a certain amount of cover from its history of embracing and celebrating renegades.

At the core of all of it continues to be quarterback Derek Carr. A fringe MVP candidate in 2016 and for a month or so in 2017 the highest-paid player in league history, Carr has had a couple of so-so seasons — prompting the team to kick tires on rookies Kyler Murray and Dwayne Haskins. When pressed on the interest in a couple of first-round rookies, G.M. Mike Mayock provided an ominous assessment regarding the potential future of Carr, whose guaranteed money under his once-record-setting contract expires this year.

“Derek Carr is a franchise quarterback, and we believe that,” Mayock said in April. “Beyond that, just like at any other position, we’re going to do our due diligence. If we found somebody we liked better, or thought had a bigger upside, you’ve got to do the right thing for the organization.”

Teams rarely talk with such tear-the-name-off-the-back-of-the-jersey candor regarding the starting quarterback, but Mayock went there. Which made Carr’s boast from later in the offseason even more bizarre: “This is my team and it will be for the next however long I want to play.”

Clearly, Derek Carr doesn’t understand how the NFL works. Few players who intend to play for a team as long as they want actually get to do it. The team, as Mayock admitted, always will do what’s in the best interests of the team, and that means far more often than not sending player after player after player through an always-revolving door.

Gruden and Mayock didn’t draft Carr; they inherited him. And Gruden will always be looking for a short-list franchise quarterback, until he gets one. Carr at best — at best — resides in the middle of the pack, and there will be no excuses this year, not with Antonio Brown as the top option in the passing game.

Think of it this way: If the chemistry experiment/Frankenstein monster that starts and ends with A.B. fails, whose fault will it be? Brown’s? Nope. Gruden’s? Nope. Mayock’s? Nope. If the Raiders fail to get the most out of Antonio Brown, it will be the fault of the guy who will be under immense pressure to deliver the ball with the same underrated precision that Ben Roethlisberger delivered it for nine years in Pittsburgh.

If Derek Carr can step up, great for him and the Raiders. If he can’t, he’ll quite possibly be the highest-profile member of the organization to not enjoy the freedom from paying state income tax that goes with moving from California to Nevada.

31 responses to “PFT 2019 storyline No. 5: Will the Raiders’ chemistry experiment work?

  1. The three problems for the Raiders are: #1. The NFL, the difficulty of the schedule (most difficult), the travel. The later two are a result of the first.

  2. Raiders will take 3rd place in the AFC West. And will remain behind the Chiefs for the next decade. Andy Reid owns Gruden

  3. Saying Gruden inherited Carr is wrong. Gruden would not have taken the job if he didn’t like him. Had Gruden been frustrated with some of his play since he took over? Absolutely, but spear me he never wanted him.

  4. As a Raider fan for a very long time, i look at every season as 4-12. I have been done being a homer about things for a long time.

    Its time to look at facts.

    The offense ” should ” be good as long as the O-line can stay healthy. that was their biggest problem last year on offense and they had less talent. now they have alot more talent at skill positions so if the O-line can stay good then they should be able to score with anybody.

    The defense.

    Its just been flat out terrible for years now ” even with Mack “. they drafted some young solid guys, added a few vets, lets see what happens. I still think they have a ways to go before that defense can win them any games. but somtimes a offense that puts up alot of points can carry a bad defense ( look at KC last year ).

    couple that with hardest schedule in the NFL and traveling the most miles AND only playing 7 home games plus 2 months strait on the road.

    I hope for 9-7 10-6 but if the O-line falters again we are going to see 4-12.

  5. Teams like the Raiders complain about the hard schedule, but the reason for that is everyone is better than the Raiders. Particularly the Chargers and Chiefs. Never complained about the schedule in the 70’s and 80’s.

  6. As a chemistry experiment I’d say they’ve whipped up a load of Nitroglycerin. Potentially powerful, but liable to go off at any time and in the wrong place.
    Which is what I expect to happen when Brown & Co. get tired of Gruden’s shtick.

  7. Mr. Florio, I’m trying to remember the last time you took Jon Gruden’s words at face value. Can you help me out on this one? Gruden “made it clear” that the Raiders didn’t want to do Hard Knocks, and you chose this instance as the first time you ever believed what Gruden said? I think it’s a great article, and I’m just playing around here. But seriously, Gruden absolutely loves to be able to show the fans some things about the game that he thinks are important. He’ll show the cameras exactly what he wants. He was in that business for the last ten years, and he knows exactly what he wants to share. This is a dream come true for the Raiders. This was also an excellent article written by Florio. I can’t wait to watch Hard knocks (they should give you a cut of the proceeds).

  8. Kansas City will be scratching for wins this year because Mahomes will be hurt by week 3… Carr doesn’t get the credit be deserves Oakland will finish 10-6

  9. The Raiders didnt want to do Hard Knocks because they wanted preferential treatment for winning a couple of Super Bowls when Nixon was president. No team lives better in the past than Oakland, or is it LA or Vegas or soon to be Mexico.

  10. The media and the fans pointed out the difficulty of the schedule and, for contrast, how easy the Patriots schedule is. The Raiders are looking at this as a challenge. They need to get together as a team, focus on getting it done this year. Don’t they want a send off. I want them to be more like the 1980 Oakland Raiders, and less like the 1981 Raiders. The Raiders love Oakland, but todays NFL is not the same as it was 40 years ago, or even 20 years ago. Go Raiders!

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    pftcensorsrliberalpukes says:
    July 21, 2019 at 3:07 pm
    Teams like the Raiders complain about the hard schedule, but the reason for that is everyone is better than the Raiders. Particularly the Chargers and Chiefs. Never complained about the schedule in the 70’s and 80’s.

  11. Jon Gruden as a communicator – loquacious, for sure. His MNF work was such torture for me that I kept the remote control mute button razor sharp and well oiled. Admittedly, compared to the 2018 and 2019 bunch, he was a hybrid of John Madden and Cris Collinsworth. But, I’ll declare him my favorite coach and wish him all success, if it will keep him out of the booth.

  12. Hey “Mlhigh”, three comments out of twenty two come from a Broncos fan with serious RDS(Raider Derangement Syndrome). The Broncos could win three more Super Bowls and still wouldn’t be as relevant as the Raiders…

  13. AB hustled my beloved Steelers to get a better contract. He was only able to pull it off because he his the best WR in the game. He’s a maniacal worker. Rookie Josh Jacobs is no joke and Carr is not as bad as people think. Richie Incognito is a mauler in the run game. They want to play well for the Black Hole in a farewell tour. Dysfunction becomes function. Raiders go 9-7.

  14. While it’s true the decision rests with the team, I took Carr’s remarks to mean he intends to make their decision to keep him as long as wants to be there an absolute no brainer. That would be by a sterling performance. Why would anyone think him so foolish or obtuse as to think he could affect it any other way?

  15. The NFL is entertainment above all else, and few teams will be more entertaining this year, win or lose. Honestly the Chiefs are one of the most fun to watch as well. Browns, Ravens and Jets will get a lot of my attention as well. Should be a fun year, even if my favorite team sleepwalks through another season in Seattle

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