Photo credit: @BleacherReport
By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
OAKLAND — For those who thought it was a cold-blooded move by Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis to fire former head coach Jack Del Rio 20 minutes after a 30-10 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers to close out a disappointing 2017 at 6-10, let me just put you at ease:
It was rightfully timed, but honestly, it could’ve came earlier in the year.
In fact, Davis’ frustration can be traced back to Week 4. After starting the season 2-0 with impressive wins against the Tennessee Titans and New York Jets, the Raiders would go on to lose their next four straight games, bringing their record to 2-4.
Following a 2-2 stretch in late November and early December that pulled the Raiders into a three-way tie in the AFC West at 6-6, the Raiders never looked like the team that finished 12-4 in 2016 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
Davis didn’t talk to reporters after Oakland’s fourth straight loss to end the season, but those close to the owner have said that Davis has grown frustrated with the team’s lackluster performance, most notably on the offensive side of the football, after committing big money contracts to quarterback Derek Carr and offensive linemen Gabe Jackson, Donald Penn and Kelechi Osemele in recent seasons.
Davis wanted to turn the page quickly to 2018 and handing the keys to the franchise over to former Raiders head coach and current ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden was supposedly the way to do it.
According to multiple reports, Gruden is expected to be named the next head coach of the Oakland Raiders, which also includes an ownership stake in the team. No deal is official, but the deal is “imminent” according to the reports.
In his first stint with Oakland, Gruden compiled a 64-38 regular season record, including a 4-2 postseason record. Gruden also led the Raiders to the AFC Championship Game in 2000, but was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for draft picks following the 2001 season after a contract dispute with Mark’s father, Al.
Gruden would lead the Buccaneers to a 48-21 victory over the Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII following the 2002 season. During his seven years in West Florida, he was 112-57 in the regular season, including a 3-2 postseason record.
The reunion between the Raiders and Gruden makes sense. Gruden is beloved by Raider Nation in Oakland. He never wanted to leave the Silver and Black and had the team on the verge of a Super Bowl championship, and Davis desperately wants to win a Super Bowl for the City of Oakland before the team moves to Las Vegas in 2020.
Gruden’s eventual hiring will do wonders for the Raiders, but most notably for quarterback Derek Carr, who regressed a bit in 2017. Carr did suffer a broken bone in his back, where he missed just one game but didn’t look healthy or confident all year.
After back-to-back seasons of averaging 3,900 yards and 25 touchdowns for a 93.9 quarterback rating, Carr took a step back in 2017, throwing for just 3,496 yards and 22 touchdowns for a quarterback rating of 86.4.
In 2017, Carr threw 13 interceptions after throwing just six in 2016.
Carr’s top wide receivers, Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper, didn’t scare many teams this season. After an 89-catch, 1,003-yard receiving season in 2016, Crabtree finished with the season as the team’s leader in catches (58) and touchdowns (8) to go along with 618 yards in 14 games played after missing two games.
But Cooper’s 2017 season was just harder to figure out. Cooper was on his way of becoming one of the more electrifying wide receivers in the NFL with back-to-back 1,000-yards seasons, finished with just 680 yards receiving on 48 catches with seven touchdowns.
Tight end Jared Cook led Oakland in receiving yards with 688 on 54 catches for two touchdowns in his first season in Oakland.
But Carr is the the driver of the offense and Gruden will be tasked to repair a broken offense that finished 23rd in the NFL in scoring offense at 18.8 points per game in 2017 under first-time offensive coordinator Todd Downing after finishing fifth in scoring offense at 26.0 points per game in 2016 under then-offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.
Whispers around the organization suggest that Carr had a hand in the shakeup at offensive coordinator, switching from the demanding Musgrave to the laid back Downing.
Simply put, Carr and Downing were best buddies and Musgrave was the third wheel. Carr and Downing hated having Musgrave’s hands in the offensive popcorn bucket and had to go.
Musgrave’s contract wasn’t renewed after the 2016 concluded.
If/when Gruden is named head coach of the Raiders, Downing won’t be retained which will put Carr on notice immediately with the new coaching staff. Gruden, along with former franchise quarterback Rich Gannon who is rumored to join Gruden’s staff as the quarterback coach, will make it their personal goal to get every ounce of talent out of Carr.
From footwork to calling the plays in the huddle, Carr will be broken down and rebuilt by Gruden and Gannon.
In the end, the play of the the Raiders’ $125 million quarterback will determine the team’s success, but Gruden will be responsible for delivering the organization’s elusive fourth Super Bowl title it thirsts for.