Mark Davis’ gamble to reel in Jon Gruden — using a record contract as the bait, along with tons of control — is either going to be a glorious stroke of genius or result in a resounding thud. That said, it had to be done.
The Oakland Raiders made one of the biggest splashes in NFL history last winter when the league approved the franchise’s relocation to Las Vegas. This move was especially thrilling for the organization considering the Raiders had just managed to get into the playoffs for the first time since 2004 and featured one of the hottest young quarterbacks in the NFL, Derek Carr.
There was a ton of positive momentum for this team heading into the 2017 season, even though many fans in Northern California felt spurned by the decision to move. Still, anyone who’s been to a game in Oakland knows the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum is a dump, and despite the efforts of folks like Ronnie Lott and his investor group, it wasn’t very feasible to build a new stadium in the Bay Area.
The Raiders made another huge splash to bring Marshawn Lynch back to the league and play for his hometown team. Derek Carr also landed a huge contract extension that was, at the time, the richest in NFL history. Those moves, plus everything that transpired in 2016 with the team’s 12-4 record, had the fan base ready to celebrate. And for a little while, it appeared the 2017 season was going to be one worth celebrating.
Of course, then the wheels fell off. The Raiders went into an unrecoverable tailspin, finishing the season with a record of 6-10, well outside the playoffs. Jack Del Rio was fired immediately after the final game, with the coach actually breaking the news himself in his post-game press conference. There are rumors the Marshawn Lynch experiment won’t be renewed for a second season, and it’s been reported Michael Crabtree is on his way out, too.
It was exactly what a team that is trying to sell seats in a new stadium that’s not even built yet didn’t need to see happen. Gruden’s hire (he’s set to be announced Tuesday, per multiple reports) was exactly the kind of splash Mark Davis had to make.
Sure, it was extremely high risk — Gruden hasn’t coached since 2008, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were on a decline when he retired. But the rewards should Gruden reignite the “Just Win, Baby” Raider way are tremendous.
And make no mistake about it, if Carr can play at a high level, and if the Raiders can fix their defense, this is a team capable of contending for multiple championships. This league is all about the quarterback, and we know that Gruden has a knack for developing them.
If Gruden can turn the Raiders around and produces a perennial playoff contender, then he will spark a wildfire of interest in this team as it moves to Las Vegas. The move is reportedly going to happen either in 2019 or 2020, so Gruden has to get right to work to make it happen. But if he does, then the Raiders will have no trouble selling PSL’s in Vegas.
The new stadium will have that extra bit of sparkle, hosting a team on the rise.
Of course, the converse is also true. If Mark Davis’ Jon Gruden gamble goes bust, then the Raiders are going to be up a creek without a paddle.