The Sorry Saga in Oakland has more than one winner but it won’t be the Raiders
In sport, as in life itself, it is always too easy to say, “I knew it would happen” or, “I told you so,” but football fans all around the world are saying this very phrase right now as Antonio Brown left the Raiders and within hours became a New England Patriot.
Some form of a meltdown between the Raiders and their star receiver, who was picked up for just two mid-round draft picks from the Steelers in the Spring, was inevitable. The man simply known as A.B. will now join the New England Patriots sidelines for this season.
To see where this has all gone wrong, we have to rewind to January 2018 when coach Jon Gruden returned to the NFL after nearly ten years of being away. He then took on a huge 10-year contract with the Raiders. Last season – his first season back in the saddle – saw a 4-12 losing season. The rebuild is still on.
Trading away Khalil Mack, who has quickly become the lynchpin in an impressive Bears defensive setup, for two first-round picks as well as Amari Cooper, who has been steadily rebuilding his career with the Cowboys, has been a clear signal that Gruden and the Raiders management see this as a long-haul project. So why, when the tactic appears to rebuild with veterans and drafted young, hard-working, dependable, coachable players in the Gruden mold, would they take a relatively short term punt on a player who is undoubtedly one of the best in his position but who clearly outstayed his welcome in Pittsburgh?
Perhaps it was just too difficult to turn it down, much like being offered a Ferrari at the price of a Honda while forgetting that it must do the heavy lifting on Jon Gruden’s somewhat lumpen farmyard.
With the entire organization moving next season to the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas, it had to be worth gambling on a player who has caught 686 passes in the last six years. But, the house always wins and it will come as no surprise to a Raiders fan, that the house is not their own.
And whilst Gruden will continue trying to build a black and silver clad army of players willing to run through walls without so much as a question in return, the poker-faced Bill Belichick will roll the dice on another troubled star. Having already taken on reinstated receiver Josh Gordon, the Patriots will hope Brown can help fill the Rob Gronkowski hole in Tom Brady’s offensive options. The odds look to be in the Patriots favor on this one. The Raiders could hardly look at the Patriots as a direct rival at this stage of their project. You have to ask questions of an organization who saw Randy Moss make the same move just over a decade ago only to find him eternally staring back at them from his place in the hall of fame.
Perhaps the Raiders had gambled on using the HBO cameras following them through the off-season as a way of building a new fanbase in Las Vegas, hoping that air of drama could capture enough interest to see their shiny new stadium full come next September. It’s hard to imagine a coach such as Gruden approving of such a move until you remember the almost unprecedented job security he might feel with 9 years to run on his contract. Whether that is true or not is irrelevant after the short video Brown posted over the weekend with the recorded conversation he had with Gruden. “Just play football,” you can hear the coach plead with his player over shots of Brown in training. The 90-second clip was far and away more revealing and interesting than anything in this latest series of Hard Knocks.
After an especially strange summer for Brown, there were assurances that he was ready to play preceding his ultimate release. The summer started with an odd cryotherapy injury to Brown’s feet, followed by a bizarre legal challenge about his helmet and then reports of a series of altercations with Raiders management. After apologies to his teammates, he was released. The scriptwriters certainly had enough drama to tap into.
Perhaps the most telling thing said in the youtube videos from Brown is him saying, “I’m more than just a football player.” It’s clear that the Raiders don’t want much more than a football player. Gruden and General Manager, Mike Mayock, want what they appear to want – the army; the herd of cattle steamrolling their way to victory and with personalities to match. And so, one year into the ten-year road map to supposed success, a superstar has come and gone without even playing a game and the saga looks set to rumble on throughout the season with Brown always able to produce a headline or two.
Whether or not the Raiders have handed the Patriots a route back into the Super Bowl will be seen come post-season, however at the cost of two draft picks and a whole host of bad publicity. There are a host of winners and only one loser – the Raiders.
Contributing Author – Rees Dale