When the Raiders decided to hire Jon Gruden to a 10-year 100 million contract two years ago, fans were ecstatic. The coach of the 2003 Super Bowl champion Buccaneers, who notoriously ran one of the toughest, precise teams year after year, who was respected by peers and subordinates, but feared by the opposition. Gruden had a very strong track record, but a 10-year contract worth 100 million dollars for a coach with a career winning percentage around 50% and who hadn’t coached in nine years was a bit extreme. With one subpar season in 2019 and another brewing in 2020, did the Las Vegas Raiders overestimate the value of Jon Gruden?
One thing is for certain; the Raiders are talented. They have Josh Jacobs, Darren Waller, and three of the best linemen in the NFL. On the offensive side of the ball, the Raiders have proven themselves as an offensive threat. The Raiders have a top-ten scoring offense and are top-five in yards through Week 16, but their team scoring defense is one of the worst in the league. Their roster is loaded with talent, but most of it tends to be on the offensive side of the ball, which is ironic considering Gruden’s past as a defensive-minded coach.
The problem with judging the Raiders is how streaky they are. In 2019 they finished 7-9 in Gruden’s first year as coach. In 2020, things started great at 6-3 and even handing the defending Super Bowl champion Cheifs their sole loss of 2020; but, since then, the Raiders were annihilated by the Falcons and beat the winless Jets on a hail mary, and now have lost three in a row. This takes them out of playoff contention, and into preparation for the offseason.
The Raiders roster is by no means the most talented in the NFL, but they have the pieces to win games. In 2020, the Raiders’ poor clock management and late-game discipline lost them games against the Chargers, the Chiefs, and, most recently, the Dolphins. There is blame to be put on players in some scenarios, but Gruden needs to be held responsible for clock management and questionable play-calling in late-game situations. For a newer coach, that is understandable, but for a veteran, Super Bowl champion coach, there is no excuse.
The Raiders have Gruden for eight more years on contract. Mediocrity was not expected when signing such a giant deal and should not be a trend. I would assume Gruden is on the hot seat after two poor seasons, and a third could put him out of a job. With the Raiders having the 8th least cap space going into the offseason, moves will have to be made to bring in a big-name free agent or even multiple supporting players. Will the Raiders season have a different outcome in 2021, or will the sub-par streak continue?