When Jon Gruden was hired (re-hired?) as the coach of the Oakland Raiders earlier this year, he was handed a big, fat contract — perhaps the largest for a coach in NFL history — and a mandate to build a winner without delay.
For a coach who has effectively been out of the game for a decade, Gruden has been granted incredible — perhaps unilateral — power when it comes to the football side of the Raiders’ organization, and a few months into his tenure, it’s evident that he has no problem using it.
The result is a Raiders’ roster that appears to reflect the values and desires of the team’s old/new head coach.
The Raiders haven’t made too many splashes in free agency — they were in on only one top player, Ndamukong Suh, who canceled his visit to Oakland — but those players that Oakland has signed aren’t exactly prospects.
Doug Martin is 29 at a position where few remain relevant after 30, Jordy Nelson is 32 years old and without a doubt on the downslope of his career, and the Raiders signed not one, not two, but three defensive backs over 30.
The rest of the league has noticed, and the age of the Raiders’ offseason acquisitions has become an easy joke around the league.
But no one should be surprised that Gruden is opting to bring in veterans in his first offseason back in charge of the Raiders.
Gruden has always favored veterans because Gruden believes in systems.
And when you believe that systems win football games, the top attribute any player can have is discipline.
That means discipline to show up on time, to come with your homework done, to be attentive and accountable in meetings — in short, to be a professional. It also means the discipline to do your job, no matter how unsavory it might be, on every given play — no freelancing, no half-efforts, and absolutely no griping.
Young players might be loaded with talent, but very few players have the discipline of a professional at a young age.
You know who does? Veterans. (Obviously.)
Remember where we’re at: The Raiders are in win-now mode and don’t let anyone else tell you something different.
That means that there’s no room for experimentation, no room for taking liberties with assignments — Gruden isn’t going to equivocate on much, not that he ever did. This team needs results in 2018.
Had Gruden entered a more lax scenario — one where he didn’t have a Super Bowl window wide open and was, instead, given a few years by Davis to put together a team — he might have spent this offseason making the Raiders younger and more talented. He could have molded a superteam, on the cheap.
A softer, more open-minded Gruden might have hired a real offensive coordinator, too. He didn’t though. There’s no time for him to not be hands on.
As such, the Raiders are going to have hellacious OTAs and an even tougher training camp — Gruden’s system installations were ruthless during his first go-around, and there’s no reason to believe that anything will change this time around — and with limited time to install systems, Gruden is clearly not leaving anything to chance.