Raiders could be the talk of NFL's preseason
In retrospect, it should have come as no surprise that the Oakland Raiders were interested in Antonio Brown. After all, the years general manager Mike Mayock and coach Jon Gruden spent in television had given them more opportunities to see the superstar wide receiver practice than almost anyone in the league.
“I probably have seen this guy practice at least 20 times over the years,” Mayock said. “I came away saying there’s nobody who works harder between the lines than Antonio. Jon felt the same way. And that’s what we’ve seen here. He’s been a great teammate. ... He brings an energy to the huddle and to the team that is just awesome to watch.”
The decision to trade for Brown and then sign him to a contract extension was not only the highest-profile move of the Raiders’ busy and heavily scrutinized offseason, it was reflective of what Mayock and Gruden attempted to do with most of their acquisitions — upgrade the roster and maximize the opportunity for quarterback Derek Carr to succeed, but on their own terms.
The Raiders figure to be at the center of the NFL universe this training camp, with HBO cameras there to capture every moment for “Hard Knocks,” after an offseason in which they dominated headlines with big-name pickups and a trio of first-round draft picks. Win or lose, they will be one of the most interesting teams in football. In an interview last month, Mayock explained his and Gruden’s rationale for several of the moves, which they hope will make the team much more competitive after last year’s 4-12 campaign.
Oakland went into the offseason with a plan to surround Carr with as much talent as possible, so their interest was piqued when it became clear Brown, whose relationship with the Pittsburgh Steelers had run its course, would be available via trade. Mayock, a 1981 draft choice of the Steelers, has known Pittsburgh GM Kevin Colbert for more than 20 years, and the two men discussed Brown several times. Mayock said Colbert wanted a first-round pick. The Raiders had three but weren’t going to give up any of them in a trade.
“We were adamant about that,” Mayock said.
Gruden and Mayock were content to pass on Brown unless it was for the right price, and they benefited when a better offer never materialized. The Steelers worked out a deal with the Buffalo Bills, but the Bills backed out because of what Brown wanted in a new contract.
The Steelers contacted Gruden the next day and asked if the Raiders would consider sending them a second-round pick.
“Jon got on the phone with me right away and said, ‘Pittsburgh would do the deal for a No. 2,’ ” Mayock said. “I said no. Our second-round pick was 35, toward the top of the second round. I thought our first four picks (were untouchable).”
Colbert called Mayock and talked about a third-round pick, later asking Oakland to also throw in a fifth-rounder. The deal was “on and off the table” while Oakland and Brown tried to agree on a new contract, but eventually it got done. Since agreeing with Brown on a three-year, $50.1 million deal that includes $30.1 million in guarantees, the Raiders have been impressed with his commitment.