When you think of the great Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders teams of the past, the first thing you think of is dominance. Between 1969 and 1990, the Raiders had as many losing seasons (three) as they did Super Bowl Championships, averaging 10 wins a season, making the playoffs 14 times. The second thing you think of? Wild characters. Outcasts, maniacs, and psychos littered championship teams. During the 2000’s, the Raiders haven’t experienced as much dominance, but in 2019, they’re hoping that’ll change. And just like they did during their heyday, the Oakland Raiders have the most fascinating roster in football.
The Oakland Raiders Have the Most Fascinating Roster in Football
On this roster, you’ve got the highest paid offensive lineman in football playing right tackle, a star wide receiver that talked his way out of Pittsburgh, three rookie first round picks, head coach turned TV personality turned head coach again, and a franchise quarterback that doesn’t curse. There’s a linebacker that’s almost been suspended a full season, an offensive lineman that assaulted a funeral home, and a Spider-man meme in the secondary. I’m not joking when I say this roster is made for TV.
The Ol’ Ball Coach
Like any organization, it starts at the top, and no head coach is quite as fascinating as Jon Gruden. Frenetic and unpredictable, Jon Gruden is one of the rare characters in the NFL that manages to be bigger than his own legacy. The only coach in NFL history to be traded is known for his Grudenisms, the wild things he says, and his incalculable decisions.
Since the start of last year, Jon Gruden has ended a ten-year coaching hiatus to take the biggest coaching contract in NFL history, traded two Pro-Bowlers, fired the 2017 Associate Press’ Executive of the Year, and traded for the most volatile receiver in professional football. Gruden’s infamous scowl mirrors the attitude of the Raider Nation at this point.
Just for fun, here are a few of my favorite Jon Gruden’s quotes.
- “I’ve been hitting up Hooters since 1983, and I can assure you nothin’ says football season is here quite like watching the game on wall-to-wall flat screen TVs with the smell of Hooters world-famous chicken wings in the air and an ice-cold beer in your hand, served up with one-and-only Hooters hospitality, of course.”
- “Mike, the best band to ever come out of Seattle was, of course, Pearl Jam. And that’s what I expect the Seahawks to do- just jam it up the middle.”
- “When the season ends, it’s all about the next season.”
- “I don’t want to be a negative piece of barbed wire sitting up in the booth with all the answers. I think that’s a turn-off.”
- “Does the draft really matter? At the end of the day, at the end of your career, at the end of time, does it really matter?”
- “Mike, did you ever see the movie ‘Cast Away?’ In that movie, Tom Hanks’ only friend was a ball named Wilson. In this game, Russell Wilson’s only friend is a football.”
Mr. Big Chest
What is there to say about Antonio Brown that hasn’t been said 1,000 times on a dozen different networks? The stud wide receiver was always a bit quirky, but things escalated in a hurry over the last year. It started with the man they call A.B. tweeting half-facetiously that he’d like to be traded, and ended with a trade to Oakland for basically nothing. We won’t know whether it was Big Ben’s “owner mentality” or perhaps Brown is the modern incarnation of Terrell Owens for years to come, but we will get a good glimpse this season.
What happens if the Raiders struggle? Brown has never been on a NFL team with a losing record. What happens when Carr underthrows Brown on a route where he’s wide open? If he doesn’t get enough targets or if Carr has a bad game, is he still the A+ team player that the Raiders have enjoyed so far this off-season?
Not So Perfect Burfict
In many ways, Vontaze Burfict is the quintessential Raiders linebacker. If you look him up on YouTube, you’ll find a history of violent, mean-spirited hits. He’d fit in well on a defense with players like George Atkinson, Jack Tatum, and the real Dr. Death, Skip Thomas. There’s even a play where Burfict takes a cheap shot as his new teammate, Antonio Brown himself, that caused some bad blood between the two for a long time.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean he’d fit in on a modern defense. In an era where linebackers are expected to be freak athletes with incredible versatility, a headhunting thumper might not be in Oakland’s plans for Las Vegas.
He’s been suspended for ten games and fined well over $300,000 in his seven-year career so far. Some fans believe he’ll bring the toughness and physicality that the defense obviously lacks, others think he’s a penalty machine and a danger to the locker room. Either way, he’ll be very entertaining.
Early Tuesday morning, the Oakland Raiders announced that they were signing troubled offensive lineman, Richie Incognito, to fill the hole at left guard. There’s no question that when healthy, Incognito is an immediate upgrade over what the Raiders had at guard before, but he comes with a lot of baggage.
Even if you ignore the fiasco with the Miami Dolphins, which falls somewhere between playful hazing and psychotic bullying depending on who you ask, Incognito has a long rapsheet in the NFL. Incognito has a reputation of being a dirty player, taking cheap shots and being nasty on the field, but if we’re being honest, you probably want that kind of energy on your offensive line. It takes a very specific kind of person to want to get down in the dirt and fight some of the best athletes in the world without any of the glory.
All the reports say that he’s in a great place mentally, and that he’s been a good addition so far, but let’s see how that pans out in the long run.
On a team full of wild characters, how fitting is it that their quarterback is, quite literally, a choir boy? A devout christian, Derek Carr doesn’t even curse, and aside from the occasional UFC challenge, is one of the best behaved players in the league. Carr puts his career and his faith first, and has gone on the record saying that you can’t reach your full potential if you’re going out every night and “putting things into your body.”
How could a team with so many wild characters be led by a quarterback that’s, with no offense intended, borderline boring? Regardless, the Raider Nation is hoping Carr will still provide them with plenty of thrills and excitement this year on the field.
There are just so many questions about this team. Was 2018 just a year of growing pains, and the scowling ball coach is ready to make his real comeback to the NFL? Are Brown’s social media antics humorous or harmful? Is Incognito going to bring physicality to the run game or the locker room? And most curiously, is Derek Carr the guy we saw in 2016 or the player who completely fell apart against the Seattle Seahawks in London last year? Only one way to find out.