They say you can never go home again, which is kind of depressing, but also true in many ways. You can always return to a place, but it’s hard to recreate the “home” feeling that place may have once embodied.
In his second stint with the Oakland Raiders, Jon Gruden returns to where it began for him as a head coach. The former Super Bowl champion is expected to take a promising young team to the next level with his knowledge and leadership. But the start to his second tenure in black and silver has not gone smoothly to this point and the regular season isn’t even underway.
The Raiders decided to trade star defensive end Khalil Mack on Saturday, ending a holdout period as the two sides were discussing a contract extension. While the team had been posturing and obviously didn’t want to easily give in to Mack’s demands, the idea of actually trading him away seemed extremely far-fetched.
Mack is widely considered to be one of the best, if not the absolute best defensive end in the league. He requires so much attention that it allows other members of the defense to roam free and hunt the ball. Still just 27 years of age, Mack should still have many of his best years ahead of him.
So as this holdout dragged on, it still felt like the Raiders would figure out a way to get Mack into camp to start what they hope to be a turnaround season. Holdouts rarely extend far beyond preseason action and there seemed to be an overwhelming sense that Oakland would meet their best player with an equitable agreement.
That didn’t happen. Instead, Oakland sent Mack to the Chicago Bears in a deal that reportedly includes two first-round picks. It’s a shock wave that will certainly be felt strongly throughout the organization. Not only does the defense lose its leader and playmaker, but other players within the locker room may feel some resentment towards management.
When the front office indicates it isn’t willing to pay the team’s best player — a player widely regarded as one of the best in the league, at any position — what does that say to not only the current players, but anyone thinking about heading to the Raiders as a free agent? With Gruden holding so much power over the team’s direction, most of the focus from this deal has fallen upon him.
It’s not a good start to Gruden’s second stint. This was supposed to be a homecoming that re-energized both the fans and players, alike. Right now, I’m not sure that either are too pleased with the coach’s decisions. Winning cures all and if the Raiders can start the season with a few victories, confidence will return in short order. But players like Mack don’t come around very often and first-round picks are no certainty.
Oakland gave up their franchise player because they didn’t want to open their checkbook and that doesn’t typically translate to much success or goodwill — especially when the head coach just signed for $100 million.
David Simon can be reached at email@example.com.