Jon Gruden is no stranger to heaping praise on players, but this time he spoke like a man who knows he has job security Reggie McKenzie doesn’t.
Even if he’d have you believe it’s not a 10-year deal for anywhere near $100 million, Jon Gruden was handsomely compensated to come back and coach the Raiders. He also carries a great amount of personnel influence, as evidenced by an offseason transformation into the league’s oldest roster with a bunch of guys who are past their peak.
When the Raiders took offensive tackle Kolton Miller 15th overall in April’s draft, with safety Derwin James still on the board, that looked like a big mistake with more critical needs. Blame could sit with Gruden or general manager Reggie McKenzie there. But with James looking as good as he has so far this year, after being taken 17th overall by the Chargers, it’s a mistake either way.
The Raiders will face the Chargers on Sunday, so Gruden did a conference call with Chargers reporters on Wednesday. His unabashed heaping of praise on players became commonplace when he was in the Monday Night Football booth, but his praise of James took a different tone than that.
If Gruden wanted to draft James so badly he carried the weight in the room to do it, but he added a critique of McKenzie for good measure. Karl Joseph has been pushed into a reserve role by Gruden, and 2017 second-round pick Obi Melifonwu was cut in August only to eventually land on injured reserve with Oakland after clearing waivers.
Then there’s this, as Gruden basically weeds out McKenzie’s draft picks but cuts and brings back someone like Martavis Bryant.
Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports has already pointed to a looming split between Gruden and McKenzie. On that note McKenzie said Aaron Donald’s contract had nothing to do with trading Khalil Mack, as the top of the market for defensive players changed. Gruden then pointed to the cap-strapping nature of paying Mack and Derek Carr toward the top at their respective positions.
Being of two minds on the topic of Mack points to McKenzie and Gruden clearly not being on the same page. Gruden knows he has job security though, with owner Mark Davis in his corner and the buzz his coming back as Raiders coach brought ahead of a move to Las Vegas, while McKenzie’s input is dwindling. The two may have a good relationship, as Gruden has tried to convey. But maybe that’s because McKenzie knows he has no real say over personnel anymore, and knows he’ll be gone at the end of the season.