From MSN sports
It was bad enough when the Raiders traded Khalil Mack, by far their best player, to the Bears, but at least that move brought back extra first-round picks in 2019 and 2020. Every move Oakland has made since then, led by head coach and shot-caller Jon Gruden, has the distinct odor of a guy in charge who’s more interested in showing he’s in charge than understanding how his team is going to win.
You can now add the release of defensive end Bruce Irvin to that list. Per Vic Tafur of The Athletic, the Raiders cut ties with Irvin on Saturday just two days after a pathetic overall defensive effort in a 34-3 Thursday night loss to a 49ers team who started somebody named Nick Mullens at quarterback. Mullens, an undrafted rookie from Southern Mississippi, completed 16 of 22 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns against a defense that didn’t seem to want to be on the field.
To be clear, the Irvin release saves the Raiders $9.25 million in cap space in 2019, but given the timing of it, there’s no way it benefits the team in the near term. Per Pro Football Focus, the Raiders have just 59 total quarterback pressures on the season. The Titans rank 31 st in the league, and they have 102 total pressures.
Irvin, for his part, was barely on the field against the 49ers. And with Mack out of the picture after that early September trade, Irvin had been Oakland’s primary dispenser of quarterback pressure, leading the team with three sacks. But against San Francisco’s undermanned offense, Irvin saw just nine total snaps after getting at least 30 in every other game in which he was active this season.
If you think that was weird, consider Gruden’s next-day response when he was asked about Irvin’s playing time.
“Well, last night we weren’t in our nickel defense very much,” Gruden said. “Remember, we’re a 4-3 team, we’re not a 3-4. So in the base defense, sometimes he doesn’t fit the role that we need done. No disrespect to Bruce. He’s an edge rusher. We haven’t had a lead. We haven’t had the opposition behind in the chains a lot. So, his role has been reduced. I know he’s frustrated. I’m frustrated. We’ll try to solve that as soon as possible. He’s a good player. He’s a good player.”
Well, most teams run different kinds of fronts to get their best players on the field as much as possible. And though Irvin might not be the team’s best run-stopper, the extent to which the Raiders find it impossible to bring pressure against quarterbacks without him should have been a clue. Perhaps if Mullens had been influenced into hurrying his throws on more than a handful of them, the… well, never mind. The way the rest of that defense played, it wouldn’t have mattered that much, and when you combine that with the broken state of Gruden’s prized offense, perhaps it doesn’t mean much that Irvin is now gone. The Raiders were going to be 1-7 at the halfway mark with or without him.
But here’s what Gruden didn’t have to do: He didn’t have to sign a bunch of veterans who have done little to help the team. He didn’t have to trade receiver Amari Cooper to the Cowboys in late October, though he did pick up yet another first-round pick for that. He didn’t have to bench cornerback Gareon Conley in mid-October when Conley was arguably the team’s most effective pass defender. He didn’t have to put his offensive line in the hands of coach Tom Cable, who had failed spectacularly in Seattle in that same capacity. He didn’t have to sow division within the front office, and he certainly didn’t have to make it spectacularly obvious that the Raiders were tanking this season for future picks and future years.
Moreover, given the capricious and whipsaw nature of these moves, Gruden has placed serious doubt on his own head as the man who can turn this franchise around in the long term. He hasn’t been able to maximize the talents of one player on his roster. He hasn’t been able to improve one unit from 2017. He hasn’t been able to bring the advantages of his experience to the field as was promised when the organization gave him a 10-year, $100 million contract in early January.
Instead, through this season and especially against the 49ers on Thursday night, this Raiders team often bears the look of a roster that has given up on its coach, because he has given up on them. No matter how many high draft picks he now holds over the next couple of years, and no matter how much bluster he walks and talks with, Jon Gruden has shown one thing above all else through the first half-season of his return to the sideline for the first time since 2008:
He’d be better off, and the Raiders would be better off, if the former ESPN and Monday Night Football star was still in the booth.
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