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Raiders not waiting for Las Vegas move before trying to win

Updated March 11, 2019 - 9:08 pm

I’m not sure where the narrative began.

Oh, wait. I remember.

It was the day the Raiders decided not to pay the NFL’s best edge rusher in his prime.

Of all the criticism aimed at owner Mark Davis and coach Jon Gruden when dealing Khalil Mack and a second- and fifth-round round pick in September to the Bears for a collection of draft choices that included two first-rounders, one popular indictment emerged:

That the Raiders were only concerned about being competitive once arriving to their new Las Vegas stadium in 2020, that they wouldn’t do what was necessary — financially and otherwise — to try to contend until beginning play in their shiny Southern Nevada digs.

Dig this: The narrative was dead wrong.

That’s not to say there isn’t major risk with some of the team’s grand moves the past 48 hours — they just gave $36.75 million in guaranteed money to a left tackle the 49ers and Patriots gave up on — but it’s fairly obvious how last season’s finish left Gruden feeling about his return trip to the sidelines.

He knew the Raiders wouldn’t be very good, especially when moving Mack.

But thinking something and then having it play out before your depressed eyes is a whole different level of reality.

I’m guessing 4-12 seemed more like 4-22 to Gruden.

I’m thinking four months seemed like 40.

He deserved as much blame as anyone. Gruden was in charge of the entire operation the minute he left a television booth for the 10-year contract that Davis bestowed him, with Reggie McKenzie a mere inherited pause at general manager before Gruden could fire him and get his own guy (see Mayock, Mike).

Gruden traded Mack and later wide receiver Amari Cooper. He went old in free agency. He laughed in the face of analytics. He never came close to addressing the team’s major defensive issues.

So now he is fighting back with Davis’ checkbook.

A day after after the Raiders fleeced the Steelers in trading for star wideout Antonio Brown, they agreed to sign Patriots free-agent tackle Trent Brown on Monday to a four-year, $66 million contract, making him the highest-paid offensive lineman in league history.

Trent. Brown.

Highest. Ever.

Let that truth sink in.

While both moves and others being made by the Raiders can’t become official until the new league year begins Wednesday, it’s pretty certain that Gruden and Mayock want to win now and aren’t waiting until their first publicity shots at the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign to get serious.

It doesn’t mean they will succeed at a playoff level in 2019. Kansas City and the Chargers are still better in the AFC West.

Defense still needy

There is also that silver and black elephant the size of Summerlin in the room, which is to say the Raiders’ defensive needs. Free agency should help, like the Raiders on Monday night reportedly agreeing to a four-year contract with Rams free safety Lamarcus Joyner, which Los Angeles used its franchise tag on in 2018.

The Raiders also still own four of the upcoming draft’s top 35 picks.

But rookies, man.

One gamble on a Brown (Antonio) isn’t nearly as big as the other (Trent), the latter a former seventh-round pick who with the Super Bowl champion Patriots was tutored by the league’s best offensive line coach (Dante Scarnecchia) and protected the greatest quarterback in history (Tom Brady), who happens to have a ridiculously quick release.

So even though Brown will, in all likelihood, allow second-year pro Kolton Miller to switch from the left to a far more natural right side and Brandon Parker to a far more sensible backup role, nothing is ever assured about any lineman once he is no longer under the brilliant tutelage of Scarnecchia.

The league year will begin and contracts signed and press conferences held and everyone in the Raiders camp will praise all these moves. Maybe they will be proven correct in time. Maybe they will suffer deep regret. Nobody really knows.

I know Gruden is 104-97 as an NFL head coach, including playoffs, that 4-12 last season probably seemed like 4-22, that his ego is not one to wait on trying to contend.

He and Mayock want to win now and are making moves they believe can create such success.

It doesn’t mean they will, but the furthest thing from their minds is publicity shots at a famous sign.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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