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SR’s Fab 5 is a collection of inside scoop, analysis and insight from yours truly, PewterReport.com publisher and Bucs beat writer Scott Reynolds. Here are a few things that caught my attention this week at One Buc Place and around the NFL.
FAB 1. Bucs Dodged A Bullet By Passing On Gruden
Jon Gruden was a great coach – perhaps the best coach in Tampa Bay history alongside Tony Dungy.
I use the term “was” as opposed to “is” regarding Gruden’s prowess as a coach because he led the Bucs to three NFC South championships and a Super Bowl en route to becoming the franchise’s all-time winningest coach.
But that was in the past.
Despite being away from the sidelines for nine years, Gruden didn’t forget how to coach. Gruden’s now the head coach of the Oakland Raiders (again) and his team did go 3-1 in the preseason. He’s off to a promising start.
Gruden, who spent nearly a decade working for ESPN as Monday Night Football’s color analyst, revealed that he planned to return to coaching in an exclusive interview with me for an SR’s Fab 5 column last July.
Mired in a disappointing season that would ultimately end up with a 5-11 record, the Bucs entertained the thought of replacing Dirk Koetter with Gruden in 2017. But in December, around the time Gruden was being inducted into the Bucs Ring of Honor during Tampa Bay’s Monday Night Football game against Atlanta, Gruden’s price tag became astronomically high.
Too high for the Glazers’ liking, averaging $10 million per year over 10 years.
Too much money, too long of a commitment.
Wisely, the Glazers, who once traded for Gruden in 2002, backed off and allowed Raiders owner Mark Davis to grab the marquee name that he’ll need to lead the team from Oakland to Las Vegas in a few years.
In hindsight, it looks like the Bucs dodged a bullet in passing on Gruden and keeping Koetter. Time will ultimately tell, but it certainly looks that way in 2018, and here’s why.
Do you like the way the Raiders’ roster came together this offseason? I don’t.
It looks like Gruden – the Raiders’ actual personnel honcho (sorry, G.M. Reggie McKenzie) – is up to his “old” tricks, signing older, cast-off players as he did in Tampa Bay. Some of those “old” Bucs roster moves, including signing defensive tackle Chris Hovan, wide receiver Antonio Bryant and quarterback Jeff Garcia, paid off, while others, including signing running back Charlie Garner, offensive tackles Derrick Deese and Todd Steussie, and wide receiver Tim Brown, were just plain awful.
In his first offseason with Oakland, Gruden signed former Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson, who is 35, former Bengals defensive lineman Frostee Rucker, who is 34, former Packers receiver Jordy Nelson, who is 33, and former Bengals cornerback Leon Hall, who is also 33. Also added were former Giants cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who is 32, and Gruden just signed 31-year old wide receiver Brandon LaFell, too.
His youngest big name free agent was former Bucs castoff running back Doug Martin, who is 29 and looks like he is past his prime.
Contrast the Raiders’ roster, which is – surprise! – the oldest in the NFL with an average age of 27.4 years of age, and compare it to that of the Buccaneers’ roster, which has an average age of 26.1 years.
Oakland has 15 players age 30 or older with the two oldest Raiders being former Bucs kicker Mike Nugent, who is 36, and former Tampa Bay left tackle Donald Penn, who is 35. The Bucs have eight players age 30 or older in cornerback Brent Grimes and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who are both 35.
Gruden’s Raiders have 18 players on the roster that are age 25 and under, while the Bucs have 28 such players in that age range.
Does having a younger or older roster translate into having a better roster? We’ll see, but the Raiders’ 2018 roster took a huge hit when Gruden traded away the team’s best player in Pro Bowl pass rusher Khalil Mack and a 2020 second-round pick to Chicago for a pair of first-round picks in 2019 and 2020, a third-rounder in 2020, and a sixth-rounder in 2019 in a blockbuster deal.
I’m not a fan of that trade at all. Not many in Oakland are, either. The first thing Gruden will have to do with those extra picks is find a pass rusher to replace Mack.
Do you have faith that Gruden will wisely use those extra draft picks to find someone as good or better than Mack? I certainly don’t.
Bucs fans know just how awful Gruden can be when it comes to the draft. He selected just one Pro Bowler – guard Davin Joseph – in his seven years in Tampa Bay. If Gruden can’t draft impact players with those draft picks from the Bears – which may be picking further down in the first round now with Mack’s addition – the trade will have been for naught and the Raiders will have essentially handed the Bears one of the league’s top defensive players for nothing.
Look at the Bucs roster that general manager Jason Licht has assembled in Tampa Bay and look at Gruden’s in Oakland. Which one would you rather have this season?
I’d actually take the Bucs’ roster.
Which one would you rather have down the road in 2020?
I’d still take the Bucs’ roster – as long as Licht and salary cap wizard Mike Greenberg can extend the contracts of middle linebacker Kwon Alexander, guard Ali Marpet, left tackle Donovan Smith and quarterback Jameis Winston over the next year or two.
I have no idea what Oakland’s roster is going to look like in 2020, but knowing Gruden, it will be gray.
Gruden’s philosophy of relying on aging veterans truly puts the “silver” in silver and black.
I respect the hell out of Gruden on the practice field and on the sidelines on game day, and I’m anxious to see what he’s learned from watching all kinds of football as an analyst over the past nine years and how he incorporates that knowledge into his playbook. But when it comes to personnel, old habits die hard, and it’s clear that he hasn’t learned much when it comes to building a team for the future.
You know who else dodged a bullet by the Glazers’ passing on Gruden? Licht.
As easygoing as Licht is, Gruden still would have found a way to run him out of town as he did with Rich McKay unless Licht rubber-stamped everything Gruden wanted like Bruce Allen did when he was Tampa Bay’s general manager. Knowing Licht, his conscience and his belief system, he wouldn’t allow himself to be Gruden’s rubber-stamp guy. The guess here is that McKenzie is out in Oakland within a year or two, which is how long Licht would have lasted alongside Gruden.
I have a lot more faith in Licht’s ability to build a team than Gruden. He’s drafted three Pro Bowlers in four years in Winston, Alexander and wide receiver Mike Evans, and he was actually able to re-sign two more Pro Bowlers – linebacker Lavonte David and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy – rather than fail to get a deal done and having to trade them away like Gruden did with Mack. This past offseason, Licht and Greenberg were able to keep Evans for the long term with a mega-contract extension, too.
The 2018 Raiders look an awful lot like the 2007-2008 Buccaneers, which were decent 9-7 teams that ultimately went nowhere, couldn’t get over the hump and eventually got Gruden fired in Tampa Bay. Oakland may in fact be a win or two ahead of this year’s Buccaneers, which I believe will finish 8-8 due to a rugged schedule and playing in the toughest division in football – the NFC South. But I would bet on Licht’s roster being better for the long haul.
Gruden is exactly where he belongs. He’s in the Bucs Ring of Honor, and he’s back on the sidelines – in Oakland making an outrageous amount of money that the Glazers were wise not to pay. He’s also making some of the same outrageous personnel mistakes he made here in Tampa Bay.
I wish Gruden the absolute best in Oakland and Las Vegas, but the Bucs are better off without him. As Tampa Bay’s 2018 season begins, it’s up to Koetter to prove me – and ultimately the Glazers – right.