Jon Gruden had done enough research to know when he came back to coach the Raiders after nine years in the broadcast booth, there would be far less time with his players than from 1998 through 2007 with Oakland and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But neither Gruden or anyone else could have imagined having an offseason of learning teaching and conditioning as a group wiped out because of COVID-19 a year ago, and now it could happen again.
NFLPA President JC Tretter began campaigning against in-person offseasons late last season, a topic Gruden avoided when I asked about it on a video conference, although I could swear I detected some blood from his lower lip due to his upper teeth biting clean through.
Gruden has pretty much remained underground during the offseason, and when the news broke Tuesday the Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos and Tampa Bay Buccaneers had advocated an offseason boycott with statements on NFLPA letterhead, I got no further trying to get a reaction.
Via text message, Gruden said he wouldn’t be surprised by anything and the communication ended there.
Raiders players, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, will discuss their approach in a meeting Wednesday.
Rest assured Gruden hates the idea, as does general manager Mike Mayock, as both men were hoping for a relatively normal offseason with full participation that would include putting forth a plan to get past 8-8.
As recently as March 3, Mayock said during a mandatory offseason availability period he was hopeful of getting back to normal this offseason.
The union’s position is that if last season proved anything, it’s that all the offseason work was unnecessary given the level of play without it.
You can safely assume Gruden and and Mayock, as well as the rest of the NFL’s coaches and general managers, think that’s hogwash.
The union, having already agreed to a three-game preseason and a 17th regular season game, has cited COVID-19 concerns regarding the offseason program despite a vaccinations being readily available and the league making it through an entire season in 2020.
It was a season that was completed despite constant COVID-19 testing, strict social distancing requirements and the elimination of any kind of normal offseason. Everything was done through video calls.
While it’s true every team in the NFL faces some kind of transition which would in theory be smoothed with some offseason work, some of the Raiders’ issues are acute.
A non-offseason would put the Raiders behind in terms of bringing recent additions on defense up to speed under new coordinator Gus Bradley. It would slow the process of development for young players vital to 2021 such as cornerback Damon Arnette, safety Johnathan Abram and wide receivers Henry Ruggs III and Bryan Edwards. It puts center Andre James behind in his quest to replace Rodney Hudson.
Mayock wasn’t being specific about those players back on March 3, but he may as well have been.
“What I would tell you as an old man is that development of young players is key to the future of this game,” Mayock said on March 3. “Anybody that doesn’t think OTAs and preseason games are critically important to the development of our youth aren’t really looking at the picture correctly.”
Teams with the most money in workout bonuses
— Jason_OTC (@Jason_OTC) April 13, 2021
There has been no comment from the Raiders’ players through the NFLPA, as their situation is a little more complicated than that of the Seahawks, Broncos and Buccaneers.
Seattle has just a single player with an offseason workout bonus in Quintin Diggs at $100,000 according to OverTheCap.com. Denver has four players totaling $750,000, and $500K of that belongs to Von Miller.
Tampa Bay? Not a single player scheduled for a workout bonus. That makes it pretty easy to join in solidarity with your teammates.
It’s a different story on the Raiders, who have nine players with more than $1.8 million in workout bonuses on the line for missing voluntary workouts. Denzelle Good leads the way at $480,000. Four players — linebacker Cory Littleton, defensive end Carl Nassib, tight end Darren Waller and linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski — check in at $250,000. Running back Jalen Richard has a $125,000 workout bonus and Derek Carr $100,000.
Short of the NFLPA creating some sort of fund to aid the players who fall short of their workout bonus requirements, it’s not as cut and dried for some Raiders players to miss voluntary workouts than those who don’t have scheduled bonus payments.
Players may feel stung for entering into an agreement that surrendered a 17th game, looking for a way to counter. But in reality, the offseason program, organized activities and the like are pretty low-impact in terms of effects on long-term health. The real punishment comes when the hitting begins.
It’s also true that there have already been a handful of players at the Raiders’ facility, working out on their own as well as rehabbing injuries. Plus social media photos indicate Carr has begun getting players on local fields in the Las Vegas area for workouts without coaches.
Which begs the question: If they can be there now, and be on practice fields on their own, why would it be a bad idea for players to meet in an environment with strict protocols as well as making sure the vaccination rate approaches 100 percent of everyone in the facility?
Jon Gruden impatiently awaits an answer.
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Author: Jerry McDonald
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