The Oakland Raiders' season was probably already over, and the ongoing deconstruction of their roster already well underway, but a sequence of plays on Sunday only further affirmed this franchise's crossroads.
The Raiders did almost nothing right at Wembley Stadium in London in another ugly loss -- this one to the Seahawks -- leaving Jon Gruden with so much to ponder as the trade deadline comes creeping closer. The collapse he witnessed at the end of the first half, and opening of the second half, could do nothing but make him ponder, yet again, just how far this team is from competing, and will only continue to whet the appetite of the many opposing general managers looking to swoop in before the deadline.
It began with a strip sack of embattled quarterback Derek Carr -- yet another recent high Raiders draft pick who may not be long for Oakland -- and was followed by a defensive breakdown in which Russell Wilson had to chase down a bad snap only to throw a wild touchdown pass anyway. A few minutes later and the Raiders were stuffed on fourth-and-1 to set up a half-closing field goal from former Raider Sebastian Janikowski. Oakland's first half possessions went punt, fumble, missed field goal, turnover on downs. The second half began with Carr again getting crushed and fumbling again, which put the Seahawks back in field goal range and led to a 20-0 score (27-3 was the final; it really wasn't even that close).
And that was more than enough. Seattle moved the ball up and down the field through the air and on the ground as it rarely ever does, and Oakland was suffocated on all fronts and was never really in this game. And Gruden -- increasingly a man on an island as he contemplates the vast reworking of this franchise and its front office -- had one of the longest flights of his life to think about how to keep adding draft picks and re-making this roster.
That is where all of this is going. The Khalil Mack trade was anything but a standalone or an anomaly. Change abounds, and Gruden is clearly open to almost anything with his team at 1-5 and plummeting. Karl Joseph and Derrick Johnson were already being shopped around, as previously reported, and I have no reason to doubt FOX's report of Amari Cooper being on the block as well.
I don't see any reason why to keep an older back like Marshawn Lynch if he is open to a trade out of the Bay Area, given the purge already afoot, and the looming question will continue to be what becomes of Carr, with embattled GM Reggie McKenzie's premium draft picks now largely trade fodder (or injured). Everyone I've talked to who has worked with Gruden believes he will want his own guy to run this offense -- actually, probably a few, a vet of his choice and a rookie who has been untouched by other NFL hands. Finding players he believes he can best mold is imperative, and Carr does not appear to be fitting that description.
One high-ranking club official told me even with Carr stumbling in recent years the Raiders could likely get a first-round pick for him, and there is a growing sentiment around the NFL that Gruden is stockpiling picks for 2019, when he will be surrounded by a new group of scouts and execs and positioned to start adding his guys. He could be in position to control the next two-to-three drafts if he executes a few blockbusters, and supplements them with the more restrained returns he would get for guys like Johnson, Joseph and Lynch.
Several teams should shake things up
Coordinator firings have happened at a faster and faster rate in recent years, and we could be on the cusp of several teams shaking things up.
The Tampa defense is a total mess and Mike Smith has been unable to get it turned around, try as he might. Plenty of jobs are on the line there, and we could see sweeping changes in 2019. But the coach in charge of the NFL's worst scoring defense could very well be the first to go.
Arizona's offense cannot stay on the field, have already changed quarterbacks due to futility, and can't find a way to sustain anything on the ground or through the air. With two games in five days this week, I have a hard time seeing everything stay status quo there if this continues. Josh Rosen may need a stripped down script to get going at this level, and the Cardinals can't keep their defense on the field 40 minutes a week.
And the Broncos' changes could go well beyond just a coordinator if they do not manage to win at least one of their two games this week. John Elway came very close to firing Vance Joseph after just one season back in January and that debate is brewing again, with the Broncos not showing much improvement this season and a coaching change after their Thursday night game would not be a surprise pending those results.
Why Steelers don't need Bell
James Conner and Vance McDonald have been huge additions to the Steelers' offense (I know McDonald was there last season, but he was oft-injured and never found the way). In a season without Le'Veon Bell and with Antonio Brown's impact very hit-or-miss, these two have carried the load for long stretches.
Pittsburgh's tight ends carried the pass game early in their critical game with the Bengals, and Conner slowly took it over on the ground. The kid is running with great power, vision and confidence, and they really can't sit him for Bell at this point. Conner is an inspirational figure to his teammates overcoming cancer and is a beacon running hard and doing it for peanuts on his rookie deal. Upsetting this surge for a disgruntled veteran -- and one with no future in Pittsburgh beyond 2018 -- looks more dicey than ever.
More notes from Week 6
- Was really impressed with Josh Allen's ability to make some big plays and look downfield prior to him getting knocked from the game Sunday. It wasn't always pretty, and he took too many big shots, but the kid showed some moxie and made impressive plays.
- I fear Deshaun Watson will not survive this season. There were too many sequences again on Sunday when he was throttled multiple times on the same drive, including consecutive plays under extreme duress that led to a turnover against the Bills.
- In a league of helter-skelter teams, is any more up-and-down than Washington? I truly cannot figure them out from week to week.
- Miami's 3-0 start is gone, and they may not be long from trailing every team in the AFC East with the Jets and Bills playing much better football this month.
- At a time when no one seems capable of making an extra point, kudos to the Jets for finding Jason Myers. He bailed out their offense with 21 points in what was something of a must-win game over the Colts.
- If the Bears fail to capitalize on their fast start with a playoff appearance, go back to Sunday's game at Miami. They had critical fumbles at the most inopportune times, and a rare wholesale defensive breakdown allowing a long touchdown in the dying minutes of the game. Much will be made of the Bears missed FG in OT, but they should have put this away in regulation.