The second coming of Jon Gruden in Oakland hasn’t gotten off to a great start. The longtime coach-turned-announcer-turned-coach has overseen a regime that released players like Michael Crabtree, David Amerson, and Marquette King in 2018. Then, as the regular season approached, he decided to ship 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack to the Bears only to watch him tear up the NFC North, leaving Gruden to bemoan the league’s scarce pass rusher supply.
But Gruden isn’t done with his rebuild yet. According to Fox’s Jay Glazer, the $100 million head coach is also examining trading away former first-round picks Amari Cooper and Karl Joseph in his quest to mold the Raiders into his perfect, Gruden-esque vision.
So which young players are Gruden giving up on now?
Joseph was the No. 14 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. He made 15 starts in 2017, but a hamstring injury has limited him to brief appearances in three games this fall. Cooper was the No. 4 pick of the 2015 NFL Draft and a Pro Bowler in 2015 and 2016 when he made a combined 155 catches for 2,223 yards and 11 touchdowns, but injuries and ineffectiveness has made him Derek Carr’s No. 2 option this fall, behind tight end Jared Cook.
Each has Pro Bowl talent, but neither is playing at a Pro Bowl level. That can change, since neither player is older than 25. Joseph’s inexpensive cap hit — approximately $2.2 million for the rest of 2018 and $3.8 million for 2019, along with an $11.9M team option for 2020 — could lead an interested team to give up some future draft assets for the former first rounder.
Cooper’s a more intriguing option, if he’s in fact available. He’s by far the more accomplished player, but he’s also due around $5 million for the rest of 2018 and will earn $13.9 million next fall before his rookie contract expires. That’s a big investment for a player whose production that past two seasons has failed to pace the pace he set in 2015 and 2016. That more expensive contract and relative lack of team control could keep Gruden from getting the return he’d hoped for a 24-year-old with two 1,000-yard seasons already under his belt.
Gruden, fresh off a defeat to the Seahawks in London, denied reports he was shopping his top young wideout.
Jon Gruden said he’s not shopping Amari Cooper.— Levi Damien (@LeviDamien) October 14, 2018
But NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport also reported that the Raiders are shopping Cooper, although he said it won’t be cheap.
“The Raiders have had some conversations about potentially trading him,” Rapoport said on NFL Network. “My understanding is that they have asked for a first-round pick in exchange for Amari Cooper, which seems incredibly significant. And it might make it difficult if not impossible to trade him.”
A first-round pick is a tall ask for a receiver who had 680 receiving yards in 2017 and has been even less productive so far in 2018.
Any deal would have to happen before the team’s Oct. 30 trade deadline.
Why would the Raiders do this?
At 1-4, 2018 is all but a lost season in Oakland. There isn’t enough talent on this roster to fight for a playoff spot, though a big part of those lapses can be chalked up to Gruden’s roster management. Trading Cooper and Joseph would give the Raiders a head start on a rebuild, especially if the club can recoup some draft picks and controllable young talent in return. Priority No. 1 on Gruden’s “to-do” list is to build a roster fans can be excited about when the team moves to Las Vegas in 2020.
But doing so would mortgage the Raiders’ present for an uncertain future. Losing Cooper would be trouble for Carr, the quarterback who piloted Oakland to the 2016 playoffs thanks to his connection with the former Alabama star. The Raiders have gotten big returns from Cook, Jordy Nelson, and Martavis Bryant this fall, but Cook is 31 years old and Nelson is 33. Bryant is only playing because he’s currently in the midst of appealing his yearlong suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Starting tailback Marshawn Lynch is 32 and has already retired once. None of those four are the kind of player an offense can build around while looking toward the future — but Cooper is.
Trading away Joseph wouldn’t be as shocking. The move would strip another playmaker away from a depleted secondary. The Raider defense ranks 30th in both yards and points allowed this fall while allowing opposing quarterbacks to record a 103.6 rating against them — a slightly better mark than Tom Brady’s 2017 MVP season.
Gruden’s made no bones about overhauling his defensive backs; he cut 2017 second-round pick Obi Melifonwu earlier this season. Joseph, who has yet to record an official statistic in 2018, wouldn’t be much of a loss — especially if Gruden isn’t bullish on his chances of returning to the form that made him an All-American at West Virginia.
Gruden hasn’t been shy when it comes to carving up the Raiders’ roster like an ice sculpture. But his biggest trade to date — sending Khalil Mack and a second-round pick to Chicago — looks like a loss. Shipping out Cooper or Joseph would give him the chance to right that wrong, though the way 2018 has panned out, it may just be another link in a long chain of mistakes for Oakland.