Antonio Brown returned from his helmet gate hiatus and Raiders head coach Jon Gruden downplayed his absence in a presser, saying the team knew about his issues and fully supported him. This was a day after Raiders GM Mike Mayock directly called out AB saying it was now or never for the star receiver to get back to camp.
This two uninspired media bits filled with coach speak and football jargon told me more about the Raiders than four weeks of preseason, five episodes of Hard Knocks or a few joint practices. Right away, I saw a crack in the GM-Head coach relationship at the front of the Raiders.
That crack could grow Reggie McKenzie sized (No hard feelings RM, I’m big too) with the latest news around Brown being he is suspended after confronting his GM over fines from the hiatus. It’s not outlandish given Gruden’s reported fall out with McKenzie, a well respected GM and guy he knew from their brief stint together in Green Bay, last year. Mayock and Gruden’s relationship could head south too after this major disconnect on AB.
Some called the mixed messages calculated examples of good cop, bad cop. Gruden befriending Brown while Mayock plays hardass. Did you really think that game would work with Brown, aka Mr. Big Chest aka Mr. I call former teammates out for fades on sight?
Overall, I saw it more as inconsistencies between the two biggest figureheads in the Raiders organization. How do the two biggest decision makers in Oakland not give aligning statements on their best player? The Rams, Patriots, Seahawks and other winning organizations don’t do that. Their leaders stay on the same page.
Issue Remains Murky
Nonetheless, Antonio Brown’s ongoing drama is dividing the Raiders front office and distracting us from Oakland’s final season. AB vs. Mayock or Mayock vs. Gruden, either way Oakland is the loser.
In theory, Mayock is right to push and challenge Brown. The Raiders are trying to change the culture and enabling a diva is much more like the Jerry Porter, Randy Moss Raiders than whatever championship culture they’re trying to build. Mayock excels with football theory, given his former role as a football analyst in the media.
However, Gruden brings more practice implementing football theory. Jon isn’t just a broken down football mind, as an outsider media analyst with no strings attached, he remains a football lifer. He coached divas before, and understands stars earn special treatment. He will not react to an Instagram post.
Even former Raiders coach Jack Del Rio took to twitter to comment that the Raiders note fining AB was a precursor for further disciplinary action so an AB suspension really isn’t surprising. @ing your entire team and organization on social media and calling out your GM at work falls right into conduct detrimental to the team. Imagine calling out your boss’ boss in front of the whole world?
Still, Gruden and Mayock built this offense around AB knowing the risk that entailed. Tyrell Williams is a burner as a No. 2 receiver but can he shoulder the offense as a No.1? Probably not. Hunter Renfrow doesn’t resemble an ideal outside starter, given his size and speed limitations either.
Don’t forget the unproven guards and tight end starters. Josh Jacobs never carried the load at Alabama, is he ready to be a workhorse? I don’t know. The Raiders need a playmaker like AB to make their offense work. His route running underneath and ability to stretch the field open up space in the run and pass. They’re backing on AB’s addition giving Carr the target he needs to finally answer the question if he’s the Raiders franchise guy too.
That puts the spotlight on Gruden now. How will he react after another AB flare up? Will he have to choose between his GM or star receiver? Does he double down with his GM on punishing AB? Or is he the silent parent watching his step son get disciplined for mouthing off to a step-parent.