Gruden Explains Raiders Approach to Free Agency and What Needs Remain

ORLANDO, Fla. – The Raiders have signed 16 new players in free agency. They brought back four more from last year's roster. That's 20 in total.

"Twenty? That many?" Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie said with a smile. "Ooh. That's a lot."

It's part of a roster renovation designed to better fit head coach Jon Gruden's scheme. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's, too.

The Raiders have done a ton of work bringing guys in. Gruden said Tuesday morning at the NFL owners meetings that the Raiders aren't done.

They could sign a few more free agents, and they have 11 draft picks coming up. Even after signing so many, Gruden believes this roster still has some holes to fill.

"We have needs. I'm not going to pound the table and say it's one particular area," Gruden said. "Our secondary is an area we're going to continue to look at. Offensive tackle is going to be a position we continue to look at. Wide receiver – we're not done there. I'll keep going. Inside pass rusher on defense is a priority."

He did keep going later in an hour-long breakfast with the media. He said the Raiders could draft a running back. He'd like NaVorro Bowman back, but clearly wants to upgrade the current linebacker group with or without him. He wants to pair Khalil Mack with a dominant inside pass rusher. 

Bottom line: Gruden evaluated this roster after getting hired and believed a facelift was in order.

"We had a lot of issues," Gruden said. "We tried to bring in a lot of guys, and our success rate was pretty good once we got them in the building."

That last part is accurate. The Raiders signed the vast majority of free agents who took a visit, with only a select few leaving without a deal to play in Oakland.

The Raiders pitch was powerful, as was the attraction to work with Gruden and his coordinators.

"You come in, you don't get out," Gruden said with a smile. "We've got magical powers of recruiting."

Gruden said the free-agent process is all about finding proper fits at the right price. He encourages prospective signees to ask questions during these visits, to make sure his coaching style and schemes would work for them. He also wasn't offended when some guys took a better deal.

The Raiders had relatively limited salary-cap space – they started the offseason with roughly $20 million -- and couldn't shop in the luxury aisle as other teams did. Gruden and McKenzie bought in bulk, with several guys on shorter-term contracts.

"With free agency, sometimes you want to go after Door No. 1 but you don't have the resources to do that," Gruden said. "We didn't feel like we needed to bring in three players. We felt like we needed to bring in a lot of guys. We had a lot of needs."

Gruden again said the Raiders need more from the last three draft classes, which haven't produced impact players beyond Amari Cooper and Karl Joseph.

He originally said that at the NFL combine, the same press conference where he said he wanted to take it back to 1998. Many took that as him remaining committed to old school football and the schemes prevalent then and against modern analytics. That's not what he was trying to convey. Gruden will be innovative, at times unpredictable and could go against the grain of what he has previously put on tape.

The 1998 reference was about how he built a winning culture in his first year as Raiders head coach. He got a 4-12 team back to .500 and eventually built a Super Bowl contender. He wants to use that same formula to turn things around this time.

"I don't know where we're taking that 1998 quote," Gruden said. "What we did in 1998 is we brought in a lot of veteran free agents at the beginning that were tough guys and leaders of their position. …That's what we're trying to do now. We're trying to bring in a work ethic like 1998, and I'm excited about it."

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