ALAMEDA – Jon Gruden finds himself in something of a pickle. The Raiders head coach has a long-term plan for a team he's contracted to control for a decade. He would also like to win as many games as soon as humanly possible.
Sometimes what helps one goal hurts another.
That certainly happened when he traded Khalil Mack to Chicago for future draft compensation that didn't help the 2018 Raiders one lick.
Gruden conceded that point Monday, a day after the Raiders lost their third game in as many tries.
"It's hard to trade one of your best players," Gruden said. "One of the best players on a franchise. It's hard. It's hard on the players. We didn't get anything for him that's going to help us out this year."
Gruden went on to say several other problems have cropped up on defense, which have made it tough to create takeaways and close out games. That's right. The Raiders are thin on defense, limiting effectiveness of players on the back end of rotations.
The secondary has been remade. And while cornerbacks have been good and should get better when Daryl Worley returns from suspension, safeties Reggie Nelson and Marcus Gilchrist haven't been good enough.
The pass rush has struggled mightily without Khalil Mack.
Quarterback Derek Carr has 986 yards through three games, but has two touchdowns and five interceptions, including two snatched in the end zone. Marshawn Lynch has been running strong, but getting hit far too early in his rushes.
The last four paragraphs prove a singular point: these Raiders have a lot of problems.
The roster is not good enough, made worse by Gruden's Mack deal. That trade was executed (maybe hastily) with the future in mind. They got two first-round picks back in a bigger deal. Maybe that will help, if the Raiders selected appropriately, an effort easier if the Bears stink.
Gruden secured solid salary-cap standing by not combining Mack's mega deal with Carr's $125 million extension, though it would've been more manageable with an ever-increasingly salary cap.
Bottom line: Gruden will have an opportunity to get better down the road. That doesn't help Oakland Raiders fans, who have one, likely two seasons left before their team moves to Vegas.
That doesn't make Raider Nation feel better about an 0-3 start that could get worse before it gets better. That has some, though certainly not all, questioning Gruden's chosen course of action.
"I mean, it's justifiable," Gruden said. "I have a pretty good idea of what this business is all about. But I'm also realistic. I'm also very optimistic. I'm going to continue to work hard. I think I have as good a coaching staff as there is in football. The results will happen. It might not happen this week. It might not happen this month, next month, but we're going to get results here and we're going to get this Oakland Raider football team back on track. We just have to prove it."
Prove it in the long term. Maybe while sacrificing short-term gains.
It's still early. The Raiders have been close to beating Denver and Miami the past two weeks. If only they could finish.
That could change posthaste. It might take one change of fortune to build confidence. Or, maybe more likely, roster issues may make it hard to win or close consistently.
The Raiders have struggled to compete over four quarters, and, even with come less teams on the schedule, a loss is possible every week after dropping three straight.
"There's no doubt we are here to win and we want to win. We want to enjoy the process more than we are right now," Gruden said. "We got a lot of new players, we got new systems, we've had some adversity. We are fighting. I think if you look at the tape you'll see a lot of great competitiveness. You'll see some guys that are giving you everything that they have…and you're seeing some improvement, which is important, but we still have a long way to go. It will be taxing, it will be pressing on some of our leaders to really step up and showcase it in times like this."