On a hazy Sunday afternoon in which fans at Oakland Coliseum were wearing respirator masks to avoid breathing in pollutants in the air from the Camp Fire, the Raiders got smoked on the field, losing 20-6 to the division rival Los Angeles Chargers. Mark Davis could only sit back and take in the scene, as the stadium filled with boos as the Silver & Black fell to 1-8 on the year.
Soon thereafter Davis broke his silence sitting down with ESPN in a wide-ranging interview discussing the Raiders poor start, and accepting the blame for it.
“I always look in the mirror, and the buck stops with me,” Davis said. “Where this team is right now is my fault. We haven’t been able to build a 22-man roster. We haven’t been able to give this team a chance to win because the reconstruction failed. We failed from 2014 on to have a roster right now.”
After bringing in Reggie McKenzie in 2012 for a full deconstruction of the Raiders roster, Davis and his team found themselves in the playoffs four years later after finishing the 2016 regular season with a 12-4 record. While both Davis and McKenzie felt they built the team to last, Jon Gruden felt otherwise.
Not long after claiming he wanted to win a Super Bowl for the city of Oakland before they leave for Las Vegas in two years, Gruden launched the Raiders into their second rebuild in just four years. Of course, the move that sparked the detonation of Oakland’s roster was the trade that sent All-Pro defensive end Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears. But according to Davis, the Raiders head coach wanted Mack and never intended on trading him.
“Jon wanted him,” Davis explained. “Everybody thinks that Jon’s the one who wanted to get rid of him. Jon wanted him badly. Why wouldn’t you want this guy? Reggie wanted him badly. And I wanted him badly, too. But, if in fact we were going to give the type of money that we were going to give to him, and we had Derek on that type of a (contract), how were we going to go ahead and build this football team, with all the holes that we had?”
Following Derek Carr’s record contract extension in June of 2017, Davis said the Raiders reached out to Mack’s agent Joe Segal and offered a contract extension that would have made Mack the highest paid defensive player in NFL history.
According to Davis, Mack and Segal wanted to wait until after the 2017 season to discuss an extension.
When Gruden was hired in January of this year, Davis said the Raiders coach reached out to Mack and spoke to him briefly.
“That’s the last time Jon and Khalil talked,” said Davis, adding that the Raiders again talked with Segal during the combine about an extension that would still make Mack the highest-paid defensive player in the league. Mack’s representatives countered with an offer that, according to Davis “was not going to happen, was not doable for us.”
“From that point on, (Mack) would not talk to anyone in our organization,” Davis claimed. “Not Reggie, not Jon, not anybody.”
Still, Davis felt the idea of trading Mack was unrealistic, and fully expected the defensive end to return for the 2018 season and continue contract discussions in the offseason.
“My thought was, ‘Listen, he signed a five-year contract, if he’s the type of guy that I think he is, he’s going to honor that contract,’” Davis continued. “And he’s going to come in and play for the $13 million for this year and then we’ll work for him during the year and get it. Word came back through certain players that know him and talk to him and know me as well, that he wasn’t going to come in. He was going to do the Le’Veon Bell (holdout). At that point, I said, ‘F it. The guy hasn’t talked to anybody. We’ve got to do something.’”
Mack was ultimately traded to the Chicago Bears in a deal that included two future first round picks. But he wasn’t the only star that would leave Oakland this year.
Wide receiver Amari Cooper was also dealt to the Dallas Cowboys for a first round pick, a move in which Davis hinted was influenced by fact that Cooper is also represented by Segal.
“The other point to this whole thing is that Segal is also the agent for Amari Cooper,” Davis said. “And we knew the same situation was coming up the next year. It wasn’t just one layer of chess; it was two layers of chess.”
Even with the losses of Mack and Cooper, and with just one win to show through nine games, Davis hasn’t lost confidence in Gruden.
“I understood it was going to be a lot of work, but Jon has a 10-year contract,” Davis added. “I know how hard Jon Gruden works. I know how much he wants to win. And how much days like today are killing him.
”Having Jon Gruden here was the endgame for me. Jon’s going to be the stability here. Jon’s going nowhere. That’s just the way it is.”