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Jon Gruden looking for ‘blossoming young players’ in free agency

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Oakland Raiders v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images

Today on Raiders.com, an interview with Raiders coach Jon Gruden was posted that was conducted by longtime Fox Sports radio personality JT the Brick. Gruden opened up about his relationship with Mike Mayock, as well as his strategy in the upcoming free agency period and the NFL Draft.

“A long time ago, back in 1995, 1996 I was the offensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles, and I met Mike Mayock back then. He’s had a real impact on me in terms of studying players, his passion for football, and I think he’s the perfect guy at the perfect time for this franchise. He’s got a tremendous work ethic, he’s really on top of players and he loves studying them, he’s got great leadership skills, he’s setting a tone here in our building with his work ethic. I think we’ve been getting along great, and it’s just nice to have a guy that you grew up with that has the same philosophical beliefs in terms of football and building this franchise,” said Gruden.

Mayock was certainly a surprise hire as general manager, but it’s pretty clear Gruden wanted someone in that role that he is comfortable with and feels he can work well with. So far, so good. Gruden also spoke about the way the game is being taught at the high school level and the trend toward younger players coming out in the draft.

“A lot of these guys are not fifth-year seniors, they are third year juniors. A lot of these guys have never been through spring practice, so I think you have to be able to develop guys better than you ever did before. Some of these guys are still growing up. They’re not full-grown men yet,” said Gruden.

The Raiders coach then talked about his approach to the draft this year, and the fact that the traditional ideals of what a player is supposed to look like may not apply.

“i was asked a question, if I have a certain belief about a quarterback’s size and I said no, not anymore. Drew Brees gave us problems in Tampa and he’s still giving teams problems today. Russell Wilson is one of the hardest quarterbacks to defend, he’s under 6 feet tall, and you look around, you see Kyler Murray at Oklahoma. In one year as a starter, he tore college football up running and passing, he’s like watching a video game, he runs 4.3, he’s got a cannon for an arm, and you can’t deny his overall athleticism. He’s a top 5 pick in baseball and might be one in football, that’s hard to say.”

It’s pretty clear that Gruden is enamored with the Heisman Trophy winning Murray, though whether he would actually draft him or if this is just a smokescreen is anyone’s guess. Gruden himself is fanning the flames of speculation regarding Murray potentially being drafted by the Silver and Black.

However, despite his all-encompassing love for Murray, Gruden also seems highly interested in getting to opposing quarterbacks.

“How do we get after Mahomes, how do we get after Rivers and Flacco? Obviously, we have to improve our defense at all three levels. The defensive line, the linebacking corps and in the secondary and that’s a tall order for us,” said Gruden.

Mayock and Gruden have been hard at work in the last few weeks studying the players who will be available in free agency soon. He seems to be eschewing last year’s strategy of bringing in veteran players, instead looking for young long-term pieces if possible.

“We’ve been doing nothing but studying free agents. Guys [whose] contracts are up, obviously we aren’t looking to add players that are at the end of their career. We’re looking for blossoming young players, those guys usually don’t get to free agency. The pickings are slim for everybody, but there are a couple diamonds in the rough. We’ll see where the market goes, but you don’t want to spend all your money that you have on a few free agents, you want to try and keep some of that money available in case a trade might develop during the draft,” said Gruden.

Though he has three first-round picks for now, Gruden is hardly committed to sticking with the picks he has.

“I think there’s a lot of potential for trades, and I think that’s one of the things I’m excited about [with] Mike Mayock. What he brings to the table, he’s got great resources around the NFL. He’s been in every building, he’s on a first-name basis, everybody knows Mike and I think he’s going to be on the phones quite a bit. Who knows, we may move up with the No. 4 pick, we may move back with that pick. We’ll see how it all unfolds,” said Gruden.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but no one can deny that working with Mayock has energized Jon Gruden and the next few months will be some of the most interesting and crucial ones in Raiders history.