For Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock, the action has already begun. They are in Indianapolis as we speak, preparing for what figures to be an incredibly busy week for both of them as the two men in charge of the Raiders immediate future.
The scouting combine’s main attraction is the draft prospects. The on-field drills are what the fans tune in to see, but that’s just a small fraction of the tasks in front of the Raiders’ head coach and general manager.
Last offseason was a busy one for Gruden and the Raiders new coaching staff. They had 11 draft picks (ultimately nine), signed some 25 free agents, and made a few trades as well.
This offseason figures to be pretty eventful as well, what with 10 draft picks, 4 in the top 35, and over $70 million in cap space, they will be the most exciting club to watch over the coming months.
Many of those decisions will be greatly affected by what happens over the next week.
The prospects don’t take the field until Friday. Until then, there is much to do.
Throughout the week, deals will be discussed involving trades and such. It’s arguably an even larger part of this event for many team front office folks than the combine itself.
Seeing the flurry of trades Gruden made last year, and the glut of high picks the Raiders have to work with this year, Gruden and Mayock will be popular as other teams will be inquiring about which of their current players would convince them to part with one or more of those picks.
The big name on the market right now is Steelers wideout Antonio Brown, but he is just the most public. The Raiders made a deal with the Steelers in a trade last year, sending a third round pick to Pittsburgh for Martavis Bryant. You can bet that deal was discussed between Gruden and Steelers brass as the combine.
The Steelers will be a major topic also because of Le’Veon Bell. Teams will be able to get a fairly good idea of what kind of market Bell will have as the top running back set to hit free agency.
There are some players who are potential cap casualties who their teams are holding off on making that cut in the hopes another team will step up and offer to send them a little something to ensure that player comes to them instead of hitting the market where they would have to compete for them.
In the midst of this, both Gruden and Mayock will step behind the podium to field a few questions themselves. Both will lead off their respective days with the first press conference of the day. Mayock at 9 am (6 am Pacific) on Wednesday and Gruden at 9 am (6 am Pacific) on Thursday. For either of them, it’s the first press conference they’ve had since early January when Mayock was introduced as the team’s new GM.
Anyway, about those draft prospects...
Tuesday players begin arriving. There will be medical evaluations and interviews that day. With three first round picks and four picks in the top 35, the Raiders will be looking to eliminate prospects as much as anything. A lot of prospects look great on paper or on film, but their medicals and their interviews can reveal red flags which make them too much of a risk for that high of a pick.
There’s also the measurements portion. This is important for several reasons. First and foremost, colleges lie. You can bet most guys are an inch shorter than what their school lists them. Then there’s simply the issue of old measurements on file. These players were 17 when they had their first measurements and weigh-in. Players can grow a lot from 17 to 19 or 20 years old. They can bulk up as well. The other primary factor is what these players have been doing since the college season ended. Have they gotten overweight? Have they added muscle? Have they cut too much weight for drills instead of coming in at their playing weight? These are important details.
And finally, the drills. For those, you’ll often see coaches, GM’s, and team scouts sitting up the stands, many with their own stopwatches. Some nodding off (cough-Raleigh-McKenzie-cough). Considering how full the schedule in the rest of the week, the on-field drills seems almost like a respite. That used to be when we’d hear the most from Mike Mayock as the lead analyst for NFL Network. Now his thoughts will be mostly private.
This week could be the most important to date for these two men. With a lot riding on rebuilding this Raiders team, they need to get this right. They have the sixth most cap space to work with and the most draft capital of any team in the league as well. That means picks to use on a great many of the prospects they see this week as well as valuable commodities in trade conversations.
By this time next week, the Raiders two decision-makers will be swimming in evaluations and no doubt exhausted from what should be the most productive week of the offseason.