Call me crazy, but LeBron James was never traded for a fifth-round pick as part of a salary dump.
James is who Raiders coach Jon Gruden compared offensive tackle Trent Brown to at the end of last season. It was a massive reach even if Brown had come close to fulfilling all the hype and promise in Las Vegas. He didn’t.
“I was disappointed, no doubt,” Gruden said of Brown during that postseason press conference. “We brought him in here and paid him to be the LeBron James of right tackles. He has had a lot of adversity — he’s had a number of injuries. It has hurt our football team, no doubt. But that’s part of this business …”
About that business side of the equation: Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock have failed at it more times than not the past few years. More on that later.
Blame all around
It’s never totally the fault of one side. When you evaluate Brown’s unproductive time with the Raiders, there’s enough blame to assign both player and management. Some of it is fate.
You can’t predict a lingering calf injury. Or the fact Brown would twice be placed on the COVID-19 list. Or the night he spent in a Cleveland hospital after a mishap with a pregame IV.
But he was never internally painted as a hard worker who would do anything possible to get back on the field. Frustrating doesn’t begin to describe how some coaches and players viewed Brown’s non-progress and lack of conditioning.
He would play just 16 games over two years and pocket $36.75 million. Not bad work if you can find it.
Brown also hilariously took to Twitter on Wednesday, saying in one post: “Money don’t mean (bleep) if you ain’t happy I swear to GOD!!
Which is ironic, because money is the exact reason Brown signed with the Raiders.
As he told The Athletic upon leaving the Patriots following a 2018 Super Bowl win: “(New England) couldn’t afford me and the Raiders came with an irrefutable offer … Plus, I had to go get mine. When I got drafted (by the 49ers), my signing bonus was $50,000. California taxes took half of that … I had to go get mine.”
Which is fine. Who wouldn’t? But, for whatever reason, money this time didn’t buy happiness.
Gruden and Mayock originally gave Brown his four-year, $66 million contract based on, really, one terrific season with the Patriots. So when you make such an investment and it doesn’t come close to working, the first thing to do is find a mirror.
It’s not just Brown. Tyrell Williams. LaMarcus Joyner. Those three free-agent signings in 2019 totaled nearly $80 million in guaranteed money. All are gone by 2021.
There was the Antonio Brown trade. There was the Vontaze Burfict signing.
They also paid Marcus Mariota $7.5 million last season as a backup quarterback and are now reportedly struggling to find any takers for his incentive-laden contract.
The jury remains way out regarding free-agent dollars spent on Carl Nassib and Cory Littleton.
Success not certain
The Raiders at this point have positioned themselves about $34 million under the salary cap with the chance additional moves slash even more off the top. But there’s no certainty how they spend in free agency will guarantee success.
They’ve struck out too often of late to be sure of anything, a dangerous trend when facing an expected salary cap in the $185 million range.
“We have to be smarter in free agency, better in free agency, and we have to complement that with a really solid draft,” Mayock said last week.
Smarter and better would be a good start, not to mention a big improvement.
It’s time Gruden and Mayock start earning their guaranteed money.
Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.