Listen, you don’t go and buy a new car if you love what you have. The Raiders didn’t draft Arden Key or sign Tank Carridine in free agency because they loved what they had at defensive end with Mario Edwards Jr. They didn’t draft Mo Hurst and PJ Hall because they loved what they saw from Justin Ellis, Eddie Vanderdoes or Treyvon Hester on the inside.
Further, you don’t go out and buy an old car after you just got a new car. In this analogy, it doesn’t make any sense why Oakland signed veterans Ahtyba Rubin or Frostee Rucker after the draft. Clearly, the Raiders want to give Hall, Key and Hurst time to develop. I’m all for veterans like Rucker and Rubin teaching these guys how to become professionals and winners. However, that is not Gruden’s mindset.
Gruden prefers veterans. Sure, he’ll let the best players play but the only reason why he signed these aging veterans was because he thought they could compete for rotation and starting spots today.
Moreover, the Raiders didn’t re-sign Reggie Nelson and add Marcus Gilchrist because they felt the young trio Obi Melifonwu, Shalom Luani and Karl Joseph could handle leading the secondary. Don’t be surprised if the first two veterans start over the other guys despite the playing time and draft capital the Raiders invested in them early.
This phenomenon is happening throughout the Raiders roster. Oakland brought in veterans Leon Hall and Shareece Wright because they weren’t comfortable with Dexter McDonald or Antonio Hamilton as depth at corner. They even brought in Daryl Worley and Rashaan Melvin to challenge last year’s first round pick Gareon Conley for the lead CB role. Nick Nelson was drafted as the last piece to the complicated secondary picture.
At linebacker too, the Raiders signed veterans Emmanuel Lamur, Tahir Whitehead and Derrick Johnson. They didn’t bring in that sort of experience to let it sit behind developmental prospects like Marquel Lee, Nicholas Morrow or even rookie Azeem Victor.
The point is, there is a lot of smoke about how half of these guys won’t make the roster because of their age. I’m not buying that.
You don’t add an old car to your garage to take up room for the new cars you already got in your lineup. You buy that old car because it offers you value and an experience that even a new car smell won’t give you.
Thus, don’t be surprised if you see older players playing over younger players during Gruden’s first year. Signing guys like Nelson, Lamur, Whitehead, Johnson, Wright, Gilchrist, Rubin, Rucker, Carridine, and even Melvin and Worley was about more than just a culture or price tag.
The Raiders brought these veterans in because Gruden believes they believe they can push for playing time. He isn’t going to care how much draft capital he has invested or how much development the previous regime put into any given prospect. That’s great if the Raiders win early and often.
It only gets complicated if the Raiders aren’t a serious contender. Then, fans and executives are going to push to develop young players and stop wasting reps on guys who are probably at the end of the road.
Moreover, what do all of these veteran signings tell us about our young players? Clearly, Hall, Hurst and Key aren’t as ready as they would’ve hoped. They wouldn’t have signed all those veterans if any of them were ready to be more than situational depth. They’re probably not in love with any of the last regime’s projects like Ellis, Edwards Jr., Vanderdoes or Hester either.
The same goes in the secondary. If they were confident in the health of Conley, Joseph and Melifonwu would they add Wright, Gilchrist, Nelson, Worley and Melvin to the mix. Linebacker has a similar impact. I’m sure Gruden gave guys like Johnson, Whitehead and Lamur some reassurance they would be in the mix to play in Oakland which is why they wanted to come here too.
Ultimately, yes a lot of these veterans are good enough to start and get some serious run. However, that is the scariest part. That speaks to the talent on this roster as a whole if all these aging veterans are the best the Raiders will field. Let’s not act like any of them really had a long line of suitors.
Plus, what does that say to the confidence of our young players? How are they going to feel getting passed up by some old veteran every day? How will they deal with sitting on the shelf and collecting dust? Will it inspire them or disengage them? Will they be able to develop in practice if they don’t have gametime reps?
I guess that is what Gruden wants to see. He wants to see what young players step up and beat out the veterans on the rosters as well as what players aren’t moved by the added competition in front or behind them in position drills.
Still, it is a big risk. Unlike cars staying off the road, prospects don’t keep their value by not performing. It is also a different approach than the last few Raiders regimes which have relied on young players over players. They’ve gambled on giving drafted and undrafted rookies a shot to prove themselves on gamedays instead of going with a slew veterans.
Obviously, that approach hasn’t groomed anything but a mediocre defense. Hence, the new approach is welcomed by many in the Silver and Black.
Nonetheless, I’m skeptical to the approach until I see exactly how much gas all these veterans have and where is the development of our young players. Preseason will give me the first answers to these questions.