The next phase of the Oakland Raiders front-office “Game of Thrones” has arrived.
First came the consolidation of power, achieved when head coach Jon Gruden took over the stewardship of the roster and began moving general manager Reggie McKenzie toward his eventual exit in December. Next was choosing a loyal second in command, which came in the form of Mike Mayock’s hiring later that month. And now Oakland is bricking a new foundation of trust, preparing to strip out the remnants of McKenzie’s personnel ranks in the weeks following the draft.
That was made clear Friday, when two members of the Raiders’ personnel department confirmed an NFL Network report that the majority of Oakland’s personnel and scouting staff has been sent home until the draft kicks off next week. The NFL Network termed the move as one to shore up leaks, with analyst Ian Rapoport stating Gruden and Mayock “are not sure who to trust.” One personnel man told Yahoo Sports on Friday that it was Mayock who informed staffers of the extended break, with the expectation of also remixing parts of the scouting ranks in May.
Jon Gruden’s full takeover near completion
This is a signal flare that the structural transformation of the Raiders under Gruden is nearing completion. He consolidated power and moved McKenzie and director of player personnel Joey Clinkscales out months ago. He chose a right-hand man in Mayock. And now the revamp is finally (and naturally) reaching the grassroots levels of the personnel staff.
To be fair, this is how it goes with NFL franchises in times of sweeping change. Either someone is coming in and cleaning house (which is what has happened in Oakland), or someone wins a protracted power struggle and moves to retool (see: Bill O’Brien vs. Rick Smith with the Houston Texans in 2018). Gruden, as was suspected and eventually became clear, was granted CEO power and has gone about his business completely remaking the Raiders.
Maybe the one interesting point here is that of trust. I don’t know whether Gruden and Mayock trust their scouts, but I can definitely say that some of the members of the personnel department don’t feel trusted in this new world. If anything, the scouts put their heads down and tried to go about their work when things were going sideways with McKenzie and Gruden back in the summer. They did it knowing something bad was on the horizon.
As one member of the personnel department told Yahoo Sports after the Khalil Mack trade last September, “[Reggie is] the last man standing. [If he gets fired] a lot is going to change. It’s part of what you sign up for, though. I’d go through a wall for him – and he would for me – and I think that’s how a lot of us feel. So it’s just kind of tough right now.”
McKenzie’s guys vs. Gruden’s guys
When McKenzie left in December, it put some stress on the scouting ranks. The loyalty to McKenzie, mixed with a feeling that jobs had to be completed and there was still unknowns ahead, made for a tense situation. But it was also obvious to some who didn’t have a relationship with Mayock that once he was hired, their job status in the organization was on the clock.
And this is why evaluators get separated from the draft process at a time like this. It gets to a point that the new regime has shown what’s coming. In turn, the power brokers like Gruden and Mayock count certain staffers as “McKenzie guys,” inevitably moving to make their decision-making circle smaller as the draft gets closer.
Which, frankly, is smart. Rough for guys who have put in so much work on a draft class, but also part of the life when this is the chosen business. You don’t want to feel like the bosses lack trust in you, but you can’t deny feeling anxious and potentially burned when you know they are likely moving to replace you in the coming days.
All of that said, it’s rare to hear stories about scouts or other personnel men leaking trade secrets about their boards or evaluations. Does it happen? Sure. But it’s not common. There will be people who feel scorched in a power change, but they still won’t break the covenant that exists inside a personnel department. It’s just too dirty. No one ever wants to be tabbed as a guy who will flip on his own team and shuttle secrets to another franchise or the media. That’s a scarlet letter in the personnel world. Get caught doing that and you’ll be selling insurance one year later.
But whether the Raiders feel that’s an actual possibility, it doesn’t matter. You do what you have to do to secure the kingdom. In the grand scheme, this kind of move was always coming in Oakland. As sure as McKenzie’s firing and the realignment of the entire power structure.
It’s certainly not a pretty process. It’s definitely unfair. Good people lose jobs. Feelings are hurt. Trust is rescinded. But the NFL moves on, right into the next firing, the next hiring, and the next set of warring factions that will be sorted out through whatever brutal measures are necessary.
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