The Oakland Raiders look vastly different today than they did just 17 or so months ago, when Jon Gruden was hired to coach the team for the second time.
Among the bigger moves made before Gruden’s second season was the Raiders’ trade for Antonio Brown on March 10, in which they acquired the All-Pro from the Pittsburgh Steelers for draft picks and promptly agreed to give him a raise as well.
Brown’s divorce from the Steelers was messy, and not surprisingly, the early days of his Raiders tenure are going well according to Gruden.
‘Antonio’s energy is contagious’
Gruden talked to NBC Sports’ Peter King for “Football Morning in America” and of course was asked about Brown.
“I just love guys like that. He’s like … he just wants it,” Gruden said. “Reminds me of, you throw a dog the ball, he just goes and gets it. He keeps going, and going, and going, and going. He just won’t stop. Antonio’s energy is contagious.”
Brown’s work ethic has never been questioned, even as he had his ups and downs in Pittsburgh.
‘Getting him here was interesting’
Gruden also detailed the day the Raiders pulled off the trade.
“Getting him here was interesting. I remember my wife and I in a car in Las Vegas, early March. [Raiders’ owner] Mark Davis had me and [general manager] Mike [Mayock] go there for a fund-raising event,” he recalled. “Mike’s wife Mandy came and my wife Cindy came. And we’re driving around, and I get a call from [Pittsburgh vice president of football and business administration] Omar Khan.
“He’s like, ‘Hey what about a second-round pick for Antonio Brown?’ Free agency’s about to start and I’m thinking, ‘Man, all these slot receivers are going for $10 million. Some of these players are going for $15 million. Why don’t we just give him the second? Get Antonio Brown!’ I call Mike and I said, ‘Why don’t we just give the Steelers the second and get this guy?’
“Mike says, ‘That’s a little rich still. Let me talk to [Steelers GM] Kevin Colbert.’ Now he talks to Kevin Colbert and he says, ‘I think we can get him for a three and a five.’ I said, ‘Get the hell outta here!’”
The next step was to call Brown and make sure he’d play for Oakland, since a proposed deal with the Buffalo Bills a few days earlier had fallen apart because Brown wouldn’t play there.
“So my wife and I were up in the Red Rock Mountains, just outside of Vegas. Just looking around, waiting for the event to start that night. There’s bad cell phone service. I’m like, ‘I can’t even get ahold of this guy!’” Gruden said. “So we’re driving down to some sports bar parking lot, I’m calling Antonio Brown, and he says he’d love to play for us. Now Mike has to get on the phone with Colbert to work out the contract.
“We’re at this nice event, I got my wife … They got beautiful makeup on, beautiful dresses on. But me and Mike are over there at the event, working on a trade for Antonio Brown. ‘What’s the deal, man? We getting him?’ It was great though.”
‘We played Family Feud’
After acquiring Brown, the Raiders signed one of his on-field rivals, Vontaze Burfict. With the Cincinnati Bengals, Burfict had racked up fines and suspensions for dirty play, including once knocking out Brown in a playoff game.
According to Gruden, it’s all water under the bridge.
“They’re good. We played Family Feud one day in our team meeting. We had three guys on one team, three guys on the other,” he said. “Our version of Family Feud. Silver team and a Black team. The Silver team was Antonio Brown, Vontaze Burfict and I think we had Isaiah Crowell on the team.
“You gotta try to get these guys to know each other. This is the only time that you can really do that. April, May, June. It’s almost like church. Everybody stand up. Shake a hand, introduce yourself to your teammates. Otherwise, Peter never gets to know Jon and Jon never meets Joe …
“It was a helluva game. One of the questions was, ‘Who were the 1,100-yard rushers in the NFL last year?’ They nailed that pretty good, but they had a hard time with [Chris] Carson of Seattle. Another question: ‘Who do the Raiders play on the other side of the Mississippi?’ Last one was top designer brands clothing or jewelry. These guys were guessing Nike, Wrangler. They don’t know [expletive] about fashion. But they did great. Got some laughs. These days, you gotta think outside the box.”
We’re going to question Gruden on that last one – Brown has shown he’s pretty familiar with luxury labels.
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