ALAMEDA, Calif. - It'd be unfair to say that there's a new sheriff in Raider Nation.
Jon Gruden, with his 10-year contract and special relationship with owner Mark Davis, is still the man with the ultimate say when it comes to football matters for the Silver and Black.
But it's evident now that new general manager Mike Mayock is no flack. In fact, he's providing a necessary and effective foil to Gruden.
It had been discussed in NFL circles since before the combine that things had changed at 1220 Harbor Bay Parkway: Mayock was, indeed, the man to call if you wanted to do football business - something that was not the case when Reggie McKenzie was the team's general manager and he and Gruden operated effectively separate front offices.
But I had to see how the two men played off each other to really believe it - after all, we were told that McKenzie was something more than a glorified secretary last year.
There was no deception necessary at Antonio Brown's introductory press conference, though - anyone with decent vision and hearing could see and hear that this team finally has a unified front office.
And that front office - led by Mayock - is making some deft moves.
Six months after trading away one of the game's pre-eminent players, the Raiders have added another one, on the cheap, too. That's no small accomplishment.
Five months after trading away their No. 1 receiver, they replaced him with an unquestioned upgrade, at least in the short term. You can't possibly complain about that.
They've also given big bucks to a young and possibly elite offensive tackle, a big, physically elite wide receiver, and a do-it-all defensive back.
Of course, the juxtaposition of spending big money, particularly on Browns - Antonio and Trent - only a few months after making extensive rebuilding moves, is jarring, but I'm seeing the light.
You can simultaneously operate on two timelines - you can try to win now and also win later - in the NFL. It's extremely difficult to do and only the best organizations in the league can pull it off, but it can be done.
But it would not have been possible for the Raiders if someone like Mayock had not shown up. Gruden is too all-in on, well, everything to handle the full-time jobs of general manager and head coach - there are only so many hours in the day.
Gruden needed someone who could handle the grind of the latter gig for him - someone with an in-sync philosophy for both football and life.
I think he's found that in Mayock.
These men are governed by the same kind of crazy - and I mean that as a compliment. It's a wavelength that McKenzie was never going to join, either, despite it being a necessary component of the trust that's required for a partnership like this to work.
"We have obvious areas on this roster that we want to improve, and Mike Mayock being here, I don't want to make him mad, but he's made a huge impact on this organization," Gruden said Wednesday as part of his limited comments (a circumstance that never happened when McKenzie was around). "This trade has his fingerprints all over it. We're going to make a couple more moves I believe in free agency that have his fingerprints all over it. It's been a blast."
There aren't many teams with a power structure like Oakland's - few owners in the NFL are willing to hand out massive contracts the one Gruden signed last year - but there are two somewhat similar circumstances that come to mind:
The first is in Santa Clara. Kyle Shanahan doesn't want to admit it, but the 49ers' head coach has final say on personnel decisions. At the same time, he has given the general manager he's hired, John Lynch, exceptional scope and latitude. The structure with the Niners is a bit peculiar - cap guru and Jed York confidant Paraag Marathe is still in the room - and one could argue that the partnership hasn't gone according to plan, but no one can say that Shanahan and Lynch aren't in lockstep.
The second team is the Patriots.
Gruden's seemingly bulletproof deal puts him in the class of one other coach: Bill Belichick, who has a mysterious but unquestionably lucrative deal with the Patriots that some believe makes him the highest-paid coach in football for as long as he sees fit. Belichick is also the de-facto GM of the team, like Gruden, but Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio handles the day-to-day job of being the general manager.
Caserio has been with the Patriots for nearly two decades, working for Belichick as a coach before moving into his role as the team's unannounced but evident co-general manager in 2009. He's an extension of the coaching staff, but he isn't viewed as a lackey - Belichick might be particular about what he's looking for in players, but Caserio is someone who will challenge his boss when he disagrees.
The results of that dynamic speak for themselves.
Every circumstance is different - and the Raiders are unquestionably peculiar - but after a lost year, Gruden seems to be comfortable with delegating responsibility while not demanding fealty.
That's a healthy combination and a big step. But I'd venture to say that will make him a better coach and the Raiders a better team.
Will that bring about something special in 2019? It's doubtful, given the number of holes that are still on this roster, some of them dug by Gruden last year.
But the team is showing signs of wellness both in the front office and, subsequently, on the depth chart. The big signings, highlighted by Antonio Brown, are a step towards competitiveness now, while having four picks in the top 35 selections of this year's NFL draft could provide competitiveness later.
It's a bold but sound formula - one that I didn't see as possible for the Raiders until I got a better read on Mayock's power inside the organization. The Brown trade provided solid evidence, but the press conference sealed the deal - it was Mayock's show.
Gruden's show will start next month, when offseason workouts begin.
And so long as Mayock and Gruden continue to work together, there's a chance that the duo can pave a long overdue path back to respectability for the Raiders.
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