Chicago Bears vs Oakland Raiders, London. So, who won this game, anyway? Surely it was the team that entered the day at 3-1, was 12-4 a year ago, boasts the league’s fifth ranked defense and best set of linebackers in the NFL, one of whom is Khalil Mack, arguably the game’s best defensive player. What? You mean it was the team that traded Mack away and was 4-12 last season? The team that has been in a continual state of turmoil for much of the off-season, punctuated by the soap opera like saga of wide receiver Antonio Brown?
Say what you want about Jon Gruden, but the guy could sell ice to an Eskimo. He somehow managed to convince his troops that they could beat the Bears, and only a furious second half rally by Chicago prevented this game from being a blowout. Rookie running back Josh Jacobs, selected appropriately enough with one of the two first round picks the Raiders will receive from the Bears for Mack, was probably the best player on the field for either team on Sunday, and rushed for 123 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 4.7 yards per carry.
Let’s see. . . team trades away multiple players who were former first round picks, at least one veteran player says he doesn’t want to play for the team and the franchise is in a state of rebuilding. The Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins both fit this description; there are really only two major differences: the Raiders started their rebuilding project a year ago, and although the return in draft picks -- three first rounders -- is the same, I don’t think there are many people who believe that Laremy Tunsil, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Kenny Stills are better players than Khalil Mack and wide receiver Amari Cooper, who was traded to the Dallas Cowboys a year ago. And I guarantee you that the first rounder the Dolphins will receive from the Pittsburgh Steelers for Fitzpatrick next April will be a lot higher than 27th, which was what the Raiders got from Dallas for Cooper.
I keep hearing about the supposed deleterious effect all these losses will have on the Dolphins’ team ‘culture’, but I haven’t seen any bad culture from the Raiders thus far this season. Without good players, a team doesn’t have any culture, other than maybe the kind of culture that can be found in a Petri dish. E. Coli, perhaps? How much better can a team’s culture be when they’re finishing near the .500 mark almost every year, versus going 2-14, 1-15 or even winless the entire season? If you answered ‘not much better’, you’re getting warm. Over the past forty or so years I’ve been a football fan, one of the most exciting teams I’ve ever seen was the Dallas Cowboys of the early to mid 1990’s. The young, brash lightning quick collection of athletes Jimmy Johnson put together was an entertaining group to watch, and he was able to do it by stockpiling a lot of high draft picks. And yes, the Cowboys went 1-15 in 1989, Johnson’s first season in Dallas. While the Dolphins didn’t have a Herschel Walker type player with which to demand a king’s ransom from anyone for, if we compare what general manager Chris Grier got for the players he traded with what the Raiders got in their trades, I don’t know how anyone could not be excited about the future of this team.
The other thing I’m tired of hearing is how Grier shouldn’t have been retained this past offseason, because he was here for most of the bad drafts and free agent signings that Miami has turned in over the past few years. To those who don’t like Grier, I’ve got two words for you: Dennis Hickey. Sure, we all know Mike Tannenbaum made some ill advised moves, but Hickey somehow escapes criticism for the moves he made in his two years as Dolphins GM, one of which was helping set not one, but two dubious NFL records in the draft: most first, second and third round picks used on wide receivers in a three year period and fewest number of picks used on defensive players in the first three rounds of the draft in a three year period. Hickey did about one thing right during his tenure with the Dolphins, which was trading down in the second round of the 2014 draft, to select WR Jarvis Landry near the end of the round. That’s pretty much it. If Grier can hit on at least half of the draft picks he’s amassed over the next couple of years, he should be a leading candidate for executive of the year one of these days. That’s the wrap for today, have a great week, everybody.