Coming off a stunningly disappointing 6-10 season in which no other AFC team took a further step backward, the Oakland Raiders demonstrated this offseason why they'll be the perfect marriage for Las Vegas when the franchise moves to Sin City in 2019.
Raiders owner Mark Davis gambled big in January and perhaps mortgaged his team's future through a series of transactions that started - but certainly didn’t end - with the luring of Jon Gruden out of the broadcast booth for an outlandish $100-million coaching contract over 10 years. It's an unprecedented payout that alone guarantees Gruden more power than most NFL bench bosses enjoy.
Nine years had passed since the wide-eyed, cartoonish Monday Night Football analyst last coached in the NFL, and 12 since Gruden led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to double-digit wins.
Sure, Gruden isn't the first coach to return from a long respite, and some have found success.
Dick Vermeil took a 15-year break after leaving the Eagles in 1982, citing burnout at just 45 years old, and returned at 61 to coach the St. Louis Rams, whom he guided to a Super Bowl title three years later.
Bill Parcells took four years off after the leaving the Jets in 1999 and resurfaced in Dallas to coach the Cowboys at 62, winning 34 games in four seasons (but no playoff contests) before retiring after the owner had forced Terrell Owens upon him in 2006.
Pete Carroll spent 10 years away from the NFL after the Patriots fired him in 1999 before the Seahawks hired him in 2010, but at least Carroll spent most of those years rebuilding USC into a national college powerhouse.
In the Raiders' case, the full-court press on Gruden felt like a desperate attempt by Davis to spark his team by wrangling the hottest "name" on the market - which Gruden has been every year since the Bucs fired him in January 2009 - instead of following the league's trend of going young and player-friendly.
For years, Gruden had rebuffed offers, determining that analyzing from the comfy confines of ESPN's booth for a hefty paycheck beat the stress and anxiety of coaching in a league where everyone other than Bill Belichick is perpetually on the hot seat.
It wasn't until widespread layoffs at ESPN - resulting in hundreds of marquee industry names on the unemployment line - that Gruden suddenly, and conveniently, said the pull of the locker room was too great to ignore.
Davis doling out $100 million to make sure he landed his man smacks of the New York Knicks unabashedly upping their ante several times to Phil Jackson until finally convincing the Zen Master to come out retirement and lead basketball operations – with an eye-popping contract that paid $12 million annually.
How'd that work out?
You don’t pay an NFL head coach $10 million to merely handle Xs and Os, so it’s no surprise that reports quickly surfaced after Gruden's hiring that Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie would see his power diminish under the new sheriff.
Meanwhile, several of the team’s decisions since Gruden's hiring indicate an aimless franchise that isn’t rock-solid from top to bottom despite the supposed change in culture he was expected to bring. They include:
But perhaps the Raiders' most head-scratching decision has been venturing this far into the offseason without extending the contract of their best player, who seems none too thrilled about it.
Pass-rusher Khalil Mack is entering the fifth and final year of his deal despite racking up 36.5 sacks over the past three seasons and making the Pro Bowl in each of those.
Mack skipped the team's mandatory camp earlier this month and NFL Network recently reported that he and the Raiders remain far apart. That Oakland hasn't locked up one of the NFL's best young defensive players is curious.
Given all that, Gruden must show he's worth $10 million annually and is equipped to coach today's players when training camp opens in July.
The Raiders have talent - including quarterback Derek Carr, Mack, wide receiver Amari Cooper, safety Karl Joseph, and guard Kelechi Osemele - but they're also leaning heavily on several aging veterans. Marshawn Lynch, Leon Hall, Reggie Nelson, and Bruce Irvin are all over 30, and asking them to stay healthy and productive on the downside of their careers is a tall order.
Meanwhile, the AFC West is a tough division. The Chiefs are reloading around young gunslinger Patrick Mahomes while Philip Rivers and the Chargers are looking to carry over the momentum of winning six of their last seven games in 2017.
The Raiders pushed all their chips forward to bank on Gruden – and they might very well come to regret that decision.
Geoff Mosher is an award-winning sports reporter, radio host, and TV personality with more than 20 years of experience covering all major sports and leagues. He also hosts regularly on 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia and co-hosts "The Sports Shop" on Facebook.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)