Raiders' Mike Mayock, Jon Gruden need to keep striking gold to catch Chiefs


The Raiders have been chasing the Kansas City Chiefs for years now. Watching Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes win a Super Bowl didn’t motivate that pursuit.

The Chiefs have won four straight AFC West titles. They are rabbits. The Raiders, Chargers and Broncos are greyhounds circling the track, never quite capturing their prey.

Kansas City even ruined the Raiders’ return to the playoffs in 2016. The Silver and Black finished 12-4 and lost the division title on a tiebreaker because Reid bested Jack Del Rio twice that year.

Reid did that with Alex Smith. He drafted Patrick Mahomes a year later and sat him a season before unleashing the Texas Tech product into the NFL world in 2018. Mahomes threw 50 touchdowns and won the MVP that year. He hoisted the Lombardi Trophy the next.

He’s the first player to do all that before age 25. So, you know, he’s going to be around a while.

Mahomes and Reid should be a problem for the eight years remaining on Jon Gruden’s monster decade-long contract.

The Raiders have been searching for a way to beat the Chiefs over a game and an entire season. It remains a primary objective, though the journey seems arduous. Mahomes has Reid cooking up plays in the lab, finding new and inventive ways to connect with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce and Mecole Hardman and Sammy Watkins or get Damien Williams going on the ground.

The defense has been just good enough to let Mahomes win important games, and while NFL roster turnover’s as certain as a western sunset, having an elite coach and quarterback will help mitigate important losses and the cumulative effect of having lower NFL draft picks. This league’s built for parity, but Chiefs seem set for a long run at the top.

That doesn’t mean Kansas City will own the AFC West as New England has for nearly two decades. There’s room for upward mobility if Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock play their cards right.

Despite the fact the Raiders were in the playoff after midseason, the 2019 campaign proved the Raiders aren’t there yet. Let’s not forget they’re in the midst of a major roster rebuild. Stacking two more NFL draft classes like last year’s and the Silver and Black will open a realistic championship window.

That’s how good the 2019 class was in its first year. They got massive contributions from early picks and later-round prospects, with a foundational group filling needs at several premium positions.

The Raiders have two first-round picks in 2020, with last year’s No. 27 overall pick Johnathan Abram returning after playing just one game last year. They also have three picks in the third round, creating opportunities to land impactful talent.

They must do better on the free agent market and in trades, with some massive swings and misses there. Trent Brown might’ve been the best veteran acquisition, with picks wasted on Martavius Bryant, Antonio Brown, Zay Jones and Trevor Davis. It’s tough to say Lamarcus Joyner or Tyrell Williams were worth big salaries in 2019, but both will be around in 2020 to improve on last year’s results.

Eventually, this discussion would change to the Raiders’ red-hot-button topic at quarterback. Derek Carr separates Raider Nation like Republicans and Democrats, with little desire among both factions to reach across the aisle.

The Raiders will look for upgrades at quarterback and every other position this offseason, but that list could well be very short. I’m not going to start a Derek Carr column with my 606th word. That would be burying the lede. That’s for another time, but I’ve been consistent with my opinion the Raiders should continue building around Carr during this offseason. If he can’t get a good thing going in 2020, then maybe make a change. Let’s not forget the 49ers came really close to winning it all with Jimmy Garoppolo, a very good quarterback nowhere near Mahomes’ level. It can be done with someone of Garoppolo/Carr quality.

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Unless, of course, Gruden and Mayock find something special. Reid had Smith going strong, but that didn’t stop him from taking Mahomes.

The Chiefs have an elite talent behind center now, and that certainly complicates the quest to catch and then consistently beat a Super Bowl champ who resides in the AFC West.

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