Signed, sealed, and delivered, the Oakland Raiders have officially submitted and announced their 53-man roster to the NFL league office, and there are some surprises.
All throughout training camp and the preseason, Head Coach Jon Gruden and General Manager Mike Mayock knew they would eventually have some difficult decisions to make. It's a good problem to have when there's talent everywhere you look, but it's never easy letting someone go.
Following the initial roster being made public, Mayock hopped on a conference call with the local media to field questions regarding the team's decision to roll with the players they kept.
"I did all of it myself. I was cut three times and you have no idea how I empathize with these kids," Mayock said with a sobering tone. "Every cut was brutal, I had tears in my eyes with several of these kids. Every one of them handled it with class and distinction. My style is pretty much very direct, I told every one of them where I thought they were as a football player, and what I thought they needed to improve upon. They were all direct conversations, some longer than others. You're right, I've had to do some cutting before since I took this job there's been several moves — a lot of moves. The last two days for me has been emotionally draining because I know what those kids feel like sitting in that chair and I feel just as bad as they do."
It's the nature of the business, but no amount of experience can make telling someone they've been let go any easier. As the general manager of the Raiders, Mayock had gone through similar situations in the months prior with all the roster moves the team had made, but it's hard to prepare for cutting 37 players over the span of 24 hours.
Among the many to be released or waived, the team decided to part ways with tight end Luke Willson, linebacker Brandon Marshall, and wide receiver Keelan Doss, which may come as a shock to many; however, there's always the possibility the Raiders sign Doss, and some other familiar faces, to the practice squad. Mayock shared why Marshall — a Super Bowl champion — was among the first players to receive a call notifying him he'd been released.
"Brandon Marshall is a guy that took a while to get his flexibility and speed back," Mayock explained. "He worked through the OTAs and the early part of training camp, and we were just starting to see that burst that we're used to. I think what really happens is we're only going to keep four or five linebackers, which is the way the NFL is going these days because of the spread offenses. That fourth or fifth linebacker has got to be a special teams player, has got to be a core special teams player. And if Brandon wasn't going to be the first guy in on base and play a high percentage of snaps then we were going to need him to play almost all the special teams and we didn't really see that for him. Rather than try and force it we wanted to get him out the door early so he had the best opportunity."
Saturday was a difficult day for a lot of people, but now the focus immediately shifts to the start of the regular season, which is a mere five days away — nine for the Raiders' home opener against the Denver Broncos. It's hard not to get excited about the players currently on the roster; with Antonio Brown, Trent Brown, Josh Jacobs, and several new additions ready to help the Silver and Black return to its former glory.
Let's take a look at the Raiders' current 53-man roster heading into the regular season.
"I think Jon and I took a step back today and kind of looked at the overview of it. The last couple days have been a frenzy, and I took a look at last year's 53 for the L.A. Rams game Week 1, and we've got over 30 guys on this 53 that were not on that roster," Mayock said. "So, there's been significant change. Eight of our nine draft picks are on the roster, I think we've got four undrafted free agents. I think we're excited because what we hoped to accomplish eight months ago when Jon and I sat down and talked about it, we'd get younger, more athletic, and get the right kind of mentality in this building, and we think we've been pretty consistent with that and we're real excited about the guys on this roster."
With 30 new faces on the active roster from a year ago, there's one familiar face that's a quintessential piece of the Raiders makeup, Rodney Hudson. Derek Carr has said on countless occasions that the Pro Bowl center is the smartest football player he's ever lined up with, and fortunately for No. 4 he'll get to keep Hudson as his center for an additional three years.
Friday afternoon, the Silver and Black signed Hudson to a multi-year contract extension, making sure to lock up arguably the best center in the NFL. During his conference call, Mayock shared why it was imperative to sign the veteran.
"I think since I've been here, you start to get a kind of feel for the heart and the pulse of a locker room, and you can put the tape on and I can tell you Rodney Hudson is one of the top centers in the NFL," he said. "When you get around the guys and you get around that offensive line room — I'm a huge believer in building the offensive line — and you get around that group and watch what's going on, he's the quintessential glue player. He's a glue guy.
Mayock continued, "He [Hudson] doesn't say much publicly, he doesn't smile too often, but when he's with his guys everything revolves around him. His work ethic, his toughness, and we thought it was really important as we continued to develop this offensive line — we bring in a new free agent tackle in Trent [Brown], we've got Kolton [Miller] in year two — we thought it was really important to keep the anchor of that line together, as we get ready to head to Las Vegas a year from now. We're excited that Rodney has agreed to the contract."
Raider Nation has every reason to believe that the Silver and Black have the pieces to take a step forward in 2019, and with the regular season just around the corner they won't need to wait much longer to see it in action.