The Oakland Raiders might be losing a lot this season.
But coach Jon Gruden believes the Raiders remain a desired franchise to play for.
He didn’t mince his words, either, during an interview with former Raiders star Howie Long prior to Thursday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers.
“People are dying to come to play here,” Gruden said to Long. “I get a lot of phone calls.
“And to have salary-cap space and to have a chance to talk to the people that you really want to wear the silver and black, the guys you really want to wear the silver and black and represent this team, that’s exciting.”
According to OverTheCap.com, the Raiders are projected to have $75 million in salary cap space in 2019.
After the Raiders fell to the 49ers 34-3 on Thursday, Gruden readdressed his comments to Long about talking to players.
“I see players after every game we play that want to be Raiders,” he said. “That’s been the case my whole life. I think the brand of the Raiders is an exciting one.
“And I think a lot of the players no doubt do want to play for us in the future. And I’m not going to speculate any further than that.”
The Raiders traded Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears before the season and recently sent Amari Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys.
Both trades resulted in a first round draft pick in the NFL Draft - Mack’s (2019 and 2020) and Cooper’s (2019).
In total, the Raiders have five first-round draft picks in the next two years.
Gruden is in the first year of his 10-year, $100 million contract deal he signed with the Raiders in January.
“I’m just trying to get people excited about the Oakland Raiders,” he said. “The Oakland Raiders is a great organization. And I know it’s not looking pretty right now. But I’ve heard a lot of negativity over the last 6 to 7 months, and rightfully so, but we’re going to build a championship team. And I know a lot of people, as players, as fans and just in general, want to be apart of this.”
Here is a transcript of Gruden discussing Mack, Cooper and the franchise.
Long: At the opening press conference, you talked about wanting to bring a championship to Oakland. What’s changed in your mind between that day from the evaluation to the team was to what is now?
Gruden: I still want to deliver a championship to Oakland, but we may not be in Oakland, but these Oakland Raiders fans are going to be with us forever. You know that, Howie. I didn’t have the foresight to know that Khalil Mack was going to holdout in this situation would unfold the way it did, but we have to keep an eye on the future. We’ve got to do right with this five first round draft choices that we picked up.
Long: The Mack trade shocked the world, it really did. It shocked me. Caught me totally off guard. Were you surprised by the reaction to that trade?
Gruden: Maybe in some ways. The word ramification is one word I think everybody has to keep in mind the ramifications of trading him is going to be big. We’re going to take some shots. But, the word ramification of signing him to that kind of contract would be very difficult on this franchise. We’re not a finished product, yet. And to start your first season in a salary cap position is really unfavorable, would be really tough for this team.
Long: The Cooper trade was a less shock to me, particularly what you got back for him. I thought it was a good move. People inside the building perception was that signaling you packing it in and were in full rebuild mode.
Gruden: I’m not packing nothing in. We’re not packing anything in. We’re working as hard as we’ve ever worked. Someone makes a phone call to you in the middle of the night and makes you an offer you think that can help this franchise - the Raiders. You make that move. I hate to say goodbye to Amari Cooper. I didn’t take this job with any intention of other than coaching Mack and Cooper.
Long: Jon, I’m looking at it when you first started out. I’m saying to myself: Super Bowl coach, check. Quarterback, check. No. 1 wide receiver, check. Dominant pass rusher - add some pieces and we’re close.
Gruden: I’m not making any excuses. There is a perception out there that I know is negative and I know I’m a lightning rod right now. We’ve made some moves that perhaps the analyst don’t agree with but there is a lot of people, Howie, too that think we’re doing an absolute right thing. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Who cares? Only the future will tell.