ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — Soon after Jon Gruden arrived for his second stint as Oakland Raiders coach last winter he called Amari Cooper a “focal point” of the offense and pointed to Khalil Mack as a reason why he came back to coaching.
Less than two months into his first season back in Oakland, both former Pro Bowlers are gone.
The Raiders returned from the bye week Monday and immediately made another big trade, dealing Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys for a 2019 first-round pick. That trade follows the one made just over a week before the start of the season that sent Mack to Chicago for a package that included a pair of first-round picks.
Now a team that won 12 games less than two years ago and was viewed as an up-and-coming franchise with core young players such as Mack, Cooper and quarterback is in full-fledged rebuild mode after a 1-5 start to the season.
“It’s disappointing. Real disappointing,” general manager Reggie McKenzie said. “It was starting to get that way last year when we somewhat took a nosedive, but I understand the NFL, the system will not allow you to keep them all.”
The Raiders have three first-round picks for the first time since 1988, when they took Hall of Famer Tim Brown, five-time Pro Bowler Terry McDaniel and Scott Davis.
They have plenty of holes on the roster as evidenced by the early season struggles and will now look to rebuild through the draft.
“We’re building this thing in concert together, I’m talking about me and coach Gru,” general manager Reggie McKenzie said. “We’re doing this thing together. When we make a deal, I think these picks are going to help this team tremendously, bottom line. It’s something I saw as a great opportunity. We’re not tanking this season. These guys will have to step up and continue to work to win some ballgames. That will always be the case.”
The deal came while the Raiders were on the practice field Monday and left his teammates surprised. But they later said it’s just part of the business of football and wished Cooper well in Dallas.
“We still have to come in here and perform on Sunday with whoever we got,” running back Jalen Richard said. “Just focus in on the Colts and let everybody upstairs handle what they have to handle.”
The deal is the latest move to raise questions about the relationship between McKenzie and Gruden. McKenzie was kept on as general manager after owner Mark Davis fired Jack Del Rio last offseason and lured Gruden back to coaching after several unsuccessful attempts.
While McKenzie kept his title as general manager, Gruden was given a 10-year contract worth up to $100 million, making him the clear top dog in the organization. McKenzie tried to downplay that even after the team dealt away two of his recent first-round picks and Gruden has been unwilling to give significant playing time to 2016 and ’17 first-rounders Karl Joseph and Gareon Conley.
“Gruden and I, we work together very well. Let’s make no mistakes about it,” McKenzie said. “Him pushing me out, that’s not happening. Me, not being able to work with Gruden, that’s furthest from the truth. OK? We work really well together. We’re in each other’s offices all the time. Talking about players, who’s up, who’s down. Who I would like to see play more. Practice squad guys. About moving this guy. Claiming this guy. Trading. Guys calling me about trading this guy, ‘Here’s what I think, what do you think?'”
While trading Mack depleted an already suspect defense lacking consistent pass rush, the move to cut ties with Cooper is more nuanced. He looked to be on his way to stardom after being picked fourth overall out of Alabama in 2015.
Cooper was the third receiver to start his career with back-to-back seasons with 1,000 yards receiving and 70 catches, following Odell Beckham Jr. and Marques Colston, but has been unable to build on that success the past two years.
He has just 70 catches for 960 yards since the start of 2016 as his inconsistency has become a bigger problem. Cooper has been held under 30 yards receiving in 13 of his past 26 games. Cooper has 3,183 yards and 19 touchdowns in three-plus seasons.
“I still think he is a first-round player,” McKenzie said. “That’s why I had to get a first-round pick. Now, has he been inconsistent? Absolutely. Absolutely. But has he shown greatness? Absolutely. The consistency is something that I am sure he has worked on and this guy is still a young player, you know. I think he is going to do well down in Dallas.”
NOTES: The Raiders placed RB Marshawn Lynch on IR with a groin injury. He will be eligible to return for the Christmas Eve game against Denver. … DT Eddie Vanderdoes resumed practice following offseason knee surgery. The Raiders have 21 days to decide whether to activate him or shut him down for the season. … LB James Cowser was signed to the practice squad.