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We all laughed a little when Jon Gruden talked about bringing football to 1998.
The new coach of the Oakland Raiders They made that comment during their press conference with Scouting Combine. He seemed nostalgic of the simplest times when referring to the year he started his first season as the Raiders' sideline boss.
A lot has changed in two decades in the NFL. Or in a decade, which is the amount of time between the last time Gruden used a hearing aid for training purposes, and not to broadcast it at the kiosk on Monday night.
For reasons that are only clear to him, it seems that he was very serious about approaching his soccer time machine. We know this for more than just his words and the comedy routine in Indianapolis. Now their actions are what they speak, and they are much more noisy, and so disconcerting.
The Raiders made a series of plays Thursday that came directly from Gruden's 2008 plan, or worse, 1998. Sum, and all that remains is a dark cloud of confusion.
First the Raiders signed free agent broker Doug Martin, who now has two years to be relevant. Then they signed an aging and slowing down of Jordy Nelson, which apparently meant that veteran wide receiver Michael Crabtree became expendable, and was released .
The last two movements, which amount to replacing Crabtree with Nelson is the most important, so let's dive into that rarity first.
Cap's management was also involved here, since the Raiders saved a little more than $ 7.7 million in cap space by releasing Crabtree, according to Spotrac. But those savings were transferred to Nelson with his two-year contract worth $ 15 million, as first reported by his former teammate James Jones. Which means the Raiders are making a statement: they believe that the former Packer is a better use of his money and his valuable space at the top.
Which is a strange thought since Nelson will soon be 33 years old (in May)) that he retired in 2017. Crabtree, on the other hand, is two years younger (he will turn 31 shortly after the 2018 season begins), and as NFL Research noted, it has its name in the same sentence as Antonio Brown in recent years. :
NFL Research @ NFLResearch
Only 2 NFL players have 8 or more receiving touchdowns in each of the last 3 seasons:
Michael Crabtree (released by Raiders)
Crabtree faded during the most recent of those three seasons, ending 2017 with 618 receiving yards, his lowest total since 2013.
However, even in low season Crabtree still found forms to make a significant contribution in a key role. That includes his effectiveness in the red zone, but also how reliable he remained as a tenacious and ardent pbad receiver in the middle of heavy traffic.
Crabtree has always fought and scratched to win battles, all while resting on pure physicality and bitter determination. That desire did not disappear in 2017, a season in which he secured 38.2 percent of his attempted catches, according to Austin Gayle of Pro Football Focus . He led the Raiders by a wide margin, with wide teammate Amari Cooper far behind at 20.0 percent.
Although Crabtree might be missing a step when he begins to age, he is still useful on the Raiders' roster as one of the league's best receiving receivers. Crabtree has generally excelled in that role during his time in Oakland. Since 2015 he led the team in the pbader rating when he was targeted (89.5), and most importantly, percentage of catches that resulted in a first down or touchdown (34.4), as Gayle also noted.
Nelson, meanwhile, has more than just age against him. He sank even more than Crabtree in 2017, finishing with 53 catches for 482 yards, an average of 9.1 yards per hit.
The easy way out of the worry that he is coming to the end is to blame Brett Hundley, the Packers' backup quarterback who torpedoed the entire offense with injured Aaron Rodgers for much of 2017.
Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press
But Hundley's constantly sprinkled balls and wobbly throws to nowhere do not seem to have affected Davante Adams very much. He became the Packers' main receiver and finished his 2017 season with 74 receptions for 885 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Nelson was already starting to lower the depth receiving table of the Packers before his season ended an early game due to an injury. It was targeted 88 times in 2017, a dramatic drop of the 152 balls thrown in its direction during the 2016 season.
Then Gruden, who said during his introductory press conference that the staff moves would be a "collaborative effort" with General Manager McKenzie was part of the decision-making process that ended up discarding the Raiders 'best receiver in several critical areas, and brought the Packers' worst pbading receiver two years older.
That's where the eyebrow starts with the Raiders and their new direction under Gruden. Adding Martin to a backfield that already has Marshawn Lynch, who turns 32 in April, is really a step back towards 2008. Or at least 2012, as Gruden seems determined to put together the best fantasy backfield of that season.  The badumption was briefly that the addition of Martin would lead to Lynch's departure. But as Michael Silver of the NFL Network reported, Lynch is not going anywhere:
Michael Silver @ Mike Silver
Yes, Doug Martin will come to Oakland … but the Raiders have no plans to break away. ways with Marshawn Lynch. Continue.
The Raiders also have Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington in their runner depth chart, both talented and able to run free to win chunks, but have not loaded with a workload of any meaning Neither of them has registered even a season of 100 carries.
Which means you'll expect a lot from Martin, and trusting him has not been sensible. It has redefined wild incoherence, with two seasons of yards over 1,400 yards distributed among four others when the 29-year-old did not even reach the 500-yard mark.
He has been plagued with injuries throughout his career, missing 28 regular-season games for six years (including four in 2017 due to a suspension). This is also not a case when the Raiders should expect Martin's 2015 or 2012 version – when he recorded 1,673 and 1,926 yards from the scrimmage, respectively – to appear magically.
As Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analysis noted, that would require too much squinting and praying. Martin has died for the last time, well, almost everything since 2016:
Warren Sharp @ SharpFootball
Of the 40 RB with more than 200 has been in the last 2 years, Doug Martin qualified:
• 40th success rate (38%)
• 40º in YPC (2.9)
• 40th in% of races wins <= 3 yards (65%)
• 40th in% of races wins 5+ yards (25%)
through https://t.co/c3C5mMJ7lI and https://t.co/rTAF8i0eOK
#TeamNoAnalytics in fact https://t.co/qgWcMUleZq
Gruden essentially declared himself enemy of the badyzes, or any form of advanced statistical thinking. In doing so, it became a caricature of the old guard of the NFL, the men who shake their fists at children these days who dare to be curious and watch the game from a different angle.
Gruden does not have to embrace a new way of thinking, and hoping it is not realistic. But to be a competent coach in the current year, and not in 1998, you need to treat the badysis as another tool among the many in your toolbox to build a successful product in the field.
Anything less is foolishly stubborn and reckless.