No deadline moves for Raiders, but the deconstruction has already begun

There was no trade-deadline news out of Oakland on Tuesday, but Jon Gruden and the Raiders began tearing things apart when they traded Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper. Kelley L Cox/USA TODAY Sports

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- The Oakland Raiders locker room, particularly the portion where the cornerbacks live, was a hub of activity late Tuesday morning.

Until it wasn't.

Gareon Conley, the subject of so many trade rumors, was swiping through his phone. Rashaan Melvin, the unhappy vet who was made inactive last week, sat stoic at his locker. Nick Nelson, fresh off his NFL debut, yelled to someone across the room.

Then Daryl Worley offered his advice, before the bulk of the media entered.

"Ninety minutes," Worley offered with a laugh. "Ninety minutes until the deadline. Keep your mouths shut."

Conley stood up as a reporter approached.

"I'm gone, cuz," Conley said.

"You mean, gone for good?" I asked, "Or gone for now?"

"We'll see," he laughed as he strode away.

Some two hours later, the 2017 first-round draft pick was still a Raider and was on the field to start practice. Same with strong safety Karl Joseph, the team's first-round pick in 2016, and defensive end Bruce Irvin. So too was quarterback Derek Carr. In fact, the only player missing was veteran cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who announced his own retirement on social media earlier in the day, after telling his fellow cornerbacks of his plan the night before.

It made for a relatively quiet trade-deadline day for a 1-6 team expected to make a splash with a full-blown fire sale heading into Thursday night's game at the San Francisco 49ers. Besides, the deconstruction of the Raiders under returning coach Jon Gruden had already been well underway, what with Oakland having dealt its first rounders from 2014 and 2015 in All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack on Sept. 1 and Pro Bowl receiver Amari Cooper on Oct. 22.

The signs were there all along. All you had to was sift through the noise.

Because almost from the moment Gruden returned, both he and owner Mark Davis talked about the need to "build this thing up" in Oakland. Wait, what?

Sure, the Raiders were coming off a down season in which they only won six games a year after going 12-4 and playing in the postseason for the first time in 14 years.

But wasn't Gruden and his incoming coaching staff supposed to be the difference in getting the Raiders back into contention? The team just needed a good scrub down from Chucky, rather than a full-blown teardown and rebuild, no?

Plus, that would counter what Davis said after the Raiders received approval to move to Las Vegas in March 2017 -- they would do everything in their power to win a Super Bowl for Oakland before relocating in 2020. The future seemed bright after the highs of 2016.

But deconstruction and reconstruction takes longer than two years. Remember, the Raiders went through this after Al Davis died in 2011. As Mark Davis said at the time, it was a two-phase, four-year project -- two years of deconstruction overseen by then-new general manager Reggie McKenzie in 2012 and 2013, followed by two years of reconstruction, in 2014 and 2015.

It worked, too, the Raiders becoming a league darling in 2016, with Carr a league MVP candidate and the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year in Mack.

And yet, here we are. Again. Seemingly building for Las Vegas, and giving Oakland a parting gift not quite as shiny as a Lombardi Trophy. The team's highest-paid player is not exactly thrilled, either.

"This is my fifth year," quarterback Derek Carr, who signed a five-year, $125 million extension in the summer of 2017, said after the Raiders were pummeled by the Seahawks on an international stage in London two weeks ago. "I don't, we don't like [talk of a rebuild], you know? I feel like we've done that a little bit, right? Nobody likes to do that ... this being my fifth year, you want [success] now, you want everything now. I know our fans want it now, and trust me, we're trying to do it now."

Currently, just eight of McKenzie's 50 pre-Gruden draft picks are on Oakland's 53-man roster (that number will jump to 10 when defensive tackles Eddie Vanderdoes and Justin Ellis get activated off the PUP and IR lists, respectively, in the coming weeks).

Plus, only 21 players on the Raiders' current 53-man roster spent any time on the team's active roster last year.

And no, McKenzie does not take it personally. Not even with the roster he built being so dismantled. Because if you take him at his word, the 2016 NFL Executive of the Year is a willing participant in this teardown.

The way McKenzie sees it, his job as general manager is to provide his coach with players the coach wants, rather than give him a roster he likes with the coach expected to, well, coach it up.

That's what happened in 2016, when Jack Del Rio and the explosive offense authored by offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave got Oakland off to a 12-3 start. Then Carr broke his leg in Week 16 and Del Rio fired Musgrave and replaced him with Todd Downing.

Regress much?

"We've got to understand, coaching plays a part from the standpoint of systems," McKenzie said recently. "We're talking [about] the 12-4 team and the staff that made a couple of changes, schematically, and we didn't win last year. You know what I'm saying?"

Indeed, that the scheme Del Rio switched to with Downing did not fit the personnel. And don't fix something that ain't broke -- or some-such.

"I'm not going to sit here and point to the players," McKenzie continued. "It's a lot of change, and those teams that really do well consistently, [there's] not a lot of change, organizationally, when you're talking about coaches. That's probably on me -- too many coaching changes since I've been here."

The changes have ranged from Dennis Allen to Tony Sparano to Del Rio to Gruden, who has all the job security in the world with a 10-year contract worth a reported $100 million. The Raiders, who held halftime leads in each of their first three games against the undefeated Los Angeles Rams, Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins before beating the Cleveland Browns in overtime in Week 4, were then thumped by the Los Angeles Chargers and Seahawks before turning in a more game effort against the Indianapolis Colts.

The loser of Thursday night's game will have an inside track on the No. 1 overall pick as Oakland, courtesy of the Mack and Cooper trades to the Chicago Bears and Dallas Cowboys, have five first-round picks over the next two years to help with the rebuild.

"I just hope the Raiders fans out there understand we're doing everything we can," Gruden said after Sunday's loss to the Colts. "I know it gets ugly at times, but in a lot of ways I'm excited about the future."

The more successful future, though, will take longer than Worley's 90 minutes to arrive. A lot longer. Do you have the patience to await its arrival?