Jon Gruden? AB? Vontaze Burfict? This could be the drama HBO has been looking for since Season 6 of “Game of Thrones”.
There is only one option for Hard Knocks this year: the Oakland Raiders.
The Raiders have added big personalities to their to team that match the bravado of head coach Jon Gruden. Their new general manager spent the past two decades as a successful analyst on television. They have a ton of room to improve coming off a 4-12 season. This is also their last training camp in Oakland before they head to Las Vegas in 2020.
Hard Knocks hasn’t announced yet which team will be featured this season, but the Raiders are one of five teams that isn’t allowed to say no if selected.
Oakland has the right mix of drama and roster-building questions for Hard Knocks. Here are eight reasons why the Raiders should be clear favorite for HBO’s hit show.
1. Where do we sign for an unfiltered Antonio Brown?
The Raiders’ biggest move of the offseason was to acquire Antonio Brown in a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Brown has had a memorable (if chaotic) offseason, to say the least.
He’s publicly discussed his turbulent relationship with Ben Roethlisberger, tweeted shade at former teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster, and sported a blond mustache until he was traded to Oakland.
It’s clear that Brown isn’t afraid of saying what’s on his mind, which is perfect for an unfiltered show like Hard Knocks. Brown will be playing for a new starting quarterback and head coach for the first time in his nine-year career. If Brown struggles to mesh with Derek Carr and Jon Gruden, we should hear plenty of it from the future Hall of Famer.
On top of all that, we would get a firsthand look at his annual outlandish training camp entrance. Last year, Brown showed up to Steelers camp in a helicopter — he might be looking to top that in his first year with the Raiders.
Even better, we’d get to see how Brown handles a longtime rival joining the Raiders.
2. Vontaze Burfict and Antonio Brown are reunited (TBD if it feels so good)
Vontaze Burfict is another familiar face that the Raiders signed this offseason. At first glance, the fit here makes a lot of sense. Burfict had his best years in Cincinnati under defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, who holds the same title with the Raiders. While Burfict isn’t as dominant as he used to be, he should still be an upgrade for a defense that gave up the most points in the NFL last year.
However, Burfict and Brown have some unpleasant memories together. Burfict was suspended three games after he put a vicious hit on Brown that left him concussed during the 2015 playoffs. In 2017, Burfict claimed that Brown faked the concussion from that game. Last season, Burfict was fined $112,000 for unnecessary roughness after he threw his elbow into Brown’s helmet while Brown was being tackle by another Bengals defender.
So far, the relationship between Brown and Burfict hasn’t been a problem for the Raiders. Gruden said that they were on the same team when the Raiders were playing their own version of Family Feud (please let us watch Brown and Burfict play Family Feud together).
That relationship might change when the pads go on for training camp, though. Training camp fights happen every year on Hard Knocks, and the history between these two has explosive potential. It could be the drama HBO has been looking for since Season 6 of Game of Thrones.
3. Oh yeah, Richie Incognito is in Oakland now too
Oakland recently signed guard Richie Incognito, who last played for the Bills in 2017, to a one-year deal. To put it mildly, Incognito has a checkered past with the NFL.
When Incognito was a member of the Miami Dolphins, he played a role in a harassment scandal that found him using racist and homophobic remarks toward a teammate and a trainer. After he initially retired from the NFL following the 2017 season, Incognito decided that he was going to unretire and come to Buffalo’s offseason workouts — except he never showed up and the Bills kept him on their reserve/retire list.
His brief retirement from the NFL was filled with other incidents. In May 2018, Incognito was involuntarily held for a psychiatric evaluation after an altercation at a gym in Florida. In August 2018, he was arrested for making threats toward a funeral home in Arizona. It’s possible Incognito faces suspension from the NFL for those events.
But the Raiders signed him anyway, after Mike Mayock said the team had “done a lot of homework” on him.
A potential Hard Knocks appearance would give Incognito the chance to speak on his journey back into the league.
4. We’d get an inside look on the working relationship between Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden
Hard Knocks would give viewers a front row seat to the Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden show. Mayock was hired as the general manager in December after spending the better of 20 years on TV. He’s most well known for being NFL Network’s lead draft analyst.
Mayock didn’t have any experience working for an NFL front office prior to being hired by the Raiders. Watching Mayock go from TV to overseeing the Raiders would bring fans insight on a side of the business they rarely get to see. More importantly, it would show exactly how much power Mayock has.
Gruden’s 10-year, $100 million deal obviously gives him a ton of sway within the organization, but Mayock and Gruden appeared to be on the same page during their first draft together.
Hard Knocks would give us an even better idea of how Mayock and Gruden are running the team. They’ve been two giants of football media over the years — now there’s a chance to actually watch them piece together a 53-man roster.
5. Oh yeah there’s football too, like the Jonathan Abram vs. Karl Joseph position battle
Abram was one of three first-round picks by the Raiders in the 2019 draft. He’s a classic box safety with a physical style of play. Coincidentally, that also happens to be the best spot for former first-round pick Karl Joseph ,who is in a contract year. With Lamarcus Joyner locking down one of the safety spots, Joseph and Abram will be a prime training camp battle.
Joseph was on the trading block during the season, but it seems like Gruden is willing to give Joseph a chance to prove his worth this year.
6. Paul Guenther is trying to rebuild the Raiders’ defense
Oakland had a brutal defense last year. The Raiders gave up 29.2 points in the league, had just 13 sacks, allowed 36 passing touchdowns, and surrendered 6.3 yards per play; all four of those numbers were last in the NFL. Oakland added several players this offseason including Clelin Ferrell, Brandon Marshall, and Maxx Crosby to go along with Burfict, Joyner, and Abram.
Those pieces should help a bit, but Guenther still has his work cut out for him in his second year with the team.
7. Kolton Miller staying at left tackle over Trent Brown
The Raiders opened the league year by signing former Patriots left tackle Trent Brown to a four-year, $66 million deal. However, Brown will be moving back to right tackle for the 2019 season. Kolton Miller will be manning the left tackle spot for the Raiders after a disastrous rookie year. Inconsistent play and a lingering knee injury left Miller as the lowest-rated tackle in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
Brown has played well at right tackle in the past, but he’s coming off a career year at left tackle. Miller needs to improve by leaps and bounds to justify him protecting Derek Carr’s blindside instead of Brown.
8. Maybe we’d get a Marshawn Lynch appearance?
There’s a chance we might get to a fan favorite if Hard Knocks goes to Oakland. Marshawn Lynch is reportedly retired again, but he said he would be open to returning to the Raiders if they needed him.
The last time we saw Lynch, he used the Al Davis torch to light a blunt prior to the Raiders’ home finale against the Denver Broncos.
Using the torch to then light up himself hahahahaha pic.twitter.com/GpqumNHTdS
— David Valencia (@Raider_David) December 26, 2018
Please HBO, bring Beast Mode back into our lives.