On the field, the Raiders are 5-3, tied for first place in the ultra-competitive AFC West (all four teams have five wins), and are preparing for a Sunday night game at home against the five-time defending division champion Chiefs.
All-in-all, a pretty solid first half of the season in Las Vegas as they go about the business of football.
But when you consider what has been happening off the field, and the distractions that have continued this week, it’s downright incredible that the Raiders have been this focused and successful.
In 2020 the Raiders had two first-round picks. Now, in less than two weeks, both of those first-round draft picks have been released.
The latest is cornerback Damon Arnette, who is currently being investigated by the NFL for a TikTok video that alleges to show Arnette waving a gun and threatening an unarmed man. Just a week earlier the Raiders cut ties with wide receiver and 12th overall pick Henry Ruggs. Ruggs has been charged with multiple felonies and faces up to 40 years in prison for allegedly driving 156 miles per hour with a blood alcohol content at more than twice the legal limit, and crashing into a woman and killing her.
And all of this is just a few weeks after emails surfaced from head coach Jon Gruden, in which he used racial tropes, homophobic slurs, and slammed the NFL’s efforts at diversity.
Gruden is now gone. Ruggs, a fast young wide receiver with a bright future, is now gone, and likely done with the NFL for the rest of his life. And now Arnette, the 19th overall pick in the 2020 draft, is gone.
Arnette’s Short But Troubled Tenure
For Arnette, this was not his first incident. There has been a growing concern about Arnette since early in his rookie season. Reportedly he wrecked four different rental cars within a month, including one car that was used in an alleged hit-and-run that saw Arnette flee the scene of an accident because he was late to a team meeting.
A civil suit that names both Arnette and the Raiders is pending from that incident.
A second suit against Arnette involves a Las Vegas casino valet who alleges that the Raiders defensive back spit on him and poked him in the chest.
With Arnette’s release, four of the top five picks for the Raiders in the 2020 draft have now either been released or traded.
Despite the attrition, the Raiders are only a half game out of the division lead and still boast third place in AFC West division odds at +500.
Mac Jones Not Facing Suspension
It has been almost exclusive praise for the job that rookie quarterback Mac Jones has done in New England this season. An incident during the Patriots game with the Panthers, however, is taking some of the bloom off that rose.
The video evidence is clear. Jones grabs the ankle of Brian Burns, then twists it.
It’s a penalty to tackle a player trying to recover a fumbled ball, as Burns was doing on the play. It’s a penalty, and a dirty play, to grab his ankle and twist.
Burns was injured on the play, and the NFL is investigating. But reports are that the only punishment being considered is a fine, and not a suspension. Although we certainly have seen players face suspension for plays that are less black-and-white in their intent to injure.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick defended his quarterback, saying that Jones thought Burns had the football and was trying to bring him down.
Panthers head coach Matt Rhule didn’t go out of his way to finger Jones, but did say, “I’m always going to protect our guys and it looked like it was an injury that happened after the play. So, I was just kind of defending Brian.”
Panthers edge rusher Haason Reddick was far less judicious, calling the play by Jones, “completely dirty.”
Jones, for his part, offered up this explanation: “After I got hit pretty hard, I didn’t really know what was going on. I thought he had the ball. It’s my job to make the tackle. That was pretty much it. Obviously, when you get up and see the ball is actually down the field a little bit more; it’s just a bang-bang play. I didn’t mean to hurt anybody or anything like that.”
Burns has a sprained ankle and his status for practice this week remains unknown.