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Kurtenbach: The Raiders’ acquisition of Antonio Brown is confusing — it’s also perfect

So which is it, Jon Gruden?
Are the Raiders trying to build up for their Las Vegas future or has this team re-entered win-now mode as it heads into its final (or penultimate) season in Oakland?
I only ask because over the course of six months, this team, under Gruden’s leadership, has made three blockbuster trades — and the ones made in 2018 indicate something dramatically different than the one made Saturday night.
In a vacuum, the Raiders’ acquisition of Antonio Brown was an outstanding piece of business for Gruden and his new general manager, Mike Mayock.
Brown might have quit on this last team. He might be ego-driven. He might be on the wrong side of 30. But he’s unquestionably one of the finest players in football and a perfect fit for Gruden’s West Coast offense.
The Raiders just added a game-changer to a team that desperately needs a few, and they did it at a clearance-bin price.
Yes, the Raiders and Brown reportedly agreed to a new contract — a fair-market deal with $30 million guaranteed over three years — but they only sent third- and fifth-round draft picks to the Steelers for the All-Pro. That’s good business.
Don’t worry about the fact that Brown is entering his 10th year in the league — for Gruden, that’s a positive. The Raiders’ head coach might claim differently these days, but his track record is clear — he loves veterans. Not to be blasphemous, but are more than a few shades of Jerry Rice’s three-year tenure in Silver and Black to call upon here. Exciting, no?
But take a step or two back and add some context to Saturday’s scenario — burst the bubble of post-trade bliss — and you have two concurrent but contrasting goals for Gruden’s team in a league where, to be successful, you have to pick one.
(Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images) 
Last year the Raiders made two trades that told the entire football world that they were not interested in seriously competing so long as the team resides in the Bay Area. Gruden didn’t want to pay the market rate for pending free agents Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper, so he traded both players away for salary cap flexibility and draft picks.
In exchange for arguably the best pass rusher in football (and two Raiders draft picks), Gruden received four draft picks — two of them being first-round selections — from the Chicago Bears. A few weeks later, he moved the 24-year-old receiver — who had already posted two 1,000-yard seasons with Derek Carr — to Dallas for a first-round pick in 2019.
You can justify both of those trades — they were made with Las Vegas in mind.
The Raiders were bad when they shipped off the expensive Mack and soon-to-be-expensive Cooper and their stink wasn’t one that was going wash away anytime soon. Why pay top dollar for those players’ prime seasons when the Raiders probably won’t be real contenders during those years anyway? There’s no reason to pay to lock-in mediocrity, especially when you have to sell season ticket mortgages in Nevada.
But make no mistake: Raiders still stunk on Saturday. So why did Gruden trade for a 31-year-old wide receiver and give him a new big-money contract too?
I’m not the only one who sees the dissonance there, right?
Gruden went 4-12 in his first season back on the sideline. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 
The Mack and Cooper deals were all about those first-round picks — in addition to their own selections, the Raiders will have three extra opportunities in the next two drafts to land star talents on cheap contracts. And those first-round selections, in addition to the soon-to-be 28-year-old Derek Carr (well, presumably) and last year’s first-round pick, left tackle Kolton Miller, will make up the core of the Raiders as they rebuild over the next few years.
Will Brown still be an elite player by the time those first-round picks start to make an impact at the NFL level? Will he even be on the Raiders by then? After all, his new contract didn’t tack on any extra years to his last Pittsburgh extension — it’s a three-year deal that expires after the 2021 season, when Brown will be 33, the same age Jordy Nelson was for the Raiders last year.
Don’t get me wrong, Brown should be an excellent player for the Raiders in 2019 and presumably in 2020, too, but what does that get Gruden’s team? A playoff berth looks miles away from this roster, even with an elite receiver like Brown in tow.
If this team is still committed to the difficult but presumably worthy cause of rebuilding, then buying what are likely to be the last elite seasons of Brown’s career makes little sense.
Jon Gruden (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group) 
If Gruden was going to sleep in the bed he made last year, it might have been a better move to roll the dice with those third- and fifth-round picks instead. Maybe one of those players turns into another core player — one who could be trusted to make a big impact on a cheap contract in 2022.
This Raiders’ rebuild might have been one scenario where one in the hand isn’t better than two in the bush.
Maybe the Raiders are no longer committed to the rebuild and are focusing on winning as many games as they can in 2019. Perhaps Mayock talked Gruden out of his 10-year plan.
If that’s the case, then I hope they inserted a take-back clause in both the Mack and Cooper trades that they can now invoke.
Because in a league where the salary cap goes up by eight digits annually and the Raiders were rolling in $72 million in space before the Brown trade, it’s reasonable to think that the Raiders could have had all three players — Mack, Brown, and Cooper — on their 2019 roster (plus the No. 4 overall pick).
I don’t know if that’s a Super Bowl contender, but it’s certainly the core of a fun team that would be lamented when it left Oakland, unlike this current iteration, which can’t leave The Town soon enough.
(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) 
What we have in the Raiders, it seems, is franchise that’s stuck between stations.
If any of the 31 other NFL teams were in a similar situation, they’d be a laughingstock.
But for the Raiders, it’s perfect.
What else could anyone have expected? The metaphor is so obvious, it borders on being ham-fisted.
Of course Gruden can’t pick a direction for this Raiders team — he is, after all, the leader of a franchise that can’t seem to figure out what city it calls home.

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