Jon Gruden explains why the Raiders’ highest-paid defensive player played nine snaps on Thursday

After the Raiders traded away Khalil Mack on the eve of the season, Bruce Irvin became their best pass rusher and most expensive defensive player. That’s what makes it so puzzling to see the Raiders seldom use Irvin. During their embarrassing loss to the 49ers on Thursday night, Irvin played nine snaps. Against the Colts a week ago, Irvin was on the field for 24 defensive snaps.

So why are the Raiders keeping Irvin, their highest-paid defensive player, off the field? Jon Gruden can explain.

“We’re a 4-3 team now, so in the base defense sometimes he doesn’t fit the role we need done,” he said, per NBC Sports Bay Area’s Scott Bair. “He’s an edge rusher, and we haven’t had the lead a lot. … His role has been reduced. I know he’s frustrated. I’m frustrated. … He’s a good player.”

Let’s check in on Irvin:

Irvin is making $8.25 million this season, which ranks fourth on the team behind only quarterback Derek Carr ($25 million), and guards Kelechi Osemele and Gabe Jackson (both at $10.5 million, according to Spotrac). In terms of cap hits, linebacker Tahir Whitehead is the next closest defender at $6.375 million. Despite his paycheck, Irvin has generated only three sacks. He’s on pace to finish with six sacks, which would be his lowest output with the Raiders.

We can argue all we want about his fit and if the Raiders should find a way to put their best pass rusher on the field regardless of his fit, but what’s undeniable is that Irvin is likely leaving Oakland soon — and not for Las Vegas. He’s under contract through the 2019 season, but according to Over The Cap, the Raiders can cut him after the season without suffering any financial consequences. Given the state of the Raiders (bad and rebuilding) and Irvin’s fit (nonexistent) and age (31), it seems probable that Irvin will be playing elsewhere in the near future.

That’s what makes it disappointing for the Raiders that they didn’t find a way to trade Irvin before the trade deadline. Even if they were only going to receive a conditional draft pick, a late pick would’ve had more value to a team that is rebuilding and unwilling to use Irvin.

When the Rams traded for Jaguars pass rusher Dante Fowler, CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora reported that the Rams also looked into acquiring Bruce Irvin and Shane Ray, but neither of those players “excited them.” The Rams ended up giving the Jaguars a third- and fifth-round pick for Fowler. According to Bair, the Raiders failed to move Irvin because it was tough to find a team willing to take on his salary with his production waning.  As a result, the Raiders are now stuck with a player they don’t know how to use. 

It’s telling that as the Raiders stumble toward what could very easily be a 1-15 season, they’ve rendered their highest-paid defensive player utterly useless. 

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