Raiders Gamble on Future
With a team set to win now, coach Jack Del Rio must navigate a tricky situation for three seasons until the franchise moves to Vegas. Here is how he’s preparing. Plus reader mail on relocation, replay and more
The MMQB begins a series of inside-inside football stories and video pieces for the 2017 season with a view into the life of ESPN NFL information czar Adam Schefter on his busiest day of the year: the kickoff day to NFL free-agency.
PHOENIX — Raiders coach Jack Del Rio might be the right guy for one of the most difficult tasks an NFL head coach has ever had. I found that out Tuesday, at the NFL meetings at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel, a day after the NFL and Oakland owner Mark Davis said to Del Rio: Hey, no pressure here. Find a way to beat the Patriots for the AFC title, and while you’re at it, handle a three-year lame-duck period before your franchise makes a controversial move to a city with 76 casinos in it.
Del Rio was discussing how it’s going to be difficult to put much emphasis on the Vegas part of his players’ and coaches’ lives right now, because the NFL’s such a year-to-year venture, and who knows how many players from the Raiders’ 53-man roster in 2017 will ever even play in Las Vegas. Ten? Fifteen?
“We were just talking about the over/under on that [number of current Raiders who will ever play a down in Vegas],” Del Rio said.
I asked: “What is the over-under on that?”
Del Rio smirked. “I can’t get into that right now,” he said.
Over/under. Vegas. Get it?
For all those people who will blanch at Del Rio clearly making a joke about a gambling term (“Too soon!”), I’d say, “Get over yourself.” With a reticent owner like Mark Davis and a mostly invisible GM in Reggie McKenzie, the face of this franchise quite often in the next two or three years will be Del Rio. He’s not only going to have to navigate the choppy (and uncharted) waters of moving three years down the road; no team has ever announced a move and played in its old location for at least two years, as these Raiders will have to do while their stadium is being built.
“There’s not a handbook out there,” Del Rio said. “If there is, please send it to me.”
This is going to be weird. Face it. Fans in Oakland are angry, and rightfully so. Just as the team they love gets good, the owner announces a move to Vegas. Just as the best quarterback the team’s had since Hall of Famer Kenny Stabler comes into his prime (native Californian Derek Carr), the team plans to pull the mat out from under him and his mates. No one knows how this team will be treated at home this season. No one. And Del Rio realizes he’s going to be the front man for the mayhem.
After doing his media obligations at the meetings, Del Rio said he realizes how much pressure there’s going to be over the next few months (and years, perhaps) from this strange situation. “These guys [players] have wives at home right now who are asking their husbands and their husbands don't have those answers,” Del Rio said. “The first thing I want them all to know is that just remember the 30 percent rule; 30 percent of the team changes so don't worry about what we're going to be doing two or three years from now. Worry about taking care of your jobs now so you can be a part of that in two or three years.
“So it's about the here and now for the actual coach, for the actual player, for the actual product we're putting out this year. But you can't be blind to the fact that there are families involved, there are people involved, and they need some information. And part of that has to be: Not yet. Not yet.”
Here’s my takeaway from Del Rio on Tuesday: He’s not the tight controlling coach he sometimes was in Jacksonville—and that’s going to serve him well here. Every day this thing’s going to come up, he realizes it, and he seems to be prepared to deal with it. We’ll see. But he handled day one well.
Now for your email...
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ON CENTRALIZED REPLAY REVIEW
I’m personally in favour of having the reviews (for all leagues) be done at a central command centre. It should take out any bias the officials on site have. (I think it was Pro Football Focus that looked at how pass interference calls greatly favour the home team.) My question is, why include the official in the talking points/discussion at all? I’ve long thought a challenge should be sent to the replay centre with no context other than, “The challenge is for a completed pass.” If you don’t tell the centre what the original call is, you remove any potential bias based on what the call on the field was. They have to make a call of complete, incomplete, or inconclusive based on the evidence presented. It also removes any influence that the official could have for sticking up for his/her call, or what they were thinking at the time.
—Jake G., Canada
Great points, Jake. And I love your spelling! I think the NFL views that there can be some value from talk to the referee and perhaps getting input from, say, the back judge on a play that occurs where there isn’t a pristinely clear view on replay. Also, and I mean this, I don’t think the NFL wants the officials to be standing around on the field doing nothing while New York is adjudicating a replay. One league official told me the way baseball does it—with the umps standing there just listening to the replay officials back in Secaucus, N.J.—is a bad look.
FROM A VEGAS RESIDENT
I'm a Vegas resident and truthfully I have no rooting interest in the Raiders. Born and raised in Michigan and am a Lions fan. That being said, the interest for the Raiders moving here is HUGE. So much so that I'm worried about the NHL’s Golden Knights losing corporate support. Vegas is one of the largest growth markets in the U.S. and not only will they adopt the Raiders, they will turn out in droves for their “hometown” team when they visit. This is a win/win as far as the NFL is concerned.
It could be, Jeff. There is some uncertainty involved, obviously. I think one of the key things with Vegas is the consistency of local ticket buyers. Will they buy season tickets in good times and bad? And will the current season-ticket holders stay loyal to the team and to the brand? The initial rush over the team will be intense, I would assume. Then it’s about keeping that interest going, especially in the first three years, when the team will almost certainly not play in Las Vegas. It’s sort of deferred gratification. Or like saying, “We’re giving you this great Christmas present. You just can’t open it for three-and-a-half years.”
DOES THE VEGAS MOVE AFFECT THE CHARGERS?
With the Raiders now moving to new digs in Vegas, they’d presumably forfeit their option to move to Los Angeles. You mentioned that part of the impetus for the Chargers move was the coming expiration of their first priority status to move in with the Rams in L.A. With the threat of missing out now off the table, is there any chance of an about-face on the immediate LA move to buy more time in San Diego? Playing in Qualcomm two more seasons has to be preferable to what’s essentially ‘living out of your suitcase’ in that tiny stadium in Carson.
Here at the meetings in Phoenix, no one speaks of any uncertainty with the Chargers. They are locked in to Carson this year and to Los Angeles for the future. We can sit here and doubt that it’s a good idea—and I do doubt that it is—but that’s not going to return the Chargers to San Diego.
SICK OF THE RELOCATIONS
I am sickened to hear of yet another NFL franchise relocation. To see the NFL and its owners once again so casually toss aside and dismiss the rabid support and commitment of a team’s fan base really disgusts me. They choose to chase the almighty dollar and yet another new and glitzy stadium at the expense of the very fans whose loyalty and hard earned dollars allow their product and business to be so successful. Be careful what you wish for, NFL, as it might come back to bite you. Here is one lifelong NFL fan and season ticket holder who is really fed up with the true colors the NFL has been showing lately.
I cannot and will not argue with you. The NFL has chosen stadiums over fans twice this year, and I understand the pressures that led them to do it. But I do not like it either.
ON THE OVERTIME PROPOSAL
First, in reaction to the proposal to reduce OT to 10 minutes, I strongly believe this would result in more ties. I have no hard data to go off of, but think about the fairly common scenario of teams trading field goals on the first two drives. Instead, I have a proposal that would make overtime more entertaining and shorten the game: No punts allowed in overtime. This would force teams to think twice about receiving the opening kick, and make for some very intriguing risk-reward coin flip decisions from coaches with strong defenses.
I think what this would do is encourage teams to kick off to start overtime. Play defense and stop a team after, say, two first downs, and then get the ball back on a short field. That would be incredibly interesting strategically. Good idea.
SCHEFTER STORY, AND “24 HOURS”
Really enjoyed Tim Rohan's piece on Adam Schefter. Getting an inside view on the machinations of the business, both the NFL and reporting on it, puts The MMQB above the rest. Keep 'em coming.
Thanks, Josiah. I will pass it along. Tim Rohan and John DePetro, on the video side, gave you a great feel for what Schefter’s life is like. This is our aim on these stories. At the end of them, we want you to be able to say, “I feel like I was with that guy as he did his job.”
ON BREAKING NFL NEWS
Can you explain the obsession and value to a casual NFL fan like myself of a reporter breaking free agency news before or as they occur? Correct me if I'm wrong, but these are news items that are destined to become public regardless of whether Adam Schefter or anyone else breaks the story during a newscast. In other words, this is less investigative journalism and more a case of a reporter building league contacts and greasing the rails with those contacts just enough to get a heads up when those contacts make decisions. I'm not downplaying the value of building those relationships with sources but the work of Schefter during the free-agency period hardly deserves this type of hyperventilation. It's just inside baseball.
—Steve, Alameda, Calif.
I’m sure a lot of people would agree with you, Steve. But Schefter is followed by 6 million people on Twitter. He feeds into the 24/7 obsession with a lot of people on the NFL. When he competes with the top insiders in the game—his own staff at ESPN, Ian Rapoport at NFL Network, Jay Glazer at FOX, Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk, Jason LaCanfora of CBS, and all the others in a multi-media world—even if you don’t care about finding out a story 12 minutes before it would be released, I think the drama of the personal intensity with which an insider does his job is compelling. At least it is to me.
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