Barring something insanely unforeseen, the Raiders are moving to Vegas

Barring something insanely unforeseen, the Raiders are moving to Vegas

The danger in assuming that Mark Davis has finally won Las Vegas for himself and his creditors is that a lot of people assumed that he had won Los Angeles for himself and his erstwhile partner Dean Spanos a year ago, and we saw what happened there.

Namely, that Davis had to hustle up a new deal a year later.

But the danger in assuming that one piece of treachery aimed at Davis in 2016 automatically means the likelihood of a second is far greater, because there is now something that trumps all other considerations and voting blocs.

There is simply no good reason for any owner to vote no, save a personal or financial animus toward Davis by the league establishment that will never be eradicated. In short, all the ducks have been aligned, all the money has been pronounced clean, Interstates 5 and 15 have been cleared for a 2019 takeoff, and the internal shouting is over.

Allowing for what is about a one percent chance of last-second failure (Davis/market size/sunspots), the Raiders will belong to Las Vegas in three years.

Raider fans may now commence their outrage – if they have enough left to give after such a protracted process and in the face of an owner so determined to go that he’s been working the angle for a minimum of three years. At some point, righteous anger can no longer withstand the might of inevitability.

And amazingly, Mark Davis doing a deal that would pass the muster of 31 much richer men who hold him in barely tolerable esteem is some feat.

There were always lots of reasons to think Vegas couldn’t happen, starting with Davis’ richly merited reputation for amiable inertia, then proceeding through his relatively low regard among his fellow owners, minimal wealth by NFL standards, Las Vegas’ principal industry, not to mention Oakland’s tradition and superior market size.

Well, to his credit (or blame, depending on your point of view), he has ticked off all those boxes. Having been slapped down so aggressively by the league when he wanted to split Los Angeles with Spanos and the Chargers, he was told to make a better deal, and did. Every time he erected an obstacle to his own success, he somehow cleared it, or knew the right people to remove it for him. He even managed to cut off his own avenue of retreat with the help of the City of Oakland, and he can now present to the owners the following proposal.

- I got the money to move.
- I got the right kind of money to satisfy you all, as in no obvious traceable casino money.
- I can’t stay in Oakland because you repeatedly told Oakland its deal was dead on the ground.
- In short, I have to leave because I can’t stay, and I have answered every one of your objections to leaving.

And because of all that, there is no longer a forseeably viable way to get nine votes to stop him.

Oh, there is still a case to be made that the Raiders will be giving up half of the sixth-largest television market for the 40th, but that’s a microscopic rebuttal to $1.4 billion in state and bank money for a stadium that quite possibly will cost less that the sticker of $1.9 billion.

And whether you believe that Davis orchestrated this brilliant slalom from failure in Los Angeles through the landmine of Sheldon Adelson’s involvement and Nevada state politics, the noisy but necessary divorce from Adelson and the reassembly of the deal through the graces of Bank of America, or whether partners, friends and fortune just smiled on him throughout, it must still be acknowledged that he took the humiliation of a year ago and turned it into what seems to be for him a triumph in slightly more than a year.

But to be thorough, let’s line up the help he got.

- Oakland’s decision not to present a stadium plan to the league that the league could use to hammer the city in perpetuity. Dealing with the NFL is typically a perilous move for cities, and Oakland’s unwillingness to knuckle under to its demands is a statement about fiscal prudence most cities cannot make.
- Adelson’s work in helping drive the process by which the $750 million hotel tax passed through the Nevada state house in Carson City.
- Bank of America, which stepped forward, almost certainly with some league prodding, to replace Adelson, who was a deal-breaker in the minds of the owners who did not want him as a part of the league.
- The NFL’s horrendous misplay of the Los Angeles market by picking the Rams as the only franchise and then being forced to accept the Chargers a year later even as the softness of the market was being exposed.
- The NFL ownership finance committee, which saw no obvious holes in the financing as well as an avenue toward making their own shares of the perceived Vegas windfall.
- Las Vegas’ ability to recast itself to the owners as a lucrative financial center as well as a gateway to foreign money that few other open cities can claim.

All those factors aligned to make the Raiders and Vegas make sense to the 31 men who decide what cities get to have pro football and what cities do not. Barring something genuinely and insanely unforeseen between now and the day of the vote, Mark Davis has won the approval of those who have always viewed him with the greatest skepticism.

And Oakland loses the Raiders for a second time, a year after they seemed they would be Oakland’s for decades to come.

McKenzie: Raiders will take 'different approach' drafting No. 24 overall

McKenzie: Raiders will take 'different approach' drafting No. 24 overall

Khalil Mack said atop Reggie McKenzie’s draft board back in 2014. While it probably felt like forever, the Raiders general manager only had to weather four picks before selecting the star edge rusher at No. 5.

McKenzie loved Amari Cooper in 2015, believing his athleticism and demeanor would pair well with quarterback Derek Carr. Cooper only had to survive three selections before McKenzie made him a Raider.

McKenzie shouldn’t hold his breath this year. The Raiders have the 24th pick. He’d pass out.

The Raiders now experience the downside of success, with lower selections than normal throughout the NFL Draft. They earned top 10 draft picks every year from 2004-15, when the Silver and Black became relevant again. McKenzie selected safety Karl Joseph No. 14 overall last year in his original draft slot, but a 12-4 record and a playoff birth pushed them way down in the draft order.

Thursday’s No. 24 pick will be the lowest since 2003, when the Raiders selected Nnamdi Asomugha 31st following a Super Bowl year.

That obviously turned out well. The Raiders need this deep-round pick to follow suit.

McKenzie likes several players in this draft, but there's no telling if they'll be available. NFL teams have a general idea who will make it down the draft board, but an unexpected move could turn the round upside down.

“The one thing that’s been more difficult, you have no idea who’s coming down at 24,” McKenzie said. “When you’re picking No. 4 or No. 5, you can have a clue, a few players that you can pick from. The draft is a funny thing. Players that you don’t think may be at the 24, could be there sitting right in front of your face.”

McKenzie certainly hopes a highly rated prospect falls in his lap, especially if the best available player fills a position of need. Or the cluster would be empty.

The Raiders must be ready for anything, with a draft cluster of players worthy of that particular pick.

“We’re going to study it continuously until that day,” McKenzie said. “Then you never know how trades go. It’s a different thing. But when you’re down that low in comparison to where we have been the last few years, it’s a different approach.”

Draft trades are always a possibility, especially as the round unfolds. The Raiders are in an interesting spot, a slot above the quarterback-hungry Houston Texans. Teams might want to leapfrog them to secure a coveted passer, giving the Raiders leverage in last-second trade talks to move down.

Reggie McKenzie hasn’t moved up in the first three rounds during his Raiders tenure, but this year might be an exception considering his roster is strong save a few important positions. He won’t leap all the way up the draft board, but a small move up is possible.

“I will not hesitate if I have to move up a little bit to get an impact player that we feel is on our board,” McKenzie said. “If we have to move up a little bit, I will not hesitate.”

Will Raiders GM McKenzie break mold and draft inside linebacker early?

Will Raiders GM McKenzie break mold and draft inside linebacker early?

It’s not like the Raiders haven’t been looking for linebacker help. They just haven’t found any entering this week’s NFL draft.

They brought Zach Brown in for a visit, but he didn’t like the team’s offer and left without a contract. They have interest in bringing last year’s starting middle linebacker Perry Riley back, but their valuations don’t match right now and the veteran remains on the open market. They let two-year starter Malcolm Smith join the 49ers in free agency. 

Right now, the position group is a skeleton crew with brittle bones. Free-agent signing Jelani Jenkins is the only interior linebacker with double digit starts, and could man the weak side, or end up a roving backing.

There isn’t much experience or talent or depth there right now, meaning the Raiders might draft an inside linebacker early for the first time in general manager Reggie McKenzie’s tenure.

Sio Moore was a third round pick in 2013, but was a strongside linebacker and edge rusher before switching spots in deference to Khalil Mack. Outside that, McKenzie took Miles Burris (fourth round) in 2012, and choose Ben Heeney and Neiron Ball (fifth round) in 2015. Those picks haven’t worked out well.

Neither have free-agent stopgaps Curtis Lofton or Nick Roach -- a quality player who fell victim to concussion issues – or waiver claim Ray-Ray Armstrong.

It’s been an unexpected black hole considering McKenzie, head coach Jack Del Rio and defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. all played on the inside.

“We want good linebacker play,” McKenzie said. “Both Jack and I know what a good linebacker is supposed to look like. We’re going to get us a couple, I hope, at some point before we play in September. Whether they’re in this draft or post draft or trade, somebody gets released, we’re going to do everything we can to upgrade our team; every position, including linebacker.”

While there are post-draft avenues to acquire inside linebackers, it might be time to go big at that spot.

There are attractive options likely available at No. 24 overall, where the Raiders can find the immediate impact starter they so desperately need. Let’s take a look at some who could be available when the Raiders pick.

Good fits: Raiders fans may shudder at the thought of selecting an Alabama interior linebacker with question marks. That’s expected after the Rolando McClain experience. Ruben Foster (6 feet, 229 pounds) is a top tier talent who could be slipping in this draft. He had a drug sample come back diluted at the NFL scouting combine, where he was sent home for arguing with a hospital employee. He has had shoulder troubles, though re-checks reportedly went well.

Foster is also an excellent player, the type of athletic thumper the Raiders are looking for. It’s still hard to see him sliding all the way to No. 24.

Florida’s Jarrad Davis (6-1, 238), however, seems like a near-perfect fit. He can cover and tackle, with a killer instinct necessary at that spot. He’s also praised as a high-character player and person focused on football. Analysts say he has good vision, closing speed and has physical gifts to help his continued development shoring areas of weakness. Davis has been well hyped recently, and there’s some thought he too could go higher than No. 24.

Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham should be available there, and could ready right away. Analysts says he’s a playmaker with good instincts, technique and play diagnosis. He’s a quality tackler with a nose for the football. He’s durable and fast enough to handle tight ends and running backs in man coverage. Detractors say he isn’t good getting off blocks and struggles with leverage at times, but Cunningham could be a productive three-down NFL linebacker soon.

LSU’s Duke Riley is a quick linebacker who can chase ball carriers down, and finished with a solid senior season. He might be a strong Day 3 pickup should the Raiders target other positions early in this draft.

Note: Temple's Haason Reddick wasn't mentioned here because he isn't expected to be available at No. 24.