NFL still doesn't get Las Vegas, even with Raiders

NFL still doesn't get Las Vegas, even with Raiders

LAS VEGAS -- Sometimes the bumbling bozos in charge of the NFL just can't help themselves.

Or maybe they've been so afraid of Las Vegas for so long that they automatically start hyperventilating every time a player buys a plane ticket to this gambling town.

Blame it on their outdated and misguided beliefs about gambling and casinos - all of which have long been dismissed by other sports leagues. Blame it on their sheer paranoia that somehow their golden goose will go away if players happen to walk by a blackjack table.

But, really, doesn't the league realize its owners just voted 31-1 to allow the Oakland Raiders to move here?

Apparently not, judging from the reaction of league officials to a trip some players took to Sin City over the weekend. Their crime? Taking part in the Pro Football Arm Wrestling Championship at the MGM Grand hotel-casino.

"We are looking into it, and we became aware of it as it was underway," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. "A longstanding policy prohibits any NFL personnel from promotional appearances at a casino."

Maybe the owners should have thought about doing away with that policy at the same time they met to approve Las Vegas as the new home of the Raiders. It wasn't on the agenda, though, probably because it didn't come with a $750 million gift attached the way the new Las Vegas stadium did.

People here have long been used to the NFL being hypocritical when it comes to gambling. But they might have thought the issue was settled when owners agreed to accept $750 million and Commissioner Roger Goodell said there were no plans to ask casinos to take the Raiders off the betting board when they come to town.

Yet here the league is, still fretting about players promoting casinos as if their presence at the MGM Grand somehow undermines the integrity of the NFL.

It's the same head-in-the-sand mentality shared by the NCAA that ignores the reality of the times. In the NCAA's case, it still has a prohibition on Las Vegas hosting NCAA events, which will prevent the city from being considered when the Board of Governors meets later this month to hand out championship sites.

Not only can't the city bid for a regional or Final Four, but also the men's ice hockey and wrestling championships it was hoping to land.

That's despite Las Vegas being host to four conference basketball tournaments this year - including the Pac-12 tourney that sold out the new arena on the Vegas Strip. Before it was moved this year from the MGM Grand, college players never had to leave the hotel-casino to play.

Fortunately for Las Vegas, other sports and leagues do get it. They gladly come to a town where fans will happily follow.

The ice was broken when the NHL decided Las Vegas would make a fine town for one of its franchises, now the Vegas Golden Knights. Then Mark Davis decided the city would be the perfect home for the Raiders, and every owner but one agreed.

And why not? Why should there be a stigma about a town based on beliefs from 50 years ago?

The NBA doesn't think there is. The league held an All-Star Game here and has a wildly successful summer league. Commissioner Adam Silver has called for legalized sports betting across the country, and there is a push behind the scenes to bring an NBA team to town.

NASCAR has not one but two Cup Series races scheduled in Las Vegas next year. The best rodeo cowboys in the world compete in their World Series every December, while the PGA has held tournaments here since the mobsters ran the town in the 1950s.

The biggest fights are almost always on the Las Vegas Strip, and the new T-Mobile arena is now the official home of the UFC. At a time when sports and entertainment bisect, Las Vegas has been the perfect host for everything from rugby championships to the World Series of Poker.

None of them has any worries about the reputation of Las Vegas. None believes ties between casino interests and teams are a problem.

None worries about their players spending nights in Strip hotels or walking through casinos like the other 42 million people who visit Las Vegas every year.

That the NFL does is laughable. But the real joke is on the league as it tries fitfully to move forward in a world where the old rules no longer apply.

Times have changed. Casinos aren't the threats the NFL always made them out to be, and to argue otherwise would be nonsense.

Luckily, the Raiders won't be here for three more years. It takes time to build a new palace for the team, even with taxpayers footing half the tab.

That leaves plenty of time for an attitude adjustment in league headquarters.

McKenzie, Del Rio ‘unified since Day 1,’ ushering Raiders into next phase

McKenzie, Del Rio ‘unified since Day 1,’ ushering Raiders into next phase

Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Jack Del Rio have done three pre-draft press conferences now. They’ve got the routine down, knowing when to deflect questions, when to put people off the scent and, more importantly, how to seem unpredictable.

They were in lockstep again Friday, less than a week before the 2017 NFL Draft.

During their first, McKenzie offered one criticism of his head coach.

“Can you guys get Jack out of my office?” McKenzie said in 2015, with tongue firmly in cheek.

The rhetorical question was answered with a laugh. McKenzie was acknowledging how much Del Rio and staff wanted to support the scouting process. McKenzie ultimately pulls the trigger on draft day, but Del Rio has a loud voice in the room as he looks for players who fit his locker room and his schemes.

McKenzie has open ears, taking advice from the entire coaching staff while arranging his draft board. This time of year especially, coaches and scouts are working together.

“It’s been unified since Day 1,” Del Rio said. “Reggie and I are very unified and much on the same mission and that is to bring a world championship home to this organization. Everything we’re doing is attacking that, adding these impact players where we can.”

The pair was focused on improving a lackluster roster that featured Derek Carr and Khalil Mack but finished 3-13 the year before. Now their partnership is entering Phase II.

They must decide which players to add, and decide which previously drafted players to keep. There are some obvious extensions in the works, with Carr, Mack and Gabe Jackson. They had to let some homegrown talent go in free agency as they attempt to upgrade depth and build a championship roster that can build on last year’s success.

“There’s a whole different phase that we’re about to go through as an organization as you begin to mature, some of those players have to be re-signed or not. Those are decisions you have to make in all of this. This is year three for us working together and I feel like the relationship with the scouts and the coaches and the sharing of information is excellent. We want to continue to work that way.”

Locals among cornerbacks who can help Raiders early in NFL Draft

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AP

Locals among cornerbacks who can help Raiders early in NFL Draft

The Raiders have an opening in their secondary.

Finding a slot cornerback is a top priority with DJ Hayden now in Detroit. TJ Carrie is an option there, but the Raiders could add a young, versatile talent capable of taking a more prominent role down the line.

That’s true despite the fact Sean Smith signed a free-agent deal through 2019 last year and David Amerson received a contract extension through the 2020 season. Those contracts, however, become pay-as-you-go deals after this season.

The dead money goes away, freeing the Raiders to look for long-term upgrades if they see fit.

Head coach Jack Del Rio loves creating competition and depth, especially at such an important position in today’s NFL. The Raiders like larger, physical cornerbacks with ball skills, and there are plenty in this year’s draft.

Many analysts have the Raiders taking a cornerback at No. 24 overall, and that’s a realistic possibility. They could certainly look to help last year’s No. 24-ranked secondary in the early rounds.

Let’s take a look at some top options available in this week’s draft:

Good fits:There are quite a few quality cornerbacks who could be available at No. 24 overall, even if there’s an early run on the position.

Oakland native and Washington alum Kevin King visited the Raiders during the pre-draft process, and certainly fits what the Raiders like in a cornerback. He’s confident and aggressive, unafraid to use great physical traits to make plays on the ball. He’s tall and long and isn’t afraid to tackle.

USC’s Adoree Jackson has the quality ball skills the Raiders like, and is adept high-pointing the ball. Analysts say he can play several coverage techniques and has the agility to make up for mistakes. He can work in the slot, but at 5-foot-10 isn’t as tall as the Raiders like. They’d have to take him in the first round. He may not last beyond that.

San Jose native and Colorado product Chidobe Awuzie is another interesting local defensive back ready to turn pro. He can play outside or in the slot, and analysts say he has excellent one-on-one coverage skills but needs tackling work. He was a solid slot blitzer at Colorado, and could fill an immediate need crucial against so many three and four receiver sets.

Louisiana State’s Tre’Davious White has experience playing the slot, and could help right away there before transferring outside if asked. He can cover extremely well, though analysts say he isn’t much of a tackler. He might be a tweener as far as the Raiders are concerned, not worthy of the No. 24 pick but long gone before the Raiders pick in the second round.

Central Florida’s Shaquill Griffin visited the Raiders this spring, and rightfully so. A willing run defender with good ball skills and tackling ability who could be available in the third round should intrigue them.