Oilers tried, abandoned same lame-duck approach Raiders are attempting

Oilers tried, abandoned same lame-duck approach Raiders are attempting

ALAMEDA -- Soon after the NFL approved the Raiders' move to Las Vegas, coach Jack Del Rio wondered if anyone had a handbook on how to handle being a lame duck in Oakland.

While there might not be a book about how to handle playing in a city a team plans to abandon for richer pastures, there is a franchise that tried a similar path before deciding life as a lame duck proved to be untenable.

Just weeks before the start of the 1995 season, Houston Oilers owner Bud Adams announced he had an exclusive negotiating deal to move the team to Nashville, Tennessee. A ballot measure was approved the next spring in Nashville to fund a stadium that wouldn't be ready until 1999 so the Oilers decided to spend three seasons as a lame duck in Houston.

But with dwindling crowds at the Astrodome and increasing animosity from a fan base about to be deserted, the Oilers changed plans and played the 1997 season in Memphis and the `98 season on Vanderbilt's campus in Nashville before finally moving into the new stadium in 1999.

"We started off planning to stay in Houston the whole time like they're talking about in Oakland," said former Oilers general manager Floyd Reese. "After the first year, we said this is just not going to work. That's how we ended up in Memphis for a year and Vanderbilt after that. That certainly wasn't great, and the truth is I'm not sure it was better than just staying in Houston. But you knew that staying in Houston was going to be so distasteful and be really hard to listen to the negativity every day. We couldn't do anything right. We said anything is better than this and you make the move and you find out it was better in some areas and not as good in others."

The Raiders now will see how it works for them in Oakland after the NFL approved their move last month to Las Vegas for the 2020 season. The Raiders are staying in Oakland in 2017 and have an option to play at the Coliseum in 2018 that they plan to exercise. They have no lease for 2019, leading to uncertainty about where they will play that year.

Oakland officials have indicated they don't want to give the team a lease for that season and owner Mark Davis has said he doesn't want to play in Las Vegas until the new $1.9 billion stadium is ready.

That could lead to the team playing at another Bay Area location, like Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara or Memorial Stadium at Cal, or they could look for a short-term home.

Much of that decision will depend on the fan reaction in Oakland starting this year. If Houston is any indication, it doesn't figure to be good.

The Oilers averaged less than 32,000 fans a game in 1996, getting big crowds only when fans wanted to cheer for Pittsburgh and San Francisco. By Thanksgiving, the fans stopped coming with the team drawing about 20,000 for its sixth and seventh home games before playing in front of a crowd of 15,131 in the home finale.

"I'd seen that place in an NFL playoff environment at its peak," former offensive lineman Brad Hopkins said. "To see 15,000 people in a 65,000-seat stadium was completely unbelievable. Just the quietness. We had preseason games with better attendance. That was completely shocking. The fans were saying don't let the door hit you on the way out."

The only thing that made the experience a little easier on the players is that the venom from the fans was almost entirely directed at Adams and local politicians and not the players.

"They completely blamed the bureaucracy," Hopkins said. "They didn't look at us like we had anything to do with it."

Those late-season crowds made the decision to leave Houston easy for the franchise. Reese remembers talking after that game to a shell-shocked rookie Eddie George, who was used to playing in front of crowds of 100,000 in college at Ohio State.

"I went by his locker and said, `Hey, it's not going to be like this forever. This is not the NFL. What you see later on will be,'" Reese said.

Playing at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis in 1997 wasn't much better as the average attendance was even lower at about 28,000, and many of the fans came to cheer for the opponent because they had no connection to the vagabond Oilers.

The team got only slightly more support the following year at Vanderbilt before finally finding a real home in 1999 when their new stadium opened for the newly named Tennessee Titans.

That led to a successful run with the Titans making the Super Bowl following the 1999 season and averaging more than 11 wins a season over a five-year span.

"It bound us because we understood that we were searching for a new identity," Hopkins said. "We had to do it on our own. We came together and became a team."

 

Raiders offensive lineman next in line for extension with Carr's deal done

Raiders offensive lineman next in line for extension with Carr's deal done

The Raiders locked up Derek Carr last week, signing their franchise quarterback to a five-year, $125 million contract extension.

He isn’t the only member of the 2014 draft class worthy of a raise. Edge rusher Khalil Mack will get a big one, likely at some point next offseason. The Raiders have some time with Mack after exercising a fifth-year contract option available for first-round picks.

General manager Reggie McKenzie didn’t have that luxury with Carr, and his 2014 second-round pick cashed in before formally entering a contract year.

Right guard Gabe Jackson could do the exact same thing. McKenzie prefers to draft, develop and reward homegrown talent, and the 2014 third-round pick should be next in line to do so.

McKenzie has said back in March that he’d like to extend Jackson’s contract, though there isn’t a deadline to do so.

“There’s no timetable,” general manager Reggie McKenzie said. “But, I alluded to earlier in the offseason that Gabe is one of the guys I want to get locked up.”

That could happen later this offseason, or further into training camp. Despite paying Carr an NFL-record $25 million in 2017, his contract is structured in such a way that there’s room for another offseason extension. That was important for Carr, that the Raiders can sign other members of this young core.

“We figured out a way to do it,” Carr said, “so that we have the opportunity to sign the other guys that I think are important to this organization.”

The Raiders have roughly $18 million in salary cap space after the Carr deal. Some of that is earmarked for the team’s top three draft picks, which remain unsigned to this point. A large sum could go to Jackson as incentive to sign up early, well before he’s eligible to hit the unrestricted free agency.

The offensive guard market is booming, with bigger deals going to a position group generally lower than other spots on the offensive line. The Raiders contributed to that inflation in 2016, signing left guard Kelechi Osemele to a five-year, $58.5 deal with $25.4 million in guarantees.

Osemele is one of eight guards with contracts worth $40 million or more, a list that includes two right guards. Jackson played left guard – the more valued position – until Osemele showed up. He moved to the right without complaint.

Jackson thrived there as well. He didn’t allow a sack in 2016, according to analytics site Pro Football Focus, with 27 quarterback pressures in 735 pass-blocking snaps. Jackson has been a strong run blocker as a pro, where he has started 44 games in three NFL seasons.

Finding proper value to entice Jackson to sign while remaining on budget is McKenzie’s next task, trying to keep a valuable offensive lineman in place for years to come.

Carr plans to spread new wealth after Raiders contract extension

Carr plans to spread new wealth after Raiders contract extension

ALAMEDA – Derek Carr isn’t one for extravagance. The low-key Raiders quarterback already has some nice cars, a house and some luxury items to his name, but signing a $125 million contract extension Friday morning won't prompt a spending spree.

Cornerback Sean Smith suggested he get a Bugatti. That’s a $1 million car.

“Yeah,” Carr said with a smirk. “That’s not going to happen.”

That isn’t the 26-year old’s style. Carr had a his own plan after signing on the dotted line.

“I’ve been eating clean,” Carr said. “I’ll probably get Chick-fil-A.”

That makes sense. This is a guy who celebrated his first NFL victory with a trip through a Carl’s Jr. drive-in.

There will be other purchases. His wife Heather will get something nice in the near future. His family, especially Heather and sons Dallas and Deker, will be taken care of for life.

After all that, Carr plans to spread the wealth.

“The exciting thing for me moneywise, honestly, is this money is going to help a lot of people,” Carr said. “I’m very thankful to have it, that it’s in our hands because it’s going to help people. Not only in this country, but in a lot of countries around the world. That’s what’s exciting to me.”

Carr and former Raiders running back Latavius Murray took a missionary trip to Haiti, an impoverished nation had a profound impact on the star quarterback.

“I’ve been down to Haiti and I’ve seen some of those struggles that they have and the kids there, and my heart just… I cry sometimes thinking about it,” Carr said. “So, just knowing that we can go down there and make a difference and help, those are the kind of things that the money makes me kind of like, ‘Oh my gosh.’ Because now we can really do some things to help a lot of people.”

He plans to support those in that area, in addition to global and domestic charities he has been involved with over the years. Don’t expect a press release accompanying every donation. Carr would rather keep those decisions private.

“I’m going to do my best to make sure no one knows what we do with it,” Carr said. “I’ll just say this, I can assure you that it’s going to help a lot of people. I’m not stingy. My business manager will probably be on me saying, ‘Hey man, that’s enough.’ I won’t get into when, how or why. It’s not all about that for me. It’s about making a difference. That’s what’s exciting for me is that we’ll be able to do that.”