The Raiders are still in first place in the AFC West, where every team is either 5-3 (Vegas, Chargers) or 5-4 (KC, Denver). But there’s so much simmering on and below the surface with the Raiders, and you just wonder if it’s a matter of time before the whole thing implodes. Players don’t much care if the team president, Marc Badain, disappears without explanation in July. But when the head coach and voice of the organization, Jon Gruden, becomes a non-person in October, and then the best prospect the Raiders have drafted in a few years, wideout Henry Ruggs, causes the death of a woman and her dog (allegedly) in a fiery car wreck and wrecks his career in the process, and there are rumblings another first-round pick, Damon Arnette, could be in significant disciplinary trouble. I mean, how much more can one locker room take?
Four Raider players, after they lost to the Giants 23-16 Sunday, all said some form of what wideout Hunter Renfrow said: “Things happen in y’all’s lives, and y’all still professional and do a great job. Same thing with us. We can’t let that affect us, no matter what it is.”
“It’s all about the ball,” said an exasperated-sounding quarterback Derek Carr, who did not take care of it Sunday. “That’s why we lost. Please. Just talk about me turning the ball over.”
Carr’s probably right. In the first two games after the controversial removal of Gruden, Carr completed 80 percent of his throws and the Raiders beat Denver and Philly each by double-digits. Against the Giants, Carr badly overthrew Darren Waller twice in the end zone, threw an ugly pick-six in the third quarter, and threw an uglier interception way short of its target in the fourth quarter. So we’ll give Carr the L here, as he deserves.
And because the Raiders agreed to terms with speedy DeSean Jackson after the game—theoretically to replace one of the fastest men in football, Ruggs—there was a sense Sunday night of Everything’s gonna be fine.
But this thought occurred to me after one smart official from another NFL team asked me over the weekend: “Do you think it might be Vegas? I can tell you I’m glad I’m not working with a team in Vegas.”
At first glance, it seems like a conclusion-jump. But what if the city that rarely sleeps is really a detriment for team-building, and a detriment for young players flush with cash for the first time in their lives? Are young players in Cincinnati or Minneapolis or Green Bay or Seattle driving 156 mph in the streets at 3:30 on a Tuesday morning during the season? Or being tempted in other ways in a city that is awake at all hours?
No way of knowing, of course. And it’s not nearly as important as the death of a 23-year-old woman and her Golden Retriever in the car late at night.
But if I’m the Raiders, and I’m serious about being a long-term contender in Sin City, I’m turning over every rock to make sure the franchise stops screeching from one franchise-jarring piece of news to another. Raiders GM Mike Mayock, assuming he’s now at least the medium-term caretaker of the team, has to make that priority one as he goes forward. This franchise is crying out for stability, and Mayock’s job right now is to draft and construct and manage a team that makes it happen.