The Las Vegas Raiders are bringing a dose of their trademarked crazy to a third home city.
Over the span of the past week, the number of Raiders players to retire has grown to three. Running back Theo Riddick was the first to walk away last week, followed by linebacker James Onwualu retiring on Monday.
Then on Tuesday, offensive tackle Sam Young made it three Raiders players to announce their decision to hang up their cleats.
On top of that, Tuesday also saw a report from Ben Fischer of Sports Business Journal indicating that vice president of strategy and business development Brandon Doll has left the team. That news comes on the heels of team president Marc Badain announcing his departure two weeks ago.
And just to bring things full circle, running backs coach Kirby Wilson retired unexpectedly just before the start of camp.
So what the heck is happening in Vegas exactly? Well, for starters, it’s not clear if there is any connection whatsoever. But could there be?
Why three players retired in such a short span
With Riddick, he had tested positive for COVID and then announced he was walking away. Riddick turned 30 years old in March and this would have been his ninth NFL season, so it’s hard to call that one stunning — especially amid chatter that he had been contemplating retiring prior to the COVID diagnosis.
Young also can’t be considered a shock. He turned 34 this summer and was entering his 12th NFL season, so Young hardly can be called a spring chicken in football terms.
Onwualu is only 26, perhaps making his the most surprising of the three players. But he also had only seen action in 16 games over the course of four seasons and has been clinging to NFL employment since entering the league.
What about the execs?
Badain’s exodus is the most surprising — and perhaps impactful — of all the departures. He was among the highest-ranking front-office officials in the entire operation, and the team is preparing to move into Allegiant Stadium with fans for the first time after playing there last season with empty seats.
That brings us to Doll. He apparently left the team last week, and his name no longer appears on the team’s masthead. Doll declined comment for why he left.
Doll was with the Raiders for the past eight ears, starting as a finance intern and elevating to a role as as Badain’s right-hand man. The first worked together on getting the Raiders a stadium deal in Oakland prior to moving the franchise to Las Vegas and brokering the construction of Allegiant Stadium. According to Doll’s former team bio, he focused on “strategic partnerships and growth initiatives related to Allegiant Stadium and Raiders core businesses.”
Now, as the Raiders are less than two weeks away from hosting a preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks, both execs are out the door.
Any common connection with the departures?
The only common denominators between the retired players and the two execs, one might reasonably conclude, are owner Mark Davis and head coach Jon Gruden. Are either of them responsible for this mass exodus? That is hard to say.
There were rumors floating around as long ago as last December (rumors that resurfaced soon after the 2021 NFL draft) that general manager Mike Mayock might also be someone who might not be long for Vegas. But so far, those rumors have proven to be nothing more than idle chatter.
It’s possible that both Gruden and Davis share some responsibility in at least some of the departures, but connecting the career decisions of three random players, two executives and an assistant coach linearly is a stretch at this point until proven otherwise.
Still, it’s hard not to be concerned about the direction of the franchise. The Raiders used to thrive amid turmoil, but this is a franchise that has finished above .500 only once since 2002.
Who knows what might come next? But Gruden is entering Year 4 of a 10-year, $100 million contract and isn’t likely to leave anytime soon on his own accord unless it comes with a huge buyout. The feeling is that Davis isn’t giving up team control either, having inherited the team from his late father.
If the Raiders are going to figure it out, it’s likely to be with Gruden and Davis remaining in their posts. For better or for worse.
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