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Introducing… The Las Vegas Raiders 

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WWJD – Great Expectations

 

Photo Credit: UNLV

October 1st, 2017, was one of the darkest days in the history of Las Vegas. A domestic terrorist opened fire on the crowd at the Route 91 Music Festival from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort, killing 58 people and wounding 413. With the ensuing panic following, the injuries totaled 869 concert goers.

The then-new NHL team, the Vegas Golden Knights, did an outstanding job of helping heal the city when Las Vegas needed it most. That season the Golden Knights made an unprecedented run to the NHL Finals before losing in Game 6 to the Washington Capitals.

 

Once the Knights achieved that level of success that quickly, the Raiders knew there would be no honeymoon is Sin City. Any grace period that they may have been afforded was killed by the early success of the Golden Knights. Raiders owner Mark Davis and team president Marc Badain understood that.

2020 couldn’t be a season where they didn’t compete for a division title or, at worst, a Wild Card spot. Vegas had tasted professional sports success, and now that would be the standard. That offseason, the Raiders hired Jon Gruden to be their new head coach, and sent the Vegas rebuild into full “go mode.”

Was it the Raiders’ intention to punt a few seasons when they came to Vegas? No, that was never the case, but the stakes got raised that year, and they knew it. So when Gruden decided to trade Khalil Mack after the pass rusher turned down an offer that would’ve made him the second-highest-paid defensive player behind Aaron Donald, the Raiders decided to get the most they could for him and get the future of their house in order.

 

Photo Credit: NBC Sports

That trade, as well as the trade of Amari Cooper to Dallas, netted the Raiders three 1st round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft. Gruden hired Mike Mayock as his General Manager, and they selected an outstanding rookie class, including Running Back Josh Jacobs and Safety Jonathan Abram from Alabama and Mississippi State, respectively.

Mayock was one of the best draft analysts and talent evaluators while working for the NFL Network. With more picks accumulated from those 2018 transactions still left for the 2020 Draft (including the 19th overall selection in the 1st round),  he looks to put the Raiders in a position to be competitive in 2019 and for a long time.

 

So now that the 2019 season is over and on March 18th, they will be officially known as the Las Vegas Raiders, it’s time for the Silver and Black’s plan to come to fruition. They finished the season 7-9 and almost made the playoffs. The talent has improved to the point one can argue that this is the most talented the Raiders have been in over a decade.

Couple that with the fact that they are one of the youngest teams in the league, and they should only get better. No one can argue that point, not with the early success of Jacobs, Darren Waller, Clelin Ferrell, Maxx Crosby, Trayvon Mullen, Keisean Nixon, Isaiah Johnson, and Mo Hurst.

What should the expectations be once the Silver and Black officially touch down in Sin City? Raider Nation should expect nothing less than a Wild Card berth, as well as competing for the AFC West division title by year 2. The Raiders need to add a few more pieces to their team, especially on the defensive side of the ball and at wide receiver, something I touched on in WWJD #6 – Part 3.

They also need to have a clear answer as to who will be the trigger man in Gruden’s offense. Will the Raiders ride with Derek Carr in Vegas, or will they bring in another player to play quarterback?  I touched on this question in WWJD #6 – Part 1.

 

Photo Credit: The Raiders

The Raiders are not that far off from being a team that can make a deep run in the postseason. What bodes well for them is that they are young, hungry, and all seem to be built with the same mentality: they LOVE football.

They are made in Gruden and Mayock’s image, the new and improved Raiders image. Because they are a young team, they are locked into rookie contracts that help with the Raiders salary cap situation.

As of January 1st, 2020, the Raiders have over $70 million in cap space heading into 2020 Free Agency, which is in the top 5 of all NFL teams. Does that mean they will spend all of their cash on high priced free agents? No, but it gives them flexibility and options. They could sign guys to short term deals, lock in their own players or go “all in” on a big-ticket free agent.

 

The expectation for Las Vegas Raiders fans going forward should be a playoff berth at the worst. Are they a contender for a Super Bowl right now? No, but the future is bright, and I could see them playing for one soon.

 

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Joe Arrigo

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