It’s official: The Oakland Raiders will become the Las Vegas Raiders at some point in the next four years, with NFL owners voting 31–1 Monday at the league meetings in Phoenix to approve the franchise’s relocation. The lack of a hard exit date from Oakland — and the fact that the on-field Silver and Black product is the best it’s been in 15 years — is going to make this a particularly messy divorce. Here are the key takeaways:
1. This Was Inevitable
The vote seemed to have an air of mystery around it, but the truth is that for a long time, this has been going one way: Not since Connor Cook started a playoff game has there been a more predictable Raiders-centric outcome than what transpired Monday. The decision to relocate the franchise to Las Vegas seemed unavoidable for two reasons:
First, the Raiders will get $750 million in public money to build a stadium in Vegas. And second, the NFL didn’t feel that there was a viable stadium plan to keep the Raiders in the Bay Area, writing a letter to Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf this week saying that the city’s last-ditch plan wasn’t sufficient. “Despite all of these efforts, ours and yours, we have not yet identified a viable solution,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in the letter. “It is disappointing to me and our clubs to have come to that conclusion.” Steelers owner Art Rooney II, who spoke at the press conference announcing the move, blamed “the baseball team” for preventing a solution, and Goodell’s letter said that the city’s “long-term nature of the commitment to the A’s remains a significant complication, and the resolution of that issue remains unknown.”
This was such a slam dunk that Miami was the only franchise to vote against the move, with Dolphins owner Steve Ross saying that he thinks teams should do all they can to stay in their home market. Inevitable or not, of course, this was still a huge blow to the Raiders fans waiting outside the hotel where the vote took place, defiantly chanting “Oakland!” and “Raiders!” as league owners walked past after the vote.
2. This Is Going to Be Awkward
Goodell said Monday that the Raiders will still be called the “Oakland Raiders” for the next few years, which is going to be weird. The team, which has two one-year options with the Oakland Coliseum, will stay there for the 2017 season, at the very least. “If the fans would like us to be there we’d love to be there for those,” owner Mark Davis said after the vote. The Raiders are setting their sights on building a stadium for 2020, which puts 2019 as the first season in which the Raiders won’t have an obvious option for where to play — though Davis said that Oakland still has a shot to host that year if fan support remains high and Oakland offers the team another one-year lease. But league executives said that basically everything is on the table for the Raiders’ 2019 campaign, leaving open the possibility that the Raiders could play in a temporary home that season. There’s precedent for the league getting creative, as the now–Tennessee Titans temporarily moved from Houston to Memphis in 1997 before settling in Nashville.
However many additional seasons the Raiders stay put, it’s bound to be a strained experience for fans who are simultaneously eager to soak up every last drop of time with their beloved team and well aware that an exodus is imminent. Davis disputed the notion that the team will be a “lame duck” during its remaining time in Oakland; we dispute the notion that Davis knows what “lame duck” means.
3. Neither the Team nor the NFL Really Wanted to Stay in Oakland
Goodell praised Oakland’s efforts to try to keep the Raiders, but was quick to reiterate that despite those efforts, there wasn’t a “viable plan” for the team to stay put. Davis, meanwhile, was clearly bothered with how Oakland government officials acted during the team’s flirtation with a move to Los Angeles in 2015 and 2016, saying Monday that the city officials’ plan was to wait for the team to lose the L.A. vote (which it did, first to the Rams and then to the Chargers) so that the city could then exert its leverage in negotiations and get the Raiders to stay in a favorable stadium deal. Davis said this episode was the “turning point” in negotiations and put him on the path toward pursuing Las Vegas.
League executive Eric Grubman, the point man on relocation in the NFL, was careful to note that three team jumps in 18 months should not be taken as a league statement that any team can move at any time. But despite those comments, recent events make clear that any team with an aging stadium could look to move. Grubman also added that the owners don’t have concerns over the cluster of franchises set to be within a few hours of each other in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and he thinks all the markets can support their new teams.
4. The NFL Is Sort of Cool With Gambling
Following much speculation about what having a franchise in Vegas would mean for the league’s position on gambling, Grubman said that there will be no special restrictions for fans looking to gamble on Raiders games once they are Nevada’s team. “It’s not a matter we took up as a league,” Grubman said of the possibility of taking the Raiders off the gambling board in Vegas. Goodell told The MMQB’s Peter King that the league’s position on gambling hasn’t changed, but allowing the Raiders to play in Vegas signals a clear shift.