The Raiders are tied for first place in the AFC West but, on days like Monday, feel the furthest thing away from an organization that doesn’t require a serious intervention.
The club released former first-round pick Damon Arnette after the cornerback brandished multiple weapons during a series of social media videos while threatening to kill someone. NFL Network reported that, during Arnette’s first year in the league, he crashed four rental cars. While it’s not fair to say the Raiders could see this coming, Arnette’s penchant for eyebrow-raising behavior was available for anyone to read leading up to the 2020 draft across various media outlets that source scouting chatter for their predraft rankings. Most of those rankings had Arnette as a mid-round selection. Las Vegas took him in the first round, a few picks after Henry Ruggs III.
From the 2020 draft class alone, both of Vegas’s first-round picks have now been released, Ruggs after he was charged with multiple felony counts of DUI. Two of their three third-round picks were dispensed of before the players logged a single snap. Their previous draft classes, while lacking in the same off-field tumult, have largely underperformed on the field, squandering almost the entirety of their haul from the Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper trades.
Before we get too far, this is not some column pearl clutching about all the bad things that have happened in Oakland and Las Vegas over the past few years. This is also not an attempt to lump them all together. Ruggs, who stands accused of killing a woman and her dog after crashing into them while driving 156 miles per hour with a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit, Arnette and Jon Gruden, who was fired amid the surfacing of anti-LGBTQ, sexist and racist comments made in email correspondence with former Washington Football Team president Bruce Allen, are different men with different sins.
This is a column wondering how they all ended up in the same place and what can be done about it.
It’s fashionable to pick on Raiders owner Mark Davis, whose reclusive nature and obscure tendencies lead us to believe he is aloof and incompetent. Since taking over the franchise in 2011, the Raiders have had just one winning season, one playoff berth and one season of .500 football. Derek Carr, who was drafted in the second round in ’14, has been the only steadily appreciating asset of that time period, almost singlehandedly saving the franchise from being the worst team in the NFL year in and year out.
Davis, though, by all accounts, is not a bad person. He does not willingly scour the draft for unsavory characters and—not that we know of, at least—he did not bond with Gruden over their shared disregard of certain members and groups of society. He was trying to conjure an attitude and recreate the mystique his father had cultivated over decades in the NFL.
In this way, Davis has failed. The problem is that he has not failed in an oh-well-you’re-the-Jets-now harmless kind of way. He failed in a dangerous way after relocating the franchise and building a new stadium. He failed in the kind of way that produces massive questions about the team’s daily processes and the kinds of safeguards in place from keeping the organization from becoming a perpetual embarrassment to the league. (Ask free agents what they thought of Oakland prior to their recent stretch of trouble, by the way. Their opinion was not much better.) While the team has a winning record at this moment, the floor underneath the franchise could be so painfully weak that the entire foundation might collapse. Is it worth it to ignore all the structural issues for a half-assed shot at the playoffs this year before it all falls apart?
Davis needs help, and the NFL should step in to guide the administrative process until it can feel confident in his abilities to steer the ship. Other moribund franchises in other professional sports have been assigned experienced presidents and general managers in the past to help guide them out of the woods and, perhaps, this is a consideration the NFL should take up at a league meeting sometime in the near future (if it can somehow dodge professional sports’ nepotistic tendencies).
The NBA sent Jerry Colangelo to help the Sixers when the league felt like Sam Hinkie’s Process was getting to be too big an embarrassment. Bud Selig orchestrated a swap in 2002, with MLB essentially taking over the Expos and Montreal owner Jeffery Loria ending up with the Marlins instead.
There are plenty of competent executives out there who have built championship-caliber rosters: Jerry Reese, Dave Caldwell, Thomas Dimitroff among them. Assign them to the Raiders for a two-year period and insist that every decision impacting the organization come out of a majority vote. Bring in a panel of experienced NFL coaches, like Mike Smith (career record: 66–46), Doug Pederson (career record: 42–37) or Jim Caldwell (career record: 62–50).
As NBC’s Peter King wrote in his Monday column this week, there are folks in the NFL who are concerned about having a franchise in Las Vegas and wonder if the location has had a negative influence on the young, cash-flush kids who were just recently plucked out of a structured collegiate environment and set free. Our Albert Breer wrote the same on Monday, and suggested the Raiders can learn from how the Dolphins navigate operating out of Miami. While one obviously cannot and should not blame the location for the decisions of individual players, having the Las Vegas Strip mere minutes from the team facility can be a massive hurdle toward a period of low chaos.
Again, this is not a criticism of Gruden or Arnette or Ruggs or Mike Mayock or Davis or anyone specifically. Everyone was being themselves and just happened to exist under the Raider umbrella. These same issues may have all popped up had any of these people been working in any other market. But the problem is a seeming lack of realization that this could all happen, at once, without any specific effort to prevent it. If you are going to gamble on high-risk players, you need a coach who can envelop them in a program. If you are going to hire a loose-lipped coach with a gigantic personality, you need a general manager with broader authority to shut him down. If you are going to plop a franchise on the Las Vegas strip, you need the right people to succeed in that environment.
A fresh pair of eyes can help Davis before it’s too late.
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