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Mark Davis likes Raiders’ progress, but says it’s only ‘halftime’

Updated March 29, 2019 - 10:20 pm

OAKLAND, Calif. — Mark Davis wears white just as his father fashioned it. A white shirt. A white jacket. White pants and white shoes. Splashes of black, gray or another color are often incorporated, but there are times he sports an entirely achromatic outfit, Labor Day ignored.

More and more, the look is fitting.

The Raiders owner is at the helm of an organization whose outlook appears increasingly bright. Its stadium lease to stay in Oakland for 2019 and possibly 2020 was approved Monday at the NFL’s annual league meetings. A team he delegated and trusts is helping guide the franchise and its roster into the future. And a $1.8 billion, 65,000-seat Las Vegas stadium continues toward its 2020 scheduled opening.

But Davis is not fixated on appearances, he said at the meetings.

Not with all the work that remains.

“I’ve been telling people lately this offseason that there’s nothing less important in life than the score at halftime,” Davis said. “So all the congratulations we’re getting on the stadium and everything, I thank them, and I understand them, but I want to get the job done. Maybe at that point, I’ll look back and say, ‘Wow. So we were here, and now we’re here.’ But it’s tough in the middle of the race to really get that perspective.

“But there definitely have been changes. Getting (coach Jon Gruden) was a big part of the vision I had initially when my dad passed away (in 2011). He’s here, so I feel real confident in that respect. There’s somebody that loves football and works football and watches film and does all the things that I saw my dad do as I was growing up and saw Jon do while he was here the first time. I’m just so glad he’s back, able to do it again.”

Two offseasons ago, the Raiders appeared to have turned a corner.

They were the “it” emerging team after a 12-4 season snapped the franchise’s 12-year run of neither a winning record nor playoff berth. If not for a Christmas Eve injury to quarterback Derek Carr, there seemed no telling what might have transpired in the postseason.

This, however, was fool’s silver.

The 2016 Raiders were no ordinary 12-win team. They were 5-0 in games decided by three points and 9-2 in one-score games. From 1970 to 2016, 160 NFL teams finished with 12 or more wins. The Raiders had an average margin of victory of 6.7 points, the lowest of any. The defense was the seventh in league history to total 30 or more takeaways despite 25 or fewer sacks.

Former NFL coach Bill Parcells popularized the phrase, “You are what your record says you are.”

The Raiders weren’t. A regression followed.

As stadium construction crews in Las Vegas worked to build a foundation in late 2017, Davis chose Gruden to do the same. He fired then-coach Jack Del Rio, six months after signing him to a four-year extension, and entrusted Gruden to engineer a true, sustainable success on the field. Gruden hired general manager Mike Mayock one season later.

A brain trust is now in place.

This month, the Raiders added such players as wide receiver Antonio Brown, offensive tackle Trent Brown, defensive back Lamarcus Joyner and wide receiver Tyrell Williams. The team has eight draft picks in April, including an NFL-high four in the top 35 selections. Opportunity to mold this roster awaits.

Davis is pleased with the dynamic between Gruden and Mayock, two men he says love football, their families and not much else.

Still, he keeps a tempered view about the results so far.

“It’s always nice to win the offseason, but it doesn’t do us any good on Sundays,” Davis said. “You’ve got to make it happen on Sundays. It’s good, the moves that Mike and Jon are making. They have a good working relationship, and that will continue to grow as they get to know each other better. I’m pretty confident in that aspect of that. I’m happy with that.”

Team president Marc Badain and Dan Ventrelle, executive vice president and general counsel, are part of a large group Davis entrusts to guide him on off-field developments. Tom Delaney, director of football administration, handles much of the Raiders’ contract negotiations.

They play a vital role.

Delaney, for example, institutes various principles when structuring player contracts to keep the Raiders from salary cap peril. Among them, he favors roster bonuses instead of signing bonuses. The latter is amortized against the cap over the life of a contract but accelerates when a player is traded or released. Using roster bonuses in lieu of signing bonuses gives the Raiders an ability to exit the most exorbitant contracts a couple of years into them.

Such leadership gives Davis belief that the Raiders are on the right track.

Yet, he’s not celebrating.

This position was reinforced during a recent conversation Davis had with two-time World Series MVP Reggie Jackson. Jackson was in Tampa, Florida, where the New York Yankees hold spring training.

“He said he explains to the kids that it’s really a privilege to wear the Yankees uniform,” Davis said. “It’s not something where you have the right to wear it, this or that. It’s a privilege to wear it. You have to understand the history and everything that goes into that organization and be a part of it. That’s the same way as the Raiders.

“That’s the way we feel about the Raiders, and that’s why I always say the most valuable asset we have is our alumni. Everything we do is try to make them proud. I don’t believe I’ve succeeded in that yet. That’s the halftime part of the statement as well. We want to get to that stage. It’s the full package.”

Davis is confident in Gruden and Mayock.

He is confident in those who help him handle nonfootball business and people such as Delaney whose hand is somewhere in between. He is excited by the Las Vegas stadium, whose portable natural grass field is among the project’s greatest sources of pride. Nonetheless, the Raiders’ roster and future stadium are under construction.

This franchise isn’t back yet.

Davis sees a locker room with 30 minutes to go.

“We’ve played a great game, but we’ve still got a second half,” Davis said. “Go out there and finish it.”

More Raiders: Follow at reviewjournal.com/Raiders and @NFLinVegas on Twitter.

Contact reporter Michael Gehlken at mgehlken@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GehlkenNFL on Twitter.

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