INDIANAPOLIS — In April 2017, a billboard that declared “the Raiders are coming” was the first visible hint a 62-acre dirt lot in Las Vegas beside Interstate 15 might morph into something more. Today, the $1.8 billion project has taken shape, crews with cranes installing the stadium’s foundation.
The future is building.
So is Jon Gruden’s comfort discussing it.
The Raiders coach inherited a delicate situation when hired in early 2018. The franchise was poised to relocate to Las Vegas in 2020 but remained in the Bay Area. Gruden recognized the sensitivity, sidestepping the Las Vegas topic when possible. On Thursday, he publicly acknowledged the franchise’s future home at length for the first time.
The move, after all, is one year away.
Gruden recently visited the stadium site, he told Raiders reporters at the NFL scouting combine. The conversation occurred in a group interview after a news conference he held.
“It’s exciting when you go to Las Vegas,” Gruden said. “You can’t deny that the stadium they’re building is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in my lifetime. The Oakland Raiders brand, the Las Vegas Raiders brand to me is as good as there is in all of sports. To be a part of it is something that really fires me up.”
Gruden held more than 100 news conferences in the Bay Area last year.
He referenced Las Vegas once by name, and that comes with an asterisk.
On Jan. 9, 2018, the Raiders introduced Gruden at an event that was less a news conference and more a “welcome home” ceremony. The Raiders held it inside their weight room to account for the number of attendees, who included Pro Football Hall of Fame members such as Tim Brown, Howie Long, James Lofton and Jerry Rice. In total, 230 chairs were set up. About 25 video cameras filmed it, and 115 media members were credentialed.
Gruden and owner Mark Davis shared a stage.
At one point, a reporter asked Gruden about Las Vegas.
“I’ll let Mark talk about Vegas,” Gruden said. “I am a real short-term, goal-oriented coach. Big reason why I’m here is the passion I have for the city of Oakland and this franchise. People in the Black Hole, if you are listening, I can’t wait to see you guys. I really can’t, and I would like to fill that place with Raider fans at least seven or eight more times. That is all I care about right now.”
By the day, Las Vegas is becoming more of a short-term subject.
When the Raiders signed coaches to multiyear contracts this offseason, the fact Nevada charges no state income taxes arose in discussions. As the March 13 start to free agency nears, that same reality regarding Nevada’s tax structure will be mentioned in negotiations, possibly framing certain deals’ structure and cash flow.
Increasingly, on their free time, coaches and players can discuss scouting reports on where to live in the Las Vegas region, whether to buy, build or rent. The Raiders’ headquarters will be based in Henderson. What is near there? How’s the drive from Summerlin? Is it best to buy in 2019 or wait until 2020?
Such talks, like the stadium’s construction, are gradually developing over time.
In the interim, Gruden remains respectful to Oakland and its fans. He basked in the Black Hole on Dec. 24 following an NFL victory thought maybe to be the city’s last. He hoped for the Raiders to continue playing there in 2019. As early as this Friday, a lease agreement is expected to be finalized that would establish parameters under which the Raiders would occupy the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum for another season — or two if the Las Vegas stadium is delayed.
Gruden saw the construction firsthand.
“The walls are going up,” Gruden said. “It’s in a pretty good spot. There’s a lot of action down there, man.”