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Chaos off field for Raiders, success on it — so far

Nine weeks from now, the 2021 NFL regular season will come to an end.

Either the Raiders will have overcome a series of damaging, self-inflicted, off-the-field wounds and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2016, or they will have extended to 19 their number of seasons with only one playoff appearance. Coming off a bye, with a 5-2 record and 10 games remaining, we assess the state of the franchise as it continues its second season in Las Vegas.

The owner

Raiders owner Mark Davis says he compartmentalizes his emotions, separating them to get a clearer view of each.

That process has been on overdrive for Davis the past several weeks, as off-the-field events have buffeted his franchise.

The Raiders are two games — and wins — removed from Jon Gruden stepping down as head coach following the unearthing of several insensitive emails that were sent over a seven-year span.

Then, second-year wide receiver and former first-round pick Henry Ruggs was released from the team Tuesday night after his involvement in a fiery crash that killed a woman.

Ruggs is facing charges of DUI resulting in death and reckless driving.

“It’s devastating,” Davis said Thursday, fighting back tears in his first public comments since the crash. “Obviously a loss of life … it’s just a tragedy.”

Then on Friday, it was revealed that about a month before Ruggs’ crash, his teammate Damon Arnette was sued by a woman who claims she was injured in a hit-and-run crash.

For the Raiders, the hits keep on coming.

Earlier in the week, Davis spoke about Gruden, a coach he brought back to the Raiders in 2018 with hopes of building a championship team.

When introducing Gruden — and bestowing him with a reported 10-year contract worth $100 million — Davis referred to the move as “a dream come true and the best day of my life.”

Now he is left with the realization that his hoped-for Super Bowl team won’t be constructed and led by the man he hand-picked to lead such a quest.

“It has to be that way in this business,” Davis said. “Everything is week to week. You don’t have time to sit around and feel sorry for yourself.”

Special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia was named interim head coach, and the team responded with victories against the Broncos and Eagles. The Raiders are at the Giants on Sunday.

At the league’s recent fall meetings in New York, Davis expressed frustration with the timing of the release of Gruden’s emails, which came to light following an investigation into the Washington Football Team.

Davis said the NFL may have known about the emails for months before the first ones were reported by different media outlets prior to a 20-9 loss to the Bears on Oct. 10.

Given more advance notice, Davis believes the Raiders would have been in a better position to make a more deliberate and reasoned response, although the decision to ask for Gruden’s resignation would have been the same result.

For now, however, the Raiders have moved on from the drama that was Gruden’s resignation. At least that’s the message relayed from all parties, from Davis to coaches and players.

“This is something we’ve never had to face, but you get used to different things happening being a Raider,” Davis said, referring to his father Al’s frequent battles with the NFL when he ran the franchise. “That’s just part of it. We’re excited about where we are right now with 10 games left. We’re also very lucky to have the coaching staff that Jon put together.

“It’s a long season. We have to finish.”

They will attempt to do so without Gruden and Ruggs.

Be sure of this: Davis never saw that coming.

— Ed Graney

The general manager

It is important to remember the Raiders are in first place in the AFC West as they return from their bye week, and general manager Mike Mayock has played a big role in building a roster capable of contending for a division crown and/or a playoff spot.

In particular, Mayock deserves credit for the job he has done to rebuild the defense. A liability a year ago, it has been an anchor through the season’s first seven games. Among his finds: midround draft picks Maxx Crosby and Nate Hobbs, free agents Yannick Ngakoue and Casey Hayward, trade acquisition Denzel Perryman and rookie Tre’von Moehrig.

On the other hand, the Ruggs situation shines a painful light on the 2020 draft class and casts doubt on Mayock’s ability to navigate the premium portions of the draft.

Ruggs is gone, fellow 2020 first-round pick Damon Arnette seems a long way from contributing, and Lynn Bowden and Tanner Muse, 2020 third-round picks, are no longer on the roster. Meanwhile, 2019 first-round pick Cle Ferrell is buried on the depth chart, and the jury is still out on 2021 first-round pick Alex Leatherwood.

Mayock’s future figures to depend on what happens from here on out.

The Raiders’ much-improved defense gives them a chance to navigate the second half of the season in much better fashion than they have recently. If so, Mayock would appear to be on safe ground.

On the other hand, another second-half slip-up would probably force Davis to take a long look at the GM.

— Vinny Bonsignore

The front office

Turmoil within the Raiders organization began before the season began, with several high-profile front office departures.

Longtime president Marc Badain, the face of the organization during its relocation to Las Vegas, resigned suddenly in July after 30 seasons with the Raiders.

Chief financial officer Ed Villanueva and controller Araxie Grant followed Badain out the door shortly thereafter. Davis said last month that the resignations could be characterized as “forced” and that they were tied to accounting irregularities. Davis hinted that the trio were responsible for overpaying on taxes that the organization may not be able to recoup.

Brandon Doll, senior vice president of business strategy, left the team around the same time, but a source with knowledge of the situation said his departure was unrelated to the other three.

Chief revenue officer Mark Shearer, who has been with the team for 23 years in varying roles, is also leaving, as part of the ongoing reconfiguration of the front office.

Badain has declined several times to comment on his resignation or future plans, and did so again last week.

Dan Ventrelle took over as interim president, vacating his role as executive vice president and executive counsel for the organization. Ventrelle has been with the Raiders for 18 years and was also a major player in the team’s relocation, working closely with Badain and Don Webb, chief operating officer of the Raiders’ construction subsidiary, during meetings tied to Allegiant Stadium’s development.

Filling Ventrelle’s former role as general counsel is Kevin Manara, who was hired last month by the Raiders after 13 years with the NFL.

The Raiders last month also hired Jeremy Aguero as their chief operating and analytics officer. Aguero has provided his expertise to corporations, state and local governments and pro sports franchises during his 24 years as principal analyst with Applied Analysis. Aguero also served as staff for the Las Vegas Stadium Authority.

Michael Crome is listed as the Raiders’ new chief financial officer on the team’s website. Crome has previous stops at Caesars Entertainment, Pinnacle Entertainment, Crome Management Group and Sorelle Capital, all in the Las Vegas Valley.

— Mick Akers

The head coach

Two games into the new power structure, things seem to be working with Rich Bisaccia, a respected leader, serving as the big-picture manager and coordinators Gus Bradley on defense and Greg Olson on offense essentially being the head coaches of their sides of the ball.

Bisaccia is shrewd enough to understand the importance of allowing his coordinators to run their units while keeping him in the loop. In that way, the Raiders have not missed a beat after the departure of Gruden.

If the Raiders continue to play efficient football and make a serious run at a division crown and a spot in the playoffs, league sources ask: “Why try to fix what isn’t broken?”

Keep in mind, also, there are coaches on staff who just recently came on board, such as Bradley and Ron Milus and Richard Smith, the assistants Bradley brought with him from the Chargers, who are operating on multiyear contracts.

If it is working, would Davis really entertain a scenario in which he paid off a full staff of coaches, only to pay a new staff to take their place?

On the other hand, if this season goes south, a case could be made for the Raiders to make big changes in search of a new football leader. If so, any number of candidates would emerge. Among them are Stanford head coach David Shaw, Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, Michigan State head coach Mel Tucker and Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady.

— Vinny Bonsignore

The roster

Any conversation about the state of an NFL roster has to begin with the quarterback position.

That’s particularly true of a Raiders franchise that is on the verge of having to make a decision about whether Derek Carr continues to be the long-term answer or if it’s time to move on.

His play this year bodes well for his return to the Raiders. That means the team should be prepared to back up the Brinks truck this offseason for an extension that would prevent him from hitting the open market after the 2022 season.

It will be a deal that is likely to affect the rest of the roster. Carr’s current deal has become more and more team-friendly as each year has passed and quarterback contracts around the league have skyrocketed. There have been overtures from both sides suggesting a deal is more likely than not this offseason.

According to salary cap site Spotrac, the estimate on Carr’s new deal is five years at $32.1 million per season.

Any new contract is expected to take a more significant chunk of the team’s salary cap space, and it’s not the only new deal on the horizon.

While star tight end Darren Waller has two more seasons left on his contract and solid left tackle Kolton Miller just signed a massive extension that will keep him in Las Vegas until at least 2026, the only other players with any real length on their deals are those selected in the past few drafts.

Decisions will have to be made there, as well.

That starts with breakout star defensive end Maxx Crosby. The 2022 season will be the last on his rookie deal, then he will become a free agent, a situation the Raiders undoubtedly want to avoid. It’s likely the Raiders will try to work out a hefty extension this offseason.

Crosby was a fourth-round pick in 2019, a year the Raiders made three selections in the first round. Teams are given a fifth-year option on any player selected in the first round, so the Raiders will have to decide between the last game of this season and May 3 whether to exercise that option on Cle Ferrell, Josh Jacobs and Johnathan Abram or allow one or all of them to become free agents.

The most glaring hole on the roster was one the Raiders thought they had already filled.

The fatal car crash that led to the arrest and release of Henry Ruggs leaves the Raiders in the market for a No. 1 wide receiver.

Ruggs appeared to be just coming into his own in the role after the team invested a first-round pick on him in 2020.

Now the team must start over in its search for a playmaking wideout.

— Adam Hill

The fans

It’s not better. It’s not worse. It’s just different.

At least that’s the case in the mind of longtime Raiders fan Wayne Mabry, who is adjusting to the franchise’s new home in Las Vegas.

The city is different, but the passion that was in Oakland hasn’t changed for dedicated fans like Mabry. Not amid the turmoil of the 2021 season. Sure, it’s an adjustment, being in Las Vegas and all.

But it’s a worthwhile one for Mabry and his fellow fans.

“I really can’t control what the players got going on. I can’t control the play-calling, stuff like that,” said longtime fan Christian Ruiz, who doubles as Lil Cee. “At the end of the day, I’m still a fan, whether it’s 17-0 or 0-17.”

Mabry and Ruiz both acknowledged how different the experience is at Allegiant Stadium, where fans are more tame, or cheering for the other team. Mabry said that other spectators have asked him to sit down during games, noting that he’s accustomed to standing after decades in Oakland.

“It may take two or three seasons, just for them to let that sink in. That the team feeds off your energy,” he said. “If you’re sitting on your ass, that ain’t no energy. … I love the entertainment there. That’s on a different level than we ever had in Oakland. … But the fan part …”

Opposing fans are also infiltrating the venue like never before, making home games feel like road games at times for the two longtime fans.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Ruiz said. “To see the (Bears fans in Week 5) that packed and filled Allegiant Stadium, it was like, ‘Wow, what’s going on here?’ I thought Raider Nation, this and that, you know how we’re rowdy. But it was louder with the Bears fans in there.”

Different indeed.

All in all, Mabry and Ruiz are grateful for the 5-2 record given the tumultuous circumstances and are optimistic about the team’s immediate and long-term futures in Las Vegas.

“In (spite) of everything that we’ve had go … against us, this may be the glue that we need to show solidarity as a team, as an organization,” Mabry said.

— Sam Gordon

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