California once again on center stage with NFL on the move

California once again on center stage with NFL on the move

America's most popular sport is in the midst of its greatest migration since the mid-1990s. In a little over a year, three NFL franchises have moved, announced a resettlement or filed paperwork seeking to relocate.

California is once again at the heart of this shift. That was the case in 1958 when the Giants and Dodgers brought big league baseball to the West Coast, two years later when the NBA's Minneapolis Lakers moved to Los Angeles and again in 1995 when the Raiders and Rams abandoned L.A.

The Rams returned last year, ending the NFL's 21-year absence from the nation's second-largest media market. They were joined by the Chargers this month, and the Raiders could be on the move again soon, too.

Las Vegas is no longer a pariah for pro sports leagues, and Mark Davis wants in on the action.

So, the Raiders asked the league for permission to move to a new $1.9 billion domed stadium in Las Vegas, which welcomes the NHL's expansion Golden Knights to the Strip this fall.

Unlike the Chargers, who will play in a 30,000-seat soccer stadium until 2019 when Rams owner Stan Kroenke's $2.6 billion two-team stadium opens in Inglewood, the Raiders plan to play a few lame-duck seasons in Oakland while a new home rises in the desert.

Until recent years, Las Vegas was off-limits. But society's de-stigmatization of gambling and the NFL's embrace of daily fantasy sports companies have combined to create an environment where the city of blackjack tables is a viable option for the silver and black.

"I think the understanding that Las Vegas is a growing, booming town and an acceptance that gambling is not much of an image deterrent as it might have been in the past" makes Nevada a desired NFL destination for the first time, suggested Denver Broncos president Joe Ellis, who sits on the league's stadium committee.

Marketplace realities have long interfered with fan loyalties in this country's four major sports leagues.

"It's very hard when teams move," Ellis said. "It's tough on fans. It's tough on ownership. It's tough on the league. It's not anything the league advocates. They want teams to stay where they are."

Unless they can make more money somewhere else.

St. Louis had a plan for an open-air $1.1 billion stadium along the Mississippi River north of the Gateway Arch to replace the Edward Jones Dome. But Kroenke mostly ignored the city's overtures, saying St. Louis' economy made it difficult for an NFL franchise to thrive there.

Kroenke won owners' approval last year to build a stadium on the sight of the old Hollywood Park racetrack about 10 miles from downtown L.A. The Raiders and Chargers had a competing proposal to share a new stadium but when Kroenke's project prevailed, the league said those teams could also move if they couldn't get new stadiums in their cities.

A ballot measure to replace San Diego's aging Qualcomm Stadium failed in November, and Chargers owner Dean Spanos announced he'll exercise his option to join the Rams in Los Angeles after 56 years in San Diego.

That also meant the end of the Poinsettia Bowl because the city is considering tearing down the stadium rather than continuing with costly maintenance. The Holiday Bowl might have to move to baseball's Petco Park to survive.

The Raiders have been seeking to replace their dilapidated home they share with baseball's Athletics for years. The Coliseum lacks many of the modern, money-making features of new or recently refurbished stadiums and has suffered from sewage backups and other infrastructure problems.

Despite Davis' application to relocate, Oakland civic leaders and investors continue to negotiatewith government officials, the team and the NFL to build a $1.25 billion, 55,000-seat stadium.

Oakland's mayor supports the bid by an investment group that includes Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, but has said public financing isn't an option. The city and Alameda County still owe a combined $100 million for upgrades to the stadium in 1995 to lure the Raiders back to Oakland. Personal seat licenses failed to cover the cost of the $220 million renovation that added more than 10,000 seats and luxury boxes.

The Las Vegas plan calls for $750 million in hotel room tax revenue, $650 million from billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson's company and $500 million from the Raiders and the NFL. No site has been selected for a stadium, which would likely open in 2020.

"I think we continue to offer a far superior deal," said Scott Haggerty, president of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors and a member of the board that manages the Coliseum. "I think that Mark Davis has been very patient in trying to come up with a stadium plan and I don't blame him for keeping his options open. But the Raiders belong in Oakland."

League owners are expected to vote on the proposed move in March.

Approval would mark the league's biggest migration in such a short span since the 1990s. The Rams and Raiders abandoned L.A. in 1995. A year later, the Browns bolted Cleveland for Baltimore and the Oilers left Texas for Tennessee a year after that.

Those teams saw the benefit at the box office, at least for a while, but had mixed results on the football field.

The Rams went to two Super Bowls while in St. Louis, winning one before the team's fortunes faded and crowds dwindled. The Raiders went to one Super Bowl before a 15-year playoff drought that ended this month. The Browns-turned-Ravens won two titles and the Titans played in one Super Bowl.

The Browns were reincarnated in 1999 and the NFL returned to Houston in 2002 with the expansion Texans. Those teams are two of the four franchises that have never made it to the Super Bowl, along with the Lions and Jaguars.

Reports: Marshawn Lynch to remain with Raiders in 2018


Reports: Marshawn Lynch to remain with Raiders in 2018

The Raiders signed veteran running back Doug Martin on Thursday, prompting many to believe the move meant the end of Marshawn Lynch's time in Oakland.

But as it has been expected, Martin is just another piece to go along with Lynch in the Raiders' backfield. According to multiple national reports, Lynch will remain in Silver and Black this upcoming season. 

The news will become official when the Raiders pay Lynch his $1 million roster bonus on Sunday. 

“One of the reasons I’m excited to be with the Raiders is to join forces with Lynch. We’ll see what happens," Jon Gruden told Insider Scott Bair at the NFL Scouting Combine. “We have to take a look at the entire roster, but I’m counting on him. I’m counting on him being a big part of this football team.”

Lynch, 31, rushed for 891 yards, averaging 4.3 yards per carry, and scored seven touchdowns for the Raiders in 2017. 

New Raiders cornerback supremely confident, 'here to dominate the league'


New Raiders cornerback supremely confident, 'here to dominate the league'

Rashaan Melvin has the supreme confidence of a No. 1 cornerback, with none of the pedigree. Top cover men are often drafted high, paid well or both, with a steady ascent to elite status.

This undrafted talent bounced around the league without job security, trying and often failing to find NFL footing.

Melvin spent time with Tampa Bay, Miami, Baltimore, New England and Miami again before establishing himself in Indianapolis. The Colts gave him a real shot and he took advantage, evolving into the team’s top cornerback. Last year was Melvin’s best, but it didn’t provide a long-term contract despite a bull market for cover men.

Melvin signed a one-year, $6.5 million deal with the Raiders on Friday, the type of prove-it deal that could establish a big payday down this time next year. The 28-year old doesn’t consider that pressure. Melvin knowns another big year's on the way, one that proves he's an elite cornerback

"I’m here to dominate the league," Melvin said Friday in a conference call. "It might be time for some new faces at the cornerback position. That’s my take on that. I’m excited for it.”

Melvin wouldn’t trade his long road for a conventional path, and believes experience both good and bad has prepared him for a pivotal season.

“I’ve been cut four times,” Melvin said. “I’ve been in four different locker rooms, and I was able to gain my teammates’ trust, my coaches’ trust and the organization’s trust as well. My confidence just grows over time. There are not a lot of players that can say they’ve been cut four times and end up in a situation where I’m at today. Like I said, it’s perfect timing. My work ethic, my style of play and the way I approach the game and the way I approach my job, my business, it speaks for itself.”

Melvin’s work ethic is unquestioned. His reputation as a grinder is well documented, especially after establishing himself in Indianapolis. Commitment to a craft has created a player with consistent coverage and ball skills.

Melvin was excellent last year. According to Pro Football Focus, Melvin created an incomplete pass (combining passes defensed and interceptions) on 23.6 percent of his targets.

Passers had a 60.3 passer rating against him in 2017, with just 29 completions for 328 yards on 55 targets. The passer rating was 86.6 in 2016, his only other season as a regular starter.

The Raiders need that type of player on the outside. They’ve had inconsistent cornerback play (that’s being kind) in recent seasons, and are hoping Melvin provides stability at a key position. The Northern Illinois alum has loftier aspirations, individually and as the leader of a young position group.

“The goal is to be the best player I can be, first-team All-Pro,” Melvin said. “I’m going to show my leadership, help these young guys out this year. They have tons of potential to be successful in their own careers. For me coming in here and being the leader and showing that, hey, this is what it takes to be successful in this football league, that’s what I’m willing to do. That’s what I’m willing to bring to the table. On the football field, but outside as well.”

Paying $6.5 million for all that would be a bargain. Melvin’s the key acquisition in a secondary built around 2016 first-round safety Karl Joseph and 2017 first-round cornerback Gareon Conley. This secondary can be solid if those guys can realize potential and Melvin’s a true No. 1 cornerback.

He considers that title appropriate, and is ready to show he’s more that a one-year wonder. The Raiders have great confidence in Melvin, something clear after targeting him early in the free-agent process. Financing’s always a big factor, but Friday’s meeting with head coach Jon Gruden, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther and secondary coach Derrick Ansley convinced Melvin that Oakland’s a proper fit.

“I can relate to these guys,” Melvin said. “They have big plans for me, big plans for the organization. I was born to be a part of something special; that’s happening in Oakland. It was a good thing. We were able to get everything done, a deal done. I’m just excited to be here and I’m excited to see what the future holds for us as a team and me as a player.”