MOBILE, Ala. – The Raiders have been shipping home games abroad for years now.
The football people don’t love it. Jon Gruden’s a homebody, and prefers to stay put whenever possible. Jack Del Rio didn’t like it, either. Adding another travel date to the schedule makes a season harder. There’s no arguing that.
It is unofficially part of the team’s relocation efforts, conceding to play an extra game away from the East Bay and wherever the Raiders eventually call home in 2019.
This will mark the fourth straight season the Raiders have hosted an international game, and the fifth time in the last six years.
They’ll be going to London this time. The opponent was no surprise.
The Raiders will play the Chicago Bears in London, the NFL announced Monday morning. The exact date and venue will be announced when the schedule’s released this spring.
Playing the Bears far away from home prevents the return of Khalil Mack. Gruden traded the All-Pro edge rusher to Chicago on Sept. 1 for a compensation package that included two first round picks, an unpopular move that signaled the start of a complete roster rebuild.
Moving this game to London avoids the possibility of him wreaking havoc against his old team, pressuring good friend and former teammate Derek Carr in front of a home crowd that loved him so much.
Mack was immensely popular in Oakland and across the Bay Area, a market the Raiders could well play in despite not having a lease to play anywhere in 2019.
Mack’s return would’ve been a huge storyline, and may well have been a primetime offering. Moving the game to London eliminates that prospect as well, given the time difference between England and the United States.
Even still the focus will be on Mack playing the Raiders and a way-to-early progress report on the No. 24 overall NFL draft pick, who will be the first tangible part of the Raiders return in the Khalil Mack trade.
Changing the venue and keeping this an early game should dampen national focus and local passion for this one.
The Raiders and Bears matchup is part of a four-game series in London that also features Tampa Bay-Carolina, Houston-Jacksonville and L.A. Rams-Cincinnati. The L.A. Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs will play in Mexico City next season.
As it was in 2018, the Raiders, Rams and Chargers, teams playing in temporary venues while their stadia are being built, will all host games abroad.