With not much happening in the NFL this week, you know, besides that whole Super Bowl thing, now feels like as good a time as any to speculate wildly. So let’s talk about this Vegas thing and see where it takes us.
I like Vegas. You like Vegas. And apparently the Raiders REALLY like Vegas. The NFL’s perpetually homeless team could be on the move again. Rams owner Stan Kroenke won the battle for L.A. last month, but the Raiders’ search for a permanent home is far from over. The O.co Coliseum in Oakland is one of the worst venues in sports and it seems like everybody knows it. Even the Oakland Athletics, who would finally have a stadium all to themselves if the Raiders left, want nothing to do with it. A’s owner Lew Wolff released this statement as soon as the Raiders’ bid for L.A. went belly-up: “This announcement by the NFL regarding the Raiders does not change our immediate plans or our goal of securing a new baseball-only facility.”
While the Raiders can’t get out of Oakland fast enough, Las Vegas has been dying for a team. The NHL and NBA have had flirtations with Vegas in the past. The NBA held its All-Star Game there in 2007 and Vegas is usually one of the first names mentioned when teams talk about relocation. You’ll hear it come up again when the Arizona Coyotes’ lease with Glendale ends in 2017. But now things are getting serious. Vegas bigwig Sheldon Adelson (he’s the CEO of Sands Casino) is ready to pony up $1 billion for a new dome in Sin City and Raiders owner Mark Davis is plenty interested.
A team in Vegas—why didn’t anyone think of this before? Well, one reason the Vegas market remains untapped is because the NFL has been hesitant to associate itself with the gambling capital of the world. If that sentiment holds true, moving to San Antonio might be a more realistic option. But despite the NFL’s obvious aversion to gambling, the Raiders-to-Vegas proposal seems to already have legs. Bleacher Report’s Jason Cole called the move a “very real” possibility while NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport confirmed Raiders’ ownership traveled to Las Vegas Friday to scout the city.
Vegas may end up being a pipe dream for the Raiders but it still makes more sense than moving to San Diego. There have been rumblings the Raiders could head there if the Chargers bolt (no pun intended) for Los Angeles, but I’m not buying it. The Chargers seem likely to move. They just purchased land in Orange County for a new practice facility and the Rams have already agreed to share their stadium in Inglewood, which should be up and running by 2019. But let’s not forget why the Chargers are considering a move in the first place—their stadium stinks. Why would the Raiders swap one nightmare stadium for another? It just doesn’t make any sense.
Will somebody please just give the Raiders a home? You know they have Amari Cooper, right?
Well, this isn’t the first time it’s happened. Assuming he doesn’t change his mind (which I’m still very skeptical of), Calvin Johnson will head to retirement after his age-30 season. Hall-of-Famer Barry Sanders also retired after his age-30 season. How do the Lions keep driving great players into early retirement?
When reports of Johnson’s retirement began to surface, my initial thought was, is this where the NFL is headed? The landscape has changed dramatically over the last few years. CTE isn’t a secret anymore and plenty of players, Chris Borland, Patrick Willis and Rashard Mendenhall to name a few, have left the game early to preserve their long-term health. Former Steelers receiver Antwaan Randle El made headlines last month when he said if he had to do it over, he would have played baseball instead. While none of Calvin Johnson’s injuries have been catastrophic—he’s mostly dealt with nagging ankle issues—it’s easy to see how the daily grind would take its toll on him, particularly after nine years in the league.
Not to be overly cynical, but there could be ulterior motives at play here. Megatron wouldn’t be the first player to use the threat of retirement as a bargaining ploy. Carson Palmer employed this tactic several years ago after the Bengals drafted his replacement, Andy Dalton. Rather than stick around and watch Dalton get all the reps, Palmer decided to hang up his cleats. After a long standoff, the Bengals finally granted Palmer’s wish to leave Cincinnati by trading him to Oakland for a pair of draft picks.
If that’s Johnson’s endgame, he’s going to pretty elaborate lengths to prove that he’s done playing. Though Johnson hasn’t made an official announcement yet, he’s already cleaned out his locker and said goodbye to Lions owner Martha Ford. But in the off chance that Johnson resurfaces, he’d immediately vault to the top of every team’s wish list.
This year’s free agent market is heavy on running-back talent (Matt Forte, Chris Ivory, Doug Martin and Lamar Miller are all out there) but laughably thin at wide receiver. Alshon Jeffery is the only WR1 available and the Bears will almost certainly franchise-tag him. A bidding war of epic proportions would ensue if Johnson somehow joined that mix. Of course, it probably wouldn’t be that simple. The Jets sent a fourth-round pick to Green Bay after Brett Favre unretired in 2008. If the Lions went ahead and released Johnson, it would save them $11 million in cap space.
The Lions are hoping they can change Johnson’s mind and talk him into an extension, though it wouldn’t come at his current salary. Johnson’s base salary for next season is a whopping $15.95 million while his cap hit is an astronomical $24 million. The Lions could use Larry Fitzgerald’s two-year, $22 million extension with Arizona as a blueprint for negotiations, though for now, it looks like Johnson is pretty set on retirement.
Johnson’s potential retirement has been a topic of conversation for almost a month. During that time, new GM Bob Quinn decided to retain head coach Jim Caldwell. This was seen as a positive for Johnson’s chances of returning. But would Quinn have kept Caldwell around if he knew Johnson wasn’t coming back? With that knowledge, Quinn could have easily begun the rebuilding process by bottoming out the roster and installing a new head coach. Instead Caldwell, who barely kept his job this year, is left to steer a sinking ship.
Quick Hits: Justin Tuck is calling it quits after 11 seasons. The two-time Super Bowl winner will retire with 66.5 career sacks … The Packers are asking Eddie Lacy to lose 30 pounds this offseason. That means no China food for a while … Former Cowboys running back Joseph Randle was arrested Monday morning on a speeding warrant. It’s the fourth time he’s been arrested since October 2014 … The Cardinals agreed to a one-year deal with tight end Darren Fells. He scored a touchdown in Arizona’s season-ending loss to Carolina last week … According to Niners GM Trent Baalke, head coach Chip Kelly is “excited to get his hands on” Jarryd Hayne. The former rugby player totaled just 79 yards on 23 touches in his rookie year … There’s been concern that Chip Kelly’s fast-paced play-calling on offense doesn’t give his defense enough time to recover. 49ers LB Navorro Bowman said he isn’t worried about that: “I think any defense you play in, if your offense is getting off the field quicker then you gotta get off the field quicker. You gotta hold yourself to that standard” … Patriots defenders Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones are all entering the last year of their rookie deals and could be candidates for contract extensions. CSN New England believes Hightower will be the hardest to re-sign, calling him a "smart businessman who’ll understand his value both in Foxboro or, if it comes to pass, elsewhere” … If the Jets are looking for cap room this offseason, ESPN New York’s Rich Cimini believes Darrelle Revis would be “amenable” to restructuring his contract. The Jets could also free up space by cutting Antonio Cromartie and asking D’Brickashaw Ferguson to take a pay cut … Lions CB Darius Slay recently made the switch to agent Drew Rosenhaus. With one year left on his rookie deal, it’s possible he’s gearing up to negotiate a contract extension … Demarcus Lawrence had back surgery earlier this offseason but coach Jason Garrett doesn’t expect him to miss much time. Lawrence led the Cowboys with eight sacks this year … Eagles beat writer Eliot Shorr-Parks mentioned Darren Sproles as a possible cap casualty. The two-time Pro Bowler is owed $3.5 million next year … Giants DT Jay Bromley is being investigated for attempted rape. No arrests have been made and Bromley has strongly denied the allegations … According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Peyton Manning has told close friends he’s retiring. This comes one week after Manning told Patriots coach Bill Belichick “this might be my last rodeo” … Buccaneers GM Jason Licht said he doesn’t plan on trading backup quarterback Mike Glennon, who didn’t play a single snap in 2015 … Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald expects the Dolphins to pursue Pacman Jones in free agency. Vance Joseph, who just accepted the Dolphins’ defensive coordinator job, coached Jones in Cincinnati for two years … The Colts believe they can get an extension done with Andrew Luck this offseason. Luck is entering the last year of his rookie deal … ESPN Cowboys reporter Todd Archer believes Robert Griffin III has a better chance of ending up in Dallas than Johnny Manziel but acknowledged that neither scenario is likely … Vandalism has been an issue at Super Bowl 50 … Richard Sherman showed off his wrestling moves at the Pro Bowl on Sunday. Watch him go all Randy Orton on Clay Matthews … Aaron Hernandez wrote a letter from jail and it’s just as bonkers as you would expect it to be … NBC and CBS will split Thursday night coverage next season. CBS aired eight Thursday night games last year but now NBC and CBS will get five each. NFL Network will handle the rest … The Rotoworld Dynasty Mock Draft is underway. It's been pretty receiver-heavy so far.