Raider World — London makes sense

The story broke late last night. Two likely investors in a major stadium planned for Las Vegas retreated because they weren’t sure the Raiders were a good fit. Without going into too much detail, the first guy owns the Sands hotel. He was allegedly miffed at team owner Mark Davis, possibly because of a lowball lease offer of $1 per year.

The second investor, Goldman Sachs, presumably got weary of being demonized in the press during an election year and chose to take a refreshing nap on its mountain of cash.

Now I don’t want to overreact, because these could all be negotiating ploys, but let’s assume for the moment that the Las Vegas Raiders aren’t going to happen. Because the usual suspects are lining up to court the Silver and Black. 

Most of these suitors are comically ill-prepared. For instance, a columnist in San Diego thinks the Raiders should occupy the same roach motel the Chargers abandoned last month. Hey fathead, if you’re going to appeal to an NFL team, an excellent first step is not to insult the owner in the first paragraph, especially when you look like an assistant manager at a Circle K. And judging the way print news is going, you might want to dust off the resume because the graveyard shift is calling. Now get a mop and clean up the mess in front of the Icee machine.

For that matter, you might want to scratch off Oakland. It’s not impossible, but I was a season ticket holder up there. I completely understand why the Raiders want new digs and building new arenas in California is damn near impossible.

This leaves a handful of places left across the country. Portland is intriguing, but has never been home to anything bigger than the NBA. San Antonio has a stadium, Texas loves football and Dallas owner Jerry Jones was a longtime friend of the late Al Davis. Houston might not be OK with that, though.

I liked St. Louis, but let’s be real: That city lost two NFL franchises.

Now that I live in Florida, I often think the NFL is curious about Orlando. Problem is, I’m literally two hours by car from the Jaguars and Buccaneers. Both teams aren’t that popular. I can’t see Jacksonville and Tampa letting go of central Florida.

It’s when I started thinking about Oklahoma City when the obvious solution hit me.

London has 8.7 million people, which would make it the league’s largest city (New York is at 8.4 million). There’s a stadium there already put to use by the NFL. The league has worked tirelessly to accommodate teams to play there. Local politicians want the NFL. There are now what, four games in London every year? That’s half a regular season as it is.

In those games, the league often schedules two horrible teams to play. Wembley Stadium is still filled to the brim.

And frankly, it’s significantly safer and less smoggier than another international option: Mexico City.

This is not a prediction as much as it is an argument for a better option. Simply put, there is too much money on the table for the Raiders not to consider moving there. It makes more fiscal sense to expand Raider Nation to Raider World than it would to move from one horrible stadium to another.

I guess we can’t totally ignore the LA Chargers, so…

This whole Los Angeles Chargers thing just has that “do I really have to take care of grandma?” vibe.

Yes, LA. You do. You know you do because you’ve already taken steps to make do with this unwanted freeloader. You’ve given the Chargers the little room in the corner at the StubHub Center. You’ve done your best to look the other way when they make you wear an extremely questionable wardrobe, such as…


You’ve even turned the music up to tune out Philip Rivers carping about the good ol’ days.

But the Chargers ain’t a-goin’ anywhere no time soon, son. So you gotta make due. How do you make them less embarrassing?

Well, on the plus side it’s somewhat easy to diagnose what went wrong with the 5-11 Chargers. Pro Football Focus ranked the Chargers line as the second-worst in the league. Using these fancy-pants metrics that the young kids are so fond of, on running plays the Chargers line would push a defense back an average of only 1.5 yards before the ballcarrier would get hit. As for pass plays, Rivers was under pressure 238 times.

In the AFC West, the standings were literally dictated by strength of offensive line. To be honest, I thought the Raiders line was better than Kansas City, but the one time Oakland’s wall screwed up Derek Carr broke his leg. Alex Smith survived the year in one piece, so we’ll rank the lines/teams as Chiefs, Raiders, Broncos and Chargers.

Notice the Broncos missed the playoffs. One could argue that was because of changes at quarterback, only Denver won the Super Bowl last year with Peyton Manning losing his faculties by the end of the season. That team didn’t have a prayer this year because the incoming quarterbacks and running backs had no line.

Every starter on the Chargers offensive line must be put on notice. If more than two current starters remain with the team after this offseason, the Chargers will stink so bad they won’t even fill up that MLS stadium where they landed.

LA’s second team must follow either the Dallas or Oakland model. The Cowboys spent first-round draft picks for three consecutive years on offensive linemen and it helped turn a rookie quarterback and rookie running back into superstars overnight. The Raiders cleared out salary cap room and spent heavily on their line.

At the time of this writing, without players being cut, the Chargers have about $20 million in cap space. They also have the No. 9 overall draft pick. The path is theirs for the choosing.

I recognize the team has other holes — particularly at safety, outside linebacker, and at some point you have to wonder when tight end Antonio Gates is going to retire. Having said that, if an argument can be made that a group of people are the worst in the league, that is priority No. 1. You don’t have to have the absolute best of everything to compete in the NFL. You can’t afford to have the worst at anything.

In the meantime, could somebody be a dear and show Dean Spanos how to program the remote on the flatscreen TV? Thanks.

Did San Diego really want the Chargers, though?

While people rummage through the post-mortems on San Diego as a “good sports town,” or others decry greedy owners, at some point residents in and around the city are going to have to ask themselves if they really enjoy football that much in the first place.

Having lived and worked in San Diego for years, I’m here to tell you it’s a fair question.

Don’t get me wrong: I think the Chargers moving to Los Angeles is a bad idea. Sports leagues have this idiotic idea that the Los Angeles/Orange County region should have two of everything. Only one team inevitably becomes an unloving big brother. The Dodgers dominate the area in baseball, for instance. The Lakers currently stink, but nobody seriously thinks the Clippers will ever be more popular.

If I were running the Chargers, I’d have moved the team to San Antonio. It’s the second-largest city in a football-crazy state. The more I think about it, London makes a hell of a lot of sense. It would surely make a hell of a lot of money.

The Chargers moving north is reminiscent of former Clippers owner Donald Sterling taking his NBA team out of San Diego. Nobody cared for decades. It’s hard to argue anyone ever truly will.

Qualcomm Stadium opened when Lyndon B. Johnson was president. It opened before a man set foot on the moon. It opened 18 years before there was Qualcomm. It was the fourth-oldest stadium in the NFL and many things about it reeked of being the worst. I’ve been to that stadium numerous times. Bathrooms were few in number and constantly broken. The video board — compared with today’s behemoths — looks as big as your average smartphone. Driving the final mile to the stadium could take hours with only one offramp in each direction.

So it’s difficult for me to muster up hatred for team ownership wanting better digs.

Add to that a sinking suspicion that fans just didn’t really show up to support the Chargers that much. Watching games on television, one had to be reminded the game was taking place in San Diego. The stands were filled with people wearing jerseys of the opposing team — Chiefs red, Steelers gold and surely, Raiders silver and black.

Team ownership repeatedly went to city leaders with plans for new stadiums, either in the swanky Gaslamp District or on the current Qualcomm site. Every single attempt was rebuffed either by the city or by its residents, the last in November when a proposal garnered only a 43 percent yes vote.

None of this is to paint the Spanos family as angelic. It’s simply to point out the obvious: San Diego simply didn’t like the Chargers enough.

Some places just love certain sports and not others. St. Louis is an amazing place for baseball and hockey, but it lost two NFL teams. Wisconsin is crazy about the Packers, but who goes out of their way to watch the Brewers or the Bucks?

San Diego loves soccer. I am stunned it doesn’t have an MLS team. It kinda likes the Padres enough. But football? If residents enjoyed it so much, where were they? Because at this point, the gut feeling here is more people are upset the Chargers chose to be the little brother to the LA Rams.

Now we’re supposed to believe in Josh McDaniels?

In the nanoseconds after Jeff Fisher’s deserved dismissal as head coach of the Los Angeles Rams, rumors started to circulate about potential successors. The Jim Harbaugh one was particularly hilarious, but at least it’s not distressing.

Current Patriots assistant Josh McDaniels? Now that’s one that will bring grief.

Here’s the logic from your local NFL beat writer: Well, he’s helped create a scoring machine in New England. He did coach the Denver Broncos. He’s only 40, so he must be an innovator. And he’s learned the game under the great Bill Belichick.

Oh, Belichick is excellent at what he does … but creating great future NFL coaches is not one of them. Since everything that builds up McDaniels’ resume stems from working with the great Bill Belichick, we can reach a conclusion that hiring him would be a disastrous move by the Rams.

How do we know?

Let’s take it apart brick by brick. First of all, the Patriots aren’t necessarily a great offense because of McDaniels. They have this guy playing quarterback that you might have heard of.

Yes, McDaniels did manage to open with a six-game winning streak in his first year with Denver. Then he followed that by losing the last four games of the season to miss the playoffs. Afterward, he convinced the Broncos to invest the 25th overall pick of 2010 on Tim Tebow. McDaniels was later fired when the Broncos started 2010 with a 3-9 record.

That was about six years ago. In the meantime, he also served as the Rams offensive coordinator. You don’t think they had their fill of him when he was with the franchise the first time?

Finally comes the alleged Belichick coaching lineage. You’ve learned under the master, right?

Wrong, at least at the NFL level. Nobody is going to question the accomplishments of former Belichick assistant Nick Saban at the college level. But six Belichick assistants have gotten at least one opportunity to lead an NFL team. Of that, only three managed to reach the NFL playoffs and two managed to win a playoff game — Eric Mangini and Bill O’Brien.

O’Brien is the only former Belichick assistant working as a head coach in the NFL. He’s currently trying to figure out how to win games with Brock Osweiler under center in Houston.

Other super geniuses from the tutelage of Belichick include Jim Schwartz, Al Groh and Romeo Crennel. As for college, Kirk Ferentz is well-respected in Iowa, but Charlie Weis reduced Notre Dame to rubble.

Which brings us back to McDaniels, who supposedly has the tool set to turn Jared Goff into Tom Brady.

Patriots assistant coaches are the cockroaches of professional football. The hype that surrounds them — this aura in a hoodie syndrome — convinces beat writers to argue on their behalf. Make your team like the Patriots. Hire a Patriots assistant.

It’s the same argument that Madison Avenue made when it claimed wearing Uggz boots will land you in bed with Gisele Bundchen lookalikes. It’s fool’s gold. You have to pass on it.

I must be hallucinating about the Rams

I’ve had bronchitis for more than a week. Bronchitis is an odd illness. For the most part, you feel cool. Then you cough and your mouth fills up with … Stuff. If people are around, you feel shame. Either way, you find a way to get rid of it and then you feel very light-headed.

And then you start to hallucinate.

Like how I read on ESPN, CBSSports.com and saw on “Fox NFL Kickoff” that the Los Angeles Rams extended Jeff Fisher’s contract for two more seasons. If I didn’t follow basic journalism standards of double-sourcing what I read, I’d have feared I grabbed a bag of shrooms instead of Ricola.

I have a theory. I’ll get to it after I quickly list all the reasons why Fisher doesn’t deserve an extension.

He’s coached for 22 seasons and had a total of six winning seasons. His last winning season came in the first year of the Obama presidency when he was in Tennessee. This means he hasn’t even reached 8-8 in any of his five seasons with the Rams.

In addition, he’s now on his second “franchise quarterback” with the Rams. The first, Sam Bradford, actually functions well enough in Minnesota. The current, Jared Goff, didn’t start until three weeks ago. Here’s my problem on whether Goff can develop. Consider offensive tackle Greg Robinson. The former No.2 overall pick was benched last week despite being healthy. This leads me to believe the Rams coaching staff has no idea how to teach young prospects to play the game.

The less said about the disappointment of Todd Gurley this year, the better.

So why would news leak out about a contract extension a week after the Rams were humiliated 49-21 by the Saints?

Could it be the sources inside the organization who leaked the information want fans such as you and I to be outraged? Infuriated?

The feeling here is that at 4-7, even people inside the Rams organization don’t back their coach. Or, since this extension was allegedly signed six weeks ago, the players heard about it and are staging a mini-mutiny.

And I can’t say that I blame them. It’s either that or fake an injury so that they don’t have to play for the guy.

So if you’re a Rams fan, by all means support your team — by calling for the coach to be fired.

Or maybe I’m full of it and the shrooms have me trippin’ balls.

Dear Jaguars “army”… All 13 of you

Everything I told you would happen yesterday, did.

I didn’t want to tell you anything, to be frank. I’ve been to Jacksonville before and I don’t speak hillbilly well. I just wanted to kick back with a drink, snap a few selfies, and sneak a peek at your wife/sister in the pool in the upper deck. Sure hope they’re legal. But I digress…

I was in a pretty chill mood walking into your stadium, and your franchise touts EverBank Field as an extremely welcoming environment. Of course, they lied about that. Kind of like how they lied to you when they told you the defense was improved.

From coast to coast, walking into an NFL game wearing the opposing team’s gear by yourself is an invitation for trouble. Not for talking smack, for fistfights. You alleged friendly people saw I was walking in by myself and three of you tried to pick a fight at the gate.

There the three of you were, your medicine ball-sized beer bellies proudly firm and erect, your cherubic faces flushed red with fury, slobber down your grey goatees and struggling to piece together syllables — let alone subjects and predicates. Pursuing me as fast as those kneeless stumps you call legs could, kicking at my heels like second graders, claiming that I was going to be surrounded by a “Jaguars army” and stomped.

Your threats were, unlike your fat asses, empty. Your asses were, of course, like you — full of it.

What you fail — and I’m sure failing is a regular occurrence for your children at school — to realize is that I knew I was perfectly safe. I’m not the toughest fighter out there, by any stretch. But I’ve seen some really dangerous times in my life. I was in LA for the riots. I’ve covered natural disasters. I performed in angry dive bars as a comic that made “Roadhouse” look like “Zootopia.” It takes more than three tubs of goo working on their 10th bypass surgery to scare me.

That’s why I started insulting you and your team back. Your empty threats were the only reason I opened my mouth in the first place.

If you really wanted to fight, you were welcome to try, only my sober left would have been faster than your drunken roundhouse right.

I also know there is no such thing as a Jaguars army. There is, however, such a thing as a Raider Nation. Like the Cowboys, Seahawks, Bears and Packers, the Raiders have a fan base that will travel the country to see them.

As for the game, I told you the Jags had no defense. They gave up 33 points.

I told you Blake Bortles would throw an interception. He threw into triple coverage and got picked, killing a scoring drive.

You were never in the game. And if you wanted to take it out on me, you didn’t stay in the stadium in order to do it. I was most definitely surrounded, all right, by a legion of happy people dressed in silver and black.

Look, my team stunk up the NFL for far too long. I know what it’s like to support a team that lets you down. Having said that, I never gathered a posse and surrounded another fan. That’s on you.

As I drove away, I wondered why EverBank would sponsor the stadium. Having been the Jacksonville four times, it’s abundantly clear that you Jaguars fans store your money in a special sock under the mattress. … No, not “that special sock.” The other one.

If you want to address this further, I’ll be in Tampa next week, watching the Raiders again. Simply go to JiffyLube to get an oil change on your house and drive down I-4 to find me.

Since I can’t see the Rams in LA…

I lucked out Sunday. StubHub had a front row seat for me to watch the Rams in a drunken stupor.

I mean, I was the one in the drunken stupor, not the Rams. Whoops.

Anyway, they beat Tampa Bay 37-32, and I think I speak for sports fans from sea to shining sea when I say there are few things sweeter in life than your team winning a road game that you witness.

But from that excellent vantage point, there is not a strong list of reasons to believe the Rams are going to make the NFL playoffs. This game was more about cleaning up unfinished business, such as scoring their first touchdown — which Case Keenum did on the Rams first possession, a 44-yard pass to Brian Quick.

While long pass plays draw an emotional reaction, it underscored a simple reality: the Bucanneers have a horrible pass defense. Consider Keenum threw two TD passes. The second came to Tavon Austin on a similarly long pass play. On both plays, the cornerback didn’t have help from the safeties — whose primary responsibility is to prevent the deep ball.

When receivers turn around and backpedal in the act of catching a football, that’s because the receiver is so wide open he can almost signal for a fair catch.

L.A. can surely be pleased with its defensive line depth, which was considered an elite group before the Rams returned. Aaron Donald was said by NFL pundits to be on the level of Houston’s all-everything J.J. Watt prior to the season. Sunday, he deflected two passes. Even more important, for two consecutive weeks, Robert Quinn forced an opposing quarterback to fumble. Jameis Winston’s fumble Sunday was returned for a TD.

That praise has to be tempered, though. A Rams defensive lineman has been ejected two times in three games. I did not see what Eugene Sims did to earn his ejection, but as we used to say when someone at the party was about to throw up, “Dude, you’ve got to maintain.”

Even more alarming is that Winston threw for 405 yards Sunday. How much of that is on the Rams cornerbacks as opposed to the line, I’m not sure. However, as the Rams will be playing an excellent Arizona Cardinals offense this week, the gut feeling is L.A.’s defense might get further exposed.

Todd Gurley rushed for 85 yards that weren’t particularly noticeable, except for excellent balance on a touchdown run.

The upshot is this: The Rams aren’t a bad football team. In my opinion, in the NFL, with the exception of elite franchises or the utterly awful ones, all teams in the middle can be counted on to play a horrible game every four weeks. Why did the Buffalo Bills crush the Cardinals 33-18? Because Arizona is pretty damn good, but not elite. All of those teams in the middle will play way over their heads a couple of times a year and most can’t get out of their own way once a month.

The Rams had their September stinker in San Francisco to start the year, a 28-0 loss that still makes me cringe.

So it will take a lot more than five touchdowns against another middle-of-the-road team to see Los Angeles as more than what it is, especially since October is coming with one game sure to be a stink bomb in the process.

Which is sobering reality.

Austin, the Rams huge offensive risk

Last night, before the Los Angeles Rams played an exhibition game against defending Super Bowl champ Denver, the team announced it will pay wide receiver Tavon Austin $42 million by extending his contract through the 2021 season.

And then they didn’t score a touchdown and lost 17-9.

Granted, it’s an exhibition game against the Broncos and their elite defense, and Austin by all accounts is a quality guy to have on the team.

But this curious move sounds like one that will backfire.

The amount of money Austin will earn makes him — in NFL parlance — a “true No. 1 receiver.” There isn’t any evidence to suggest he is one. For example, the No. 8 overall pick from 2013 reached career highs last season with 52 receptions, 10 touchdowns and 907 yards from scrimmage.

Note that I didn’t write 907 reception yards. A true No. 1 receiver should be counted on to approach 1,000 per season. He’s never had more than 500. Also, a true No. 1 receiver should challenge for 100 receptions in a season. Coach Jeff Fisher sees that as a possibility. But until there’s evidence to back it up, you’re asking Austin to double his output based on a hunch.

That’s $42 million worth of conjecture you’re trying to fit under a salary cap.

So Austin should be paid on the level of Dez Bryant, Julio Jones or Demaryius Thomas? I don’t see it, particularly when you also consider that his presence on the field doesn’t necessarily lead to other opportunities for the rest of a poor Rams receiving corps. A true No. 1 receiver should draw double teams, leading to open teammates. That didn’t happen last year, either.

To be clear, the Rams’ first-team struggles during the exhibition season have been wisely self-inflicted. L.A.’s offense is based on the production of running back Todd Gurley, last season’s offensive rookie of the year. Fisher held Gurley out of all but one offensive series. The Chargers used to do the same thing with LaDainian Tomlinson, knowing the back would be getting the ball 30-plus times per game. Why expose Gurley to extra pointless hits?

But to deserve $42 million, you’re supposed to be on a level where you can produce even when Gurley is on the bench.

This contract is another land mine in the DMZ that is L.A’s offense. The franchise traded a handful of draft picks for quarterback Jared Goff, who won’t play at the start of the year but that’s an acceptable risk. Gurley not playing is an acceptable risk.

Austin’s contract makes three risks — which should give people pause — just like the Rams offense could be hesitating in their return to Southern California.

What to make of the L.A. Rams after two games

Much like the preseason itself, it’s difficult to come up with a precise forecast after watching two exhibition NFL games. The Los Angeles Rams moved back home an incomplete team, and they still look like a team that left a few things behind in St. Louis.

To wit, they left their secondary behind. The Rams had excellent defensive personnel last season but had to make difficult cuts to remain under the salary cap. In the process, cornerback Jenoris Jenkins and safety Rodney McLeod left as free agents. 

Now, the Rams defensive line also took hits. Chris Long left as a free agent for New England, for example, but that calculated gamble paid off because Aaron Donald is considered by some to be even more devastating than Houston’s J.J. Watt.

As a result, rebuilding the secondary has so far inspired Cowboys fans to nominate an unknown quarterback named Dak Prescott to the Hall of Fame and made Kansas City’s Alex Smith look like Dan Marino. The Rams are 2-0 in the preseason, yes, but those wins came from fourth quarter rallies by players with little to no chance of making the team. You want progress from your starters.

L.A. has appeared to progress on offense. It scored two touchdowns in the first half Saturday against Kansas City, which is a reason for optimism. The Rams have also advanced despite top draft pick Jared Goff being demoted to third string.

At this juncture, though, I can’t argue that the Rams are better than Seattle or Arizona. Maybe Arizona, but that puts the team in jeopardy of missing the playoffs again.

Meanwhile, St. Louis is fooling itself into thinking the Rams are worse off without them. Keep telling yourselves that, guys. Maybe it will keep you from jumping off the arch.

And this does not look good. I remember seeing this all the time when the Raiders played here. The gut feeling? L.A. Raiders fans switched colors so they could skip paying $4 for every gallon of gas up to Oakland. Note to Rams ownership: Better pay some OT to put up that new stadium up quicker and price the thugs out of the market.

For once, I’m dreading the NFL season

We all have different sets of friends, because we go through different phases in life.

With regards to professional football, I have two phases. Two sets of friends align themselves rather neatly with those phases.

There are the people who have known me for much of my adulthood, as a fan of the Oakland Raiders.

Then there are the people who knew me growing up, when I loved the Los Angeles Rams.

If you are a male sports fan, you’re going to see where this gets awkward really soon.

The Rams were the first professional sports team in Los Angeles, arriving from Cleveland in 1946, predating the Lakers and Dodgers by quite a few years. They spent almost 50 years in SoCal, establishing an identity of rugged line play and those super-cool ram horns on the helmets, the first ever design on NFL headgear.

They were often threats to get to the Super Bowl, but never won one. Didn’t matter. I still think Eric Dickerson might be the greatest running back who ever lived. I still think Jack Youngblood playing in a Super Bowl with a broken leg is one of the most macho things I’ve ever seen. And this is one damn cool way to finish an NFL playoff game.

Only they left for St. Louis in 1994. I was going to tell you why they left, but then I looked at what I was writing and this post was turning into a treatise on why I’m happy owner Georgia Frontiere is dead. I erased all of that. Perhaps another rant…

Anyway, considering how American men love football, I was an oddball in that I had no favorite football team for years. There was no way in hell I would ever root for the St. Louis Rams. One of the darker days of my life was when Kurt Warner led them to a Super Bowl win. I was absolutely furious.

After at least five years of vacantly staring at Animal Planet on Sundays, I started rooting for the Oakland Raiders. Why is another long story that I will skip. But I stuck by the Raiders for many lean years, including three as a season ticket holder. The Raiders current run of missing the playoffs stands at 11 seasons. When I choose a team to root for, I am nothing if not faithful.

Or am I?

Because the Rams have moved back to Los Angeles. They’ll be playing in the Coliseum in downtown until a new stadium is constructed in Inglewood. Their first game with “Los Angeles” back in the name comes Saturday.

And I’m truly torn. Not weeping into a velvet handkerchief torn, but this is more of a midlife crisis than when I noticed my hair was thinning.

It’s kind of a man law. You’re not supposed to ditch favorite teams unless the circumstances are extreme. There would be no such thing as Mets fans had the Giants and Dodgers not left New York for California. This is akin to the Dodgers rebuilding Ebbets Field and returning to Brooklyn.

I caught myself looking at Rams gear online today. That cool ram horn logo. “Welcome back” sweatshirts. Then photos of the team working out in the Coliseum, where I watched them play when I was a child.

Only now the Raiders are a pretty damn good football team and I stuck with them through thick and thin. And there was more than a decade of thin.

There is no simple answer. The Raiders have been like a bitter second wife who realized you might leave and took up a Zumba class to avoid a divorce. The Rams are like a high school sweetheart you just happened to run into a month after she had breast augmentation.

I’d say I’d pray over it, but even Pope Francis can’t excuse this.

I have maybe a month before the regular season kicks off to figure it out.