What is going on with the Raiders? Third player retires in camp, fourth exec resigns

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The Las Vegas Raiders are bringing a dose of their trademarked crazy to a third home city.

Over the span of the past week, the number of Raiders players to retire has grown to three. Running back Theo Riddick was the first to walk away last week, followed by linebacker James Onwualu retiring on Monday.

Then on Tuesday, offensive tackle Sam Young made it three Raiders players to announce their decision to hang up their cleats.

On top of that, Tuesday also saw a report from Ben Fischer of Sports Business Journal indicating that vice president of strategy and business development Brandon Doll has left the team

That news comes on the heels of team president Marc Badain announcing his departure two weeks ago. SBJ also reported Wednesday that two other top finance execs also left the Raiders prior to Badain's exodus.

And just to bring things full circle, running backs coach Kirby Wilson retired unexpectedly just before the start of camp. Anything we missed?

So what the heck is happening in Vegas exactly? Well, for starters, it's not clear if there is any connection whatsoever, even if this rash of departures is certainly unusual and startling.

Why 3 players retired in such a short span

With Riddick, he tested positive for COVID-19 and then announced he was walking away. Riddick turned 30 in March and this would have been his ninth NFL season, so it's hard to call that one stunning — especially amid chatter that he was contemplating retiring prior to the COVID diagnosis.

Young also can't be considered a shock. He turned 34 this summer and was entering his 12th season, so he hardly can be called a spring chicken in football terms.

Onwualu is only 26, making him the most surprising of the three players. He saw action in only 16 games over the course of four seasons and has been clinging to NFL employment since entering the league.

What about the execs?

Badain's exodus is the most surprising — and perhaps impactful — of all the departures. He was among the highest-ranking officials in the entire operation, and the team is preparing to move into Allegiant Stadium with fans for the first time after playing there last season with empty seats.

That brings us to Doll. He apparently left the team last week, and his name no longer appears on the team's masthead. Doll declined comment for why he left.

Doll was with the Raiders for the past eight years, starting as a finance intern and elevating to a role as as Badain’s right-hand man. They first worked together on getting the Raiders a stadium deal in Oakland (it didn't happen) prior to moving the franchise to Las Vegas and brokering the construction of Allegiant Stadium. According to Doll's former team bio, he focused on “strategic partnerships and growth initiatives related to Allegiant Stadium and Raiders core businesses.”

Prior to Badain and Doll walking, senior VP & CFO Ed Villanueva and controller Araxie Grant both left about one month before Badain did on July 19, according to the latest SBJ report. Villanueva worked for the Raiders for nearly two decades, and Grant came on board with the team in December 2019.

Now, as the Raiders are less than two weeks away from hosting a preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks, four execs have left in a short period of time. Why? We don't have a clear picture.

But it's reasonable to wonder whether the departures weren't financially motivated. With four people leaving finance positions a year after the franchise was hammered by COVID restrictions, possibly losing as much as $100 million (an SBJ estimate) last year, there's certainly some questions to be asked. 

Davis isn't considered wealthy by NFL owner standards. On top of that, his decision to purchase a WNBA franchise in January has been viewed as curious by some for a Raiders team that is believed to be somewhat cash-poor, relatively speaking.

Might Raiders owner Mark Davis, left, or head coach Jon Gruden have anything to do with the team's recent rash of departures? (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Might Raiders owner Mark Davis, left, or head coach Jon Gruden have anything to do with the team's recent rash of departures? (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Any common connection with the departures?

The only common denominators between the retired players and the execs, one might reasonably conclude, are Davis and head coach Jon Gruden. Are either of them responsible for this exodus? That is hard to say. 

It's possible that Gruden and Davis share some responsibility in at least some of the departures, especially with the higher-ups, but connecting the career decisions of four executives, three random players and an assistant coach is a stretch at this point until proven otherwise.

Still, it's hard not to be concerned about the direction of the franchise. The Raiders used to thrive amid turmoil, but this is a franchise that has finished above .500 only once since 2002. Major changes to the roster in recent years haven't yielded better results.

Financially speaking, the new stadium has a chance to provide strong long-term stability. But when four people in charge of the team's business plan all leave in a short window, it's not hard to see why some red flags are raised.

Who knows what might come next? Gruden is entering Year 4 of a 10-year, $100 million contract and isn't likely to leave anytime soon on his own accord unless it comes with a huge buyout. The feeling is that Davis isn't giving up team control either, having inherited the franchise from his late father.

If the Raiders are going to figure it out, it's likely to be with Gruden and Davis remaining in their posts. For better or for worse. 

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