Jack Del Rio doesn't want his players to have 2020 vision.
With the Oakland Raiders making a slow-motion relocation to Las Vegas, one that won't fully unfold for three years, the coach has an unambiguous message for the players: Focus on the now.
While acknowledging all the distractions such a move presents, Del Rio cautioned Tuesday that players who put too much thought into what's going to happen three years down the road probably won't be on the Raiders roster then anyway.
Del Rio said there's a roster turnover of roughly 30% per year, so the odds aren't good that a lot of the current players will still be on the team when those vans are packed and rolling to Nevada. The Raiders have two one-year options to play at the Oakland Coliseum, and their plan for 2019 remains in flux.
"The reality is I've got to go talk to guys that may never make it to Las Vegas about, you know, Las Vegas," Del Rio told reporters during the AFC coaches' breakfast at the annual NFL meetings. "Well, we need to focus on where we are right now. We need to focus on the 2017 schedule when it comes out, and attack that thing similar to how we did last year and lay out a plan."
Even though it's bizarre that the Raiders will be playing two and possibly three more years in a city that knows they're gone, it's also a familiar feeling. Two years ago, they announced their intention to join forces with the Chargers on what would be an ill-fated stadium plan in Carson. And the Raiders spent the last season working on their Las Vegas concept. So none of this is new.
But now it's real. Owners voted 31-1 on Monday in favor of allowing the franchise to relocate and build a $1.9-billion stadium that's funded in part by an increased hotel tax in Clark County, Nev. The great unknown is how Raiders fans will respond to the fact the countdown clock is ticking and the team is out the door.
"I know that there's going to be disappointment and maybe some anger," Raiders owner Mark Davis said in the aftermath of the vote. "And I just hope that in the future as we play in Oakland this year that they understand that it wasn't the players, it wasn't coaches that made this decision. That it was me that made it and if they have anybody to talk to about it, it should be me and I will in the coming days try, and to explain to them what went in to making this difficult decision."
The suggestion that there may be "some anger" is likely a wild understatement. It's hard to imagine Oakland fans being anything less than infuriated by the team's decision to leave, even if the NFL deemed the stadium plans coming out of that city as not viable.
"The thing about the Raiders fan base, or as Mark likes to call them, Raider Nation, is that they are at a very high level of passion and commitment to the team," sports business consultant Marc Ganis said. "That's sometimes a double-edged sword. If you take away something they're so passionate about, they could get really angry. They may show up more to show their displeasure, and that will only last so long. Whatever it is, it could be extremely awkward at best, and I won't call it dangerous, but it could be a very distasteful situation."
The only aspect Del Rio and his players can control is what happens on the field. They're coming off a 12-4 season in which they made it to the playoffs for the first time since 2002, and might have made a Super Bowl run had they not lost quarterback Derek Carr to a knee injury. All that with the distracting cloud of Las Vegas floating overhead.
"I give Jack Del Rio all the credit in the world for managing what was already a very difficult situation," said former Raiders president Amy Trask, now a CBS analyst. "Prior to last season, it was very obvious that the team's desire was to relocate. … I thought Jack Del Rio managed a difficult situation exquisitely and kept the team focused. Is it going to be difficult? Yes. Do I think he's demonstrated he can handle those difficulties well? Yes."
Del Rio plans to address the relocation once with his players before the season, and then move on.
"You can't be blind to the fact that there are families involved, there are people involved, and they need some information," he said. "Part of that will be 'Not yet.'"
Still, he understands the excitement. He sees Las Vegas as "a natural" to host a Super Bowl once the team moves there. He has vacationed there, loves the golf, the restaurants, the entertainment.
His favorite show?
"Cirque du Soleil," he said.
The nomadic Raiders, with their trio of Lombardy trophies, figure to be a three-ring circus for the next few years.