Paul Sancya / AP
Sunday, Feb. 11, 2024 | 2 a.m.
Las Vegas is hosting the Super Bowl for the first time this year, and it’s been a nonstop party all week. Unfortunately, the local football team wasn’t invited.
It’s been 21 years since the Raiders’ last appearance in the big game, and with an 8-9 record, they didn’t even qualify for the postseason in 2023. If oddsmakers are to be believed, they won’t be playing in the Super Bowl next year, either.
But that’s not the end of the world. If the Raiders want to build a winner — a real championship-caliber club — in time for the next Las Vegas Super Bowl, the franchise can afford to be patient.
Next year’s Super Bowl will be in New Orleans. The 2026 game will be in Santa Clara, Calif., and the 2027 game is set for Los Angeles. The soonest it could return to Las Vegas would be February of 2028. If the NFL does award the 2028 Super Bowl, or one in subsequent years, to Las Vegas, it gives the Raiders at least four full seasons to turn the team into a contender.
Four years is a long time in the NFL. Entire rosters can turn over in that amount of time, as can the coaches and front office — as the Josh McDaniels regime learned the hard way. So going from below .500 to the top of the AFC doesn’t necessarily have to be an impossible dream.
Newly minted head coach Antonio Pierce and general manager Tom Telesco are tasked with making that happen, and at Telesco’s introductory news conference last month, Pierce said a championship was the goal.
“Our vision is clear,” Pierce said. “Win the division. Get into the playoffs and hoist that Lombardi Trophy. That’s not a promise; that’s our vision.”
So, how can the Silver and Black go about building a Super Bowl-caliber squad in time to make a run at Las Vegas 2028?
Get the offense right
The team hired Luke Getsy to serve as offensive coordinator after a deal with Kliff Kingsbury fell through at the last minute, and in a league that continues to swing toward being offense-driven, that’s an important hire. But it’s unlikely the Raiders have a Super Bowl coordinator-quarterback combo in house as of today.
If Getsy erects a successful, high-scoring offense around incumbent quarterback Aidan O’Connell, other teams will be interested in hiring him away as a head coach. And if the offense isn’t successful, one or both of Getsy and O’Connell won’t survive the next four years.
That’s life in the NFL: Getsy and O’Connell haven’t even had a single practice together yet, but the team’s Super Bowl hopes are likely going to hinge on the next OC or QB.
Don’t mess around at QB
Game managers can win in the NFL. Sometimes. The caveat is that they happen to win with Andy Reid (Alex Smith) or Kyle Shanahan (Jimmy Garoppolo), two offensive-minded head coaches who bring system continuity.
The Raiders have a defensive-minded head coach, which means entrusting the offense to an OC/game manager QB combo is either going to end in failure, or, if it works, the coordinator will get poached (see above).
For what it’s worth, Pierce gave O’Connell something of a vote of confidence after the season.
“I thought we saw growth with Aidan,” Pierce said. “I thought at the end of the season he was playing some really good football that led to some wins for us.”
Las Vegas’ next quarterback will have to be OC-proof — a star who can excel in any system. If O’Connell isn’t that guy — and those guys usually present themselves early in their careers — then the Raiders are going to have use a really high draft pick on a blue-chip prospect sometime in the next few years.
Find the next receiver
Davante Adams turned 31 toward the end of this season, which means he’ll be 35 by the time Super Bowl LXII rolls around. Given how important it is to have a field-tilting, attention-drawing receiving threat in today’s game — the Chiefs have Travis Kelce to fill the role, while the 49ers have the troika of Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle — the Raiders need to get a jump on finding their next No. 1 target.
Spending a first- or second-round selection in the upcoming draft on a receiver might seem like a luxury pick, especially since Adams has cap hits of $44 million for each of the next two years. But in looking forward, it’s a position the Raiders are going to have to address in the near future. Better to get a jump on it and have that game-changing weapon in place before Adams ages out of the role.
Stay the course on defense
A strong defense doesn’t guarantee anything in the NFL these days; on the other hand, the top nine teams in offensive yards per play all made the playoffs, with San Francisco (No. 1) and Kansas City (No. 9 in a down year) advancing to the Super Bowl. Offense wins. The defense just needs to be competent.
The Raiders can achieve that, mainly through coaching and continuity. They only allowed 3.04 yards per play in 2023, good for fifth-best in the league, and that side of the ball really seemed to respond to Pierce’s coaching down the stretch.
Defensive end Maxx Crosby is already in place as a cornerstone, and at 26 years old, he’ll still be in his prime when that 2028 Super Bowl rolls around. Las Vegas can afford to be patient, building the defense through the draft and letting players mature for that future playoff run.
Keep the books clear for big additions
If the Raiders nail the rebuild, they should find themselves in the playoffs once or twice before the Super Bowl comes back around. Postseason appearances usually end in heartbreak, and, if the team is doing it right, key additions in the subsequent offseason are aimed to put them over the top the next year.
After the Chiefs offensive line was ravaged in a blowout loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV, they went out and signed free agent Joe Thuney to a five-year $80 million deal, making him the highest paid guard in NFL history. Thuney has already helped Kansas City win one Super Bowl, and a second could be coming today.
After the 49ers started the 2022 season a disappointing 3-3, they traded second- and third-round picks to the Carolina Panthers for star running back Christian McCaffrey; he ended up leading San Francisco in rushing yards and touchdowns that year while helping them reach the NFC championship game. This year, McCaffrey topped the league in rushing and is a favorite to win Super Bowl MVP.
The Raiders don’t have to worry about making that type of acquisition just yet, but when the time comes, they should be prepared to act. Whether it comes in the form of a free-agent signing or a trade, it will help to have a clean salary cap situation and picks to use as assets.
It will be up to Telesco and the front office to avoid wasting valuable picks or handing out bad contracts in the meantime.
“You have to use every possible avenue you can under the constraints of the salary cap,” Telesco said. “Every move you make, even a draft pick, there’s always cap considerations that we have to work through. But I think in this day and age, in this league, you’d better be flexible with how you build your team.”
If all of that goes according to plan, the Raiders just might find themselves invited to Las Vegas’ next Super Bowl party.