There was a time, as recent as a few years ago, when if you asked NFL owners or executives if the league would ever have a team move to Las Vegas, the answer you almost always got was: "No effing way."
As the months have passed since, and as the NFL's dance with Vegas continued, people began to tell me the odds were increasing, like a thermometer reading from the fall to the spring. The percentages of the chances rose from 0 to 10, then 10 to 20, then higher.
Then just recently, in a conversation with an NFL owner about the Raiders and Vegas, I heard something that clarified just how far this has come. This owner said the percentage of the Raiders moving to Vegas "is now 50 percent—and maybe as high as 75."
Whoa. Here we go.
I'm beginning to believe that—if this isn't a ploy by the Raiders to get more cash from Oakland—this Raiders-to-Vegas thing has a real chance of happening. I'm far from the only one who thinks that. The sentiment is clearly growing—and growing far faster than people know—throughout the upper hierarchy of the sport.
The owner said that as he's spoken to other owners, as well as key league officials, one thing continues to crystallize. Attitudes toward the NFL having a team in Las Vegas have dramatically softened. I've written that before, but what continues to surprise me is how dramatic that softening has been.
The owner said that just three or four years ago there was no chance an NFL team would relocate there. "Las Vegas," he said, "was considered poison."
"That's not the case any longer," he said. "One of the things owners see is there's a lot of money to be made there." He laughed. "A lot of money will ease those gambling concerns."
There are still a number of owners highly opposed to an NFL team being in Vegas. Giants co-owner John Mara said in March that the idea is a nonstarter.
I can say with certainty he's not alone in that feeling.
Jones did make his statement with an important caveat. He said he was open to a team in Vegas with "the right ownership." What I'm told is that for years Jones has been pushing for Mark Davis to sell the Raiders—or, at the very least, to relinquish control of the team.
The feeling is that Davis is incapable of maximizing revenues and the brand, creating value for the team and league, improving the league or advancing its goals or agenda in general. (Other than that, Jones loves him.)
Jones is a highly influential owner, so if he's only willing to support the Raiders' move to Vegas if this change happens, that could throw a wrench in the works. I know for a fact that when Davis flirted with Los Angeles, Jones was highly vocal with other owners that if the Raiders were to be considered, Davis had to sell or give up control.
But again, money talks, more than hurt feelings or relationships.
There's a plan for a new domed stadium, with the Raiders contributing $500 million, the Sands Corporation $150 million and taxpayers $750 million. Of that $500 million from the Raiders, I'm told the NFL as an entity will contribute $200 million. So that part of the breakdown is approximately $300 million from the Raiders and the rest from the league.
Pay attention to that last number, said the owner. There are very few places in the country right now where a city or municipality would give that kind of money to an NFL team for a stadium.
The owner said he and other owners see Las Vegas as the last frontier for possible expansion.
"This may be the last time we can go to a fertile market," the owner said.
And have someone else pick up a nice chunk of the tab while doing so.
The owner explained he believes Las Vegas could be among the most popular teams in football. Some of that popularity, he said, would be because of the fervor of Raiders fans, some of the most dedicated in football. The owner also believes the western part of the country can easily support the team. Combine those beliefs with the unique abilities of Vegas' tourism bureau, and you'd have quite the combination, he said.
Raiders fans travel well. They are all over the country. This owner is banking on the fact that Raiders fans—lots and lots and lots of them—will travel to games for a weekend. Not just go on Sunday or Monday. Go on Friday and stay through the game. Go gamble, see 148-year-old Barry Manilow, then catch the game.
There's something that needs to be noted. The owner believes there's a small chance that Davis is bluffing and doesn't intend to move the team, that he is using the talk to get a better deal from Oakland. That is definitely a possibility. But that possibility is growing more remote by the day.
The mayor of Vegas, Carolyn Goodman, just said she believes the Raiders are serious, and this is no bluff.
It would take eight "no" votes to stop the move, and I hear from people I trust that there aren't eight votes against. I can't say this for certain, but that's what I keep hearing. The owners against the move may not have enough votes to stop it.
The owner I spoke to outlined another scenario. He says it's possible NFL owners vote to reject Davis' request to move the team, then Davis moves it anyway, but there's no legal fight. In other words, the owners would publicly denounce the move, but there'd be no court entanglements the way there were with Davis' father, Al.
There's something else. If the NFL does block his move and take it to court, he can't afford to fight, I'm told. The team doesn't have the cash for a long, protracted court battle.
However it proceeds from here, what's certain at the moment is that momentum for the Raiders in Vegas is building. And it's building fast. Really fast.
Faster than anyone ever thought it would.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.