Sports

Gruden leaving Mack’s Raiders’ contract to the experts — as he should

Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack (52) pressures New York Giants quarterback Geno Smith (3) at the Coliseum on Sunday, Dec. 2, 2017 in Oakland, Calif.
Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack (52) pressures New York Giants quarterback Geno Smith (3) at the Coliseum on Sunday, Dec. 2, 2017 in Oakland, Calif. The Sacramento Bee

The last time Derek Carr saw Khail Mack, the subject of a new contract with the Raiders’ best defensive player was never broached.

“He was over at the house and we didn’t talk about it one time,” Carr said Friday as the Raiders held their first full-squad training camp practice of training camp at Redwood Middle School. “We played pool basketball and I dunked on him.”

Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who said in a radio interview Thursday night his only interaction with Mack has been limited to a brief conversation after he was hired as coach, referred all queries to general manager Reggie McKenzie.

“I’m coaching the team,” Gruden said. “I’m going to run the quarterback meetings. I’m going to install plays and get ready for the next practice. Reggie will be able to update you on his situation.”

McKenzie was predictably circumspect.

“I mean, we don’t have anything to report,” McKenzie said. “He decided to hold out for a contract, I’ll continue to talk to his agent and try to get him in here.”

As expected, Mack was a no-show as he awaits a new deal. The more reactionary portion of Raider Nation immediately shifted into panic mode Thursday after ESPN reported Gruden and Mack hadn’t spoken at all.

Later in the evening, Gruden told syndicated host J.T. the Brick that yes, he has spoken with Mack after he got the job.

And it really doesn’t matter whether they talked or not.

Gruden can be at his energetic best and it isn’t going to push the needle when it comes to negotiating what could be the largest contract awarded to a defensive player in NFL history.

By virtue of a reported 10-year, $100 million contract, Gruden is seen as the be-all and the end-all of Raiders football, but negotiating deals which will shape the direction of the franchise was not part of the job description.

Gruden immersed himself in football for the last nine years, mining information from college and pro coaches. He spent zero time learning the nuances and finances of deal-making in the salary cap era.

Assuming this deal gets done, Mack on an annual basis will at least double the salary of his head coach, and Carr’s presence makes it a more complicated problem by virtue of his five-year, $125 million contract. No team as yet has had two $20 million per year players on the roster at the same time.

Carr was briefly the NFL’s highest paid quarterback (in terms of yearly average), but has since been passed by Matt Ryan (Falcons), Kirk Cousins (Vikings), Jimmy Garappolo and (49ers) and Matt Stafford (Lions).

Meanwhile, the market for defensive stars has remained stagnant. The gold standard is Denver’s Von Miller, whose six-year, $114.5 million contract with an average of $19.083 million was signed two years ago.

That’s only the starting point, and the agents for Mack and Rams’ defensive tackle Aaron Donald are surely out to reset the market for dominant defenders. Mack was the NFL’s defensive player of the year in 2017, Donald won it last season.

When it was suggested that it appeared that the deals of Mack and Donald were inextricably linked, McKenzie said they were not.

“I understand that, but we aren’t worried about Aaron Donald at all in our negotiations,” McKenzie said. “We’re worried about Khalil Mack only.”

The whole notion of Gruden being the one responsible for whether Mack signs or not is simplistic and wrong. Negotiating a contract that size isn’t Gruden’s job, nor should it be.

Gruden has been busy remaking systems of offense, defense and special teams and formulating practice plans to implement all his ideas in an era of a collective bargaining agreement with reduced practice time.

The same guy has no business being responsible for a potentially ground-breaking contract.

Gruden wants Mack in camp, bonding with teammates, contributing to the cause.

But Mack’s got an equally strong case for staying away. He’s scheduled to make $13.8 million this season, but spare me the bleating about how Mack should be grateful for that and be in camp with his teammates.

Left to his own devices, it’s possible Mack would show up. That’s why he hired an agent — in this case Joel Segal.

It’s Segal’s job to point out to Mack the folly of risking more than $70 million in guaranteed money (what Miller received) against the possibility of injury.

It’s up to McKenzie and executives Tom Delaney and Dan Ventrelle to put together a deal that will not only bring Mack aboard, but enable the Raiders to keep their roster together on Gruden’s behalf without having to cast off key members of the supporting cast.

The process, particularly with Donald also waiting for a deal, was never going to be easy.

It’s conceivable Mack will be out as long as tackle Donald Penn was a year ago, and Penn never made it to Napa, joining the team in Alameda.

Meanwhile, the Raiders forge ahead.

After talking up the skills of right end Bruce Irvin, middle linebacker Derrick Johnson was asked about Mack but didn’t identify him by name.

“When we add the other special guy, it will be even more special,” Johnson said. “When he comes in, we’ll be ready to go.”

“That’s above my pay grade,” outside linebacker Tahir Whitehead said. “I’ll let them sort that out.”

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