The Raiders checked out of the Napa Valley Marriott on Thursday without Khalil Mack having ever checked in.
That’s not a big surprise, given Mack’s absence throughout the offseason and the complexity of a contract extension which would likely put the edge player at or near the top of the NFL in terms of pay for a defensive player.
With the Raiders headed to Los Angeles to face the Rams in the second preseason game on Saturday, the Mack holdout has been stealth. Joel Segal, the agent who represents Mack, hasn’t negotiated through the media. Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie has offered a steady stream of “no comments.”
Raiders coach Jon Gruden, who isn’t negotiating the contract but has the biggest say in terms getting Mack back in the fold, has stuck to his public stance of hoping for a resolution without getting into specifics.
After the second preseason game a year ago, left tackle Donald Penn ended his holdout and reported to the Raiders in Alameda. The outside perception is this won’t happen with Mack. It’s worth noting, however, that nobody has the goods on what Mack is seeking and what the Raiders are offering.
Right off the bat I’m eliminating two things that have been suggested as problems with a Mack deal.
First, disregard the $814,000 fine for missing preseason games. Those can be waived easy enough. Second is the notion that owner Mark Davis simply can’t afford a deal this size since the guaranteed money would need to be put in escrow even if it’s not paid out at once.
Davis is an NFL owner. He and Raiders management got a municipality to pony up three quarters of a billion dollars to build him a stadium in Las Vegas. He can get his hands on whatever it takes to bring in Mack.
There are only four possible scenarios for Mack and the Raiders with the holdout escalating with the close of training camp:
1. Mack signs an extension
Interesting that the Raiders play the Rams this week since Los Angeles is going through the same thing with defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the man who succeed Mack as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2017.
The two sides are reportedly nearing a contract, but as is the case with Mack, there have been no specifics. McKenzie said the deals are not related, but the moment Donald signs, it establishes a new starting point for Segal with regard to a Mack deal.
The Raiders had planned all along to sign quarterback Derek Carr and Mack. No team has ever had two $20 million per year players on the roster at the same time. McKenzie constructed his salary cap on making that happen.
So what’s the holdup? Joel Corry, a former agent and salary cap expert who writes for CBS Sports and the National Football Post, thinks he knows.
“The only thing that’s changed is Jon Gruden is here,” Corry said in a phone interview.
Corry once represented wide receiver Keenan McCardell in a nasty contract holdout with Tampa Bay when Gruden was head coach. It got to the point where McCardell insisted he wanted out of town and wouldn’t budge off that stance. He eventually was traded.
Mack, Corry believes, could eventually take the same stance. He wrote a column that posted Thursday outlining potential destinations.
Another potential holdup would be if Mack is seeking a deal which pays him more than Carr. Gruden called Mack the Raiders “best player” Wednesday, but that’s not to be confused with most valuable.
Gruden caught some flak for pointing out in an off-hand way the Raiders’ defense was bad with Mack, the intent being to illustrate how much better they need to be across the board on that side of the ball.
It also happened to be true. Everyone saw what happened to the Raiders on Christmas Eve in 2016 when Carr broke his leg. A complete collapse — with Mack still on the field.
If Gruden is the most important person in the organization, Carr is No. 1A. He will be the extension of the coach on the field, the player who will have the biggest impact win or lose. He will be paid accordingly. It’s a league built on offense, not defense, and quarterbacks are the kings.
That puts Mack somewhere between $22 million and $24 million per year, with guarantees that could approach $80 million.
If that’s not enough …
2. Mack reports and plays under his fifth-year option
Penn got a new deal last year after he reported, although there is no comparison in the magnitude of a contract with Mack. Going this route could be fraught with peril.
“You’re running the risk of having a disgruntled guy come in at some point in time, and then you’ve got to franchise him next year,” Corry said. “You don’t know if he’s going to come in next year.”
Mack needs to play in six games to have an accrued season and be an unrestricted free agent in 2019.
3. Mack is traded
The Raiders want no part of this option unless someone was to make them an offer they couldn’t refuse. A couple of first-round draft picks would be for openers, and even that might not be enough if the trading partner was going to be in the lower half of the round.
If Mack were to make a public stance that he has no intention of playing for the Raiders, now or ever, and the Raiders won’t meet his contract demands, then “maybe it’s time for Plan B. You’re just wasting everybody’s time,” Corry said.
4. Mack sits out the season
Players simply don’t walk away from $13.8 million. Mack would lose an accrued season and would be back in the Raiders control for the same figure next year.
Not going to happen.
Visual evidence at training camp suggests that Mack or no Mack, the Raiders are going to be better on defense in 2017. Yes, that’s a low bar to clear, but there are obvious upgrades in terms of the interior pass rush (P.J. Hall and Mo Hurst), the linebacking corps (Tahir Whitehead and Emmanuel Lemur) and at cornerback (Rashaan Melvin and health permitting, Gareon Conley).
There’s also an intriguing pass rusher in third-round pick Arden Key. At the very least, they will go from awful to average. Bringing back Mack could give them one of the few legitimately good defenses the Raiders have had since they returned to Oakland in 1995.