Is Khalil Mack prepared to sit out regular-season games as he seeks a contract extension?
The answer is getting closer as the Raiders visit the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night to close out the exhibition season, with the final roster cut to 53 men coming two days later.
According to a Yahoo Sports report citing unnamed sources, the stalemate will “likely” result in Mack missing time in the regular season.
Joel Segal, the agent for Mack, returned a phone call Monday night and politely declined comment, as he has consistently since training camp started. Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie has been similarly resolute.
Raiders coach Jon Gruden called the process “grueling for both parties and me personally. We’re just hoping we can get him in here.”
McKenzie prepared the Raiders salary cap with the idea getting Mack aboard with an extension in the same way he did Derek Carr a year ago. It’s a challenge in that no NFL roster has ever had two players with an average wage of more than $20 million per year. Gruden has final say over the roster makeup, something owner Mark Davis confirmed at the NFL owner’s meetings when he conceded that McKenzie’s role had changed in that regard.
While the Raiders aren’t going out of their way to say it, they have leverage in that Mack is under contract for $13.846 million this season – the amount he is due for the fifth-year option on his rookie deal. Each missed game check is worth approximately $814,000. The figures for a proposed extension may not be public, but the reason for a holdout is always the same – the player wants more than the team is willing to pay.
Although the Los Angeles Rams have yet to sign holdout defensive tackle Aaron Donald, a player whose production is similar to Mack’s, most reports have been that a deal is near.
If the mega deal doesn’t happen for Mack this year, he can either reluctantly play for his existing money or perhaps get a contract which throws him a bone in the form of a few million extra dollars. That was the way the Raiders played the holdout of left tackle Donald Penn a year ago.
The Raiders are gambling on Mack’s work ethic and professionalism that he’ll come in and play at a high level regardless of whether he is happy with his contract.
At least two Raiders teammates who have spoken with Mack expect him to arrive ready to play.
“Knowing Mack, whatever his situation is, he’s going to be prepared,” defensive end Fadol Brown said. “I’m real close to Mack. We stay in contact outside of football. He’s going to be prepared and we’re going to be prepared with him. Whether he’s here, whether he comes in a little later – whatever they decide to figure out – I know he’s going to be ready.”
Penn, who sat out of training camp last year because he had outperformed his contract, said he talked with Mack before the Raiders second preseason game against the Rams.
“He’s in good spirits. He’s doing good,” Penn said. “I’m looking forward to getting him back and I know he wants to be back. He deserves everything he’s going to get when he gets here.”
Penn, who saw the Raiders take back some of the money this year after the selection of Kolton Miller in the first round of the draft, doesn’t believe Mack’s holdout will have an adverse affect on the rest of the team.
“It doesn’t impact us at all, man,” Penn said. “It’s part of the business. I know how it is. The guys know there’s a business side of this. They know as a professional athlete, when you’re not here, you’ve got to take care of yourself. I know Khalil is working his butt off, just like I was when I was holding out.
“I hope and pray it gets done real fast because he and Derek are the heartbeat of this team.”
Mack needs to play at least six games this year to retain his unrestricted free agent status for the off-season. Which of course doesn’t prevent the Raiders from making him a franchise player and retaining control of his destiny.
It’s doubtful the Raiders would agree to any deal which would relinquish the franchise tag, and teams that are calling McKenzie about a trade will find two huge obstacles. First, they’ll need to come up with the kind of money Mack is seeking (which has never been made public) and then satisfy Gruden with huge compensation in the form of high multiple draft picks and maybe a frontline player or two.
Raiders players, in the meantime, have tunnel vision, focused on making the 53-man roster and then preparing to face the Los Angeles Rams on Sept. 10. Brown, a standout in the win over Green Bay, is in the awkward position of having his roster spot jeopardized when Mack arrives.
“We miss Mack around here. That’s my guy. He’s a great dude, on and off the field,” Brown said. “So I hope everything works out in his favor. But I’m here right now and other guys are here so we’re just going to focus on what we can do to get better and help this team win games.”