No one can guarantee what the end game in the stalemate between Khalil Mack and the Oakland Raiders will be. Even the particulars themselves -- the quarterback-smothering defensive end, his agent and Raiders brass (coach Jon Gruden, general manager Reggie McKenzie, owner Mark Davis) -- could not say with any certainty how and when this holdout is resolved.
The most salient questions -- when might Mack report; how much would he earn in 2018 and beyond; where would he play if a trade becomes viable -- are impossible to answer with the sides at a loggerheads and not even discussing the prospect of a fair-market contract extension. But allow me to promise you this much: Barring the Raiders suddenly reversing course and engaging on a legitimate contract, there is no way this All-Pro will be with the team when the regular season begins. It's almost impossible for any player to sit out an entire season -- as contracts would toll to the ensuing season if he's not present by Week 10 -- but that leaves a wide swath of time in between.
I can't tell you if he is there in late September or sometime in October or maybe at midseason in November, but, after getting a feel for how disrespected, underappreciated and angry the former first-round pick is with the way this situation has unfolded, and Mack having proved his mettle by racking up over $1.6M in fines from missed preseason games and practices to this point, there is no way in heck I can foresee a scenario in which Mack reports the way Aaron Donald did in 2017 and shows up right before Week 1.
Nah, at this point the Raiders should begin operating under that assumption if they haven't made some tangible progress toward at least negotiating a potential new deal very soon. And if they continue to allow weeks to compound without extending a viable contract offer, and further exacerbating a bad situation, then they had best come to grips with the fact that the first game of Gruden's much-celebrated return to the organization will transpire with their best player back at home.
It's really that simple.
Beyond that, for how many weeks will Mack, currently set to make $13.8 million on his fifth-year option, be willing to walk away from a weekly game check of over $800,000 remains to be seen. But anyone who has gotten to know this young man over the years would quickly tell you he can be as committed, headstrong and stuck in as it gets. And at the very least the Raiders are going to have to spend the early part of the season dealing with his absence and ancillary "distractions" whether they want to or not.
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While some have mistakenly made comparisons to the Rams and Donald, who has skipped the preseason for the second straight year, there are actually glaring differences between that contractual waltz and this one in Oakland. For starters, they are actually dancing in L.A. The dialogue is ongoing and robust with the sides exchanging concepts and proposals for well over a year now, and the player is in regular contact with coach Sean McVay and others. The sides are at least "in the same zip code," according to GM Les Snead, and there is a strong sense that Donald is going to be there by the time real games are played.
Mack must assume by now that he is not part of Davis' plans for any contract reset, as it's late August and there is no offer. If you were a player of his caliber, wouldn't you? And if you were of the mind that ownership would be fine going year-to-year -- with consecutive franchise tags and all of the disruption and potential missed games that come with that -- despite already proving your worth as perhaps the best pass rusher on the planet, then I suspect you might be aligned with Mack's stance as well. And keep in mind that all of this was transpiring at a time when the Rams are bending over backward to try to get Donald to take $60 million-$63 million guaranteed over the next three years, would you be there Week 1?
Mack has to know that there would be at least, what, 10 teams with sufficient money, cap, wherewithal and need to do for him what the Rams are attempting to do for Donald? If you were Mack, and you knew that the state of Nevada had just handed Davis $750 million in free money to help build him a glistening new stadium in Las Vegas (one sure to host future Super Bowls and major events), and he quickly handed $100 million of that over to Gruden, and yet none of it had yet to trickle down to the Raiders' best player, might you be a little miffed as well? If Mack has to battle just to get an offer, what does that say about the Raiders' spending commitment to their players moving forward in the short term while they are lame ducks in Oakland?
To say nothing of how this will play in Oakland's locker room if/when this fight with Mack continues. The team long ago took care of the other darlings from the 2014 draft -- quarterback Derek Carr and guard Gabe Jackson -- and yet Mack has played four full seasons to this point on a slotted rookie contract that made him one of the game's true bargains (an average of $4.7 million in cash per season). All of that predated Gruden's arrival, but with the coach's reputation as a QB and offensive guru, you don't think the rest of the dudes on Oakland's much-maligned defense are wondering where their Alpha is, and why he hasn't received the same treatment as the guys on the other side of the ball? If you don't think that's being discussed among the players in Oakland, and in locker rooms around the league, then you don't understand how this works.
So, yeah, Mack hasn't come this far to crumble anytime soon. That much is a virtual lock. It would actually be ludicrous for him to all of a sudden show up for Week 1, now. Beyond that, who knows. But I doubt Mack goes easily.
If the plan is to franchise him the next two years -- at approximately $18 million in 2019 and $21 million in 2020 -- what would make anyone think that would bode well for the team's results (I would point back to Cousins v. Washington, 2016-2017, as evidence). If that's the case, you would have to anticipate that Mack would wait until right before the regular season to sign the franchise tag as others have done in the past, as he has already displayed he is willing to miss preseason games in 2018.
Is that the smartest way to team-build under a new coach, with all involved knowing their best player is just biding his time to sign a huge contract someplace else? With an unsigned franchise tag, there are no fines for skipping out on any of the otherwise mandatory spring and summer football activities, and not having Mack around for any of that is less than ideal.
It seems fairly obvious that the time to hammer out a new deal, or to seriously consider dealing Mack for ultimate value, is right-bleeping-now. No reason to wait any longer. And, with a full seven months about to conclude since the Raiders last played a meaningful game, and with Mack having nothing to mull, I'd start taking that trade option much more seriously if I found myself in Oakland's predicament.
Fire up a conference call with the Colts, Jets, Bills, Packers and Bears, and send out an email to the front offices of the rest of the NFL teams, and let them know that Mack is available in trade. Trust me, at this point, given the state of relations between the star end and the Raiders, you ain't bruising anyone's feelings. This is a big-boy business and it's about getting paid during this finite period in which a player is both healthy and productive.
Maybe no one comes close to giving up what the Raiders would deem to be fair value. Maybe someone blows them away with an offer. But at least it would move the discussion and create some new thoughts and ideas. Because the current state of play doesn't bode very well for the 2018 Raiders, or beyond, and if at some point Mack does indeed blink, it won't be this month. Meanwhile, time is just wasting away.