NAPA, Calif. -- Khalil Mack's training camp holdout reached 12 days on Tuesday, with no end in sight. Neither side is talking, not Mack's agent, Joel Segal, nor Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, coach Jon Gruden or owner Mark Davis. Mack is scheduled to make $13.846 million this season after the Raiders exercised the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. They could conceivably place franchise tags on him in 2019 and 2020 (the tag for defensive ends was $17.143 million this season), but Mack would have to actually, you know, show up, suit up and play.
Mack and Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who is also holding out, are purportedly in a staring contest to see who blinks and signs first. Should the Raiders pony up and pay their best defensive player what he wants? Or should they hold their ground?
There are compelling cases to be made for both sides.
You could make the case that Mack is not just the best defensive player in Oakland, but also the best all-around player, with no disrespect to quarterback Derek Carr. As such, Mack deserves to be compensated ... as such. Look, he already made NFL history by being named first-team All-Pro at two positions in the same season (outside linebacker and defensive end) in 2015 and he followed that up by being named the league's defensive player of the year in 2016. Plus, as an edge rusher, he is more valued than an interior defensive tackle. So, yes, he should be paid more than, say, Donald, even if Donald is a freak/force of nature inside.
Mack is a foundation piece for the Raiders, who will move to Las Vegas in 2020, and they need to bring recognizable faces there. Locking Mack up with an extension does just that. You would think that McKenzie could backload the extension to not only provide salary-cap relief now (Oakland has only $2.26 million in cap space at the moment, per OverTheCap.com), but Mack would also get more cash because Nevada has no state income tax. Win-win.
Besides showing the proper respect for a guy once deemed a "generational player" by Hall of Famer Howie Long, taking care of Mack financially would also send a message to the rest of the team that Oakland is ready, willing and able to take care of players who need to be taken care of. Mack was in a sour mood after the Raiders took care of draft classmates Carr and right guard Gabe Jackson, as well as undrafted free-agent receiver Seth Roberts, with extensions last summer. It showed, even if Mack did not let it affect his effort on the field. Paying Mack would mean McKenzie going against his own mantra of not negotiating with a player not in camp, but Mack is a special case. Just pay, baby.
The Raiders are among the poorest teams in the NFL and that fact simply will not change until they are in their new 65,000-seat domed stadium off the Las Vegas Strip. McKenzie was joking, I think, when he asked me at the NFL owners meetings in March if I had an extra $100 million laying around so he could pay Mack, and now we have a bargaining point. Carr has his $125 million deal, Jackson his $55 million extension and Roberts his $12 million contract. Those deals might have actually hamstrung the finances to the point where -- gulp -- Oakland might not be able to afford another monster contract. At least not at the moment. Which raises the prospect of a trade. Dealing away a potential Hall of Fame talent seems foolish, unless someone dangles a package of two first-round draft picks and, oh, I don't know, $8 million in cash? (See what I did there?) Paging the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Mack is already under contract, due to make nearly $14 million on the fifth-year option and, again, would make more than $17 million in each of the next two seasons under a franchise tag. If it is simply about money, the cash is there to be had, with no haggling. Honor the contract, report and make a good-faith effort to renegotiate. Because as McKenzie said last year amid left tackle Donald Penn's 26-day holdout, he does not negotiate with guys not in camp. Penn returned and got a two-year, $21 million extension -- after the regular-season opener. Making an exception for Mack sets a bad precedent for the front office.
The Raiders already painted themselves in a corner with the extensions to Carr, Jackson, Roberts and Penn, not to mention the big contracts doled out to left guard Kelechi Osemele ($10.5 million cap number for 2018), right tackle Breno Giacomini ($3.515 million) and center Rodney Hudson ($2.782 million). So again, the money may not be there. Besides, while the Raiders have less than $2.3 million in cap space now, they are estimated to have more than $45.14 million in 2019, so there will be relief. And as Gruden noted last week on NFL Network, the Raiders' defense wasn't that good last season with Mack on the field. Oakland finished with the No. 23 overall defense and tied for 24th in sacks with 31, albeit 10.5 by Mack, his fewest since his rookie season. Ouch. Don't pay, baby ... yet.