Just how strained are the contract negotiations between Khalil Mack and the Oakland Raiders?
Not strained at all.
Of course, that's a matter of semantics. According to NFL Media's Ian Rapoport, Mack's agent, Joel Segal, and the Raiders haven't engaged in contract talks since February.
As in roughly six months ago.
Mack, 27, is less than two years removed from being named the Defensive Player of the Year and approaches the fifth-year option season on his rookie contract, set to pay him slightly over $13.8 million.
He's stayed away from the club all offseason, with the exception of the team's mandatory vet minicamp in June, as he looks to cash in on his second NFL contract.
Mack's stance doesn't appear to be helping him gain any traction. But it's also safe to say the Raiders, who ranked 23rd in total defense (27th in yards per play) with Mack last season, won't be gaining any traction in Year 1 under Jon Gruden without their best player on the field.
Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie told The Athletic, "Khalil is my guy. ... It's unfortunate that we have to go through this. But his camp decided to do it this way. ... and Khalil is not the first guy to hold out. But we'll get through this. But there is nothing really to report. He's going to hold out until he gets an extension, and that's where we are."
LT Donald Penn missed all of Raiders camp last year. After he finally reported in the third week of the preseason, the two sides struck a deal within about two weeks. With all due respect to Penn, even at the time of his signing at age 34 a rock-solid left tackle, he isn't Mack, one of the game's most unstoppable forces.
Conversely, Mack would seem to be the exception to the Raiders' rule about not doing contracts with players who aren't in attendance. But will McKenzie and, more importantly, Jon Gruden, budge?
Fair or not, Gruden has caught more than a little flack here and elsewhere this offseason — on the heels of inking a 10-year, $100 million contract to return for a second stint with the club — for targeting a lot of older players in free agency. Sure, his line in February about "trying to throw the game back to 1998" was made (we think) mostly in jest, but it's raised the question: Might the game have passed Gruden by in his decade-long hiatus?
Gruden also has repeatedly lamented the limitations placed on him and his coaching peers by the 2011 CBA that greatly reduces practice time, to be sure. Of course, it also greatly diminished players' earning power on their rookie deals. When Gruden was last coaching the Buccaneers in 2008, the fifth overall pick, as Mack was in 2014, commanded approximately $30 million guaranteed on his rookie deal.
Mack's four-year pact from Oakland was worth just north of $18.5 million. And he's been to three consecutive Pro Bowls, in addition to being named the NFL's best defender two years ago. Mack's effort is one of his calling cards, too; this isn't an instance of a rare physical specimen coasting on his natural gifts, it's one in which Mack has been an elite player for a sustained period.
We're not pretending that negotiating what's sure to be a market-setting contract isn't complicated. Although McKenzie also said of the contract dispute between the Rams and reigning Defensive MVP Aaron Donald only a few hours south, "we are not even thinking about Aaron Donald." But he's surely on the minds of Segal and Donald's agent, Todd France, and makes a tricky situation even tougher to navigate.
This much is clear: the Raiders desperately need Mack. He has been more consistent than franchise QB Derek Carr, who received an extension containing $70 million guaranteed last summer, and WR Amari Cooper, who's likely next on the to-do list after Mack. And the negotiation isn't going to un-complicate itself. What are the two sides waiting for?