Oakland Raiders: Training Camp Gets Off To An – Interesting – Start

NAPA, CA - AUGUST 05: Justin Miller
NAPA, CA - AUGUST 05: Justin Miller /

The Oakland Raiders, with veterans reporting, have officially opened up training camp in Napa and already find themselves three players short.

Oakland Raiders players are reporting to camp in Napa for a season brimming with expectations. Ahead of camp though, the team released two veteran players in Taiwan Jones and Austin Howard – neither of which, was completely unexpected. But the holdout of another veteran – left tackle Donald Penn – has seemingly blindsided the team.

Jones’ role with the offense has been virtually non-existent the last couple of seasons. And he hasn’t been quite the same standout on special teams he was prior to receiving a three-year, $4.5 million dollar contract extension from the organization.

And Howard, three-years into his five-year deal, has fallen short of expectations when the team dropped $30 million dollars to obtain him.

Those moves were more or less expected by most people and aren’t all that shocking. It’s the sudden holdout of veteran offensive lineman Donald Penn is raising more than a little bit of alarm around the Raider Nation.

Since being released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – and subsequently being scooped up by Oakland GM Reggie McKenzie – in 2014. Since that time, Penn has been a rock at the left tackle spot, starting every game in each of his three seasons with the team. The only game he’s missed since joining the Silver and Black was last season’s playoff loss to Houston, when he was out with a knee injury.

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Penn has been an absolute rock and a steadying presence on Oakland’s dominant offensive line. In 2016, he gave up just one sack. It was, unfortunately, the biggest sack of the year as it resulted in the broken leg of quarterback Derek Carr – the Raiders would go on to lose the season finale and their Wild Card game against the Texans in the two subsequent weeks.

But in his time with the Raiders, Penn has regularly graded out as one of the highest performing tackles in the NFL and has squared off with some of the league’s top pass rushers – and has come out ahead in those battles far more often than not.

And now, after watching the organization spend heavily on the likes of Rodney Hudson, Kelechi Osemele, and now Gabe Jackson, Penn wants a little piece of that pie too. He reportedly is unhappy with the two-year, $11.9 million dollar deal he signed last year — after a protracted contract process with the team.

Penn’s current deal calls for a base salary of $5.8 million, with incentives that could raise the total value of his contract up to $7.15 million.

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But the now 34-year old Penn insists that he wants to be paid like a top-ten tackle. Which, if you’re scoring at home – and average out the top-ten salaries for tackles in the league – works out to roughly $10.5 million dollars for the 2017 season.

After cutting Jones and Howard, the Raiders currently have about $13 million in cap space, with a deal for first round pick Gareon Conley still in the offing. It would be relatively tight, but the Raiders could probably work something out to give Penn a raise he can live with.

Or – they can elect to play hardball with him, given that he did just sign a new deal last year.

Oakland’s offensive line was it’s source of strength last season. It powered one of the league’s best ground games and provided solid protection for one of the most electric passing games in the NFL. And Penn was a big reason Oakland’s line was so dominant last season.

Smart money says the Raiders, recognizing Penn’s value to the success of the offense as a whole, will get a deal done. Somehow, someway. But then, McKenzie has proven to be unpredictable at times, so you just never know.

Until there is some movement one way or the other though, this is going to cast a pall over a training camp that should be filled with buzz as the team works hard to live up to those lofty expectations.