Oakland Raiders playing numbers game with Mack that may not end anytime soon

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 17: Khalil Mack #52 of the Oakland Raiders reacts after he sacked Josh McCown #15 of the New York Jets at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on September 17, 2017 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 17: Khalil Mack #52 of the Oakland Raiders reacts after he sacked Josh McCown #15 of the New York Jets at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on September 17, 2017 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

Oakland Raiders defensive star Khalil Mack and GM Reggie McKenzie seem well dug in on what could be a long contract fight.

For Oakland Raiders fans who were hoping to see superstar Khalil Mack, a shiny, lucrative deal in his pocket, back on the field as camp gets underway, you may be waiting a bit longer.

Actually, you may be waiting a lot longer.

With Mack playing on the fifth-year option of his rookie deal, most anticipated GM Reggie McKenzie would move quickly to lock up the superstar pass rusher.

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After all, he’s one of those rare players who’s not only lived up to the hype of being a top-five draft pick – but actually exceeded it. By far.

Mack is a generational talent. Players like Mack are beyond rare and fall into a team’s lap less often than Halley’s Comet comes around.

And it’s players like those, you lock up for the long term. You pay them what they’re worth and keep them in your team’s colors until they’re ready to step away from the game.

It’s not often you see a player stay with one team their entire career anymore, but when you have a generational talent – a Von Miller or a Joe Thomas, say – you make sure you do everything in your power to make that rare occurrence a reality.

You would think that after getting deals done to lock of quarterback Derek Carr, defensive tackle Justin Ellis, and guard Gabe Jackson, McKenzie would be working overtime to secure the last, and maybe most, significant member of that 2014 class – Mack.

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And yet, here with are, with camp underway and no sign of Mack. Even worse, there’s been no sign that there is any movement toward getting a deal done and getting back into camp.

Perhaps even more ominously, and what we should really be concerned about, are a couple of recent reports that head coach Jon Gruden hasn’t spoken to Mack once since taking over the ship, and that Mack’s contract situation is expected to get very “ugly.”

Per John Middlekauff of The Athletic:

"“I’ve heard from multiple people in the last four or five days [on] the Khalil Mack situation. I’ve heard they’re not close, it’s not close at all, he ain’t going to be at training camp unless they raise their offer significantly… I would get ready for an ugly situation.”"

It seems absolutely absurd that McKenzie would not just drag his feet, but try lowball a player who’s not just the best on the team, but one of the best players in the entire league.

It’s mind boggling. Truly mind boggling.

A recent article though, by Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk, may suggest that McKenzie is playing a numbers game with Mack.

Although Florio’s article was penned in reference to the situation between Aaron Donald and the Los Angeles Rams, it’s very relevant to Mack’s situation as well.

Under Florio’s scenario, the Rams are dragging their feet with Donald, knowing they control his rights for the next three to four years, under the use of the franchise tag.

And that even by applying the franchise tag to him in 2019 and 2020 (and possibly even 2021, if they’re willing to take a massive financial hit) they will save themselves a pile of cash in the long term.

Per Florio:

"“The answer surely resides in the fundamental differences between what Donald wants and what the Rams will offer. Donald undoubtedly is looking for market value. The Rams, however, can keep him off the market until 2021 at the earliest, via a $6.892 million salary in 2018 and two years of the franchise tag (and roughly $15 million in 2019 and $18 million in 2020).Under the Rams’ calculation, that’s a three-year haul of just under $40 million. If Donald is looking for $20 million per year, that’s a $20 million gap over the first three years.”"

To apply that train of thought to Mack’s situation, he’ll earn roughly $14 million this year. And if Florio’s estimations are right, the tags in 2019 and 2020, will cost the team another $33 million. That’s $47 million over those three seasons.

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And if McKenzie and the team opt to tag him a third time, Florio estimates that 2021 salary would roughly be around $26 million, pushing that four year total to $73 million.

Now, if we’re using Von Miller’s deal with Denver as the floor of what Mack is looking for – six years, $114.5 million, with $70 million in guarantees – that averages out to around $19 million a season.

Mack would likely command a bit more than that, but let’s just go with the conservative estimate Florio proposes and say Mack is looking for about $20 million a season. If you can do basic math, you’d see that over three seasons, that’s $60 million – or about $13 million more than the Raiders might potentially have to pay Mack if they opt to do the franchise tag dance with him.

In the unlikely event they tagged him a third straight time, it would mean the Raiders paid around $18 million a year for four years – which is still less than they’d pay if we use the Von Miller contract as the template. And far less than Mack is likely demanding.

Now, they could come to an agreement tomorrow, for all we know, rendering all of this hand-wringing and speculation moot. But, it’s also possible that they don’t come to an agreement anytime soon – say, when they have to decide to use the franchise tag a third time or not.

Of course, feelings by then could be hardened and Mack may just want out if McKenzie and the organization do him dirty like that.

McKenzie could also be rolling the dice knowing that by the time 2021 rolls around, Mack will be 30-years old and the wear and tear on his body after sustaining so many punishing double and triple teams, and the constant physical pounding he takes on a snap-by-snap basis, will have taken a toll.

McKenzie could be betting the house on the idea that when Mack hits 30 – when he’s finally able to hit the open market for the first time – that he won’t be the same dominant force on the field he has been over his first four seasons in the league.

While it’s true that Mack plays a position that forces him to take a physical pounding on every single snap. He’s remained remarkably healthy his first four years and keeps himself in peak physical shape. But eventually, he will start to wear down, just as everybody does – and that may be the leverage McKenzie is using to justify dragging his feet and make him lowball his offer to Mack’s people.

He could also be banking on the idea that he can bring in younger – meaning cheaper – talent on the edge who can step up and fill the void. Players like Arden Key, who has the potential to be dominant off the edge.

It’s possible that McKenzie believes by the time he’s done doing the franchise tag dance with Mack – who will again, be 30 or maybe 31 – he will have restocked the cupboards with younger, cheaper, pass rushing talent.

It’s entirely possible that McKenzie is dangling the specter of being tagged for two or maybe three seasons after the 2018 season, and not getting to the open market until he’s 30 or 31, in an effort to get Mack to come down in his contract demands.

Which, as the English would say, is totally bollocks.

Yes, there are basic economics and maintaining the overall viability of a team that need to be factored in. But, when you have a generational player in house, an organization should do everything they can to make sure they keep him in house for the long term.

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Khalil Mack is going to be an all-time great when all is said and done. And when he’s being enshrined in Canton many years from now, it should be in Raiders gear.

Reggie McKenzie needs to stop playing these numbers games he’s playing and figure out a way pay the man like the superstar he is already. Failing to do so, and eventually letting Mack leave, would be the biggest black mark on a legacy that already has plenty of question marks on it.