Oakland Raiders are playing with fire – and potentially, Carr’s health

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 22: Donald Penn /

The Oakland Raiders have reportedly asked veteran left tackle Donald Penn to take a pay cut, which could could be a disastrous move.

If Oakland Raiders bosses Reggie McKenzie and Jon Gruden were looking to create a distraction from the ongoing contract saga with superstar Khalil Mack, they may have done it.

At least, for now.

The Raiders have reportedly asked veteran left tackle Donald Penn to take a pay cut, which is surely not going to be a salve to the irritation he feels after the team used two of its first three picks in this year’s draft on offensive tackles – Kolton Miller (fifteenth overall) and Brandon Parker (sixty-fifth overall).

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After the picks were made, the 35-year old Penn made his displeasure known via social media. In a since deleted Tweet, Penn reacted to the drafting of Miller and Parker with the words, “More Motivation.”

You can’t really fault Gruden and McKenzie for looking to shore up the future of the position. After all, Penn isn’t getting any younger – though, he is still playing at a high level, as evidenced by his two consecutive Pro Bowl selections.

But, it’s been commonly believed that the two-year deal he signed before last season started, keeping him in Silver and Black through 2019, would be the end of a pretty remarkable run for a guy who was originally, an undrafted free agent.

With the addition of Miller and Parker, it was believed that Gruden would lean on Penn to show the kids the ropes and teach them the nuances of the game. Given that Penn has been one of the most dominant left tackles in the game for a number of years now, Miller and Parker could do a lot worse than to have Penn as a mentor.

However, the question now becomes, given that Penn has yet to set foot on the practice field as he recovers from Lisfranc surgery in December – after an injury knocked him out of the last two games last season – will he be on the field when the regular season opens?

As Penn has continued to rehab from his injury, Miller has been getting a long look on the left side of the line. And thus far, he’s impressed the entire coaching staff, as well as his teammates.

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Despite a few hiccups along the way – such as getting blasted onto his backside by a Lions defender during the joint practices between the two teams – Miller’s progress has been pretty remarkable. By all accounts, he’s rounding into a solid left tackle, and a player who should be a very capable successor to Penn.

Apparently though, Miller has made Gruden and the staff feel good enough about his abilities that the future may be coming much sooner than expected.

Good enough apparently, that the team is risking incurring the wrath of Penn for a second straight year, by asking him to take a pay cut.

Yes, a year after Penn held out of camp and was subsequently rewarded with a two-year, $21 million dollar commitment from the team, they’re asking him to shave that down a bit as they’ve reportedly become “uncomfortable” with the structure of the deal, preferring to convert some of the money owed into bonuses and incentives.

Per an article by Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

"“Exact specifics are unclear, but the Raiders could seek to convert much, if not all, of his $3 million salary into bonuses or incentives. Penn already has benefited from the extension to the tune of $3 million guaranteed. A restructure involving his remaining salary would create more balance to the deal, given the lineman is coming off a significant injury suffered in his 11th NFL season.”"

On the surface, it seems relatively reasonable enough. Penn is older, and is coming off surgery for a significant injury. He remains on the team’s PUP list and has been unavailable to do – well – much of anything.

It seems reasonable that they might be looking for some assurances just in case he can’t return to his Pro Bowl form.

But, Penn has no incentive to take a pay cut. Why would he? Even if the team decides that they feel good enough about Miller to cut ties with Penn, he’ll still be owed his three million in guaranteed money.

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Ultimately, it would save the team a little over five million – which isn’t nearly enough to get a deal done with Mack, so don’t put those tin foil hats on and start spinning wild conspiracy theories just yet.

What should be concerning though, is what will happen if – and when – Penn says no to a pay cut? It seems far more likely that he’ll do just that – as stated above, what possible reason would he have to agree?

The team may be feeling good enough to move on from Penn – and that should be a concern.

As impressive as Miller has looked throughout the offseason, he’s a rookie. And if there is one thing we know about rookies, it’s that there will always, always, always, be bumps in the road. There are very few exceptions to that rule.

Making the jump from college to the NFL is incredibly rarely, a smooth, seamless process.

And in the AFC West, with formidable edge rushers like Von Miller, Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and Justin Houston waiting – very likely licking their chops at the mere thought of going up against a rookie – having rookie bumps in the road is a far less than ideal thing.

Protecing Derek Carr‘s blindside is of the utmost importance to the Raiders. For, as we’ve seen over the last couple of seasons, as Carr goes, so go the Raiders.

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Las Vegas Raiders /

Las Vegas Raiders

His broken leg in 2016 – ironically enough, on the only sack Penn gave up that entire season – derailed their most successful season since Gruden Part I was in effect. That injury to Carr cost the team a chance at their first division title since Brontosaurus walked the Earth, and ended in a sound thumping by the Houston Texans in the Wild Card round.

Carr’s broken back in 2017 hampered any sort of consistent offensive effort and plagued him throughout the year. Granted, a whole lot went wrong for the Raiders in 2017 – it wasn’t just Carr’s back. But, his inability to be as effective as he was the year prior certainly didn’t help matters any.

Miller’s big, strong, quick, and talented – this isn’t a knock against him – but turning Carr’s blindside over to a rookie and potentially gambling with the health of your franchise quarterback to save a few million bucks is dangerous. At best.

It’s well beyond foolish and if it all goes sideways, could very well end the year early for the Raiders. Again.

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In an ideal world, Penn would line up on the left, with Miller being given a year to get a little seasoning on the right. In an ideal world, Breno Giacomini wouldn’t see the field in 2017 – heck, in a perfect world, he wouldn’t even make the 53-man roster.

But, this is hardly a perfect world – as evidenced by the contract dealings with Mack.

This coming standoff with Penn and what happens as it all unfolds is concerning. And, depending on how it all plays out, it could potentially, have an incredibly detrimental impact on Oakland’s season.