Oakland Raiders: Donald deal may make dealing Mack more likely

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 1: Defensive end Khalil Mack
DENVER, CO - JANUARY 1: Defensive end Khalil Mack /

The Oakland Raiders have been playing hardball in contract negotiations, and Aaron Donald’s new deal only raises the stakes for everybody.

Say what you will (and many already have), but the Oakland Raiders braintrust of Reggie McKenzie and Jon Gruden have likely been watching the contract negotiations with LA Rams superstar Aaron Donald closely. Very closely.

Many folks don’t believe that Donald’s negotiations have any bearing on negotiations with Oakland standout pass rusher Khalil Mack. If you really believe that though, there is some lovely beachfront property in Oklahoma we’d like to sell you.

Going into this season – Mack’s fifth-year option on his rookie deal – McKenzie (and now Gruden) knew they’d need to pay a hefty chunk of change to keep him. And for his part, Mack has done everything he needed to do to earn a long-term, big dollar deal.

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Over his first four seasons in the league, he has become one of the most dominant defenders in the NFL. 40.5 sacks over his first four seasons – 36.5 over the last three. He’s a perennial Pro Bowler, a former Defensive Player of the Year. The only player in NFL history to be named All-Pro at two positions – in the same season.

Mack defines dominance and his resume speaks for itself. And yet, McKenzie and Gruden continue to dicker and while away the time, kicking the can down the road as far as they can, with the hope that can doesn’t hit a rock, bounce back, and hit them in the face.

Well, we can now say that can has officially bounced back and hit them in the face.

News is breaking that the other big name holding out for a big dollar deal, Donald, has agreed to, and is finalizing a record breaking deal that makes him the highest paid defensive player in NFL history.

Though not all of the particulars are known at this point, what we do know, is that Donald’s deal is six-years, $135 million, with $87 million in guaranteed money. Donald’s deal not only sets a new record, it obliterates the old one.

Heading into this season, Denver’s Von Miller had set the bar with his six-year, $114 million dollar deal that contained $70 million guaranteed cash. His $19 million per year salary (now eclipsed by Donald’s $22 million per year salary), was thought to be the baseline for contract negotiations with Mack.

The operative word there, being – was.

Now, if the Raiders hope to keep Mack in Silver and Black, it’s going to cost them considerably more. Given the similiarity of their resumes, Mack is very likely going to want a deal on par with Donald’s new contract – and possibly, even exceed it a bit, if only for bragging rights.

Which means, the Raiders – in the form of McKenzie and Gruden – because they’ve kicked the can down the road so far, and have done nothing to alleviate the situation, now find themselves at a crossroads.

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Knowing they’ll need to pony up at least $135 million, with $87 million in guaranteed money – though, likely a little bit more – they have a decision to make. They can bite the bullet, crunch the numbers, and figure out a way to make it work. Or, they can opt to trade Mack.

Given the story/rumor/innuendo, or whatever you want to call it, that the Raiders are open to dealing Mack, but the asking price is two first-round picks just to start the conversation – and the resounding silence from them about it – you have to start giving it a little more credence.

The two sides haven’t spoken since February. The regular season is approaching. Mack’s resolve has never wavered. And now, they know they’ll have to pony up about $90 million in guaranteed cash to keep Mack.

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Of course, they could take what’s behind door number three, and simply squat on him, hoping his resolve somehow magically crumbles, and he reports before the game with the Rams, opting to not lose more than $800,000 in money per week.

If Mack is truly dug in though – and he certainly seems to be – he can miss games all the way to week ten before it carries ramifications for his pending free agency.

So, basically, by not even making a good faith effort to get him back to the team, McKenzie and Gruden are rolling the dice, hoping he shows up – before week ten. After that, maybe they’ll work a deal, or maybe they won’t. And if they don’t, we’ll go through his same song and dance again next year, when they inevitably hit him with the franchise tag – and the year after that as well.

Gruden and McKenzie can string this out for the next three seasons. They can keep making this a distraction week in and week out, which will ultimately trickle down to the team. Guys can say what they like about, “understanding the business side,” or not getting involved with another player’s contract situation, but at the end of the day, these guys are teammates. They’re friends. Brothers.

They shed blood, sweat, and tears together, and if you don’t think they talk about their own situations, you’re nuts.

Which means, that when somebody like Mack, who is so universally liked and respected, is being done dirty, it’s going to have an impact on the other guys. The longer this situation plays out, the longer the questions drag on, and the longer they’ll have to deal with the distraction – which would be nothing but detrimental to the team.

Donald’s deal has reset the bar (again) for a starting point if McKenzie and Gruden want to see Mack back on the field. And if they balked at paying him the $19 million a season Miller is getting with Denver, you can’t help but think they’ll balk even harder at the $22 million a season price tag Donald just got with the Rams – especially with $87 million in guaranteed money.

Which means, in light of Donald’s deal, it seems to become a bit more likely that McKenzie and Gruden – who apparently believe they can make up for Mack’s absence with a mix of young guys and veterans – may be looking closer at the deals teams are offering them for the superstar.

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What was unthinkable only a few months ago, suddenly seems a lot more plausible. Perhaps not likely – after all, nothing seems to be imminent right now – but, at least, plausible.

Whatever McKenzie and Gruden are going to do though, it would behoove them to do it quickly. It’s time to rip the band-aid off and actually do something to resolve the impasse – one way, or another.

The longer they let this drag on, the worse it’s going to be for a team looking to climb back to respectability, and can’t really afford the lingering distraction.