For anyone not keeping track, there’s some big trouble brewing in Oakland. Like, they-should-have-called-in-Spencer-Strasmore-weeks-ago type of trouble. Khalil Mack, 2-time All Pro and former Defensive Player of the Year, is in the middle of an extended contract dispute and has yet to report to the team. This, if you can’t tell, is a bad thing. And the Raiders could not be handling it worse.
Contract hold-outs happen literally every year in the NFL. By now, every GM and ownership group should have the playbook on how to handle a disgruntled star memorized. A running back wants a new deal? If he’s over 26, good luck in your future endeavors. A middle-of-the-road QB wants some of that Sam Bradford scratch? Just hit him with the franchise tag or trade him. Your best offensive lineman wants a new deal? Remind him that you had to Google him to find out who he was before teaching him about revenue sharing. But when megastars want to get paid? Call me crazy, but I think you should usually do it.
A common theme you’ll see in many of these hold-outs is the fifth-year option first round picks have in their rookie contracts that the rest of the draft picks don’t have. For players like Mack, this essentially punishes the player for being good while allowing the teams to save money on elite talent. I’m far from the first person to say this, but just about the only non-Patriots way to build a competitive roster in the NFL is by having a core of high-level players on rookie contracts. This usually leads to teams kicking star players to the curb once the return on investment is no longer totally stacked in their favor. This, understandably, makes players unhappy (even though the players agreed to each and every contract-related thing that they constantly complain about in the last CBA, but whatever). Teams feel that they can replace expensive players with cheap players without losing much on-the-field value. This is usually true, but Mack isn’t just some guy. He’s one of the 5-10 best players in the entire NFL. No, he doesn’t play quarterback, but he’s still someone they should be bending over backwards to keep. Situations like these are where football decision making completely loses me. The salary cap keeps going up and you’re not going to get a player as good as Mack in the draft. Just pay him. Teams’ constant reluctance to pay non-QB superstars is baffling. I understand the business model. But there’s a reason 30 of the 32 teams in the league are complete shit, and this is part of it. Aaron Donald just got paid today after holding out two straight years. The Rams were acting like signing one of the greatest players in NFL history was akin to launching nuclear weapons. This is why they won’t ever win anything.
Another huge factor in all of this is that Mark Davis, Raiders owner, doesn’t have any money. This is typically a problem for owners. Between Jon Gruden’s preposterous contract, the slapdash, ill-advised move to Las Vegas, and the need to give Derek Carr $125 million (I know you have to overpay for quarterbacks, but still), Khalil Mack got lost in the shuffle. Let me reiterate: THE RAIDERS FORGOT THAT ONE OF THE BEST PLAYERS IN THE LEAGUE NEEDED A NEW CONTRACT! If I’m one of the few Raiders fans left, I’d be completely losing my mind right now. It’s just inexcusable. Now they’re asking for two first rounders, which I’d give up in a second. What are the odds of a team getting someone as good as Mack in the first round of the next two years? 5%? Less? Considering how many great players come out of the late rounds in the NFL, two first rounders for a player like Mack in his prime is nothing. You’re literally stealing one of the best players in the league. I have no idea what teams are waiting for, unless the Raiders don’t want to trade him or pay him, and would instead rather he spend eternity in franchise-tag purgatory, in which case the Raiders would spend more money than if they just gave him a deal today. It just makes no sense. This whole thing should have been resolved months ago. Instead, the best player on the team isn’t going to play for at least the first week, and might never put on the silver and black again, all because they couldn’t make up their mind and are losing more leverage every second. Remember that one season the Raiders were good again? That feels like decades ago now. If the Browns win more than three games this year, we may officially have a new contender for Laughing Stock of the League. Clean it up, Oakland.