Here’s why Raiders, Khalil Mack are in contract stalemate with no end in sight

NFL columnist
Yahoo Sports
<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nfl/players/27533/" data-ylk="slk:Khalil Mack">Khalil Mack</a> hasn’t reported to training camp for the Raiders in a dispute over a contract extension. (AP)
Khalil Mack hasn’t reported to training camp for the Raiders in a dispute over a contract extension. (AP)

The Oakland Raiders and Khalil Mack have made no progress on resolving a contract impasse that is now likely to result in the All-Pro defensive end missing regular-season games, according to sources familiar with the standoff.

As of Monday evening, sources said both sides remained entrenched in the same positions that have contributed to a stalemate in negotiations since February: with the Raiders declining to offer Mack a contract extension and with Mack seeking a long-term deal that would make him the NFL’s highest paid defensive player. One source said there have been no meaningful talks between the two sides in months and that the situation has devolved to a deadlocked “pay him or trade him” conversation.

As for the granular points of the impasse, sources told Yahoo Sports:

• Head coach Jon Gruden has not been directly involved in talks, but the deal is not entirely in the hands of general manager Reggie McKenzie. While McKenzie has long had his own thought process on how Mack would be extended, a deal of this magnitude can’t be consummated without Gruden’s approval. Needing Gruden to sign off essentially has put him in charge of the purse strings when it comes to Mack’s extension (or lack thereof), which has apparently been a drag on talks that haven’t gotten off the ground. This was a point made forcefully clear by multiple sources – that unless team owner Mark Davis steps in, Gruden has the final say over whatever happens with Mack’s deal. This means whether Mack is traded, extended or shelved until reporting to the franchise on his current deal, Gruden’s final call is the definitive piece of the puzzle.

• Funding a long-term deal for Mack is not an issue for the Raiders’ Davis. Sources said Davis has the necessary financial liquidity to put Mack’s fully guaranteed funds into escrow, per the league’s collective-bargaining agreement.

No wait for Aaron Donald

• The still-pending Aaron Donald deal with the Los Angeles Rams has not been a prohibitive force for either side. Instead, the contract discussion between the Raiders and Mack first arose in February, long before Donald and the Rams had made any progress in their own negotiations. Sources have said the two sides have failed to come to a deal because they are approaching it from fundamentally different leverage points, not because either is waiting to see what a new Donald contract will look like.

• Regardless of what Gruden has said publicly, the Raiders will pick up the phone for potential trade offers. Gruden, however, is going to go above and beyond to make one point clear to teams: Despite the contract issue, the Raiders consider Mack an elite-level edge talent and their best defensive player. That means Oakland is going to only consider deals that are significant superstar-level overtures.

Another NFL team isn’t going to get Mack for an aging star and a draft pick, or a hodgepodge of middle-round draft ammunition. Oakland feels it’s in a position of leverage over Mack and the franchise would rather gamble on that leverage than give a superstar away.

Neither side appears to be giving in

In many respects, this is a situation that has fallen into two sides staring at each other and waiting for the other to blink. That hasn’t changed in months and doesn’t appear to be headed for a watershed moment without ownership intervention. When Yahoo Sports visited Raiders camp in early August, staffers were already suggesting the team was prepared to deal with Mack likely reporting under a cloud of dissatisfaction over his contract. Once a front office or coaching staff begins to accept that threshold mentally – dealing with a player who isn’t happy financially or simply moving forward without him – it can reinforce a barrier to fruitful talks.

That barrier appears to be firmly in place for the Raiders brain trust. With the regular season less than two weeks away, it shows no signs of weakening. Nor does the resolve of either side in this confrontation. And now more than ever, it looks like the Raiders and Khalil Mack will officially start the 2018 season in the same place they were six months ago: Far apart.

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