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Why are the Raiders playing hardball with Khalil Mack?

Shalise Manza Young
Yahoo Sports Contributor

There is one player in the 77-year history of the Associated Press NFL All-Pro voting who has been chosen first-team All-Pro at two positions in the same year.

It happened in 2015, when Khalil Mack of the Oakland Raiders was chosen at both defensive end and outside linebacker.

In the relatively short time since, Mack has remained as one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, and he’d like some security from the Raiders in the form of a contract extension.

That doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen anytime soon.

Reportedly, there have been no contract talks between the Oakland Raiders and defensive end Khalil Mack in months. (AP)

No communication between Mack, Raiders

On Tuesday, NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport tweeted that while visiting Oakland’s training camp over the past couple of days, he learned that not only is there no offer on the table from the Raiders for Mack, there haven’t been any contract talks with Mack’s representatives since February.

Before arriving, Rapoport tweeted that there was “no optimism” about the situation between the two sides.

And there have been other reports that new head coach Jon Gruden hasn’t spoken to Mack since he took the job at the beginning of the year, and Gruden seems to talk a lot.

Mack has one year left on his rookie deal, the fifth-year option, which calls for him to earn $13.85 million for 2018. His full five-year contract was for $18,676,999 – as a three-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro in his first four seasons, Mack has clearly outplayed that deal.

If the Raiders don’t sign him to a long-term extension before the end of this league year, they can franchise him for 2019, and Mack likely doesn’t want that.

None of this answers this: Why is Oakland taking this stance with its most talented player?

Maybe the Raiders don’t see him as a difference maker? On Monday, Gruden was on NFL Network and said Oakland’s defense wasn’t very good last year, even with Mack.

We’ve got to get a better pass rush, we’ve got to play better defense, period,” Gruden said. “And we hope Khalil gets here, but in the time being, we’ve got plenty of guys who need work.”

Oakland was 23rd in total yards allowed last season, including 26th against the pass and 26th on third down.

But if that was with Mack, how bad would the unit be without him?

Mack has never missed a game

Since being selected fifth overall in 2014, Mack has started every game for Oakland, 64 in total. According to the NFL’s statistics website, last season he had 78 tackles (61 solo), 10.5 sacks, 15 tackles for loss, 22 quarterback hits, three pass break-ups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

Recently retired Joe Thomas, the greatest left tackle of his generation, said last week that Mack “has it all” and was the toughest guy he faced in the league.

“From the moment he stepped in the league when you’re watching film, you’re like ‘I don’t know how I’m gonna be able to stop this guy’ because he’s got it all,” Thomas said. “He can stop the run, he can stop the pass, he’s got a bunch of different pass rush move, he’s fast, he’s quick, he’s explosive, he can run right through you, he can run around you. When a guy can do all of those things, [he’s] extremely dangerous.”

Mack has leverage

The Raiders have already invested in Mack. They carried the cap number for his fifth-year option, a hefty $13.85 million, all offseason. That kept them from signing more players in free agency, because they were presumably planning on Mack playing for his nearly $14 million. A new deal could even offer some salary-cap wiggle room for this season. Doesn’t it behoove the team to try to come to an agreement, both financially and on the field?

Plus, according to public NFL Players Association records, the Raiders currently have less than $2 million in cap space (that includes Mack’s salary), so it’s not like they have a lot of money to spend to bring in players to plug a Mack-sized hole.

While the Mack-Raiders relationship seems strained, recent reporting suggests the relationship between Aaron Donald and the Los Angeles Rams is solid enough, and Rams general manager Les Snead said on the eve of training camp that the team is talking to Donald’s reps.

Mack could be waiting to see what Donald gets from the Rams to get an idea of what his own deal could look like.

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