Every time an NFL player is ready to reset the market for any position other than quarterback, several steps must take place before that can happen.
In the case of the Oakland Raiders and star defensive end Khalil Mack, there are several shoes that need to drop before the conclusion of this contract saga comes. The recent contract extension for Danielle Hunter is an important piece to help the market for Mack reinforce itself.
The value of a player is directly tied to their performance under their current contract. That is coupled with draft position and the terms of the current contract. It is undeniable that players who are drafted after round one are at a disadvantage when it comes to negotiating their contract extensions. Under the new collective bargaining agreement, every rookie contract is basically negotiated ahead of time. The advantage first round picks have is the fifth year option.
When a team decides to pick up the fifth-year option of any player, the team is then on the hook for a significant cap hit increase.
For Mack, his fourth-year contract value was approximately 5.9 million dollars. When the Raiders took up his fifth-year option, they were now on the hook for a 13.8 million dollar cap hit.
A fifth-year option in this mold creates two different incentives for the team. Firstly, it incentivizes the team to extend the player in order to generate cap space for the immediate future. To some extent, this incentive is limited depending upon how tight a team’s cap situation is. For the Raiders, this would be a significant driver and even if the team misses the opportunity to generate cap space in order to sign free agents early in the offseason, the team can roll over that cap space for next season.
By initiating a fifth-year option the team places itself in a leverage pickle. Yes, a team can franchise tag a player coming off of the fifth-year option, but that would generate the same cap conundrum the team is already facing just slightly worse. At this point, the player on the fifth year option has the majority of the leverage and if that window is missed and that player is tagged, he will own all of the leverage. All of the motivating factors push towards a team being very proactive in signing a player with a fifth-year option.
Keeping all of this in mind, players who did not have a built-in fifth-year option in their rookie contract still provide a necessary precedence for a player like Mack. When Hunter signed his five year approximately seventy million dollar contract, he placed himself near teammate Everson Griffen and Dolphins edge player Robert Quinn for total salary per season. In terms of the entire NFL, this is approximately 12th in the NFL for edge rushers. Had his contract vaulted him into the next group there would have been a serious ripple effect because the next group is mostly players who operated with a fifth-year option or are on a franchise tag.
So what does all of this have to do with the Raiders and Mack? Right now there is a significantly large group of edge players that are looking for long-term deals. In addition to Mack and Hunter, Jadeveon Clowney is also on his fifth-year option, and both Ezekiel Ansah and Demarcus Lawrence are on the franchise tag. Anyone of these three players can, in theory, reset the market for defensive edge players which is topped by Von Miller at approximately 19.1 million dollars per year.
If Mack were to sign a contract now, there is a decent chance that he actually gets a contract that does not top the market by the time the season starts because two of the teams involved (Lions and Cowboys), have no leverage and tons of liquid cash for signing bonuses.
There have been reports that the Raiders have offered Mack a very generous contract. Right now, he is probably being told by his agent to not bother signing a deal because these other shoes need to drop. Even when camp comes and the Raiders can begin to fine him, teams generally forgive the fines when the player signs the new extension.
It would be unlikely to assume all four players sign a contract extension this offseason. However, if Clowney signs a contract extension then it will be much easier to justify any market resetting contract for Mack. Jordan Schultz of Yahoo! News reported that the Clowney salary per year should fall somewhere between 18 and 18.5 million dollars per season. This would make it the second-highest contract for an edge player. Seeing Mack sign a 20 million dollars per year deal after that would line up with expectations.
Some may be wondering where Aaron Donald fits into this equation.
Although these two players are tied together for their impact, Donald plays a significantly different position that is on an entirely different salary model. Right now Fletcher Cox sets the interior defensive line market with a salary just over 17 million dollars per season. If Donald were to get Khalil Mack-type money he would blow the doors off of precedence. He may very well deserve to, but that is not how NFL negotiations work. Everything is based on precedence. In this case, Donald should have very little bearing on Mack’s contract negotiations.
Recently Jason Fitzgerald, who owns and operates overthecap.com, stated on Twitter, “20M a year and they shouldn’t need to use a tag. I can’t really see why there would be a legit hangup in doing a deal this year unless one side is being unrealistic.” The question should really be about when this deal should be done. It is most reasonable to see it get signed when camp begins. There is little incentive for Mack to participate in the offseason training programs.
As of now, there is no reason for anyone to panic. Fans should absolutely be paying attention to the different events that can act as road signs for progress in the Khalil Mack contract extension. Those road signs are the extensions of other edge players that will reinforce or reset the market. Regardless of what they do, those contracts create the precedence for the Mack contract to be inked and they are what his agent will rely on to maximize his contract value. Deadlines make deals happen and the deadline to focus on is training camp.
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