For Raider Nation, no story is bigger or more troubling than the absence of All-Pro pass rusher and former Defensive Player of the Year, Khalil Mack.
The former No. 5 overall pick is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and after registering 40.5 sacks in four seasons, he’s expecting a huge contract. Unfortunately, the contract talks seem to be slow, and it may be weeks before we see Mack in action. So today we’re going to take an optimistic look at how Mack’s absence could benefit the team.
The vast majority of holdouts, especially under the newest CBA, end before the regular season starts. The likes of Darrelle Revis, Chris Johnson, Philip Rivers, Walter Jones, and Donald Penn have all held out, only to show up before the season started. Sure, there are several that have held out into the season, Kam Chancellor and Aaron Donald being two of the most recent examples. However, more often than not, the player is under center when the season starts.
Despite what people might insinuate to steal clicks, Reggie McKenzie and Jon Gruden want Mack back in black. On the surface, it appears that McKenzie is taking the same “come to camp and we’ll talk” approach that he took with Penn last season. While that’s not the ideal approach, it’s the one they’re going with, so Raider Nation just has to be patient. Having said that, let’s look at the bright side.
Not So Bad
Obviously, it’s not a good thing that Mack is holding out. There’s a new coaching regime, headed by Jon Gruden, and they’re installing a new defense. It has been reported that Mack has been in contact with the new defensive coordinator, Paul Guenther, who is almost completely in charge of the defense. Albeit, there’s no question that it would be better for almost everyone if Mack was in-house, taking reps, learning the defense and bonding with his teammates.
Why almost everyone? Because as many NFL fans have often heard, “next man up” is a code that coaches and players live by. Mack isn’t there? That just means someone else has to step up, take his reps, and in this case, someone very special has.
The Key To Staying Positive
No player screamed “Gruden pick” quite as loud as Arden Key in Oakland’s 2018 draft class. The pass rusher from LSU was a top ten talent that slipped into the third round because of questions about his health, work ethic, and behavior off the field. Why is he a Gruden pick? Because he’s an athletic project that could dominate if pushed in the correct direction with the right amount of force… along with sufficient opportunities.
Mack’s absence has been that opportunity for Key during this training camp. With Mack gone, Key has been the one stepping up and receiving more reps, largely under the tutelage of pass rushing veteran, Bruce Irvin. Look at Irvin’s excitement in this clip when Key absolutely destroys rookie tackle, Brandon Parker.
— DLineVids (@DLineVids) August 1, 2018
Iron sharpens iron, and while everyone wants to see Mack embarrassing linemen, it can only help the young pass rushers to get more time with the starters, especially as Oakland’s preseason kicks off against the Detroit Lions this Friday. Mack might be out of action, but this creates an opportunity for another hungry young pass rusher that will be even better when #52 returns to the defensive line. Speaking of which…
Well Oiled Machine
Understandably, Raider Nation is more concerned about the possibility of losing Mack than any of the potential positives. This is a Nation of fans that have been through over a decade of hell. They’ve seen false savior after false savior come and go, usually leaving with heavier pockets than they arrived with.
Despite his absence, Mack is still putting in work. Of course, Mack will have to adjust to a new defensive scheme, but rest assured, he will be in game shape once he returns.
— Yahoo Sports NFL (@YahooSportsNFL) July 25, 2018
As you can see in the video, it’s not like Mack is showing up out of shape or rusty. Mack’s athleticism has always been one of his biggest strengths, and all his absence from training camp really means, assuming he does show up, is that he’s going to be well-rested with less wear and tear. Now tell me, would you want to be Jared Goff showing up to face a well-rested Khalil Mack?
The Silver (And Black) Lining
Nobody who calls themselves a Raiders fan is enjoying this holdout. The NFL media has exploited the holdout ruthlessly, claiming that Mack and Gruden have never spoken (though they have), they’ve claimed there haven’t been contractual talks since February (though there have been), and that a trade involving Mack is likely (it isn’t). The off-season is dark and full of horrors, and when something as controversial as a holdout happens, those who profit from controversy will never hesitate to cash in.
The good news is that it’s hard to imagine a world in which:
A. Khalil Mack doesn’t show up before the season.
B. He doesn’t become the NFL’s highest-paid non-quarterback. I predict that Mack will be there when the Raiders take on the Los Angeles Rams in September and adding to that if there’s any justice in the world, the only colors he’ll wear before the gold jacket are Silver and Black.
He’s not in training camp yet, and he will probably miss at least one preseason game, but that doesn’t mean the Raiders world stops spinning. Rising stars like Arden Key will take advantage of Mack’s absence to learn more and grow faster, and when Mack returns, well-rested? Let’s just say you’re lucky you’re not going to be lining up under center against them.