Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange

September 05, 2018 at 1:08 am.

Raiders life without Mack begins abruptly

The Oakland Raiders open the regular season with the conspicuous absence of Khalil Mack, the decorated defensive end who was traded to the Chicago Bears after a prolonged contract holdout.

Rather than revel in the excitement of the Monday night opener against the Rams, head coach Jon Gruden found himself attempting to explain how the Raiders ended up letting one of the NFL’s top defenders out of the building despite being under their control.

Mack was due $13.846 million on his fifth-year option, but never showed for any of the offseason workouts or training camp as he sought an extension that general manager Reggie McKenzie said he had been working toward.

It never happened.

When the Bears offered a pair of first-round draft picks (2019 and 2020) plus other considerations (the Raiders also sent Chicago a second-rounder in the deal), Mack quickly came to terms on a six-year extension worth a maximum value of $141 million with $90 million in guaranteed money.

Without getting into specifics, Gruden and McKenzie acknowledged it was far beyond what the Raiders were willing to pay.

“The negotiation was what it was. It was tough. It was a long process,” Gruden said. “We talked about it daily. I don’t believe we were anywhere close to where the Bears were.”

Given that Mack had held out with no contact with the team, the Raiders believe he wasn’t coming in any time soon and that efforts to wait him out and fine him $814,000 in weekly game checks were fruitless.

“We waited and waited. The Rams game was looming. Our feeling was he wasn’t going to report,” Gruden said. “I saw the Redskins go through it with Kirk Cousins. It’s a long process. You can wait it out, you can franchise him, you can force him to play, but we made a decision and we’re going to stand by it.”

Dealing Mack for draft picks that won’t arrive until 2019 and 2020 does nothing for the Raiders now, and Gruden conceded things got a little more difficult on defense.

“It wasn’t my goal to trade Khalil when we got here,” Gruden said. “One of the reasons I’m here is because of him. Unfortunately, we had a standoff and we could not come to terms. … we have to put together a 53-man roster. It’s hard. Salary-cap issues do exist. There’s an economic part of this too that you have to sit down and study to see how it impacts you, a contract of that magnitude.

“We’ll have to do right with the picks we did acquire and the players on this roster have to step up.”

Gruden said there’s bound to be some confusion among players, but didn’t want to speak for them (they weren’t immediately made available to the media).

Without Mack, it’s conceivable the Raiders could be an improved defensive team given some of their offseason moves in all three areas.

Tank Carradine, a 49ers castoff, has done a serviceable job at Mack’s left end position and Bruce Irvin has been moved from linebacker to right end. There is an influx of rookie talent with second-round tackle P.J. Hall, third-round end Arden Key and fifth-round tackle Maurice Hurst.

Hall and Hurst in theory can give the Raiders an inside push the Raiders never had with Mack and in theory cause a ripple effect that could help the entire unit. Key has been impressive as a long and lean pass rusher who slumped in his final season at LSU but was considered a first-round talent originally.

“There’s other ways to get to the passer besides just the four-man rush,” Gruden said. “Somebody has to step up. It’s Arden Key’s time. Bruce Irvin has to step up. Perhaps that means more blitzing, we’ll have to see.”

SERIES HISTORY: 14th regular-season meeting, Raiders lead series, 8-5. Rams won last game in 2014 52-0 in St. Louis. The Raiders’ defense gave up touchdowns on the Rams’ first five possessions, trailed 38-0 at halftime and the loss essentially ended any chance interim coach Tony Sparano had of retaining the job fulltime. In the last game in Oakland, the Raiders won 16-14 in 2010 with Darren McFadden gaining 145 yards on 30 carries, Bruce Gradkowski threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Louis Murphy and Sebastian Janikowski kicked three field goals.