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‘Heartbeat of this team’ Khalil Mack contract holdout has been ‘grueling’ for Raiders

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NFL: New York Giants at Oakland Raiders Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

We are officially exactly two weeks until the Raiders open the 2018 NFL season. And still no Khalil Mack. What once seemed like no big deal and no reason to panic has started to get a little more stressful.

The Raiders coaches don’t absolutely need Mack to participate in the offseason program or minicamp or training camp or even the preseason. Hell, Derek Carr has taken 13 snaps this preseason, so how much of a difference would having Khalil Mack make? Gruden thinks it would make a big difference.

“His playmaking, his leadership, his presence,” Gruden says of what Mack brings to the team dynamic. “Great players like Mack have all those things going for them. They make people around them better. And they make offenses account for you. If you’re going to account for Khalil Mack, you probably got to double team the guy. Someone else is not going to have to deal with that. There’s a lot of things that a great player brings to your football team. Hopefully that’s sometime soon.”

Yeah, sometime soon would be kind of a must at this point. And Gruden is not going to predict Mack will make it in time to start the season.

“I don’t want to put any timetable on it,” Gruden continued. “This has obviously been a long process that’s been grueling for both parties, the fans, and me personally. We’re just hoping we can get him in here.”

This is the second year in a row the Raiders have gone through this with one of their players. Donald Penn held out of camp and preseason looking for a new contract. He ended up returning to the team just prior to the start of the season despite not having a deal in place. And he eventually got the deal he was looking for. So, as you might expect, he doesn’t think having Mack here this offseason is a big deal.

“It doesn’t impact us at all. It’s the next guy up. It’s part of the business game,” Penn said of Mack’s absence. “Every guy in that locker room — I know how it is, I’ve been through it three times already in my career — those guy know how the business side of this. They know as a professional athlete, when you’re not here, you have to take care of yourself and I know Khalil’s out there working his butt off just like I was when I was holding out.”

In fact, Penn thinks Mack’s absence has actually been a good thing.

“We want him here, but I don’t think it’s affecting us, I think it’s helping us,” said Penn. “We know what Khalil can do, everybody knows what Khalil can do. Now we got guys like [Arden] Key and all these guys getting reps out there. We got Fadol [Brown] who’s coming out here just balling, he’s having a great camp. My hat’s off to him and Key, they’re both having a great camp. Give these guys reps, give these guys time to grow. It kind of helped when I was hurting this offseason because Kolton [Miller] has been able to get all those reps and been able to grow and get better and help us as a team when Khalil does get here and we go full force.”

Penn said he spoke to Mack prior to the team’s second preseason game against the Rams, and he said Mack was “In good spirits”. But if the next time the Raider face the Rams in the season opener, Mack isn’t back in uniform, there won’t be any cause for good spirits then.

When the games start counting, this team absolutely cannot be without its best player. At least Penn understands that.

“I hope and a pray it gets done real fast because he and Derek are the heartbeat of this team,” Penn added.

He speaks for an entire organization and fan base with that statement.