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Jon Gruden says Khalil Mack “obviously didn’t want to play here”

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Oakland Raiders Introduce Jon Gruden Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Tonight marks the first game of the Jon Gruden Era Part 2 for the Oakland Raiders, and with tonight’s game in Oakland on ESPN, the network has been giving Gruden and the Raiders plenty of attention. Naturally, the question that comes up first is about Khalil Mack. Gruden pulled no punches when asked about the Mack situation.

“Obviously, Khalil Mack didn’t want to play here, that’s what’s being missed here. He was under contract, and he never showed up for an OTA, he never showed up for training camp, and it was obvious he wasn’t gonna show up for the season. So, don’t forget that. We have to get ready to play. And I want players that wanna be here, that wanna help us put this thing back in high gear,” said Gruden.

This is a pretty hardline stance from Gruden, considering that teams rarely let elite players actually play out their contracts and hit free agency. Quarterbacks and top-level edge rushers almost never reach the open market. In my view, to say ‘Mack was under contract’ ignores the work that should have been done to extend said contract.

But Gruden is also one coach known to talk in negative terms about players who are out with injury, as evidenced by the recent treatment of and candor about Obi Melifonwu and Martavis Bryant. If Gruden gets that fired up about players who are hurt, imagine how he feels about healthy players who simply don’t show up?

But, of course, hard feelings and second-guessing over this subject are going to continue no matter what.

The story here is about Cris Collinsworth’s statement during the Packers-Bears game that he spoke with Mack, who told him that a phone call from Gruden could have made him feel more wanted and helped negotiations. The problem with that is that Gruden doesn’t seem the type of guy to reach out to make anyone feel better, and it’s also unlikely that Gruden calling up and saying ‘Hey we need you here buddy’ would have brought Mack’s asking price down a few million dollars a year. The Raiders had a budget, and Mack wanted more. As we saw from last night’s game, he was certainly worth what he was asking, but the Raiders were unwilling to meet that price.

The only thing that’s truly going to make this story go away is Jon Gruden and the Raiders winning, and winning a lot. That will be harder to do without Khalil Mack, but the Raiders are potent on offense and have some terrific young pass rushers and a far more competent coaching staff than last season.

Mack’s effort with the Bears still resulted in a loss, which does not at all diminish his individual accomplishments but does show the importance of having a franchise quarterback, which the Raiders do. The Raiders beating the Rams tonight would go a long way toward putting this story to bed and getting some heat off the Raiders organization.