ALAMEDA – The Raiders regular season starts in less than two weeks. Their best player still isn't in Alameda. Khalil Mack hasn't been there since January, choosing to withhold services in search of a lucrative contract extension.
He doesn't have one yet. That prompted him to stay away during voluntary portions of the offseason program, and hold out when he was required to work.
Mack has missed mandatory minicamp, training camp in Napa and three preseason games to this point. Odds of him reporting before Thursday's exhibition are virtually nil.
None of that really matters. If he starts missing regular season games beginning Sept. 10, all that changes. That's a big deal for player and team.
The Raiders would take the field without their best player. Mack starts missing game checks. He's set to play under a fifth-year option worth $13.846 million, and would forfeit $814,470 in salary each week he stays away from the team.
Would Mack report just before the regular season, even without a new contract? That's uncertain at this point.
Deadlines, however, generate action.
Progress would provide a change in course. After checking in with sources with knowledge of the situation, they continue to say a pact is not close.
Also, the Raiders have no interest in trading Mack at this time. Zero.
Those things have been true for a long time now. The delay has not changed the team's desire to sign Mack to a contract extension, but there are clearly opposing views of what that deal should pay.
Sources also confirm a New York Daily News report that stated several teams have asked about Mack. Again, the Raiders don't want to trade him.
Principal players in these talks have kept quiet. General manager Reggie McKenzie hasn't provided insight on Mack contract talks. Agent Joel Segal hasn't spoken publicly about this deal. Mack, never one to seek the spotlight, has kept quiet during this period.
Head coach Jon Gruden is frequently asked about Mack, and said Monday he couldn't predict when his elite edge rusher would report.
"I don't want to put any timetable on it," Gruden said. "This has obviously been a long a process that has been grueling for both parties and fans and me personally. We're just hoping we can get him in here."
Gruden's right. This process has been a slog. There has been little progress, little information from principal players in the deal and lots of rumors circulating, some from left field.
The wackiest happened on Sunday, when Detroit sports talk radio host, a verified member of the media sporting a blue checkmark, said on Twitter that Mack was in town to speak with Lions GM Bob Quinn.
His source? A limo driver.
At that moment, at 5:48 p.m. on Sunday evening, the Khalil Mack holdout story jumped the shark.
An online sports book recently put odds on where Mack would play this season, and the Raiders aren't even the favorite.
That in itself is weird, wild stuff.
Despite all the noise, Gruden has said several times that Mack's holdout hasn't distracted his team, but admits that Mack is missed.
"His playmaking, his leadership, his presence -- great players, like Mack, have all of those things going for them," Gruden said. "They make people around them better. They make offenses account for you. If you're going to account for a Khalil Mack, you probably have to double team the guy and someone else is not going to have to deal with that. So, there are a lot of things that a great player brings to your football team. Hopefully, that's sometime soon."
Mack stays away when the Raiders want him here, learning new defensive coordinator Paul Guenther's scheme. Mack wants to gain long-term financial security in line with his market value.
The Raiders have some leverage. Mack is under contract, and have franchise tags at their disposal in future seasons. Mack would be expensive playing under the tag, but the Raiders could operate under a pay-as-you-go system for a while. One issue: if Mack continues to play at an All-Pro level, he won't get any cheaper. The market will go up and, after a while, the franchise tags get a bit too pricey.
That's why it would ultimately behoove the Raiders to get a deal done now. It would give Mack security he won't have working on one-year deals.
Left tackle Donald Penn understands what Mack is going through. He held out last preseason in search of a better deal he eventually got. While Mack's situation is exponentially more complex given the size and scope of a potential deal, Penn can relate to what Mack might be going through. He spoke to Mack recently, got a sense of his mood during this difficult stretch.
"I talked to Khalil right before the Rams game," left tackle Donald Penn said. "He's in good spirits. He's doing good. I'm just looking forward to getting him back. I know he wants to be back. He deserves everything he's going to get. I'll be happy for him when he gets it. "