Raiders

Khalil Mack missing as Raiders mandatory minicamp begins

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AP

Khalil Mack missing as Raiders mandatory minicamp begins

ALAMEDA -- Khalil Mack isn’t in the Bay Area, wasn’t present Tuesday to begin the Raiders’ mandatory minicamp, and isn’t expected for any part of the three-day session.

That decision’s part of Mack’s decision to skip the team’s offseason program while waiting for a big-money contract extension. He missed the strength and conditioning workouts and OTAs. Those sessions were voluntary.

This minicamp is not. The offseason program’s capper is mandatory, which officially makes Mack a holdout.

Raiders head coach Jon Gruden isn't thrilled about it, but he isn't losing sleep over Mack missing three practices in June. He would, however, love to see him working in Paul Guenther's defense. 

"One of the big reasons I came here was to coach that man," Gruden said Tuesday afternoon. "I don’t want to speculate. There are several guys around the league in similar situations. We’re trying to resolve it as soon as possible and, in the meantime, coach the players that are here."

The Raiders can fine him for missing the entire minicamp, though fines are levied at team discretion and can be erased down the line if they are given.

While Gruden wouldn't discuss whether the Raiders would fine Mack, such financial penalties won’t be a significant issue for either side. Mack and the Raiders want to work out a contract extension this offseason. Total compensation is obviously the sticking point. Mack could easily set the market for defensive players. NFL Network reporter Steve Wyche said earlier this offseason he was looking for $65 million guaranteed – Von Miller got $70 million guaranteed from Denver two years ago – on what could be a nine-figure contract.

The Raiders budgeted for Mack’s big payday, but are trying to find a balance and way to pay him, quarterback Derek Carr and several high-priced offensive lineman while maintaining a level of future financial flexibility under the salary cap.

Mack is currently under contract, set to make $13.84 million under a fifth-year team option available for first-round draft picks. It if fully guaranteed.

Mack doesn’t want to risk injury in an offseason practice. If he suffers a serious injury, the mega deal could vanish before his eyes.

Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is in a similar position, choosing to skip offseason work looking for a new deal. The first player in this pair to sign could set a market the other could exceed, creating a slow play that might impact the timing of both deals.

The Raiders hope Mack signs before training camp starts in late July. Both Carr and right guard Gabe Jackson signed in the dead period between the offseason program and training camp.

It’s uncertain if Mack’s deal will get done in time. While he hasn’t been part of the Raiders offseason program under new head coach Jon Gruden and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, there’s no doubt he remains in excellent shape. Guenther said he’ll have a plan to catch Mack up once he arrives, especially after missing so much scheme installation. Mack’s absence isn’t a serious concern at this stage, but that could change if the stalemate carries well into training camp.

His presence is missed by teammates, but they know prime Khalil Mack will be ready when he returns. 

"He’s taking care of his situation, and we respect it," safety Karl Joseph said. "The other guys have done a good job learning the system, but you can’t replace a guy like Khalil. When he’s ready to come back, we’ll be ready for him." 

Derek Carr in prime position for huge Raiders season

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Derek Carr in prime position for huge Raiders season

Derek Carr reports Tuesday for his sixth Raiders training camp, his fifth as an unquestioned starter. He snatched the top job as a rookie second-round pick and never let go, weathering an early rebuild that produced an all-too-short-lived competitive renaissance and a lucrative contract.

The Raiders dipped yet again, with Carr drawing ire intensified by a then-record $125 million deal that seems pedestrian by today’s standards. A legitimate MVP candidate back in 2016 is now subject to regular slings and arrows for a downturn that completely isn’t his fault.

Carr’s partly culpable for a 10-22 record since 2016. Stats are nice, but franchise quarterbacks are judged on wins and losses.

He obviously played a role in offensive struggles, but there are mitigating factors here that can’t be ignored. Carr can’t protect himself. He didn’t cycle through offensive play callers, skill players and head coaches. He didn’t trade Khalil Mack or embark on another roster rebuild. He showed up and worked and said the right things and tried to adapt to difficult circumstances.

Mention those points and you’re an apologist.

Hammering well-worn criticisms is easy and more accepted, but saying that he’s at-times skittish, too sensitive, can’t handle head coach/play caller Jon Gruden means you’ve just joined the chorus.

Uneven stat lines foster debate, providing fodder for both sides of the Carr aisle.

Let’s paint a fuller picture here, of a cannon-armed quarterback dealt some crappy hands who has also fallen below lofty, yet realistic expectations in recent seasons.

Carr can make every throw. He’s smart and sneaky fast. The bar is and should be high. After all, that’s where he sets it.

Carr flew under it last season, but…was under constant duress last season playing with two rookie offensive tackles. He had no one to throw to last season save Jared Cook. Despite all the tongue-in-cheek rhetoric last summer about Carr knowing Gruden’s system better than its creator, the quarterback was transitioning between systems. All that and he still set career marks in completion percentage, total yards and – this won’t fit the popular narrative -- yards per attempt despite being sacked and pressured more than ever.

That’s well and good, but you just can’t throw it away on a last-ditch fourth down to secure defeat, even if the play was never going to work. You can’t throw picks in the end zone, especially late in games. Even 16 career fourth-quarter comebacks won’t excuse that.

Carr’s performance is a polarizing, easily argued topic that depends on perspective and willingness to accept context.

This season should provide a clearer, more objective look at the quarterback.

Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock stacked the skill positions and spent heavily to secure the offensive line.

When Carr thrives well protected and feels safe in the pocket. Having Antonio Brown and Tyrell Williams are excellent creating separation and winning receptions in the air, Having them in the pattern should provide confidence making riskier decisions. Josh Jacobs and the running game should provide balance.

A second straight year with the same play caller in the same offensive system, a luxury Carr has experienced just once before as a pro, should also provide great benefit.

Carr still can’t play defense, so he can’t completely control outcomes, but he’s in solid position to have an excellent year and find 2016 form, when he ranked among the NFL’s best quarterbacks.

The football smarts and arm talent remains. The supporting cast is back, possibly better than ever. The situation seems ripe for a monster season and a resurgence that could quiet some critics and noise about Gruden looking harder at alternatives as Carr’s contract becomes easier to escape.

Sailing on the calm would be welcome after a few tumultuous seasons, but that privilege must be earned with on-field excellence. Entering his sixth season with quality around him, Carr’s in prime position to do exactly that.

Raiders training camp questions: Can Antonio Brown set new standard?

Raiders training camp questions: Can Antonio Brown set new standard?

Antonio Brown talked a good game at his Raiders introductory press conference. He vowed to set a new standard within the Silver and Black as a prime example of work ethic and accountability and, of course, by putting up crazy stats often under pressure.

He only has been through an offseason program since being traded from Pittsburgh, without much chance to back all that up. He has been excellent in spring opportunities to do so, showing great work ethic in private, behind closed doors as he does so often on social media.

The man practices so hard and so fast on every play that receivers can’t help but notice. He talks serious trash during drills, but has gained the respect of Raiders cornerbacks by helping them at times and always raising the level of competition.

Fans attending Raiders training camp in Napa starting this week will see incredible work rate firsthand.

He’s steady, dynamic and shockingly durable, the first Raiders offensive superstar since Jon Gruden’s previous head-coaching stint.

Superstars produce. If healthy, Brown will do that even in heavy coverage. He has six consecutive seasons with at least 101 receptions, 1,284 yards and eight touchdowns, all of them played with the spotlight shining bright. He has had more than 100 catches, 1,499 and 12 touchdowns in half of those years.

The best superstars also lead. That’s what Brown said he wants to do here. That effort ramps up in training camp. He shouldn’t play much, if at all, in the preseason. Risking his health is foolish in meaningless games. He should push his teammates, and his quarterback to be better throughout this summer stint in Napa.

Brown is eccentric. Lots of players are. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially if the leadership by example trend continues and he helps elevate teammates by more than just drawing coverage.

The main question from now on is that effort’s sustainability through training camp’s dog days. And, what if the Raiders stumble out of the gate and struggle mightily through a grueling schedule? How will he react then? What if Carr struggles some finding Brown as well or as often as he did with the Steelers? While it didn’t end well with the Steelers, Pittsburgh never finished below .500 while Brown was there, and averaged 10.4 wins per season. We simply don’t know how he’d adapt to steady losing if that happens because he hasn’t been through it as a pro.

[RELATED: Five incredibly bold predictions for 2019 Raiders season]

Brown will set a new standard for work rate and production around here, but maintaining it through tough times might be equally important.