Donald Penn has already beaten the Raiders with his holdout

Donald Penn has already beaten the Raiders with his holdout

When it comes to the football calendar, the stretch between June and August is easily my least favorite time of the year. The constant obsession over daily minutiae and second-hand observations that trickle out through all media sources, in conjunction with the thorough lack of meaningful football things happening is enough to make me want to clear my cache of all things tangentially football-related.

I don’t, of course, because I am a fiend. But I really want to.

Case in point: the biggest story out of Oakland Raiders camp this year is Donald Penn’s absence from it. As has been discussed ad nauseum for a little over a week now, Penn would like to be paid more money than he’s currently being paid to continue serving as the Raiders’ starting left tackle.

The latest update on that front is the report that the Raiders are asking Penn to report to camp before negotiating his new deal. Conversely, Penn has emphasized that he won’t report until his new deal is done.

There’s already been a few articles written here at Black Hole Banter about the situation and the potential impact/implications of it, so I’ll gladly skip over the rehashing of those details.

Instead, I’m simply here to tell you how it will end.

No, I’m not an insider with the level of access and prestige of, say, award-winning journalist and world-renowned podcaster Will Reeve Jr., editor of both the Raiders Wire and Chargers Wire news sites, and one of the most respected and recognized writers of our generation.

I do, however, possess a basic level of insight and the minimum amount of common sense required to be approved for a bank loan. And it’s very clear at this juncture that the Raiders need Donald Penn far more than he needs them. So, they gotta pay him.

And they will pay him. Soon.

When the two-year, nine million-dollar contract Donald Penn signed with the Raiders in 2014 expired at the end of last season, all cards were laid out on the table. Penn wanted a pay raise, and while he openly expressed his desire to stay with the Raiders, he made it clear that it was more important to be compensated at a level of his liking, and that if pressed, he would go elsewhere to get said compensation.

That was fine by the Raiders’ front office. Despite (or perhaps due to being comforted by the fact that they were his first choice) Penn’s public comments, they were content to let him to test the market. They responded by signing Kelechi Osemele as soon as free agency opened — a guard but would not only be more than willing to play LT, but had the capability to do so (and do so at a high level) if asked. In fact, the terms of his deal led many to speculate that the Raiders had signed Osemele with the full intentions of replacing Penn instead of lining them up next to each other.

Penn played decently in his two years with the Raiders up to that point, but was clearly on the backside of his career. That raised the question of what type of investment the Raiders should make in retaining, were one to be made at all.

Personally, I opined that while it would be nice to have Penn back for the sake of continuity, based on his play up to that point, as well as his age (33 at the time, with ten seasons under his belt) the Raiders shouldn’t offer him anything more than the median of what the LT market was at that point. The highest-paid LT in 2015 was Anthony Costanzo (surprised me too), who made a total of $18M that season (14 guaranteed, 4 in signing bonuses). Working strictly based off of the guaranteed money — the only money that matters in any walk of life — I assumed that number to be about $7M. At most, I thought the Raiders could give him $8 as a show of good faith for what would likely be his last contract.

Penn ended up signing what at base level is a two-year, $12M contract, which puts him at $6M per — a notch below the median, but pretty much on par with what I’d predicted in terms of where Penn was on the market.

But, that was then.

Yes, 2016 happened, and Penn played like and was consistently ranked by several outlets as one of the top three to five tackles in the league. He allowed exactly 1 sack over the course of the entire season, and the importance of that particular sack notwithstanding, his value to the team’s success was solidified by the abysmal showing Menelik Watson put on while filling in at left tackle for the AFC Wild Card game when Penn was sidelined with a knee injury.

We’ve now come full circle, and once again, the cards are on the table — except this time, the leverage is all Penn’s. Not only did the Raiders have options in March of 2016, they were free of the burden of lofty expectations — free of the national eyes, free of the spotlight, and still lurking in the shadows as an upstart.

But they don’t have that luxury now. There’s a top-five franchise quarterback to protect. There’s a legendary running back to block for. There are points to score and games to win, and doing any of those things becomes significantly more difficult without Donald Penn.

The Raiders (namely Reggie McKenzie) know that. They know how good Penn was last year. They also know how old he is. And they know that the likelihood of him replicating his performance from last season is on the wrong side of “probably”.

Most importantly, though, they know they don’t have anybody to comfortably replace him — especially not this close to the start of the season. They know that any variation or arrangement of the linemen currently on the roster is a downgrade without Penn, especially considering the preexisting challenge of answering the “starting right tackle” question. And they know that any injury (which is incredibly likely at probably the most violent/dangerous position in the game) can be the undoing of what is easily the most important Raiders season in over a decade.

It’s a masterstroke by Penn, and it should be applauded across the board.

Because as aware of all of the aforementioned factors as the Raiders certainly are, nobody is more cognizant of them than Penn. He knows he doesn’t have many more snaps to play, and the urgency to maximize the monetary value of those snaps is at an all-time high. No doubt, the way his knee gave out on him at the end of last season put a bug in his ear — I wouldn’t be surprised if this was his plan all along, nor would I blame him one bit were that the case.

Before you warm up your thumbs to tell me that “he signed a contract and he should honor it”, take pause to consider that word: contract. Donald Penn is not an employee of the Raiders. He’s an independent contractor, and the Raiders sought him out in particular for his services.

Anybody who does or has done contract work knows that while an agreement is set in place before services are rendered, the terms of those agreements can change at any time if/when the conditions of the project change. If you’re a plumber, and you bid a job at $500, only to discover once beginning that fixing the issue is going to require more material/effort/energy than you originally assessed, then it’s up to you to communicate that to your client. They have the option to decline the services, or pay you for the time you worked and find someone who will complete the work at a lesser rate.

What you wouldn’t do as the contractor in that situation is perform the work at the originally proposed rate if you were going to lose money as a result, because that defeats the purpose of doing it at all. As a contractor, your time is literally currency; you’re either making money for your time or using your to time find ways to make money.

Donald Penn is currently the 21st-highest paid LT in the NFL. Why would he waste what could be his last season playing at the pay rate of the 21st-highest paid LT in the league, when both his value and ability are clearly much higher than that?

So no —- Penn won’t (or at least shouldn’t) report to the team until he gets his pay raise. Reggie McKenzie can publicly jostle for power and make demands if he so chooses. But I can assure you, the last thing he wants is to entrust the blind side of his newly-minted, $100M quarterback to the likes of Marshall Newhouse.

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