Left tackle Donald Penn let up just one sack in 2016 for the Oakland Raiders, and it ended up derailing their season.
Now, his absence could do the same before regular season action even kicks off.
The 10-year veteran blindside protector is sitting out of the team’s training camp activities in hopes of getting a larger pay day. He’s missed all 10 days of camp since it began on July 31, ironic considering that he’s never missed a regular season game since his rookie year in 2007.
General manager Reggie McKenzie has stated publicly that he’s sympathetic to Penn’s desire for more money. However, he’s also made it clear that negotiations will only begin once Penn reports to the team’s training camp in Napa, California. Conversely, Penn has decreed he will not appear at camp until he has a new contract.
Thus, we are at an impasse.
Penn’s MIA status could result in disaster for the Raiders. Newcomer Marshall Newhouse, who was expected to start at right tackle, lining up at left tackle, while top backup Vadal Alexander has been stationed on the opposite side. The former actually performed well as a pass protector for the New York Giants last season, but was awful opening up running lanes. Meanwhile, the latter was slightly worse at pass blocking, but a bit better as a run blocker. Fourth round rookie David Sharpe is around as well to fill in as needed.
Penn, on the other hand, earned a top five run blocking grade for Pro Football Focus‘ 2016 rankings, and as stated in the opening paragraph, let up just one sack, though it was the play that caused quarterback Derek Carr to break his fibula and miss the Raiders’ lone playoff game, along with their last regular season game. Penn himself actually missed the playoff game as well, which did not make things easier for then rookie QB Connor Cook.
The situation is difficult to analyze. Penn is earning a base salary of $5.8 million, with a potential for just over $1 million more in incentives. His beef is with how that figure compares to every other offensive lineman in the league, including some of his teammates. Penn is 19th in total cash earnings for starting left tackles in the NFL, while fellow Raiders Kelechi Osemele, Rodney Hudson and Gabe Jackson are 3rd, 5th and 8th at their respective positions. Taking all this into account, Penn’s grievances are legitimate; he’s a top 10 left tackle earning much less than what his performance is worth.
However, at the same time, this is the last season on the 34-year-old Penn’s current contract. McKenzie’s argument is most likely something along the lines of “I know you deserve more money, but wouldn’t it be better for you to go out and equal/improve on last year’s performance and then get your last big contract?” It makes sense.
Still, the Raiders have just over $13.5 million in team cap space, so it might work out better for everyone involved if they extend Penn’s contract now so he can get back on the field. After all, the team doesn’t want Carr on the sidelines again.