Oakland Raiders

Why the Khalil Mack trade might’ve been worth the pain for the Raiders

Defensive end Khalil Mack and quarterback Oakland speak on the sideline before a 2016 game. Mack was traded before the 2018-19 season.
Defensive end Khalil Mack and quarterback Oakland speak on the sideline before a 2016 game. Mack was traded before the 2018-19 season. AP

The Raiders were torched for shipping a potential Hall of Fame edge player like Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears before last season, and the deal has come back into focus this week given the match-up Sunday at Tottenham Stadium in London.

No one trades such a transcendent talent, especially when Mack also has every positive quality you could want in terms of work ethic and team play.

The Raiders were a running joke (and a passing joke and a defensive joke) after dealing Mack en route to 4-12, with the Bears going 12-4 and winning the NFC North.

The Raiders-Bears game isn’t a referendum on the trade, which brought the Raiders a pair of first-round draft picks and a sixth-round pick with the Bears getting Mack, a second-round pick and a conditional fifth-round pick.

But when it’s all sorted out over the next few years, it’s no lock the Bears will have gotten the better of it. The guess here is that faced with the same dilemma, each team would do the same thing.

Here’s why:

The Raiders weren’t going to pay Mack

Go ahead and make the argument that Mack is worth being the highest paid defensive player in NFL history. He certainly looks the part. But the Jon Gruden-led Raiders had no intention of parting with a maximum of $141 million and $90 million guaranteed. If a pair of former linebackers like Jack Del Rio and Reggie McKenzie were making the call, then maybe Mark Davis writes the check.

Under Gruden (and now assisted by Mike Mayock), no defensive player is worth that kind of money. Gruden is an offensive coach and it’s an offensive league. The Raiders have committed more than $93.2 million under the salary cap to offense and $61.8 million to defense. The Bears have $76.3 million tied up in offense and $89.4 million on defense. Two completely different philosophies.

The Raiders paid their quarterback, Derek Carr, before Gruden and Mayock arrived.

Make no mistake, the Raiders weren’t the only team in the league that wouldn’t have paid Mack. Bill Belichick has his quarterback in Tom Brady and recycles his defense most every year. Defensive stars like Richard Seymour got dealt when huge paydays came due.

If you’ve already determined Mack isn’t going to get the money he wants, you can play hardball and attempt to force him to play under a fifth-year option (and a possible franchise tag in 2020), or risk a holdout that could go well into the season on a rebuilding team.

Or you can get what you can in terms of future picks, and essentially let a player who gave you everything he had and then some get his best possible deal.

Josh Jacobs is part of the Mack package

Jacobs, taken with the Chicago pick at No. 24, is already easing the pain somewhat.

“I think both teams are winning the trade,” Carr told reporters Wednesday in London. “I think if you can get Khalil Mack on your team, you’re winning, and if you can get Josh Jacobs on your team, you’re winning. I think that’s the best way to do it.”

Jacobs is an early front-runner for offensive rookie of the year honors and has the look of a back who could be the best the Raiders have had since Marcus Allen and the 20 games where Darren McFadden played up to his potential in 2010 and 2011. He’s on pace for a 1,200-plus yard season and leads all rookies with 307 yards rushing.

By NFL economics, no running back is worth anything near a premiere edge player, but Jacobs isn’t all the Raiders get. There will be another first-round pick arriving next year.

Dealing Mack made the Raiders more aggressive

With Mack gone, the Raiders had little choice but to start spending in free agency to go along with the draft. They brought in Tyrell Williams, Trent Brown, Lamarcus Joyner and made an ill-fated deal to bring in Antonio Brown.

Dollar for dollar, Mack would have cost much less than that. Yet there is little doubt the whole approach changed once Mack was gone and there was flexibility to make those expenditures.

Even with what went down with Antonio Brown, the Raiders in terms of total roster talent are likely better without Mack than with him.

Gruden was forced to commit to younger players

When Gruden came aboard and wasn’t thrilled with the roster, he went about remaking it with veterans. The Raiders were adept at doing that when Al Davis was calling the shots and Mike Lombardi and Chet Franklin were bringing in the likes of William Thomas and others a tad past their prime but still productive. Gruden’s roster in 2018, however, was too old and too slow.

By stockpiling draft picks, not only with Mack but the Amari Cooper trade chips, the Raiders had no choice but to get younger and faster. Toward that end, Gruden brought in Mayock to help him sift through the draft process. The result is a roster that currently has 13 rookies — draft picks and undrafted free agents — on the 53-man roster.

Snap your fingers and the Raiders went from one of the oldest teams in the NFL to one of the youngest.

Mack, for what its worth, has moved on. Part of Mack has to be grateful the Raiders helped make him the highest paid defensive player ever, even if he never envisioned leaving Oakland.

“That’s the expectation when you get drafted to a team,” Mack told reporters in Chicago. “You want to be there for the long haul and bring championships and all those good things. But the business side of it doesn’t let you do that.”

If Carr throws four touchdown passes and the Raiders win Sunday, they didn’t win the trade. Nor did they lose it if Mack has three sacks, forces a fumble and the Bears win.

But in the end, the deal may make a lot more sense for the Raiders than anyone would’ve thought.

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