It’s still unfathomable to think the Oakland Raiders could not come to terms with their best player. Still, it happened and there are still questions.
Trading players can be an arduous task. It hurts more than a kick to the stomach when it involves your best player.
I learned defensive end Khalil Mack was getting traded just as I was going to bed Saturday night. Exhausted after a four-hour plane flight, I had a few irrational thoughts about the Raiders trading their superstar to the Bears.
As I write this a day later, I am a mix of confusion and realization. As difficult as it might be to comprehend, I understand some of the rationale behind the difficult decision to trade No. 52 for what is essentially two first-round draft picks. However, there are a few questions that deserve answers from Oakland’s leaders:
Why did the Raiders trade Mack now and not during the draft earlier in the year?
All signs point to the fact the Raiders didn’t believe they were going to let him go at any time in the future. At that time, there was no suggestion things had gone awry between the team and the player.
If that’s the case, why did the Raiders trade him now and not before the 2019 draft?
By trading Mack now, the pick value decreases given Mack will spend a season with his new team and, therefore, likely impact their draft position. Additionally, he was under contract for another year, and the Raiders had the ability to designate him with the franchise tag for two more seasons. There was no impetus to get things moving in the immediate term, especially when the traded picks don’t have any material value until the time they can be used on a player.
General Manager Reggie McKenzie said Saturday the Mack trade came about quickly and “just kind of hit.” McKenzie’s statement reeks of insufficient communication among the organization’s leaders, and between the team and Mack.
Sadly, a similar incident occurred in 2014, when wide receiver DeSean Jackson — arguably the best deep threat in the game at the time — was a free agent. He had notified at least one prominent fellow player that he wanted to sign with the Raiders. Just as they did with Mack, the Raiders showed little initiative and slow-played the process. The Raiders were unprepared and asked Jackson’s agent to them the last chance to make an offer. Naturally, the price grew beyond anything the Raiders were willing to pay and Jackson chose to sign with the Redskins. The communication and preparation from Oakland management were amateurish, just as it was with Mack.
Multiple people informed me the day before the trade that the Raiders expected Khalil to show up to practice this weekend. Why did they go from that stance to trading him in less than a day?
The only possible explanation is that the team panicked. They thought Mack wouldn’t show and were concerned his price would drop further, so they traded him to the highest bidder. As soon as the Raiders got the first-round picks they wanted, the rest was sheer semantics. The decision was clearly impulsive and wasn’t given proper consideration.
It is well known that neither owner Mark Davis or McKenzie were fully committed to trading their superstar player. What has been firmly established, if not apparent already, is coach Jon Gruden is running the Raiders.
On the flip side, there are some positives that can be taken from the trade. For starters, the Raiders never had Mack in the building this offseason. For all intents and purposes, he hadn’t committed to the team or built relationships with the new coaching staff and players. So far, the defense appears to be stronger and capable of a consistent pass rush in spite of Mack’s absence.
The trade reeks of something the Patriots would do. Gruden has consistently praised the Patriots, saying he wanted to emulate the organization’s working model in his return to Oakland. In that respect, the trade reflects the philosophy New England coach Bill Belichick uses in the making up his roster.
Since 2014, the Patriots have had just one player reach double-digit sacks in a season, and that was Chandler Jones with 12 1/2 in 2015. He was subsequently traded to the Arizona Cardinals the following offseason for a second-round pick and Jonathan Cooper, a throw-in player.
Ultimately it gave the Patriots more cap space to use on multiple players. The Patriots’ leading pass rusher the past two seasons was Trey Flowers, who only brought down the QB seven times in 2016, and 6 1/2 times last season. Despite its lack of a solid pass rusher, New England’s system provides depth across the roster, with balance on both sides of the ball. Of course, when the Patriots make these kinds of moves, they are already in a position of strength. By contrast, the Raiders are fighting to compete for a playoff spot.
The logic behind the Mack trade speaks to the very principles Belichick has applied in New England for more than 15 years. Receiving two first-round draft picks allows Oakland to bring in two highly-regarded young players on cost-controlled five-year contracts. Additionally, by not signing Mack to a long-term deal, it frees up salary to sign two solid starters for the same price it would have cost to sign Mack.
Of course, this is an incredibly risky way of doing business. But Gruden has a 10-year contract, and, as we have learned, it’s Jon Gruden’s world . . . everyone else is just living in it.