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The Morning After: Post Khalil Mack era edition

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NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Oakland Raiders Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

If there ever was a situation in sports that required a cool off period, it’s now during the immediate aftermath of the Khalil Mack trade. Now that we are a little over 24 hours after the fact, maybe it’s time to have a less emotional look at what the Raiders just did. It’s still awful to think about having had such a great player and to have jettisoned them instead of paying for their services but it doesn’t have to mean the end of the world for this year’s Raiders.

Clearly this was a move designed to give Oakland more financial flexibility in the future for multiple positions instead of loading the deck at the one spot that Khalil Mack would have manned. There is rhyme to this reason, even if it stinks of the moneyball philosophy that Oakland A’s fans know so well and despise.

Whether you like the trade or not, the $23M per year contract that he signed with the Bears can be spent to improve several positions instead of just dominating the one. The Raiders defense is in need of help in several places with aging veterans playing key positions and a questionable secondary, and they did not improve their receiver corp like they had intended to do this past off-season either.

Jon Gruden was brought in here for the long haul, this is just year one of a ten year contract and with that type of commitment comes the building of the roster to match his vision. That is a terrifying proposition if you are a pessimist and/or are looking back at the roster moves he made in Tampa Bay as the coach of the Buccaneers, but it’s the commitment that Mark Davis has already made to Gruden.

The thing with only looking at Gruden’s time in Tampa and the failed moves since he took over like the Ryan Switzer, Martavis Bryant failures and this Mack trade is that it disregards that the Raiders did make some significant improvements too. As hard as it is to be positive, they did have what appears to be a hell of a draft with Maurice Hurst, P.J. Hall and Arden Key all looking like solid draft picks. If Kolton Miller or Brandon Parker manage to become starter quality offensive linemen then the impact of this past draft is already arguably larger than losing Mack to the Bears.

That’s not to say I’m alright with this trade, because I most definitely am not. Yesterday was a bad dream that had me looking like the walking dead for most of the day, but I do believe that the Raiders can still be competitive this year without Khalil Mack. It’s a punch to the nether regions losing him, but Oakland’s defense was a hot mess the last few years even with having him.

They are in position to be a better defense this year without him than they had been last year with him. They added some huge pieces to the defense to improve the overall quality of it, along with a defensive coordinator whose defensive scheme has been exciting to watch even just in preseason.

The interior pass rush is night and day better than it’s been the past decade and it’s not like they don’t have anybody decent as edge pass rushers. They don’t have Mack anymore, but they do still have a pissed off Bruce Irvin and a lot of potential in rookie Arden Key along with a much improved Shilique Calhoun and Fadol Brown.

It’s sad because with Mack this defense was starting to look like it could have been scary good, but I firmly believe they are going to be a better defense than they were last year. Couple that with a reinvigorated Derek Carr whose connection with Jon Gruden has gotten rave reviews so far and this team can still compete. They are not likely to be a powerhouse team or Super Bowl bound, but they weren’t that even before this trade happened.

The value of two 1st round picks in the rookie wage scale era is huge, they are more valuable than they have ever been. The scary part is it all depends on who they use those picks on, but if they use them well the impact could be amazing. Yeah, the pessimist in me wonders if they will pay those guys even if they do hit big on the picks but even that would be 5 years after their selections.

Those picks have the potential to improve the overall quality of the team very quickly with the players that Gruden envisions fitting into his plan. The impact of adding that many young, top draft picks in a short span is intriguing even if it did cost more than I’d ever have been willing to give up.

No doubt it’s a huge risk, but it’s already finished and it is time to adjust to the new reality. I do think they never should have had to trade down in the 2020 draft by giving up their 2nd for a 3rd round pick in the process though. Khalil Mack is the best defensive player to ever be traded in his prime, including anything else that benefits the Bears was completely absurd and I will never back down from that.

Oh well now though, it is what it is. It’s time for the new reality of the 2018 Oakland Raiders, it’s time for the post Khalil Mack era to begin. It still hurts to write that but it hurts a little less than yesterday and it will hurt a little less still tomorrow. That’s just life as a Raiders fan, we should all be used to being uncomfortable by now anyway.