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Why the Khalil Mack trade is not the end of the world

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NFL: New York Giants at Oakland Raiders Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no question that September 1 was one of the most heartbreaking days in Raider history. Losing Khalil Mack leaves a hole on the Raiders defense that cannot be filled, and a hole in the hearts of every Raider fan that will take time to heal.

When something like this happens, many of us will have an immediate and visceral reaction. We’ll curse the front office that let this happen and lose faith in the team itself. As fans that is our right. But we should also take time to look at the facts of the situation and judge it from an objective standpoint.

The facts are these: Khalil Mack did not report to training camp. Reggie McKenzie does not negotiate with holdouts, and Mack and his agent, Joel Segal, knew this very well. Aaron Donald signed a massive contract last week which would serve as a benchmark for Mack’s new deal. And still Mack did not come to Raider headquarters to work things out.

Many teams inquired about trading for Mack, and to do so they would not only have to fork over massive amounts of draft capital but also be able to sign Mack to the extension he sought.

“My whole thought process was to get Khalil (signed),” McKenzie said Saturday. “It was at the end, in the final hour, that it just hit. It hit hard and heavy. It was not a plan to trade him at all.”

“There were some things that weren’t meshing between the two proposals,” McKenzie said. “That made it hard to go into details. We were trying to figure out ways to get it done, but it wasn’t going to look like what Khalil wanted. The bottom line is he couldn’t come in. By him not coming in, it showed him we probably have to see what in the world is going to happen if this continues.”

Since it was not in the plan to trade Mack, the Raiders put an extremely high price on obtaining Mack in trade. The Bears were willing to match this price. The last time a team paid two first-round picks for a player was when Jay Cutler was traded from Denver to these same Bears.

According to Yahoo, McKenzie tried to hammer out a deal with Mack and Segal in February. McKenzie made an offer, and Segal countered. Whatever they countered with was well out of the realm of what McKenzie was comfortable with agreeing to. Talks since then didn’t happen very much, but what Mack was asking for likely looks similar to the extension he actually got: six years, $141 million, $90 million in guarantees. That is a LOT of money to someone who is not a quarterback, and especially for a team which is already paying a market-value deal to their franchise quarterback. Paying a defensive player a huge amount is really only palatable for teams whose quarterback is on a rookie deal. The Raiders were not going to give Mack that kind of deal, and he forced their hand.

But the Bears did give Mack that deal. They gave up two first round picks, a third and a sixth. That is a ton of compensation (some may say, not nearly enough for a future Hall of Famer like Mack), but it also makes this trade difficult to judge, because we don’t know who those draft picks will become next year or the following year. What we do know is, the Raiders invested three of this year’s picks in defensive linemen and all those players look to be quality. We also know that the 2019 draft is going to be chock-full of elite defensive linemen, so if the Raiders decide they need another edge rusher, they can go get one. Will he be on Khalil Mack’s level? No, nobody is. But there’s no reason to think that the Raiders defense this season will be worse than last season, Mack or no. The Raiders have a competent coaching staff this year, and the defense looked really promising during the preseason.

Furthermore, this move nets the Raiders plenty of cap space on a team which has several starters on one-year ‘prove it’ deals. If the Raider players do prove it, the Raiders have more freedom to re-sign them. And if not, the Raiders have lots of room to sign a number of quality free agents next season. A deal with Mack wouldn’t have precluded the Raiders from doing this, necessarily, but it would have given them far less flexibility to improve a team which has proven very little.

This move doesn’t do much to improve the Oakland Raiders, although it’s unclear how much it will hurt the team in a quantifiable sense. What the move does do is set the Las Vegas Raiders up for long-term success with four first-rounders in the next two years and improved ability to attract premier free agents. Perhaps that is distasteful for fans in Oakland, but it’s a necessity for Mark Davis, Reggie McKenzie and Jon Gruden.