It’s been nearly 72 hours since news broke that the Oakland Raiders had traded their best player and defensive end Khalil Mack and I’m still not sure I’ve moved past the grieving stage yet.
On the cusp of what figured to be a season of excitement and promise, things unraveled Saturday morning when head coach Jon Gruden sent the former 2016 Defensive Player of the Year packing in exchange for draft picks that will have no impact on the upcoming 2018 NFL season.
It was the end of an odd series of events that began with Mack’s holdout because the Raiders refused to meet his contract demands — demands that surely increased last week when Aaron Donald (2017 Defensive Player of the Year) signed what was temporarily the largest deal for a defensive player in league history ($86 million guaranteed).
As I’ve tried to process all that went on, I’ve come to three conclusions that I think best summarize the confusion and disappointment:
1. Not wanting to pay Mack is the only defensible part of this whole deal
If it were up to me, I’d have paid Mack whatever he was asking for, but it’s clear the Raiders saw things differently. They had a number and they weren’t going to budge and — as Gruden said — when Mack’s asking price went up, the Raiders knew there was no hope.
$90 million guaranteed is a lot of money for a player who plays just one of 11 starting defensive positions. Unlike the NBA, one player — non-quarterback — can’t carry an entire team. Regardless of how good Mack was (and he’ll be a Hall of Famer one day), without help around him, the Raiders defense remained mediocre.
You can make the argument that the $23 million a year Mack will be due once his extension hits can be split into two or three really good players in a way that might actually improve the team down the road. Again, that’s not the argument I’d feel good making, but I can at least agree with the thought process. This, however, is where the logic and the sense seem to end.
2. The timing of this deal was catastrophically bad
Even if the Raiders decided they didn’t want to pay Mack, there was zero — I repeat, ZERO — pressure on them to act impatiently. Entering the fifth year of his rookie contract, Mack was going to be forfeiting over $800,000 for every game he didn’t show up for. And if he missed too many games, then his fifth-year option would reset for the following season. Simply put: he was going to show up eventually.
Beyond that, because of the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, the Raiders could have given him the franchise tag for two additional seasons. In total, the Raiders had Mack under team control for three seasons and there was nothing he could do about it.
And yet, they panicked.
The irony here, of course, is they were so worried about him holding out and not showing up that they traded him — meaning, well, yeah, he won’t be showing up anymore. The Raiders could easily have waited until after this season — or even after next season before trading him and it’s hard to imagine that the market price would have gone down at all.
3. The return on this deal was also catastrophically bad
The Raiders had all of the leverage and they had stated their price: two first round picks or else we’re hanging up. On the surface, it seemed silly and foolish, but it made sense given point No. 1 that they’d be willing to listen. When news broke that they had, in fact, gotten two firsts from Chicago, it softened the blow a bit.
But then the full details of the trade came out: the Raiders were sending a second round pick to Chicago in addition to one of the five best players in the league.
To call this a trade for two first round picks is a farce. When you do the math on draft valuation, the Raiders got significantly less than two first rounders — and all from a team they just made significantly better in the process.
In sum, the move — even a few days later — is as depressing and shocking as it was Saturday morning. The Raiders enter the new season without their best player and they have nothing to show for it. Add in the fact that their coach — who has been criticized for being out-of-touch — appears to be validating all of his critics, and any hope that Raiders fans had for this season has to be dwindling.