Khalil Mack has been one of the NFL’s most dominant defensive forces of the last few years, and a bright spot on an Oakland Raiders defense that has struggled. So the idea that Oakland may trade away the 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year once sounded too ridiculous to be true.
But that’s changing. Reports started coming in Friday as teams made their roster cuts that the Raiders were indeed getting serious offers for Mack, and that a trade might really happen. By Saturday morning, news broke that the Raiders and Bears reached a deal to trade Mack.
The Bears dealt two first-round picks and more to the Raiders to get Mack. Here’s all the info on the trade.
On Thursday, a new report offered some insight into the situation between the Raiders and Mack. Several teams have asked and even thrown out some preliminary offers to no avail. Most believe that the Raiders don’t really have an interest in dealing the pass rusher, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. If they did, it would take a premium offer to pry him loose from Oakland, potentially a pair of first-round picks.
Is that realistic? Let’s take a look.
Mack is a 27-year-old cornerstone the Raiders should be building around for years to come. But with the 2018 regular season around the corner, the team expects to begin the year without Mack due to a contract holdout that has no end in sight.
The linebacker is entering the final season of the contract he received when he was drafted No. 5 overall in 2014. Under the fifth-year option of the deal, Mack is set to make $13.846 million in 2018, but he’s aiming for much more.
Mack is reportedly targeting a contract that pays him “in excess of $65 million” guaranteed. The record for guaranteed money for a defensive player still belongs to Ndamukong Suh, who received just shy of $60 million from the Dolphins in 2015, but Mack wants to top that with a number that only quarterbacks have ever received.
His holdout has coincided with one for Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald. The 2017 Defensive Player of the Year is reportedly close to a contract that’d pay him $80 million guaranteed and $22 million per year. Mack would likely want a similar amount.
That’s evidently too rich for the Raiders, because they haven’t seemed interested in making any progress on a new contract for Mack. With the star out of action, and no sign that a new deal is on the way, the situation has devolved into a “pay him or trade him” conversation, according to Yahoo.
If the Raiders lose faith that a new contract with Mack will get done, they may decide they’re better off getting what compensation they find on the trade market. The New York Jets have already reportedly come calling with interest in the pass rusher, and Pro Football Talk says four teams have serious interest.
But what would a trade for Mack look like if it actually happens?
What could the Raiders get for Khalil Mack?
With 36.5 sacks in the last three seasons — second only to the Cardinals’ Chandler Jones — Mack is an elite player at a premium position. He’s also in the prime of his career and can probably be counted on to crank out double-digit sacks on an annual basis.
The only major negative to trading for Mack is inheriting the Raiders’ problem: his contract.
A team trading for Mack would likely want to know ahead of time that it’s getting a player who will sign a long-term deal and won’t jump at the chance to reach free agency in 2019. So to facilitate any kind of trade, the Raiders would likely need to allow Mack and his representatives to hunt for a trade partner on their own.
And if a team that chooses to trade for Mack is able to sign the pass rusher to a deal, it means a significant portion of their salary cap will now be dedicated to the new addition. That’ll likely dissuade some teams, but there will still be others willing to pay big for a rare player.
Earlier in August, CBS Sports’ Joel Corry reached out to former Eagles president and Browns CEO Joe Banner about the cost to acquire Mack:
“I think the range is a 1, 3 and 7 on the low end to two 1s on the high end. A lot also depends on how high the 1 is. Maybe it’s a 1 and 2 if it’s fairly high, or two 1s if it’s lower,” said Banner. “Maybe a team would be smart to include a 1 with a quality player. Or a 1, a middle pick and a quality player. He (Mack) is as good or better than any of the players we have seen involved in these kind of trades.”
In recent seasons, Sam Bradford, Brandin Cooks, and Jimmy Graham have been involved in trade packages that included first-round picks. But Mack’s an even better player and the Raiders will likely want more than just a first-rounder, especially if it comes from a team that’s a playoff contender.
Which teams could be interested?
Every franchise in the NFL would love to have a player of Mack’s caliber added to the roster, but there’s a slimmer list of teams ready to dish out a contract that potentially tops $20 million per year.
Still, PFT’s report that four teams are seriously interested in Mack also says “as many as a dozen teams” have considered the trade. According to OddsShark, there are three clear favorites to make the deal happen:
New York Jets
The Jets invested heavily in the defensive line with four first-round picks in five years, picking Muhammad Wilkerson, Quinton Coples, Sheldon Richardson, and Leonard Williams between 2011 and 2015.
Only Williams remains after the Jets cut Wilkerson and Coples, and traded away Richardson. That has left little talent in New York’s front seven.
In 2017, the team’s leading pass rusher was Demario Davis, who finished with just five sacks and now, he too, is on another team.
The team is in desperate need of pass-rushing help. In addition to reaching out to the Raiders about Mack, the Jets reportedly contacted the Jacksonville Jaguars about a possible trade for defensive end Dante Fowler Jr.
New York is the league leader in cap space for the 2019 season, so it wouldn’t be difficult to get something done. The Jets are without a second-round pick due to a trade to draft Sam Darnold in April, though. But if the Raiders believe the Jets are doomed for another losing season, the value of their first-round pick could win over Oakland.
Green Bay Packers
As long as Aaron Rodgers is healthy, the Packers are always a contender. But the team’s once fearsome pass rush is starting to come upon hard times.
Clay Matthews is now four years removed from his last double-digit sack season, and seventh-year defensive end Nick Perry still hasn’t played a 16-game season in his career. In 2017, the Packers finished below the league average in sacks for the first time since 2011 and made little moves to address the problem during the offseason.
The hurdle is that the Packers aren’t loaded with cap space during the 2018 season and still need room for a contract extension for Aaron Rodgers, which is likely on the way soon. But the good news for Green Bay is that it has two 2019 first-round picks thanks to a trade with the Saints during the 2018 NFL Draft.
The Packers have plenty of cap space in 2019 and beyond, so if they can find a way to do some clever maneuvering to clear room for both Rodgers and Mack to get gigantic deals, it’s a trade that’d make a contender even better.
The Bears were near the league lead in sacks during the 2017 season, but it was production by committee — Akiem Hicks was the only one who topped five sacks.
Chicago picked Leonard Floyd with a top 10 pick in 2016, but his production has been limited by injuries. Now he’s dealing with a broken hand, although the Bears are optimistic Floyd will be ready for Week 1.
This team could use a veteran pass rusher, and like the Jets, it has the money to pay for one. But also like the Jets, the Bears don’t have a second-round pick in 2019 after trading it away during the 2018 NFL Draft.
If the Jets and Bears offer similar trade packages, it’d be up to the Raiders to decide which team’s first-round pick is likely to be more valuable.
A year ago, the thought that the Raiders would trade away the best player on their subpar defense would’ve been absurd. Even now, it seems like a silly outcome, and one the Raiders should avoid by trying to find a price that’s fair for Mack.
Jon Gruden hasn’t yet coached a game in his return to the Raiders, but he risks immediately casting a dark cloud over his tenure and legacy if losing a player of Mack’s quality is one of the first consequences of his hire.
But with no progress on a new contract being made and the 2018 season now days away, a trade is a very real possibility.