Khalil Mack trade: Bears' bold move worthwhile but risky, Raiders waving a white flag on 2018
The Bears defense could be pretty interesting for the 2018 season, while there is not much to like about Oakland's decision
Credit Bears GM Ryan Pace for following the advice of Bill Watterson and deciding that today, he will go for gusto, deciding Saturday to former Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack. It's a bold, brash move that should excite Bears fans for the immediate future and boost expectations for a team already considered a trendy offseason sleeper.
It's also an extremely risky move for Chicago, although any disappointment in the immediate wake of the deal almost certainly belongs to those who bleed Silver and Black.
Let's look at what this trade means for Raiders and Bears, who appear to be speeding in opposite directions as the 2018 season approaches.
Huge risk as Chicago shoves all in on Trubisky's window
All offseason we've wondered, "Who are the 2018 version of the Rams?" and it's hard to find a team with a better shot at it than the Bears. It feels like Pace printed off the Rams' transaction sheet and treated it like a checklist.
The biggest hallmark of Los Angeles' success, along with the Philadelphia Eagles, has been maximizing their aggressiveness in building the roster while dealing with a young quarterback on a cheap contract. The Bears are in the same situation, and credit them for getting bold with the Mack trade here.
Having Mitchell Trubisky, entering his second year, on a rookie contract gives the Bears massive flexibility with the cap, the kind of room that allows you to give a guy like Khalil Mack a deal worth $22.6 million per year ( ). And this is what you're supposed to do if you're Pace: draft a franchise quarterback high, surround him with weapons (the Bears signed Allen Robinson, Trey Burton and Taylor Gabriel this offseason) and pounce on opportunities to acquire game-changing players.
Mack is absolutely that. He is a two time All-Pro, a guy with 40.5 sacks in his first four years in the NFL and one of the most dominant forces off the edge in the entire league. Call him the second-best defensive player in the league, behind only Donald, and no one should flinch.
Chicago's defense, under the capable guidance of Vic Fangio, has a chance to be very good if the starters stay healthy. Up front, the Bears feature Eddie Goldman, Akiem Hicks, and Jonathan Bullard. Mack and 2016 first-round pick Leonard Floyd will come off the edge as 3-4 outside linebackers; it's a terrifying pair and could result in a breakout season for Floyd, who won't see many double teams, if any.
Rookie first-round pick Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan man the interior at linebacker and form a very nice combo there. Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara are the biggest health risks, but they're a very good corner duo. Eddie Jackson made plays last year, and if the worst thing you can say about a defense is "I might not love Adrian Amos as the other starting safety," then you have a very good defense.
The Bears offense has gotten all the attention, but with the addition of Mack, the defense could take a leap.
Having said all that -- the Bears' decision here is not without risk. Trading two future first-round picks is how you put yourself in trouble down the road in terms of building a roster with cheap stars. The Bears are a viable playoff contender, but they also might be a year away. Even with Mack on the roster, their over/under is just 7.5 games (it moved up Saturday following the news), and it's largely because of the division they play in.
Even if Trubisky takes a leap and the defense remains an above-average unit, the Bears could still win eight or nine games and end up as the third-best team in their division. The Vikings are loaded after making splashy moves of their own this offseason, including acquiring Kirk Cousins in free agency. The Packers are getting Aaron Rodgers back; if he plays 16 games, the Packers are going to win at least nine or 10 of them.
The Bears could have a great season in each of the next years and still surrender a pair of top-15 picks. If that makes you nervous as a Bears fan, consider this: would you rather have Khalil Mack, including the massive deal he'll get from Chicago, or would you rather have Bradley Chubb and Leonard Floyd? Because that's the theoretical worst-case scenario for the Bears: they aren't good even after adding Mack and give up a top-five pick (Chubb) and a top-10 pick (Floyd) that can be used to acquire pass rushers in back-to-back seasons.
The answer might be Mack there, too. Even the biggest Chubb/Floyd optimist can't know for certain what they'll become, and the absolute (and unlikely) ceiling for Chubb would be ... Khalil Mack.
For a team with an eye on making a move now in their division and conference, Mack is the play here, and a playoff berth or an above .500 record in 2018 would almost immediately justify it.
Raiders waiving the white flag until a Vegas move
For Oakland fans, 2018 just became a potentially crippling disappointment. With the trade of Mack, Jon Gruden is tacitly acknowledging this roster is not ready to compete, even in a conference with a wide open race for wild-card spots.
The short-term prognosis for the second rendition of the Gruden era in Oakland might be painful. That's just the reality when you trade away the best player on your roster because you don't want make him the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL. Theand former Raiders players should surprise no one.
The AFC West is wide open this year: the Chargers are the favorite, but they're still the Chargers. The Chiefs are switching from Alex Smith to Patrick Mahomes. The Broncos are trying to crack the QB code with Case Keenum. And Gruden, just months after signing a $100 million contract, essentially decided the Raiders can't make a run with the currently-constructed core.
Rumors about the cashflow available for Oakland have been swirling for months and weeks, and it shouldn't be a shocker. Mark Davis outlaid a bunch of cash for Gruden and is heavily leveraged with the move to Las Vegas and the stadium deal underway. Paying Mack the richest defensive deal in NFL history might not have been viable from a fiscal perspective.
(Quick aside: Ignore anyone who suggests that Mack would take less than Donald. Regardless of where you think they slot next to each other, whoever signed second was always going to make more. CBS Sports Joel Corry correctly pointed out that Mack's agent, Joel Segal, once negotiated $14.1 million a year for Patrick Peterson shortly after Richard Sherman signed for $14 million a year. He did the same for Justin Houston after J.J. Watt's $100 million deal. Mack was going to make more than Donald before and still is. End of story.)
There is good news in this trade, but it largely comes for Raiders fans who live in Las Vegas. With the team expected to move ahead of the 2020 season, the Raiders will be rolling into town fresh off acquiring five first-round picks in the span of three years. That's how you set up a team to slingshot into the future.
And the picks are potentially lottery tickets too: if the Raiders are worse than people expected this year (and they should be with Mack now gone), they will get high picks based on their own performance. Mack will improve the Bears, but as noted above, Chicago still resides in a tough division. Things could go right and the Bears could still finish 7-9 or 8-8. Things could go south and they might have to give up a top-10 pick next year.
For a team unwilling to pay the price for keeping Mack around over the long haul, the gamble of adding talent across the roster, saving some cash and setting the club up for success as it enters a new city and era.
That success still hinges on Gruden's ability to select players, though. If he hits on these picks, the Raiders could be staring down a deep roster by the start of the 2020 season. If he misses, it will be a stark reminder of the difficulty in drafting players -- the Raiders gave away a former top-five pick who came out of the gate on a Hall of Fame track through four years.
Gruden's long-term legacy has a lot left to be written, but from the jump it's willing to question what direction the Raiders are taking, because it is not a positive one for 2018.
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