Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie explains Khalil Mack trade, says they'll still 'pay top dollar to top players'
The Raiders traded their best player to the Bears, which is why the GM had some explaining to do
The Raiders shocked the world -- including their own players -- on Saturday morning when they sent Khalil Mack to the Bears in that and sent the Raiders to the bottom of the food chain. Raiders coach and football czar Jon Gruden won't speak to reporters until Sunday night, but on Saturday night, general manager Reggie McKenzie offered his version of the decision to trade away his best player.
But first, let's point out that McKenzie admitted that he will "miss" Mack, which could be important considering Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman already reported that one team executive told him, "It was crystal clear to me that Reggie didn't want to trade Mack." And that begs the question: Did McKenzie and Gruden agree on the decision to trade Mack?
It's also important given the way his players reacted to the trade:
"It's going to sting with them," McKenzie said, per NBC Sports Bay Area. "Players protect themselves and their teammates. That's how it should be. They're going to miss Khalil. I'm going to miss Khalil. We all will miss Khalil. Let's make that point known now. We all will miss him, but we will all move on."
According to McKenzie, the Raiders never really planned to trade Mack. It all just happened at the last minute.
"My whole thought process was to get Khalil (signed)," McKenzie said. "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."
Mack -- the fifth-overall pick in 2014 who's racked up 40.5 sacks in his career, won a Defensive Player of the Year award, and has been named First Team All-Pro twice -- entered the offseason needing a raise. He stayed away from the team during the summer. The presumption all along was that the Raiders would eventually give Mack the contract he wanted and deserved, because he's their best player -- because he's worth the money. But as, Mack's never did.
Some reports began to emerge about the possibility of a trade that would need to involveand sure enough, The Bears sent two first-round picks, a third-round pick, and a sixth-round pick to Oakland in exchange for Mack, a second-round pick, and a conditional fifth-round pick. Shortly later,
So where did it all go wrong for the Raiders?
"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."
The thing is, the Raiders had to have known Mack's contract extension was coming. Mack belongs to the same draft class as quarterback Derek Carr, who McKenzie insisted that Carr's contract, which pays him $25 million annually, had nothing to do with their decision to let Mack go.
"We knew we had two great players in that  draft a long time ago," McKenzie said. "We knew this thing was coming. We were trying to plan for this. Sometimes it just doesn't work out. That scenario did not weight heavily in our decisions."
The consequence of the trade isn't just that the Raiders are missing their best player heading into the new season, but also that it makes them look like a team that's apparently unwilling to pay top money for top players. McKenzie insisted otherwise, but the question remains: If the Raiders weren't willing to pay Khalil Mack, one of the best defensive players in all of football, who will they be willing to pay?
"We will pay top dollar," McKenzie said. "We couldn't get around giving Khalil what he wanted. We will pay top dollar to top players. We just could not get it worked out with Khalil. When it seemed like it was going that way, we decided to make a move with the trade. We will be able attract players. …We'll find a way to continue to play good football. We're not worried about the outside perception of free agency. We will get free agents in here when its time to do that and we will keep our own. Sometimes you can't keep them all. That's just the way it goes."
"Sometimes you can't keep them all" is a tough explanation for Raiders fans to swallow. Obviously, once a team starts paying a quarterback $25 million per year, they're not going to be able to pay all of their players. That's why we're seeing so many teams -- like the Bears, for one -- go all in while their quarterback is still playing under their rookie contract. The Raiders already paid Carr. That window of theirs is gone. Still, that doesn't mean it was impossible for the Raiders to keep Mack. Plenty of teams pay more than one player --- players who aren't nearly as good as Mack, which is why it's so puzzling the Raiders moved on from him.
Players like Mack don't come around often. The entire point of a first-round pick is that it gives teams a very slim chance to land a player of Mack's caliber. It almost never happens. Is there a chance that the two first-round picks the Raiders acquired turn into better (and cheaper) players than Mack? Sure. Is there a good chance? Not at all.
To make matters worse, the Raiders handed Mack over to a team that appears to be on the rise. If the Bears are good, then the draft picks they sent to Oakland won't be worth nearly as much. The Raiders are gambling on the Bears being bad to get the most out of the trade.
McKenzie revealed that wanting a high first-round pick factored into their decision to pick the Bears' offer when more than half the league inquired about Mack.
And now, we wait. For Gruden, the $100 million coach ultimately responsible for all the moves the Raiders make, to explain the trade. For Mack to play for the Bears. For the Raiders to use those draft picks. It'll be a while until we can fairly judge the trade and declare a winner. But consider the Bears the frontrunners in the race.
They're the ones who acquired a game-changing player. The Raiders are the ones who let a generational talent slip through their fingers even though the NFL, with its franchise tags, is designed to prevent that from happening.
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