LONDON — Jon Gruden said at the time that he and the Raiders would be second-guessed until the cows came home.
Funny. Just up the road from where the team has practiced and stayed this week in preparing to meet the Bears, in a vast pasture adjacent to a spa resort shaped like an English castle from centuries ago, a collection of bulls and heifers lounge lazily.
I’ll tell you what. A year later, they still appear pretty suspect about the whole thing.
Oakland and Khalil Mack will encounter one another for the first time since the star defensive player was traded in September of 2018, the teams set to meet Sunday at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Chicago immediately made Mack the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history with a six-year contract extension worth $141 million, including $90 million guaranteed, $60 million of which came at signing.
Gruden as head coach followed by saying the Raiders were nowhere close to matching such guaranteed cash, so instead of prolonging the standoff, they looked to make a deal.
For better or worse
Holdouts are about term, and much of term is about money, and whether the Raiders could afford to venture into the sort of deal Mack eventually received or not, they weren’t going down that sort of financial road, for better or worse.
There has obviously been more of the latter since shipping him away.
“Sunday is going to be fun,” Mack said. “I can’t wait. Even keel. That’s me. The only point is to get the win.
“I’ve communicated with (past Raiders teammates) some but not this week. You can say the game is about the (trade) and all that, but ultimately this is the next team we need to beat. I don’t really care about all that other stuff. It’s football and I love to play and I know (the Raiders) love to play.”
Mostly, winning is an irrevocable occurrence.
It happens. One side rejoices and the other doesn’t.
But it’s not that simple when it comes to the Raiders trading Mack, not as uncomplicated as most want to believe.
If you grade the deal exclusively on individual talent, the Bears win then, now and forever. They received a generational edge rusher in his prime, a league defensive Player of the Year, now a four-time Pro Bowler who already owns 56 sacks at age 28. He’s pretty good.
There is little chance that those ultimately drafted by the Raiders with picks received in the trade — specifically two in the first round — will ever reach Mack’s premier status.
One, rookie running back Josh Jacobs, is off to an impressive beginning, having already set a franchise record for the most rushing yards (307) by a player in his first four career games. But it’s an incredibly small sample size.
The Raiders also own Chicago’s first-round pick in the 2020 draft, so let the guessing begin on who might be available when the selection arrives and at what position the Raiders will pursue.
Grading the deal on a team level is far different. Mack was an outstanding player for four seasons with the Raiders, but the team also ranked better than 22nd once in defensive efficiency — on how successful you are based on the down-and-distance of each play during a season — with him.
A diplomatic answer
He kept getting sacks and causing havoc and the Raiders kept allowing boatloads of points and yards, meaning while his greatness was never debated, it wasn’t so powerful that lesser players around him weren’t exposed.
Who won the trade? It depends on how you look at things — singularly or analytically. The Raiders could have perhaps kept Mack the rest of his career, but if they never developed and surrounded him with more skill, it’s not certain they would have ever generated a deep playoff run.
I’m not talking about the ridiculous level of defensive talent he now plays alongside in Chicago. I’m talking about enough of it where you’re not allowing 25-28 points a week.
“I think if you can get Khalil Mack on your team, you’re winning,” Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. “If you can get Josh Jacobs on your team, you’re winning. I think that’s the best way to put it.”
I’m not so sure those cows in the pasture agree with such a diplomatic stance.
But at least, for the Raiders sake, they haven’t come home to the castle just yet.
Contact columnist Ed Graney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.
Khalil Mack By the Numbers
2014 (Raiders): 16 games, 16 tackles for loss, 4 sacks.
2015 (Raiders): 16 games, 23 tackles for loss, 15 sacks.
2016 (Raiders): 16 games, 14 tackles for loss,. 11 sacks.
2017 (Raiders): 16 games, 15 tackles for loss, 10½ sacks.
2018 (Bears): 14 games, 10 tackles for loss, 12½ sacks.
2019 (Bears): 3 games, 2 tackles for loss, 3 sacks.