Last Saturday, a shock wave rippled through Raider Nation as Jon Gruden and Reggie McKenzie sent star pass rusher, Khalil Mack, to the Chicago Bears for two first round picks.
During his time with the team, Khalil Mack had been a consummate professional and the definition of a home run first round pick. Mack worked hard, crushed it in the film room and the weight room alike, and terrorized quarterbacks for the Oakland Raiders. There’s not much all thirty-two teams wouldn’t give to have a player like him, and unfortunately for Raider Nation, the Bears were willing to prove that. Now, it’s time for Raider Nation to move on.
Khalil Mack and the Five Stages of Grief
Stage One: Denial
For the longest time, all of us argued that Khalil Mack wasn’t going anywhere. In fact, the Raiders echoed our sentiments, and reportedly, only decided to trade Mack at the last-minute. I even wrote an article in which I said I couldn’t imagine a world in which Khalil Mack wasn’t a Raider in 2018. It wasn’t until the verified NFL accounts started tweeting that the trade had actually happened that any of us believed it was even possible.
Screenshot this: The Raiders aren’t trading Khalil Mack in 2018. Stop entertaining lazy sensationalists using conjecture to steal clicks and waste your time. Nothing from either party has suggested that this deal won’t get done.
Save this and shove it in my face if I’m wrong.
— Ryan Smith (@RyanSmithNFL) August 17, 2018
Stage Two: Anger
When the news broke, so did Raiders Twitter. Nobody could believe that the Raiders had actually done it, that they’d actually traded away their best player. When it was revealed that the Raiders had also given up a second round pick, the Nation was livid. How do you get rid of a player like that, especially for just draft picks? It’s not like the team is going to draft someone like Mack every year.
At this point, McKenzie’s draft history came under a lot of fire, especially with very few of his picks remaining on the roster. What good is it to pick up big draft picks if he misses as often as he hits?
Others were quick to blame the players. If Carr and Mack were so close, how come he didn’t take a pay cut to help keep his best friend? And as for Mack, he was under contract! What kind of a man doesn’t honor his contract? He clearly didn’t really want to be in Oakland anyway!
Stage Three: Bargaining
Then came the cynics, the contrarians, and those desperate for something to be positive about. They insisted that the Raiders got the better of the deal and that the team couldn’t have afforded him anyway. After all, no team in NFL history has had two players making more than 20 million dollars on the same roster at the same time. When the Bears signed Mack to a six-year, 141 million dollar contract extension, Raider Nation realized that if the Raiders had given him that kind of money (more than quarterback, Derek Carr), they would’ve been strapped for cash forever.
If Mack didn’t want to be in Oakland, he didn’t have to. The Raiders picked up some serious draft capital, and as the coach said, “the defense was bad with Khalil Mack.”
Stage Four: Depression
Admit it, there was a small part of you that didn’t want to be a Raiders fan anymore when you heard the news that Mack was gone. The team has one winning record since 2002, just when it felt like things might be turning around, the team traded away their best player. At that moment, all of the people saying that Gruden had let the game pass him by suddenly made a lot more sense. All hope was lost.
Stage Five: Acceptance
Khalil Mack is gone. There’s nothing that any of us can do to bring Khalil Mack back to (silver and) black just yet. However, what the Raider Nation can do is look towards the future. Mack was great, and hopefully, he’ll acknowledge the best fan base in sports when he gets immortalized in Canton, but it’s time to move on.
Sure, Mack should’ve honored his contract, but as we’ve seen time and time again, the teams don’t honor the contracts either. If Mack had blown out his knee in the last year of his rookie deal resulting in him never being the same player again, it’s not like the Raiders would have made him the highest paid player in NFL history.
And as for the team, they were stuck. They didn’t believe they could afford what Mack was asking for, and instead of doing what the Pittsburgh Steelers are doing to Le’Veon Bell, holding him hostage with the franchise tag, they let him go and got some decent value in return.
The Raiders have two extra first-round picks moving forward, and while we’d rather have Mack, the Raiders could get some really fun pieces instead. Four first round picks in two years? That could be interesting. Not to mention, the money that would’ve been Mack’s is now available. Next season, the Raiders are set to have over $52,000,000 in cap space.
Much like moving on from an ex, at some point, Raider Nation is just going to have to accept that Mack is gone. He was a great Raider, and he did a lot of really great things with the team. The clip of Mack intercepting Cam Newton and taking it to the Black Hole isn’t gone. The game where he had five sacks against the Denver Broncos isn’t gone. Mack was a great Raider, and that doesn’t change because he’s a Chicago Bear now.
We always knew that things were going to be crazy under Chucky. For better or for worse, there’s Gruden’s way and there’s the highway. This trade proved that Gruden is wielding most, if not all of Oakland’s power now, and he’s going to build the team in his image.
The Raiders have the oldest roster in the NFL today, but this time next year? They could have a couple of exciting new free agents and talented rookies. Imagine a Raiders offense featuring Ole Miss’ A.J. Brown and Le’Veon Bell alongside Amari Cooper and Derek Carr? If Gruden’s offense is half as explosive as it could be, that offense could set the NFL on fire. Frankly, there’s no way the Raiders can afford that if they were also paying Khalil Mack.