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How the Raiders Misplayed Their Hand in the Khalil Mack Negotiations

The Raiders messed up
HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 07: Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack (52) reacting after stopping Houston Texans wide receiver Will Fuller (15) in the back field during the first half of the AFC Wild Card football game between the Houston Texans and the Oakland Raiders at NRG Stadium in Houston. (Photo by Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire)

The Oakland Raiders have traded their best player, Khalil Mack, in a deal that is about as underwhelming as you can get for such an elite talent. Not only did the Raiders give up one of, if not the best defender in the NFL, they also gave up a second round pick in the deal. Thus, in essence, the Raiders gave up Mack to get one first rounder, to move up from the second to the first and to get a pick in the third and the sixth.

Clearly, this is not the way the Raiders wanted things to go down. Sure, they will talk up the value they got in the trade, but behind closed doors, you know there are whispers about how little value they got in the trade.

So what happened?

Based on the information that has come out, the best guess I can make (because we may never know the full truth) is that the Raiders misplayed the situation, found themselves in a place they didn’t expect to be then freaked out and traded Mack for far too little.

Why do I say that? There are a number of reasons, mostly tied to what Jon Gruden had to say about the trade on Sunday.

First and foremost, Gruden stated that the offer they made to Mack was nowhere near what the Bears offered. Obviously, that could mean a lot of different things but if it means, as was reported, that the highest offer the Raiders made was $20 a year, they never really had plans to re-sign him.

Everyone around the league, from commentators, to general managers, to coaches, to fans knew that inking Mack would take a higher per year number than that. So what does that tell us? That in all likelihood, Gruden’s plan was to have Mack play through his fifth year option, then tag him for two years before letting him walk.

That way, Gruden would get Mack for a few years as he re-constructs this roster, then lets him walk after saving a decent amount of money over those last three years since the tag and his fifth year option would be far less than the cost of a long term deal.

But then Mack held out longer than they expected. How do we know that? Because Gruden said so in that press conference. Gruden said that with the Rams game right around the corner, he felt like his hand was pushed to make a move.

And that’s where he made the big mistake.

Vic Tafur of The Athletic noted on the State of the Nation podcast that he looked at past holdouts by Joel Segal represented players and they almost always reported back to the team by week one rather than miss out on game checks. Thus, it’s likely that Mack planned on being back with the Raiders in time for week one. But rather than call Mack’s bluff, Gruden jumped the gun and traded him out of fear that Mack would hold out well into the season. How do we know that? Because Gruden said he was worried the holdout would last into the season during the presser.

While I don’t think keeping Mack for three years via the fifth year option and two tags was the ideal end to this situation, it’s surely a better end than not having Mack for those three years thanks to a poor trade. And if the Raiders were going to trade Mack, they should’ve done it before the draft when they could’ve used the value to obtain players who would help the team now.

What’s done is done and hopefully the Raiders will be able to make the most out of those draft picks. And hopefully, Gruden has learned a little bit in how to handle such situations since this one, by Gruden’s own words, clearly did not go as anyone planned.

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