John Gruden should not have traded Khalil Mack

John Gruden should not have traded Khalil Mack

This weekend, the (3-1) Las Vegas Raiders played host to the Chicago Bears (2-2). The Raiders entered the game a 5.5 favorite over the Bears, but ultimately, the Bears won the matchup 20-9.
The Bears, now 3-2, are second in the NFC North, just a game behind the Packers despite Chicago’s slow start.

Life Long Friends

The Raiders, meanwhile, started red-hot, going 3-0 in their first three games but have now lost two in a row and sit in a two-way tie in the AFC West. But that is not what I wanted to focus on this week, and I want to focus on the unique storyline of Khalil Mack and Derek Carr.

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Listening to the broadcast, I thought it was interesting that Mack and Carr were best friends during their time in Oakland and had maintained that friendship once Mack was dealt to Chicago. Carrs kids called Khalil “Uncle Khalil” and even wore his jersey on some game days (except for this weekend, of course, the broadcasters noted).

Upon hearing that the two were still friends, I instantly thought back to Mack’s being traded to the Bears.

It was 2018, a mere nine days before the start of the season, and Mack had been making headlines by holding out during training camp and the preseason. The (then Oakland) Raiders sent away Mack a second-round pick and a conditional pick and received two first-round picks, a six-round pick in 2019, and a third-round selection in 2020.

The move sent shock waves around the NFL; for one, Mack is one of the best to play his position, making the HOF All-2010s Team. For another, it was the first move by then first-year Head Coach John Gruden.

It would appear that Gruden thinks he made a mistake when he dealt Mack, as in the offseason, the Raiders attempted to bring Khalil back home. Well, sort of, you know what I mean. So, if Gruden has regrets, it is worth asking: who won the Mack deal.

The Bears Side

The Bears of course received Khalil Mack, who has been incredibly productive.
In his three seasons with the Bears, he played in 46 regular-season games yielding two interceptions (one of which was a touchdown), forced 14 fumbles, recovered five, 30.0 sacks, 144 tackles, and a safety.

Mack has been to a Pro Bowl in the three seasons he has been in Chicago and made the First-Team All-Pro in 2018.

Mack was not the only thing the Bears got in the trade; they also got two other picks which turned into Cole Kmet (second-round 2020) and Arlington Hambright (seventh-round 2020).
Tight end Cole Kmet had a solid first year with the Bears, with a catch rate of 63.6%. He picked up 243 yards on 28 receptions and added two touchdowns.

Offensive tackle Arlington Hambright is a little tougher to evaluate as his 82 offensive snaps and 42 special teams snaps accounted for only 8%, and 10% of the Bears snaps last season.
But these two players are ancillary. The Bears did not need them to do well; Mack has paid dividends for the Bears.

By AV (Football Reference Approximate Value Statistic), Mack was the most valuable player on the Bears roster in 2018 and 2019. And by DSRS, the Bears, defnese improved from 3.3 the season before Mack got there to 4.8, and then was 4.5 the following year.

Another way of measuring the value of Mack on the Bears is by looking at their postseason success. The Bears made the postseason twice in the three years they have had Mack and winning the NFC North once.

The Raiders Side

But how exactly do the Raiders stack up? Well, their 2019 first-round pick, running back Josh Jacobs, has performed exceptionally well. In 28 games, he has rushed for 2215 yards and had 19 touchdowns and added another 400 yards receiving. He made the pro bowl in 2020.

Their 2019 sixth-round pick, Blessuan Austin, was dealt to the New York Jets in another trade and never played a snap for the Raiders. The Raiders 2020 first-round selection was cornerback Damon Arnette who is a bit of a mixed bag.

He has allowed a completion % of 78.1, 309 yards, and a Quarterback Rating of 106.9. He at least has not allowed a touchdown against, but I would say he holds a little promise. This season he has allowed a QB Rating of 101.5

Their 2020 third-round pick was a wide receiver, Bryan Edwards. Edwards scored a single touchdown and had a catch percentage of 73.3, and totaled 193 receiving yards.
I think Edwards has a lot of promise; through four games this season, he has netted 214 receiving yards and has three starts.

I would argue that all of these players are somewhat promising, but none of them are anywhere near the caliber of Mack, and that shows.

In addition, the Raiders went from having a defense that, by Football-Reference DSRS, was ranked -4.7 in 2014 to improving to -1.6, -0.3, and -1.8. By no means a great defense, but once Mach left, their rating dropped to -4.1, -4.4, and -4.9, respectively.

Since dealing Mack in 2018, the Raiders have missed the playoffs every single season and have had a .500 record just once. They have accumulated a record of 19-29; the Bears went 28-20.
To me, it would seem that the Raiders made a franchise-altering error when they dealt Mack.

They got rid of one of the best defensive players of the decade and a franchise cornerstone for minimal return. They may have selected Josh Jacobs in the draft, but that return feels relatively insignificant for a Raiders AV leader from 2015-2017.

I do not know what the past few seasons would have looked like for the Raiders, but I do know it makes sense why Gruden wanted Mack back. But I understand why the Bears did not want to send him back to the Raiders.