The Khalil Mack trade has been parsed ad nauseum since the Oakland Raiders shipped their All-Pro pass rusher to the Chicago Bears on Saturday, but questions remained for head coach Jon Gruden.
Why is a team that is presumably built to win now trading a game-changing defender for a couple of draft picks? On Sunday, Gruden attempted to provide answers in a news conference.
Jon Gruden points to salary cap for failed Khalil Mack deal
“The negotiation was what it was,” Gruden said. “It was tough. … We made an offer. I don’t believe we were anywhere close to where the Bears were. The Bears made us an offer that we thought was really unique. Very, very tough to say goodbye to a great player. But here we are today.”
When asked to expound, Gruden repeatedly leaned on salary cap implications as reporters peppered him for further explanation.
“We’re gonna be second-guessed until the cows come home on this,” Gruden said. “I understand that. The bottom line is we did do our due diligence. There was a standoff. And he got a great contract from the Bears.
“$90 million guaranteed is an astronomical number. It’s phenomenal for the players. Great for him, obviously. That was something we could not do.”
Raiders wouldn’t compete with demands of market
Gruden is correct. $90 million is an astronomical number. It’s also the going rate to keep a player of Mack’s talent, a market that was set with Aaron Donald’s deal with the L.A. Rams last week guaranteeing him $87 million.
Gruden pointed to the Rams and Bears being able to afford the Donald and Mack deals because their quarterbacks — Jared Goff and Mitchell Trubisky — are under rookie contracts.
“It’s tough when you have two players that are the highest paid or close to the highest paid at their positions,” Gruden said. “The economic part of it certainly weighs in. … You’ve got to build a 53-man roster, and there are some implications of having two players making that much money.”
Can a team afford two elite-level deals?
The Raiders signed quarterback Derek Carr last summer to a then-NFL record $125 million deal. GM Reggie McKenzie was a part of that deal. They agreed to that deal realizing that they would have to eventually pay Mack as well. Surely they didn’t envision trading Mack when they paid Carr.
Something has changed since then. That thing is Gruden. And Gruden has a $100 million deal of his own, a deal that comes with a great deal of power.
Gruden denies internal Raiders divide
When asked if he pushed for the Mack trade against the wishes of McKenzie, Gruden scoffed at the idea.
“They’re trying to divide us,” Gruden said. “People are trying to divide us. ‘I wanted him gone. He wanted him here.’
“We made a decision as an organization. [Owner] Mark Davis, [executive] Tom Delaney. We all got the information, and we made the decision together.”
When asked why they included a second-round pick in the deal, Gruden’s tune changed.
“I wasn’t really involved in all of that,” Gruden said. “You’ll have to ask Reggie, to be honest with you.”
So while Gruden attempted to make a compelling case for salary cap management during his Sunday news conference, the complete picture still feels lost in the shadows. Gruden had the power to ultimately nix or make a deal with a difference-making talent beloved by fans and teammates, power granted to him by his own massive deal with the Raiders.
He ultimately nixed it. The bigger question for Raider nation in the aftermath of the Mack deal remains.
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