PHOENIX – The Raiders spent big in free agency, and acquired superstar receiver Antonio Brown without sacrificing significant draft capital. They still have all four picks in the top 35 of the 2019 NFL Draft, positioning themselves to expedite a long-term rebuilding process if they acquire the right talent.
That wouldn’t be possible without Khalil Mack.
Raiders coach Jon Gruden traded the All-Pro edge rusher for a compensation package including two first-round picks. And, you know, they didn’t pay out boatloads of cash.
The trade was widely panned – criticism came strong and steady from this website – because Hall of Fame talents simply aren’t dealt. They’re drafted, developed, re-signed or franchise tagged until production dips.
The Raiders took a different tact. Before rebuilding the roster, they stripped it to the studs. Gruden doesn’t look back at the decision with regret, and doesn’t care what people think about it now.
He’s primed and ready to use the assets acquired to improve a deficient Raiders roster.
“I don’t have time to think about who thinks it’s right or wrong,” Gruden said Tuesday at the NFL owners meeting. “We didn’t have much of a choice. If we did come up with the money we’re talking about (to pay Mack), we would not have the men we’re talking about now. We would not have Trent Brown. We would not have Antonio Brown and Lamarcus Joyner or Vontaze Burfict or Tyrell Williams.
"We would not have any of them. We would not have the three-first round picks that we’re talking about. You have to consider all of it and digest it for yourself.”
That’s a hefty comment to digest, and one that’s partially true. The Raiders certainly could’ve paid Mack, and acquired high-priced talent in free agency. But they couldn’t have done as much, and time will tell if what they acquired with Mack-trade assets were worth a significant loss.
It wasn’t something Gruden envisioned doing when returning to the Raiders, but he believes it necessary to attain and sustain success.
“I’m not going sit here and say that I didn’t cry for three days,” Gruden said. “I wanted to coach Mack, and Mack knows that. I wish him the best. But we have a lot of work to do with this football team. That trade allowed this acquisitions that we’re talking about today to even happen.”
The Amari Cooper trade played a part in this as well. The Raiders moved him to the Dallas Cowboys for a first-round pick, and didn’t have to pay him huge sums in this offseason -- or the next.
Gruden absorbed short-term pain for possible long-term gain. Those are tough choices that can be made with Gruden’s unprecedented job security. There’s no worry of being fired two years into a 10-year deal, and working with an owner in Mark Davis committed to letting him run the show.
The Mack and Cooper trades can't be graded just yet, which is why they remain talking points today. A's or F's are coming soon, as the Raiders turn salary-cap space and draft picks into a foundation for sustainable success.
“We made some trades people didn’t like last year, but it was all part of the assembly process,” Gruden said. “It’s painful to lose Jared Cook and Kelechi Osemele and Mack and Cooper. It’s painful and I hate it. It’s part of the assembly we have decided upon, one that we believe gives us the best chance to win. We needed the free agents we signed. We need these draft choices. We have to keep building and keep digging and we’ll get what we deserve in the end.”