Amari Cooper

Jon Gruden: Khalil Mack trade catalyst for Raiders' big 2019 offseason

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AP

Jon Gruden: Khalil Mack trade catalyst for Raiders' big 2019 offseason

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.”

[RELATED: Raiders' decision on Lynch likely made after NFL draft]

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.”

Cowboys' Stephen Jones throws shade at Raiders over Amari Cooper trade

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USATSI

Cowboys' Stephen Jones throws shade at Raiders over Amari Cooper trade

When the Raiders traded wide receiver Amari Cooper to the Cowboys for a first-round pick in October, it was looked at as a win for Oakland.

In his fourth season with the Raiders, Cooper wasn't performing well. In six games, he caught just 22 passes for 280 yards and one touchdown.

So landing a first-round pick for Cooper was seen as a boon.

But Cooper turned things around in Dallas, catching 53 passes for 725 yards and six touchdowns.

And the Cowboys started winning games, posting a 7-2 record after the Cooper trade. That caused the pick they sent to the Raiders to plummet in the draft order.

When it was all said and done, the draft pick landed at No. 27, and as you might imagine, the Cowboys are pretty excited about how the trade turned out.

Burrrrn.

[RELATED: Raiders target Gary: "I'm the best player in the draft"]

Now, new GM Mike Mayock and head coach Jon Gruden can have the last word by nailing the No. 27 pick. But we're a few years from knowing the final outcome.

Amari Cooper shrugs off criticism of trade from Raiders to Cowboys

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AP

Amari Cooper shrugs off criticism of trade from Raiders to Cowboys

People say some insulting things on Twitter, especially to those in the public eye. Jimmy Kimmel has turned cold-blooded correspondence into comedy on his late night talk show during a popular segment called “Mean Tweets,” and that concept has spread to other stations and markets.

Enter Amari Cooper and an interview he did Thursday at Super Bowl LIII Radio Row.

Some people took shots at the Cowboys this season for acquiring the three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver from the Raiders for a first-round draft pick -- though they came around quickly when helped secure wins -- and he faced that head on during a chat with New England Sports Network.

NESN's Michaela Vernava read to Cooper mean tweets from media members, not fans, who didn’t like the trade, and he shrugged them off.

“Know thyself. That’s how I think about it,” Cooper said while promoting Gatorade during a tour through Radio Row. “If I feel like I’m a handsome guy and somebody calls me ugly, why would react to it if I really think I’m handsome? It’s the same approach.

"I know that I’m a good football player. I know what I can do on the field, so it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks.”

Some believe Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who also run the team's personnel department, gave up too much to acquire Cooper. Raiders fans said good riddance to Cooper on his way out, believing him to be too inconsistent to be a top NFL receiver.

[RELATED: Goodell says Raiders want to stay in Bay for 2019]

Cooper struggled some under Jon Gruden, but he flourished in Dallas with upticks in targets and overall production, and the team surged to an NFC East title and a playoff win after acquiring the dynamic receiver. Cooper finished with 53 catches on 76 targets in nine regular-season games for 726 yards and six touchdowns in Dallas.

“It was either feast or famine for me,” Cooper said in an interview with ESPN. “Some games, I would have 100 yards and 10 catches. Some games, I would have less than 10 yards. It was kind of a struggle at first.”