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It may be the first big Saturday of college football, but the morning’s news cycle was dominated by the NFL—and the blockbuster to end all blockbusters.
According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Oakland Raiders have agreed to send edge-rusher Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears. In exchange for the 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, who had held out the entire offseason while seeking a massive contract extension, the Raiders are believed to be receiving (per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com) a pair of first-round picks.
The Bears subsequently made Mack the highest paid defensive player in NFL history after reaching a 6-year, $141 million extension that included $90 million guaranteed per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
To say this is a whopper of a trade is an understatement. Deals involving generational defenders and multiple first-round picks don’t happen every day.
In fact, they just don’t happen.
The trade sent shock waves from the Bay Area to Lake Michigan, and it should have a massive impact on the playoff races in both the AFC West and the NFC North.
As we sort through the fallout from this monster, here’s a look at who made out and who got took.
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Might as well get the obvious one out of the way first.
It went largely unnoticed, because the Bears won just five games and the offense was among the worst in the NFL, but Chicago’s defense was solid last season. The Bears were 10th in yards allowed at 319.1 per game and ninth in scoring defense at 20.0 points per game. Chicago also ranked tied for seventh with 42 sacks, despite the fact that no one on the team had more than 8.5.
Now add arguably the best defensive player in football to that mix.
Akiem Hicks is a very good 3-4 defensive end, but Hicks isn’t the sort of player who can take over a game. Mack is—and now that he’s headed to Chicago the number of double-teams Hicks will see in the upcoming season just fell to approximately zero.
In Hicks and linebackers Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan, the Bears already had the foundation for a decent front seven. That front now has a chance to be as disruptive and dominant as Minnesota’s.
The secondary will benefit as well. Corners don’t have to hold up in coverage as long when opposing quarterbacks are shrieking and curling up into the fetal position.
The Bears already had the second-best defense in the division.
But the gap between theirs and the Vikings’ just narrowed…a lot.
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Those quotation marks aren’t accidental. Not…one…bit.
It’s not like the Oakland defense was especially good with Khalil Mack. Oakland was 23rd in total defense in 2017, allowing 350.1 yards a game. The year before that, the Raiders were 26th. The Raiders didn’t crack the top 20 in any of Mack’s four seasons in the league.
It’s going to be so much worse now.
To call Mack a great talent is an affront to just how great he really is. He did everything the Raiders asked of him. Played both standing up and with a hand in the dirt. Rushed the passer and set the edge against the run.
This is a man who, in 2015, was named a first-team All-Pro…at TWO positions.
Over the past two seasons, Oakland’s 56 sacks rank 31st in the NFL. Almost 40 percent of those sacks (21.5) just walked out the door. Oakland’s pass rush now features Bruce Irvin (whose next 10-sack season will be his first) and…
Well, at least they have Bruce Irvin.
Yes, Oakland added some young talent up front this year in players like Arden Key (third-rounder) and Maurice Hurst (fifth-rounder). But those rookie are hardly slam dunks to be successful. There are reasons both fell as far in the draft as they did.
Oakland’s linebackers are suspect—and that’s being kind. The secondary allowed the seventh-most passing yards in the NFL last year.
Now those linebackers will be tasked with making that many more stops. That secondary is going to be exposed by quarterbacks who have all day to scan the field.
Oakland’s defense is going to give Kansas City’s a run for its money as the worst in the AFC West.
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Mitchell Trubisky should be doing cartwheels right now.
If there was any question that the Chicago Bears are determined to build a competitive team around the second-year quarterback, it’s been answered with an emphatic “hell yeah!”
Think of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin saying it and it’s a lot more fun.
The Bears had already been aggressive about upgrading Chicago’s offensive talent in 2018, spending big bucks to sign wide receiver Allen Robinson and tight end Trey Burton. The offensive line and a talented young tailback were already in place.
So was a good defense. But with Mack in the Windy City, that defense has a chance to be great. To force three-and-outs and give Trubisky plus field position. To notch takeaways that afford Trubisky a short field. To keep games from turning into shootouts so that Chicago’s young signal-caller isn’t pressured into trying to match Aaron Rodgers or Kirk Cousins score-for-score.
The Bears sent a message to Trubisky with this trade. General manager Ryan Pace demonstrated that he believes the Bears are close enough to contending that he’s willing to sacrifice the future for the present.
And in doing so, Pace made it that much easier for Trubisky to take a big step forward in his second season.
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If the Bears are on the verge of a big step forward, the Raiders are hurtling backward at warp speed.
And at this point, it’s fair to ask what the guy driving the ship is doing.
Yes, Reggie McKenzie is still the nominal general manger of the Raiders. But everyone knows this is Jon Gruden’s show, and his first offseason back on the sidelines has been harder to follow than an episode of Lost.
All the Raiders need now is a smoke monster and a couple of polar bears.
In an offseason filled with questionable personnel moves, trading Mack takes the cake. Yes, the Raiders got a huge haul for the 27-year-old. And Gruden won’t have to base future personnel decisions on working around a deal for Mack that will average well over $20 million a year.
But even if Gruden hits on both first-round picks, the odds of Oakland getting one player of Mack’s caliber (or close to it) aren’t good. If the new-look Bears are half as good as many expect, the Raiders will be picking in the mid-teens.
Oakland’s own picks, on the other hand, will probably be significantly to the beginning of each round.
Maybe Gruden is such a football genius that he’s seven moves ahead of us—playing 4D chess and remaking a flawed roster in a manner that will return the Raiders to contender status for the long haul.
Or maybe a head coach who hasn’t walked a sideline in a decade is as stubborn as he is out of touch with today’s game—and knows he gets the $100 million from Mark Davis whether he’s in town for 10 years or two.
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In recent weeks, as the holdouts of Mack and Aaron Donald dragged on, a narrative started to emerge in some circles. The thought was that in today’s NFL slanted so heavily toward offense, teams were wary of handing massive extensions to edge-rushers. That committing $20 million a season in cap space to the position was a pill they just wouldn’t swallow.
Just a few days after Donald became the highest-paid defensive player in league history with a six-year, $135 million bonanza, Mack is in line to get a deal that will approach that—and maybe surpass it.
That bodes well for the young pass-rushers closing in on free agency such as Demarcus Lawrence of the Cowboys and Jadeveon Clowney of the Texans.
Now, this isn’t to say that even if Lawrence and Clowney stay healthy and have good seasons in 2018 that either is in line for $20 million a season. And as we saw with Mack and Donald, the road to Jackpotville may include a bump or two along the way.
But the demise of the megadeal for edge-rushers was exaggerated. So long as pressuring the quarterback is vital to defensive success and the salary cap continues to grow in chunks each year, plenty of teams will be willing to set aside a hunk of that chunk for the best pass-rushers available.
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Five gets you 10 that when Aaron Rodgers flipped on the TV Saturday morning his collarbone started to hurt.
The arrival of Khalil Mack in the NFC North is great news for the Chicago Bears—and terrible news for the other three teams. With all due respect to Ezekiel Ansah, Everson Griffen and Clay Matthews, Mack becomes the division’s premier sack artist the moment he gets off the plane in the Windy City.
It isn’t just a matter of Mack, either. Akiem Hicks is a capable pass-rusher in his own right. A poor man’s Calais Campbell.
That’s meant as a compliment, even if it didn’t sound like one.
Once Leonard Floyd returns to the Bears lineup, he’ll be set up to see single-teams on about 130 percent of Chicago’s defensive snaps. As I mentioned earlier, as a whole Chicago now has a pass rush (on paper) that’s nearly as formidable as Minnesota’s vaunted unit. It’s not unreasonable to expect the Bears to rank inside the top five in sacks this season.
According to Football Outsiders, the Vikings were an excellent O-line in pass protection last year, ranking sixth in the league. The Lions and Packers were not—they ranked 21st and 28th, respectively.
Maybe Rodgers can get an endorsement deal with Advil or Icy Hot.
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Over the past decade-plus, fans of the Chicago Bears have taken a beating.
Since losing Super Bowl XLI to the Indianapolis Colts at the conclusion of the 2006 season, the Bears have made the playoffs once. Since that playoff trip in 2010 (which ended in an NFC title game loss at home to the Packers), Chicago has posted just one winning season.
The last four years have been that much worse. Since finishing 8-8 in 2013, the Bears have finished in the NFC North basement four years running. The team’s record over that span is 19-45.
That’s a robust .297 winning percentage.
However, it looks more than ever like the Bears’ days as cellar-dwellers in the division are nearing an end. The Bears had already been tabbed as a team on the rise by many after they acquired Allen Robinson, Trey Burton and Taylor Gabriel to bolster their receiving corps. Adding one of the best defensive players in the league will make them even more scary.
The Bears are one of the oldest and most storied franchises in football. The 1985 iteration is the greatest single-season team ever assembled in this writer’s opinion. But of late, they’ve been a tomato can.
It may be a bit premature to start practicing the “Super Bowl Shuffle” again, but the darkest days appear to be behind one of the league’s more loyal fanbases.
It’s a fair bet that navy blue Khalil Mack jerseys are about to become a hot seller in the 312.
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There’s a flip side to all the partying in Chicago on Saturday.
Funerals in Oakland.
There isn’t a more passionate and dedicated fanbase in the NFL than Raider Nation. Sure, sometimes their exuberance goes ever so slightly overboard (see: Black Hole), but no one will argue that fans in Oakland love the Silver and Black.
Their reward for that love? The team is packing up and moving to Vegas. But rather than skulk out of town in the middle of the night like the Colts, or bail at the end of the season like the Browns, the Raiders are rubbing it in by remaining in the Bay Area for at least one more year and possibly two.
The financial realities that spurred the move aside, it’s a rotten deal for fans in Oakland.
Now, on top of knowing that their beloved Raiders are moving 560 miles to the southeast, fans in Oakland will get to watch a team that just traded its best player spend 2018 as an also-ran in the AFC West.
Make no mistake, that’s what the Raiders are. In a wide-open division, they are the team I’m most sure won’t win the West. The defense is going to be a dumpster fire without Mack on the field, and the offense isn’t good enough to overcome that.
The worst part? The supposed silver lining (those two first-round picks) in this deal aren’t going to change anything for the Raiders until 2020—the year they start playing in their shiny new stadium in Las Vegas.
Nice of them to yank a team out from under fans and then give said fans one last kick on the way out the door.