Brad Biggs: Khalil Mack deal with Raiders was lopsided in Bears’ favor. But to really claim victory, they need to be competing for titles.
A rumor was floated in 2019 that the Chicago Bears’ game against the Raiders — who called Oakland home at the time — was scheduled for London because Jon Gruden didn’t want Khalil Mack returning to the Black Hole with his new team.
It made sense from the standpoint that Gruden had been pilloried for trading away the former defensive player of the year and one of the franchise’s most popular players for a bounty of draft picks a week before the 2018 season, Gruden’s first year of his second stint as Raiders coach.
The Return of the Mack, to borrow from Mark Morrison, is now unavoidable for Gruden and the Raiders, although Sunday’s game will be played at Allegiant Stadium, their second-year home in Las Vegas, and not in Oakland. Nonetheless, plenty of Raiders fans wish Mack still was wearing silver and black.
“It’s different in a sense because you understand the fan base and what it means to me especially,” said Mack, who is questionable on the injury report but vowed to play Sunday. “It’s going to be fun to get a chance to play in front of the Raider Nation.”
The presence of Mack and fellow outside linebacker Robert Quinn creates a formidable task for Gruden to protect quarterback Derek Carr behind an offensive line that was completely rebuilt in the offseason and is missing veteran guard Richie Incognito. The Raiders might have moving parts this week as first-round pick Alex Leatherwood has been practicing at right guard after playing right tackle the first four weeks.
The Bears got the better end of the blockbuster trade when you look at what they received versus what the Raiders turned the draft picks into. Here’s how the trade breaks down.
— OLB Khalil Mack
— 2020 second-round pick (TE Cole Kmet)
— 2020 seventh-round pick (G Arlington Hambright)
— 2019 first-round pick (RB Josh Jacobs)
— 2019 sixth-round pick: traded with OL Kelechi Osemele to the New York Jets for a 2019 fifth-round pick (WR Hunter Renfrow)
— 2020 first-round pick (CB Damon Arnette)
— 2020 third-round pick (WR Bryan Edwards)
The Raiders pass rush has been an issue since Mack departed. They ranked 32nd in sacks (13) in 2018, tied for 24th (32) in 2019 and 29th (21) last season. Mack had 30 sacks in his first three seasons with the Bears and has four this season, but it’s notable the Bears were tied with the Raiders in sacks in 2019, which led to the free-agent signing of Quinn.
Jacobs was second in offensive rookie of the year voting in 2019 behind Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, but his yards per carry dropped from 4.8 in his first year to 3.9 last season and he has only 74 rushing yards this season, having missed two games.
Arnette has been a tremendous disappointment and has played in only 21% of the team’s defensive snaps this season. The Bears clearly got a better cornerback a round later when they selected Jaylon Johnson. Edwards is starting and has 11 receptions for 214 yards this season, while Renfrow has turned into a crafty slot receiver and punt returner.
Mack, 30, was an All-Pro in 2018 and has been voted to the Pro Bowl in each of his three seasons with the Bears. A Pro Bowl pass rusher and a starting tight end — even if Kmet hasn’t gotten rolling in the passing game — trumps what the Raiders have to show for their end of the trade, and it’s not remotely close.
“I’m the last person to think about what they got,” Mack said. “That’s not how I vibe. I know what we’ve got here and ultimately I want to win championships here and put ourselves in positions to do those things, and the thing that is going to do that is beating them this week.”
For the Bears to truly claim victory in this trade, they need to win more with Mack. They cruised to a 12-4 record to win the NFC North in his first season, lost their first playoff game and are .500 since — 18-18 in the regular season.
Mack has taken up a big chunk of the Bears’ salary cap since signing a six-year, $141 million extension upon his arrival. The team has restructured his contract twice, moving numbers around to free up cap space and giving him a cap number of $30.15 million in 2022, $28.5 million in 2023 and $26.25 million if he’s still around in 2024.
The other angle to consider is that, along with Mack being the team’s highest-paid player and taking up the biggest piece of the salary-cap pie, the Bears were without a handful of draft picks, including two first-rounders. They have struggled to rebuild the offensive line and have some question marks in the secondary, positions they could have stocked if they had premium draft picks.
That’s not to say it wasn’t a good move for the Bears — Mack took a good defense and helped it become elite for one season in 2018 — but you can’t evaluate the deal without considering what could have been had the Bears retained their draft capital and didn’t have to execute a blockbuster trade and then make Mack the highest-paid defensive player in the league at the time of the deal.
What matters now is the Bears lead the league with 15 sacks. The pairing of Mack and Quinn has come together like the organization hoped it would a year ago, and defensive coordinator Sean Desai has been crafty in how he deploys them, especially in clear passing situations.
Desai has started lining them up next to each other in certain situations and has used other schemes to manipulate one-on-one rushes for Mack, such as last week when a tilted front with dime personnel on the field put Mack one-on-one against Lions running back D’Andre Swift when defensive back DeAndre Houston-Carson also blitzed.
Gruden is likely to build his game plan around preventing Mack from ruining the game. That’s what he did two years ago during the Raiders’ 24-21 victory over the Bears in London. On the first snap, Carr rolled out of the pocket away from Mack and the Raiders still blocked him with two offensive linemen and Jacobs. Message sent.
The Raiders ran right at Mack, attempting to cut him nearly every time, and consistently provided chip help or double- and triple-teamed him when Carr dropped back to pass. Mack had only about eight one-on-one opportunities in 72 snaps, depending on how you tally them.
“Not really focusing on the past too much,” Mack said. “I don’t care what they do. I just know I will be ready for it.”
Opponents being able to neutralize the Bears pass rush is precisely why they signed Quinn last year, and the challenge for Desai is to stay one step ahead of offenses as he seeks matchups he can exploit. The Bears had 17 sacks through four games in 2019 and got only 15 in the final 12 games. They had 18 sacks through four games in 2018 en route to 50.
The Bears defense will go as the pass rush goes. They need to harass quarterbacks like Carr to protect the secondary. They’re happy to have Mack as the kind of elite player opposing teams circle every week.
“I don’t know who would ever trade him,” Quinn said.
The Raiders did. Now they have to deal with Mack’s return.