It seems like every offseason a top NFL star is rumored to be on the trading block due to an impasse in contract talks, but typically, a deal is eventually worked out and those countless hours of hypothetical trades are for naught. So when reports surfaced that Oakland Raiders’ star edge rusher Khalil Mack is on the trade block due to his extended holdout, I didn’t give a second thought to the “Buffalo Bills need to make this deal!” comments that arise with just about any player with a recognizable name. But the more thought that I give to a Khalil Mack-to-Buffalo deal, the more I see it as not only a realistic transaction but a move that gives each party what they desire.
Sean McDermott and Brandon Beane have preached the importance of having trust in ‘the process’ since the head coach and general manager were hired prior to the 2017 season. What started as a cliché that many simply laughed off, has evolved into a mantra — a theme that players and fans alike have bought into, putting full faith in the Buffalo Bills’ two key decision makers to do what’s best for the team. After breaking a 17-year long playoff drought in their first year, who wouldn’t get on board with that process?
Method to the Madness
To many, the trades of Sammy Watkins, Ronald Darby and Marcell Dareus mean that Beane and McDermott’s process is being frugal and not paying top-dollar for star players. But in reality, the two decision makers only ripped the proverbial band-aid off, rather than let valuable time pass by while waiting for contracts to expire and hoping for the best. Doing so restricted what the Bills could do short-term from a financial aspect, but it created flexibility for the future due to the added draft capital and salary cap space.
The Bills have a new energy surrounding them. There’s a positive outlook that’s unfamiliar, and trading for a player with the résumé Khalil Mack has doesn’t seem as far-fetched it may have just a few years ago. Most of the comments I’ve seen writing off the possibility of a trade happening have all acknowledged Brandon Beane’s penchant for accumulating draft picks. But just look at how the nucleus of the current roster was assembled. The Bills traded positions in the NFL Draft to select cornerback Tre’Davious White, quarterback Josh Allen and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds. Beane sent a draft pick to the Carolina Panthers for wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin at the trade deadline last season.
Khalil Mack no stranger to Buffalo
Khalil Mack to the Buffalo Bills would be almost too good to be true, and his path from a high school athlete begging for scholarships to becoming arguably a top-five player in the NFL aligns with McDermott’s “process” all too well.
Mack terrorized opponents in the MAC while attending the University at Buffalo. The 6-foot-3, 250-pounder was a man amongst boys in every game he took part in, possessing the versatility to line up as a defensive end in a three-point stance, outside the tight end as a stand-up edge rusher, off the ball at all three linebacker spots, and offenses needed to know where he was at all times.
He racked up 327 tackles, a whopping 74.5 tackles for loss (tied for most in NCAA history), 28.5 sacks, 31 quarterback hits, four interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), 21 pass breakups and forced 16 fumbles (NCAA record), and even blocked two field goals during his career with the Bulls.
Leading up to the 2014 NFL draft, Bills fans clamored for the team to select the local product, but the team opted to trade up to No. 4 overall to pick Clemson’s star wideout, Sammy Watkins. Mack was taken by the Oakland Raiders with the following pick.
Watkins wasn’t a bad choice at the time, from a talent perspective, but in what will likely go down as one of the best draft classes of wide receivers ever, trading future first and fourth-round draft picks wasn’t the smartest move. Watkins is currently playing for his third team, while Khalil Mack has made three trips to the Pro Bowl while being named first-team All-Pro twice (he was the first ever to be named All-Pro at multiple positions) and was the Defensive Player of the Year.
What’s the catch?
In four years, Khalil Mack has recorded 304 tackles, 36 tackles for loss, 40.5 sacks, one interception, 21 pass breakups and nine forced fumbles. He’s set to earn roughly $13.5 million this season and is unquestionably one of the most talented defenders in the NFL. So what’s the holdup and why haven’t the Raiders locked up their star player?
Last year, Oakland extended quarterback Derek Carr and offensive guard Gabe Jackson, two of Mack’s 2014 draft classmates, to top-market deals as soon as they were eligible to sign. General manager Reggie McKenzie said he ‘anticipated’ Mack being next up to sign an extension.
The Raiders signed Jon Gruden to an unprecedented 10-year, $100 million contract to become their head coach. This job security is unheard of, and Gruden has been blunt with his evaluation of the roster. He’s already publically stated, “We weren’t a good defense with Khalil Mack.”
So, Gruden may be posturing to set the tone for the next decade that he isn’t going to cave to the demands of players; or he is looking at the big picture and seeing that the entire roster needs help. and as talented as Mack is, he isn’t singlehandedly winning games.
Furthermore, the NFL’s salary cap is rising, meaning that the market for top players is rising simultaneously. Defensive end Von Miller signed the largest contract of any non-quarterback in NFL history, earning $19.083 million per season on a deal with roughly $70 million in guarantees. Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is a game-wrecker like Mack and is also looking to break into the $20 million per year club that’s typically been reserved for passers.
Donald and Miller are both transcendent talents, but each played with impressive supporting casts. Mack has been a one-man show through his career and still managed to dominate opponents on a weekly basis. Oakland tried and failed to surround Mack with talent to take some pressure off of the powerful and explosive edge defender, using draft picks on Mario Edwards Jr., Denico Autry and Jihad Ward. Bruce Irvin has been solid since signing as a free agent, but Mack still commands double and triple teams. Otherwise, this happens.
Khalil Mack bah gawd pic.twitter.com/J9O3RrSPcY— Rob Quinn (@RobQuinn619) August 25, 2018
Khalil Mack and his agent, Joel Segal, haven’t said anything publically regarding a desire to leave Oakland, which makes the whole situation strange. Segal is known for getting deals done — cornerback Patrick Peterson and wide receiver Tavon Austin got big contracts early. He helped Chris Johnson earn a four-year, $53 million deal after a holdout also, so he knows how to advise and navigate Khalil Mack during this type of scenario.
Mack will get paid, that isn’t an issue. The real question is by whom?
Outlining a trade for Khalil Mack
Looking for historical benchmarks to use as a reference for the haul Oakland can ask for in exchange for Khalil Mack is difficult, because players of that caliber simply aren’t commonly up for grabs. In the last 18 years, only three non-quarterbacks, Ricky Williams, Joey Galloway and Keyshawn Johnson, netted their teams multiple first-round draft picks when traded. Darrelle Revis and Jared Allen are really the only two veteran defensive players that garnered a significant return when traded.
Jared Allen was traded from the Kansas City Chiefs to the Minnesota Vikings in exchange for a 2008 first-round draft pick, two third-round picks and a swap of sixth-round picks. From an on-field perspective, the two were extremely similar. Allen had played four seasons with the Chiefs and his statistics were similar to Mack’s first four years in Oakland.
|First 4 Yr
Allen was subsequently signed to a six-year, $72.63 million contract – the largest for any defensive player in history at the time. He was 27-years old like Mack and continued producing at a ridiculous level for the remainder of his career.
Six years went by from that 2008 trade before another star defender was moved in a big deal. The Jets traded superstar cornerback Darrelle Revis to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the No. 13 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft and a fourth-round pick. Revis was also 27-years old at the time of the trade but coming off of a torn ACL and was in the middle of a holdout. Still, the Buccaneers valued him and gave the draft picks up before signing the perennial All-Pro to a six-year, $96 million contract.
A move for “now and the future”
Bills general manager Brandon Beane is consistently consistent in his media appearances, and whenever asked about his personnel decisions, he’ll respond that Buffalo makes ‘decisions to improve the team for now and in the future.”
Khalil Mack is 27 years old, and the Bills’ defense has young talent everywhere except the defensive end position. They signed Trent Murphy during the offseason and Jerry Hughes is a talented pass rusher, but neither will ever be confused for Mack.
Beane’s aggressive overhaul of Buffalo’s roster has put the team in a great cap situation for the future. While the Bills are eating $46 million in dead cap this season, leaving them with just under $12 million in available space, they are projected to have over $70 million next year without any marquee free agents to re-sign.
The nucleus of Buffalo’s roster is comprised of young players on their rookie deals — Tre’Davious White, Dion Dawkins, Tremaine Edmunds, Josh Allen, Matt Milano, etc. will count less than $6 million against the salary cap for the next three-to-four years.
If the Bills want to pay Khalil Mack the $20 million average-per-year he is reportedly seeking, the only obstacle facing them is opening up a bit of room, about $2 million, to fit his 2018 cap hit of roughly $13.8 million. The biggest question facing teams looking to acquire the Fort Pierce native is what compensation the Raiders will expect in return.
CBS Sports Jason La Canfora is almost never correct with his reports regarding the Bills, but he was the first to publically reference a source that confirmed Buffalo is doing their ‘due diligence’ on Mack. Now, considering he played four years just down the street, that due diligence is pretty much completed, but the point remains.
Players like Khalil Mack are hard to come by just in terms of talent, let alone one that is available for trade.
When discussing the possibility of this trade actually happening, I was met with the typical pessimistic responses I’ve grown accustomed to. I was told that the Bills should take the $20 million for Mack and use it on ‘multiple quality free agents. Looking at the upcoming free agent class and the needs throughout Buffalo’s roster, the Bills could re-sign Kelvin Benjamin, add a pass rusher like 33-year old Derrick Morgan or a Shane Ray type of player and possibly a backup offensive lineman for the $20 million that Mack would command.
I don’t know about you but I’m taking the Hall of Fame caliber player over a handful of solid contributors all day long. Another argument against the trade is the draft capital that will hypothetically be required to add him. My response would be that Shaq Lawson, the very player Mack would be replacing, was the No. 19 overall draft pick.
Will Khalil Mack be traded? Who knows. Crazier things have happened. But if La Canfora is correct, the Bills would be adding a player that completely transforms an entire defense. The Bills did everything necessary to put themselves in a prime position to improve their roster today and for the long-term future of the franchise. Adding Khalil Mack to complement Star Lotulelei, Harrison Phillips, Matt Milano, Tremaine Edmunds, Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde, and Tre’Davious White instantly takes Buffalo from a questionable, middle-of-the-pack defensive unit to one of the top squads in the league.
The Bills have maintained their stance that they are committed to the process – a culture that embraces players who have chips on their shoulders and a desire to win at all costs. That’s just the type of player Khalil Mack is.