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Gruden entertains media, but fails to explain Mack trade

On the hot seat with the media after one of the Oakland Raiders’ most dramatic transactions in franchise history, head coach Jon Gruden didn’t squirm Sunday evening as he responded with what seemed to be candor, and a light touch of comedy, during an inquisition on the trade that sent All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears.
Not coincidentally, it made for great television.
But try as he may, Gruden was unconvincing in attempts to dispel notions that he and general manager Reggie McKenzie were at odds on this deal and perhaps other personnel considerations. More important, the mystery remains as to why the Raiders succumbed to a brash holdout by a player they had under contract this year and conceivably could have kept three more seasons with the help of franchise tags.
At one point, Gruden all but defiled the memory of Al Davis, saying “The agent, Joel Segal, did a great job. He stood his ground and he ended up getting the No. 1 contract in football for a defensive player.”
Sure did. But with the Chicago Bears. Al probably would have agreed to overpay, as he did so many times. If not, he would have held the player captive for as long as possible, which he also did in at least one infamous situation.
But it was the Bears who ended Mack’s holdout when they agreed to sign him to a record-setting, six-year, $141 million contract extension. That deal — the largest in NFL history for a defensive player — will pay out $60 million at signing and $90 million guaranteed. Mack’s deal will average up to $23.5 million a year.
In return, the Raiders will receive the Bears’ first-round picks in 2019 and 2020, a sixth-round selection in next year’s draft, and a third-round pick in the 2020 draft. The Raiders agreed to send Mack to the Bears as well as the team’s second-round selection in the 2020 draft and a 2020 conditional fifth-round pick.
A first-round selection (fifth overall) by the Raiders in the 2014 draft, Mack was named to the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team and first-team All-Pro in two consecutive seasons (2015-16). Additionally, he became the first Raider since 1980 to earn Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2016 and was nominated to three Pro Bowls.
Gruden admitted that the fulcrum point in the situation was Friday when the Los Angeles Rams signed defensive tackle Aaron Donald to a six-year, $135 million extension, making him the highest-paid defensive player in league history, for less than 24 hours, anyway.
“It pretty much set the stage of what it was going to be,” Gruden said. “Ninety million guaranteed is an astronomical number, it’s phenomenal I think, for the player, great for him obviously. But that was something we could not do.”
Even if that is true — that the Raiders could not pay such a salary — the point remains that they didn’t need to do so. Mack was scheduled to make a base salary of $13.846 million this season on the last year of his rookie contract.
Yes, he could have chosen to sit out the entire season and pass up that money, but it is not likely. Further, if the Raiders still didn’t want to open their wallet for this supreme player, they could have used a franchise tag to keep him two more seasons.
We don’t know what the franchise tender will be in 2019, but it was $17.143 million this year. Working with that figure, if he were tagged in 2020, that would be a salary of $20.571 million.
Thus, the two years on the franchise tag would cost the Raiders $37.714 million. Then they would likely lose him with no compensation after 2020. This trade gives them slightly more than what the draft-choice compensation is (two No. 1 picks) if he were franchised and Mack received an offer the Raiders refused to match.
Of course, the pure numbers don’t reflect the emotion and humanity of the situation.
“Our feeling was he was not going to report any time soon,” Gruden said. “You can wait it out, you can franchise him, you can force him to play, but we made a decision and we are going to stand by it.” 
Despite Gruden’s attempts to address it, the question remains as to who actually pulled the trigger on the deal. In fact, Gruden made an obvious attempt to distance himself from the situation when asked who made the decision.
“I am not going to get into the negotiation,” Gruden said. “(General manager) Reggie (McKenzie) and (director of football administration) Tom Delaney, and the people who were negotiating were involved with that. I know there was a feeling that I was involved with the day-to-day negotiations, (but) I had nothing to do with this. We were at a standoff. Something had to happen and here we are.”
Asked if he was even on board with the decision, he once again demurred.
“People are trying to divide us — I wanted him gone, he wanted him here,” Gruden responded, leaving who “he” is to the imagination. “We made a decision as an organization. (Owner) Mark Davis, Tom Delaney … We all got the information and we made a decision together.
“I’ll just say what he said yesterday,” Gruden added, this time the “he” referring to McKenzie, who talked with the media Saturday and said, “It was a decision we all came to.” 
“It wasn’t my goal to trade Khalil (Mack) when I got here,” the coach offered. “One of the reasons (I came here), is because of him. Unfortunately, we had a standoff with the contract and we could not come to terms. The Bears made us an offer of two first-round draft choices and here we are today. We have to put together a 53-man roster. It’s hard.
“We are getting these draft choices and we are trying to hit on the draft,” he added of the bounty reaped from the Bears. “We are trying to draft and develop. Obviously, the last three draft classes we haven’t got a lot of production out of yet.
“I don’t think there is anybody left in the ’13 draft … ’15, ’16, ’17 not much production at all,” he said, citing four years under McKenzie’s reign before Gruden arrives at the beginning of this year. “With that being said, you’ve got to fill holes and sometimes you got to fill those holes with free agents and some of those free agents are older, so that’s one of the reasons we are a little bit older than some teams. But we do have some good veteran leadership and we’re anxious to get started.” 
Anxious indeed.
“Look, we’re going to be second-guessed until the cows come home on this, I understand that,” Gruden said. “But the bottom line is that we did our due diligence, there was a standoff, and he got a great contract from the Bears, a great contract.