With chatter about the impending free agency of Steelers holdout running back Le’Veon Bell possibly being a target for the Raiders, many fail to see how signing new players (and paying them well) isn’t tantamount to validating this year’s roster choices as failures.
It’s a flawed premise with what we now know.
It goes something like this: If the Raiders use their piles of newfound salary cap cash to sign a big-name free agent talent like Le’Veon Bell, they were lying or dumb when it came to keeping Khalil Mack.
Raider Nation has been all over this logical gem since the trade happened using it as a self-hating, self-fulfilling prophecy heading toward 2019. As we now know from the exclusive interview obtained by ESPN.com this week, there was a lot more happening under the surface when it came to the Mack negotiations – or lack thereof.
In that interview, Raiders owner Mark Davis stated the team offered Mack a massive contract in 2017 after signing Derek Carr to his record deal. Mack and his agent passed wanting to wait. The deal, reportedly, would have made Mack the highest paid player in the NFL – albeit for a short time.
Here’s the fact most of the fellow members of Raider Nation completely miss: yes, the Raiders would have more wins with Mack on their defense, but would they be a championship-quality team? Hell no.
When Mack passed on the deal, he made the choice to wait to get more money. That strategy worked for him. From Davis’ comments, it appears Mack was going to hold out like the aforementioned Bell. Not just a few weeks but the entire season until he got an even richer (ie. Aaron Donald-type) contract. Those unknown facts (I know, I know many of you will call Davis a liar. Some will never be happy) change the way we must look at the trade.
There’s no questioning Mack’s talent on the field and he deserves a ton of credit for how he handled himself publicly during his Raiders holdout. Still, you have to like the Raiders decision to hold fast and realize they needed a lot more pieces than just a few to build a championship team. Mack was in it for Mack – and there’s nothing wrong with that. The fact remains if you want to build a championship team you need not individual superstars, but players who buy into a team concept and that even means taking less money perhaps. That doesn’t mean you don’t have superstars on championship teams, Y’all. It is exactly how the New England Patriots have dominated the NFL for two decades.
Here’s the fact most of the fellow members of Raider Nation completely miss: yes, the Raiders would have more wins with Mack on their defense, but would they be a championship-quality team?
Could they have as many as four wins? Perhaps. What that tells me is they’d be on track for another five or six-win season. They would be making great progress to being a middle-of-the-road playoff contender. That’s not the same as a Super Bowl contender. The NFL is littered with teams who make salary cap and player acquisition choices that put them in the middle of the pack. See the Dallas Cowboys, for example.
The Cowboys will most certainly give quarterback Dak Prescott a rich deal after his current rookie deal expires. In my view, Prescott is a good quarterback but pretty much average in every aspect of his game. The Cowboys, who love their quarterback, will overpay him for sure. Then, they’ll have to pay the newly acquired Amari Cooper $14 million next year and who knows how much for a new contract. The Cowboys are stuck with a couple of “superstar” players limiting their ability to fill the rest of the holes in their roster. This was explained nicely by Fox Sports Radio’s Doug Gottlieb recently.
In order to build something the right way, you sometimes have to set a true reset button. Yes, the Raiders have been in continual rebuild mode since 2002. But this one is different. If you don’t believe that, you’re wearing blinders.
The decision to completely tear down this roster was a smart and strategic move for Davis and his tenured coach Jon Gruden. It’s very unpopular and divisive in the short-term but follows recently successful examples from other professional sports. The Philadelphia 76ers, Houston Astros, and others have decided the very same thing the Raiders did this season. In order to build something the right way, you sometimes have to set a true reset button. Yes, the Raiders have been in continual rebuild mode since 2002. But this one is different. If you don’t believe that, you’re wearing blinders.
Does Raider Nation want a dominant franchise in the future? Or would they just be happy with consecutive playoff appearances after decades of football futility?
The big wild card here? Can Gruden build an organization to accomplish this goal? Only time will judge that.
It’s clear Mark Davis believes he will. It’s time to wait it out and see if the league’s next dominant franchise will be the Las Vegas Raiders.
Just save the “if they could afford X player, they could have afforded Mack” trash. Mack was in it for Mack and that’s just fine for him and the future of the Raiders. Sometimes saying goodbye is the healthiest move for both parties. Especially when you’ve got a complete roster to fill.
Building greatness always means painful and unpopular decisions. So far, so good for Davis and Gruden.