Gruden and the Raiders let Khalil Mack leave for draft picks, and the trade has been pure gold for the Bears.


Khalil Mack trade leaves one side laughing, the other fuming

Raiders coach Jon Gruden bristles at the subject of shipping off the game’s best pass rusher for draft picks. Bears coach Matt Nagy could talk about it all day.

SHARE Khalil Mack trade leaves one side laughing, the other fuming

LONDON — Here’s a suggestion for Raiders coach Jon Gruden. He won’t like it, but he needs to hear it:

Get used to being pestered about the Khalil Mack trade.

When you ship off a once-in-a-generation talent in his prime, you’re going to answer for it the rest of your career — especially when he wanted to be a Raider for life. When Mack goes into the Hall of Fame, we still will come knocking on your door, wanting to know why you gave him up for a handful of lottery tickets.

Gruden grew irritable on a conference call with Chicago reporters last week because, predictably, it opened with several questions about Mack in advance of the Bears-Raiders game Sunday at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

‘‘I’m not going to get into all the drama,’’ he said. ‘‘We wanted to sign Mack, OK? We didn’t want to trade him. I wish him the best.

‘‘We wanted to have him. We couldn’t make it happen. . . . If you have any other questions about the game, I’ll be happy to answer them.’’

No, thanks.

Mack’s revenge is the dominant storyline. It’ll balloon if he does to the Raiders what he has been doing to everyone else lately.

Bears coach Matt Nagy, however, was more than happy to revisit the heist. He was gleeful, even, when asked how it’s working out on his end.

‘‘I’d say pretty good,’’ Nagy said through laughter. ‘‘That’s keeping it rather light.’’

You mean you never sit around wishing you had those draft picks back?

‘‘What do you think?’’ he answered flatly.

Nagy charitably called it a ‘‘win-win,’’ a comment that can’t be taken seriously.

Gruden wants that to be true and keeps mentioning running back Josh Jacobs, whom he drafted No. 24 overall with one of the picks. He’s averaging 76.8 yards per game.

‘‘Both teams are winning the trade,’’ Raiders quarterback Derek Carr said. ‘‘If you can get Khalil Mack on your team, you’re winning. If you can get Josh Jacobs on your team, you’re winning. I think that’s the best way to put it.’’

That is decidedly not the best way to put it.

Since the trade, Mack leads the NFL with 10 forced fumbles and is fifth with 17 sacks.

That’s too simple a reduction, though. The broader effect of adding a world-class pass rusher who demands double- and triple-teams is that he elevates everyone else. It’s no coincidence the Bears are No. 1 in takeaways, sacks and opponent scoring since the trade.

That’s why Mack was worth two first-round picks and a $141 million contract.

Gruden insists he wanted to keep Mack, but there’s always a way. The truth is, the Raiders undervalued him. Mack didn’t want to play for the $13 million team option last season, which would have put him 17th in average annual pay among edge rushers.

His new deal with the Bears made him the highest-paid player at his position at $23.5 million. He’s making quarterback-level money because he makes quarterback-level impact.

That’s something Gruden doesn’t get. The most important players are quarterbacks and the guys who destroy them. Only the most out-of-touch coach in the league would trade Mack and use the draft pick to select a running back, arguably the most replaceable position in the modern game.

But ‘‘modern’’ isn’t a word anyone associates with Gruden. We’re way past his days as a mastermind as he nears relocation to Las Vegas. The Super Bowl he won with the Buccaneers was pre-iPhone, and he’s six losses away from falling to .500 for his career.

Trading Mack is one of Gruden’s greatest errors, and whatever Mack does to the Raiders on Sunday is going to frustrate him far more than anything the media could ask.

‘‘It’s going to be a fun one,’’ Mack said. ‘‘I can’t wait.’’

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