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Bears or Raiders: Who won the Khalil Mack trade?

Bears outside linebacker Robert Quinn said it under his breath when talking about Khalil Mack this week: “I don’t know who would ever trade him.”

Chicago Bears v Oakland Raiders
Khalil Mack played the Raiders two years ago.
Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images

Bears outside linebacker Robert Quinn said it under his breath when talking about Khalil Mack this week: “I don’t know who would ever trade him.”

On Sept. 1, 2018, the Raiders did. The Bears are better for it.

Did they win the trade? Probably. But it’s complicated.

Mack’s Bears have made the playoffs twice — but haven’t won a game. Mack had seven fewer sacks in his first three years with the Bears than he did in his last three years with the Raiders — but Pro Football Focus graded him highest among all NFL defenders last year. Mack might not be worth the draft picks plus the six-year, $141 million deal the Bears immediately gave him — but if he’s not, then no edge rusher is.

In the mind of Marc Ross, the NFL Network analyst who spent 11 years in the Giants’ front office, “whoever winds up with the best player and the most impact from that player, in my view, in the long run, wins.” Brad Spielberger, a PFF salary cap analyst and New Trier High School grad, doesn’t see it that way — even though he said Mack “might be the No. 1 success story” among all NFL stars acquired in blockbuster trades, dating to Jay Cutler in 2009.

“If he finishes his career in Chicago without a playoff win, can you call it a success even if he was phenomenal for, let’s say, six years? It’s kind of a judgement call ...” he said.

“I’m not gonna say the Bears lost the trade, but I think it’s almost impossible to win a trade where you’re sending out multiple first-round picks for a defensive player — or, frankly, for a non-quarterback.”

The Raiders sent Mack, a 2020 second-rounder [which became tight end Cole Kmet] and a 2020 seventh-rounder [Arlington Hambright] to the Bears. They got back the No. 24 pick in 2019, which they used on running back Josh Jacobs, a Pro Bowl pick last year; the No. 19 overall pick in 2020, cornerback Damon Arnette, who has started only seven times in two years and will miss Sunday’s game with groin injury; a 2019 sixth-round pick, cornerback Blessuan Austin, whom they sent to the Jets in a draft-day trade; and 2020 third-round pick Bryan Edwards, who has 11 catches for 204 yards this year.

“If the Raiders had knocked it out with those guys, it would have been a different story,” Ross said. “Instead, you got a rotational starting running back, really, out of the deal. So in my mind it’s a win for the Bears.”

Then there’s the money the Bears could have spent elsewhere: Mack’s $26.6 million cap hit last year was fourth-highest in the NFL. That number fell to 41 this year because of a restructure. Next year, he’ll be No. 11. Mack figures to be with the Bears through at least next year, when he has a $24 million dead cap hit. That lowers to $11.6 million in 2023.

If he were to hit the open market, Spielberger guesses Mack would get a two-year deal worth $50 million — not far from his 2022-23 cap hit that totals $58 million. If the Bears wanted to trade him, they’d be hard-pressed to land a first-round pick, he said.

The Raiders, though, did nothing with their found money. In 2019, coach Jon Gruden said that, had they extended Mack, the Raiders wouldn’t have been able to sign tackle Trent Brown, receiver Antonio Brown, cornerback Lamarcus Joyner, linebacker Vontaze Burfict or receiver Tyrell Williams. None of them play for the 2021 Raiders.

One person who doesn’t have an opinion on who won the trade: Mack himself.

“I’m the last person to think about what they got,” he said. “That’s not how I vibe. I know what we’ve got here, and ultimately, we want to win championships here and put ourselves in position to do those things. The thing that’s gonna do that is beating them this week.”