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Raiders still defending their trade of Khalil Mack to Bears

INDIANAPOLIS — It took only six questions at the NFL Scouting Combine for Raiders coach Jon Gruden to be put back on the proverbial hot seat for trading outside linebacker Khalil Mack to the Bears before last season.

Gruden was asked whether receiving the No. 24 pick from the Bears, instead of what the Raiders believed would be a significantly higher selection in the draft, changed his outlook on the blockbuster trade.

“No, it just doesn’t,” Gruden said. “We have no control over what happens really other than what we do with the pick.”

During an appearance on NFL Network from the Indiana Convention Center, Bears coach Matt Nagy was jokingly asked whether he would take two first-round picks in exchange for Mack right now.

Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack figures to be picked to the Pro Bowl. | Nam Y. Huh/AP photo

The Bears traded for Khalil Mack in September. | Nam Y. Huh/AP photo

“Nope,”  he replied.

How about three?

“Nope.”

The Bears still are reveling in Mack’s addition. They have a sure-fire All-Pro player — a true centerpiece for what should be one of the best defenses in the NFL for the foreseeable future. The Raiders have hope with 10 draft picks this year — including the fourth and 27th selections, plus the Bears’ pick — but uncertainty still comes with it. The Bears know what they have; the Raiders, regardless of their pre-draft work, don’t.

“We have to hit on [the first-round picks], obviously,” draft analyst-turned-Raiders general manager Mike Mayock said at the combine. “What I keep trying to tell our staff, from A to Z, is those two seventh-round picks are just as important as the three first-round picks, and the college free agents that we sign after that are just as important.”

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But it all starts with the first round. The Raiders acquired the No. 27 pick from the Cowboys for receiver Amari Cooper, who was the fourth overall pick in the 2015 draft. Mack was the fifth pick in 2015.

Gruden likely will have to entertain questions about the Bears next year, too, because the Raiders also have the Bears’ first-rounder in 2020. If the Raiders don’t significantly improve during the 2019 season, the Bears will have a high second-round pick from them. The Bears potentially can win again.

In a different interview with Bay Area reporters Thursday, Gruden bemoaned the criticism that has followed the Mack trade. He even questioned what his brother, Redskins coach Jay Gruden, received in return for losing quarterback Kirk Cousins in free agency last year.

“It’s hard to replace a guy like that,” Gruden said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s sensitive. I’m sensitive about it. I’m happy for Mack. I’m really thrilled for him and his future and all of that. He’s a hard guy to replace, and we’ll do everything we can. But I do know this: My brother didn’t get anything for Kirk Cousins except a compensatory pick.”

Mayock said this year has a strong class for edge rushers. He just has to the select the right one — or two — after Gruden parted with one of the league’s best last year.

Ohio State’s Nick Bosa is widely viewed as a candidate for the Cardinals’ first overall pick, but Kentucky’s Josh Allen could be available at No. 4.

Michigan’s Rashan Gary, Mississippi’s Montez Sweat, Florida’s Jachai Polite and Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell are edge rushers who also are viewed as high-round picks.

“We’ve got 10 picks, and we value all of them,” Mayock said. “We need to hit on a high, high percentage. We’ve got more needs than I can even tell you about right now, and that means we’ve got to hit everywhere.”