Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Would the Raiders Really Trade Khalil Mack?

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterAugust 8, 2018

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 17: Khalil Mack #52 of the Oakland Raiders looks on before the game against the Dallas Cowboys at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on December 17, 2017 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The relationship between Khalil Mack and the Raiders is trending in the wrong direction, the Hall of Fame eyes what would be a big mistake, and we have a candidate for the most exciting player in the league this season. All that and more in this week's 10-Point Stance.

   

1. Exodus of the Mack?

Would the Raiders trade star defensive end Khalil Mack?

The question itself seems absurd. It's like asking if Kirk would trade Spock.

The odds of such a trade were zero percent a few months back, but now they are 20 to 30 percent and increasing every day, one NFC team executive said.

"There's a feeling the Raiders are open for business when it comes to Mack," the exec said.

Mack is holding out for a better contract, but before anyone starts dreaming of Mack in their team's colors, know this: No one with the Raiders believes Mack's holdout will be a long one. And there's also a belief the trade talk is an expected part of the equation when a star player holds out. Teams are calling the Raiders (as they should) to see if Mack is available (he isn't).

Still, the dynamic has shifted. What was once thought impossible—trading Mack—is at least becoming plausible.

The reason, of course, is money. Mack wants to be paid similarly to Denver's Von Miller. According to Spotrac, the Broncos linebacker is in the middle of a six-year, $114.1 million contract that pays him $70 million in guaranteed money. Miller's average salary is $19 million a year; Mack is due approximately $13.8 million for this season.

About to start his fifth season in the league, Mack, 27, believes he's worth a more Miller-like commitment, and he's right. Mack has 40½ sacks over the past four years. He's as dominant a player as there is in the sport.

While other holdouts like the Steelers' Le'Veon Bell and the Rams' Aaron Donald are garnering more attention, Mack's story is equally impactful. If Donald is the best defensive player in football, Mack is likely second.

That is why most teams believe Mack will be back to attack (excuse the on-time rhyme down to my last dime). The Raiders know he is a transformational talent. They're not going to let him go easily.

Yet the feeling around the NFL is that things are escalating, and a few weeks ago, few thought we'd reach this point.

For now, Mack is willing to wait things out until the Raiders come to realize their star defensive end is too valuable to lose. Like the Rams and Steelers, it's likely they will but not guaranteed.

   

2. Is Gruden invested in keeping Mack? Maybe...

Eric Risberg/Associated Press

When it comes to Mack and his future in Oakland, front offices around the league are wondering where exactly Jon Gruden fits into the equation.

Does Gruden want Mack to return? Well, yeah, of course he does. Gruden isn't an idiot. Mack is a three-time Pro Bowler and a game-changer.

Gruden has left the negotiations to Reggie McKenzie, the team's general manager. Gruden just wants to coach the team and leave the deal-making to McKenzie.

Yet some teams have noticed what they view as a certain public distance Gruden is keeping from Mack. Most coaches would have shown up to Mack's house with flowers, candy, a new car, a rocket ship and perhaps a planetoid. They would do everything possible to make him feel wanted.

Most coaches would also use every press conference to praise Mack and say how badly they wanted Mack back.

Gruden has done some of that but not a lot.

Gruden's style, though, is to be sparing with public praise. But this isn't about how Player X performed on Sunday. This is about trying to keep one of the best defensive players in football happy and wanting to play for your team. It's anyone's guess how the aloof approach will play with Mack.

   

3. Is Raiders hype outpacing Raiders reality?

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

So, Mack issue aside, the Raiders are sure to be one of the most intriguing teams this season, from expectations to the return of Gruden to the talent on the roster. How will it all play out?

One longtime NFC assistant coach is optimistic: "Gruden is going to power them to 10 or 11 wins. Derek Carr will hate him. The team might hate him, too. But he'll push them and insult them. They will play hard for him, and I think the Raiders and [Carr] will stun the league."

This view seems unrealistic to me (eight wins sounds more likely), but it's a view I'm hearing with increasing consistency.

   

4. Top 5 Dez Bryant potential destinations...

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 17: Dez Bryant #88 of the Dallas Cowboys leaves the field after a win against the Oakland Raiders at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on December 17, 2017 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

Based on what I'm hearing from around the league and my own dumb opinion, here is where the former Cowboys receiver would fit best this season:

  • 49ers: Still a possibility, and Bryant wants to play there.
  • Browns: Remains the likeliest destination. The only caveat: Bryant wants to play for a playoff contender, and the Browns are to playoff contenders what I am to Denzel Washington.
  • Giants: Bryant could stick it to the Cowboys and pair with Odell Beckham Jr.
  • Cardinals: He could help the passing game take pressure off running back David Johnson.
  • Packers: An already loaded offense would be impossible to stop.

   

5. Brian Dawkins reminds us athletes are human, too

CANTON, OH - AUGUST 04: Brian Dawkins speaks during the 2018 NFL Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium on August 4, 2018 in Canton, Ohio. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Of all the Hall of Fame speeches made last weekend, the most impactful was that of Brian Dawkins. In fact, it was one of the greatest HoF speeches I've ever seen.

Pay special attention to his remarks beginning around the 4:30 mark to about 5:50. Dawkins reminds us that while players are physically superhuman, they have the same frailties and face the same life-altering challenges any human can face. And they, like us, sometimes need help in overcoming them.

   

6. Can Johnny Manziel adapt?

MONTREAL, QC - AUGUST 03:  Defensive end Jason Neill #96 of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (R) defends against quarterback Johnny Manziel #2 of the Montreal Alouettes (L) during the CFL game at Percival Molson Stadium on August 3, 2018 in Montreal, Quebec, Canad
Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

It's old news by now that Johnny Manziel threw four picks in his CFL debut last week. The question now is what does this mean for his future in football?

Some of us have been saying for some time the CFL is no joke. The league in some ways is tougher mentally on quarterbacks than the NFL because it moves almost as quickly while offering more space to operate and fewer opportunities to do so. It's a game that requires extensive study and smart decision-making. Manziel is oh-fer on those.

At this point, it's difficult to see a day when Manziel won't struggle. It might take him several years to become a professional, if he ever does. And along the way, he will continue to get wrecked.

   

7. T.O. deserves his honor; he doesn't deserve a rule

Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

So after Terrell Owens apparently miffed some at the Hall of Fame by accepting his enshrinement at his alma mater instead of in Canton, Ohio, a rule was floated that would require potential enshrinees to attend the induction ceremony in Canton, according to Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio.

Informally known as the Terrell Owens rule, the idea has some support, according to a variety of league sources who spoke with B/R.

The effort to institute the new rule reached a crescendo (always wanted to use that word) during a meeting of the Hall of Fame's board of trustees the Friday before last weekend's induction ceremony.

A number of trustees were furious with Owens for skipping the enshrinement, and they wanted a way to prevent similar boycotts in the future. So the trustees spoke about getting a guarantee from future honorees that they would commit to attending the ceremony.

While the Hall may not follow through with the plan, let me say now that it is one of the worst ideas the NFL has ever had. (The NFL will say the league and HoF are separate entities, but that's like saying an Alien face-hugger and some poor sap are separate.)

First, Owens was a unique case. It's unlikely a player will do that again.

Second, either a player is a Hall of Famer or he isn't. Attending the ceremony doesn't change that.

Last, what if a player says he will go the ceremony but doesn't? Would the Hall then rescind his enshrinement? That would be an outrage.

Best the Hall not indulge in overreaction and institute such a draconian measure. But, again, this is football, and overreaction and draconian often walk side by side.

   

8. Must-watch man

Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

It's unclear how good a quarterback the Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes will be. But he will be fun to watch.

Mahomes threading a deep pass into a receiver's waiting arms will by typical if his training camp throw to the top of the crossbar from 30 or so yards away is any indication. Now in his second season, Mahomes is a wild, explosive talent who must find a way to fit into the frenetic but controlled ways of professional football.

He will amaze and disappoint. He will open your eyes wide, so you beter watch closely.

   

9. Mass confusion reigns yet again over an NFL rule

Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

This season the league has made what may be one of its most substantial rules changes in decades in deciding to penalize players for "use of helmet" infractions. As constituted, though, the rule is a mess, which isn't the best thing to say about something that could fundamentally change how the sport is played by removing a great deal of physicality from football.

According to the NFL, "it is a foul if a player lowers his head to initiate and make contact with his helmet against an opponent."

Players and coaches tell me privately, though, there is great confusion about what exactly will be called a penalty. My guess is that at least 40 to 50 percent of the NFL's players, coaches and execs are uncertain.

This is shaping up as a point of confusion that may take years to sort out, to condition professional players to be more timid with their tackling and blocking.

In the meantime, teams and players are preparing for a mess. They fear games will turn into flag-fests and that the rule will cause massive disruptions in game flow.

Maybe this is more about fear of the unknown, but there hasn't been this type of trepidation over a rule change in a long time. Chaos awaits.

   

10. Enough is enough

Gary Landers/Associated Press

Several veteran players have told me they believe players need to, and will, make some type of statement decrying President Donald Trump's attacks on athletes. They were particularly angered when Trump recently questioned the intelligence of LeBron James in a tweet.

This isn't to say the majority of players feel this way. But there is an increasing sense of disgust with what players see as consistent attacks on black athletes.

Stay tuned.

   

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.

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