So much for the Bills bringing Khalil Mack back to Buffalo as an anchor for Sean McDermott’s defense. According to an ESPN report, the Raiders will trade the all-Pro linebacker to the Chicago Bears for two first-round draft picks.
Bills fans will have to settle for watching Mack play at New Era Field for the second year in a row. The Bears come to town on Nov. 4, presumably with Mack fortifying an already potent Bears defense. Mack played at New Era late last October, but was barely a factor in the Bills’ resounding 34-14 victory over an underachieving Raiders squad.
Mack, the greatest player in UB football history, was entering the fifth year of his contract with the Raiders, who had exercised the $13.846 option in his deal. Mack wanted to be the highest-paid defensive player in the league and held out of training camp. He also didn’t take part in off-season activities and hadn’t met head coach Jon Gruden, back after nine years as an announcer.
During his four years in the NFL, Mack has been named defensive player of the year (2016) and was named all-Pro at both linebacker and defensive end in 2015. His numbers fell off a year ago, but he’s still one of the most dynamic pass rushers in the sport.
But Gruden apparently decided he would rather spend money on multiple defensive players than pay Mack, who became the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history when he signed a six-year contract worth $141 million with the Bears.
The Raiders' decision to trade him stunned observers around the NFL. The thinking is, you pay for your stars when you’re looking to win. The Raiders were a 12-win team two years ago and perceived Super Bowl contender. But they slipped to 6-10 last year, hired Gruden, and devolved into rebuilding mode.
Gruden got a 10-year, $100 million deal to come back to coaching. It’s obvious that he’s the star with the Raiders now as they look ahead to their move to Las Vegas. If anyone is overpaid in this scenerio, it’s Gruden, who has spent the last nine years analyzing the game and will need time to get up to speed as a head coach.
The Bears, on the other hand, are going for it after winning a combined 19 games over the last four years. They added three offensive starters (wideouts Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, tight end Trey Burton) to give Mitch Trubisky a stronger supporting cast in his second year, not to mention a top offensive mind in new head coach Matt Nagy.
Chicago was 10th overall on defense a year ago and seventh against the pass. They added the best college linebacker, Georgia’s Roquan Smith, with the eighth pick of last April’s draft. Defensive end Akiem Hicks is a force at 6-5, 318 pounds, one of the most underrated defenders in the NFL.
The Bears haven’t made the playoffs since 2010, the third-longest drought in the league now that the Bills have finally made the playoffs. Clearly, they’re tired of being a punch line in the NFC North. By the time they hit Buffalo on Nov. 4 — perhaps with Mack in midseason form and Trubisky emerging as a star in his second season — the Bears could be the talk of the league.