It’s the kind of move that can only reasonably happen in Madden. The team with the best offensive player in the league trades for arguably the best defensive player. Even the most deranged fans generally shy away from calling up their local radio station or podcast host to insist their team make a move like the one being discussed among Packers Nation right now:
Trade for Khalil Mack.
Unwilling to play the last year of his deal at his current price, the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year hasn’t practiced with the Raiders in training camp and has no plans to do so. Reports have Mack’s camp at odds with Oakland management to the point they’re not even actively involved in negotiations.
As this fight grows bitter, conversations have bubbled up about a potential trade. Over the weekend, OddSharks posted odds on where Mack would be playing by mid-fall and the Packers had better odds than the Raiders — in fact, they had better odds than all 31 other NFL teams. Brian Gutekunst made a joke about calling Reggie McKenzie in a press conference last week that didn’t outright dismiss questions about whether Green Bay might be interested.
But let’s, for the moment, set aside whether it’s at all likely Oakland ends up trading the best player on their team (doubtful) and narrow the focus to whether or not it makes sense for the Packers.
Here’s the short answer: absolutely.
The starting point of any deal, before compensation or a new contract, would be would Mack report to camp without a new contract? Green Bay’s road splits into two camps depending on the answer, but Mack has to want to play for the Packers at least in 2018 before any deal can be struck.
Compensation flows from his willingness to talk deal. Gutekunst would likely be more willing to part with major assets if the precondition for any trade involved a negotiated extension. That kind of clarity with the financial future would be worth more to the Packers.
If Mack is simply willing to attend training camp and play in 2018 — no deal but at least he’ll play (and we assume the Raiders will willingly trade him in this scenario) — that should be enough for Gutekunst to pull the trigger. No new contract needs to be negotiated ahead of time. If he’ll come to camp and play in 2018, help the Packers compete for a Super Bowl, that’s worth what it would likely cost to get him.
What would it take? There’s no recent precedent to rely on here.
To find a defensive star traded in his prime, we have to go back to 2004 to the Clinton Portis-Champ Bailey deal in which the Broncos actually sent an additional pick with Bailey to get Portis.
The league was wildly different then, with the value of running backs out of wack with where the game is in 2018. That kind of deal would never happen in today’s league. That said, it took a superstar player (at the time) to make that deal happen.
Oakland wouldn’t give up Mack for a first-round pick at least. The question becomes how much more will it take? Brandin Cooks went for a first (twice). Likewise for Percy Harvin. Mack presents considerably more impact in a vacuum, but his contract situation looms over all of this.
That may actually make a trade more intuitive from Green Bay’s standpoint.
One of the ways the Packers could fit Mack’s eventual mega-deal under the cap would be to let Clay Matthews walk at the end of the 2018 season when his contract expires. Ditto for Randall Cobb. Combined, those two players leaving wipes $24 million off the books for 2019. Justin Houston holds the biggest cap number of any pass rusher in football right now at $20.6 million for 2018. Simply washing their hands of those contracts more than frees up enough space to sign Mack.
Instead of allowing Matthews to leave in free agency, why not just deal him now? Jon Gruden clearly loves established veterans and already spent on bringing in a past-his-prime former Packer. How about a first plus Matthews (the Raiders can sell it as still wanting to compete) plus another pick, let’s call it a fourth that can turn into a third if Mack plays 16 games?
That would be well worth the risk even if Mack isn’t signed to a contract outright as part of the deal (Remember, the baseline here is assuming Mack will come play in Green Bay for the one season on his deal). It’s the chance to go win a Super Bowl with the best offensive-defensive 1-2 punch in the league since Favre-White for a first and a mid-round pick. Plus the Packers would still keep one of their firsts, whether it’s their own or the Saints pick, so they’re not having to mortgage their short-term future for short-term gain.
Theoretically, a Super Bowl run and the biggest contract in football for a defender would assuage any fears Mack would have about playing in Green Bay. On the other hand, Mack is from a small town in Florida and played in Buffalo and may not shy away from the quaint (by NFL standards) feel of the NFL’s tiniest market. Rodgers proves it’s easy enough to be a star there.
Whether or not Reggie McKenzie or Jon Gruden would actually be willing to pull the trigger on any deal for their star defender doesn’t feel like much of a debate. Cooler heads will likely prevail and the potential loss of money for Mack sitting out actual games should spur a deal. But Gruden may just be zany enough to push this to the bring, doing irreparable damage to the relationship with their star. If it gets to that point, Gutekunst should stick to his word that they would be in every discussion for available players.
Green Bay would be uniquely positioned both financially and from a trade capital perspective to pull the trigger on a blockbuster. Trading a beloved star and a future pick for a possible one-year rental may seem like a lot, but when weighed against the possibility of winning a Super Bowl feels like a reasonable price to pay.