Why Jon Gruden still loves the Khalil Mack trade

Leave a comment

Raiders coach Jon Gruden did notice his franchise won the award for best sports transaction at the prestigious MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, for the (previously) reviled deal of all-pro linebacker Khalil Mack to the Bears. The winner of the 2017 Nobel Prize for Economics, Richard Thaler, loved the deal because he doesn’t love mega-bucks non-quarterbacks, and like to maximize high draft choices. (The deal: Mack and a second-round pick to Chicago for two first-round picks and third- and fifth-round picks.) “I do know we got that,” Gruden said last week. “I think it was the only award we got last year.”

Interesting reaction, further, from Gruden. He’s never backed down from claims that the Raiders couldn’t afford to build a deep roster by paying two players gigantic money. In this case, that would have been, combined, paying Derek Carr and Mack, on average, about $47-million a year. So instead of keeping Mack and paying him, Gruden opted for the cost-controls of five first-round picks over the next two drafts, with the bigger money going to Antonio Brown ($19 million a year, average), Trent Brown ($17 million), Tyrell Williams ($11 million) and Lamarcus Joyner ($10.5 million).

Follow my math here. The 10 key Raiders right now—Carr, the four big free agents this year, and the five first-rounders over the next two drafts, averaging about a $3.5 million per player per year—will be a weight of about $99 million a year over the next three to four seasons. If the Raiders had kept Carr, Mack and wideout Amari Cooper and signed all the market contracts, that would be three players for about $65 million per year, on average.

“If we did come up with the money to make the [Mack] contract happen last year, we wouldn’t have any of these men we’re talking about now,” Gruden said. “We would not have Trent Brown. We would not have Antonio Brown. We wouldn’t have Lamarcus Joyner. We wouldn’t have [linebacker] Vontaze Burfict and we wouldn’t have Tyrell Williams. And we wouldn’t have the three first-rounders that we’re talking about.

“So, you have to consider all of it like the Nobel Prize winner did and digest it for yourself. I’m not gonna sit here and say that I didn’t cry for three days. I wanted to coach Mack and Mack knows it. But that trade allowed these acquisitions that we’re talking about today to even happen.”

It’ll be a fascinating experiment in roster management by Gruden and his new GM, Mike Mayock. But it’s damn hard to find Khalil Macks, even high in drafts.

Read more from Football Morning in America here

Let us count the ways Steelers are damaged from Antonio Brown trade

Leave a comment

I think of Pittsburgh’s trade of Brown to the Raiders for third-round and fifth-round picks the way I think of a college class. You get the syllabus on day one, with 15 compartmentalized lectures, all of them with tributaries that make the class so involved and complex.

Yet, it’s a little simpler for the Steelers, who are damaged. In many ways:

1. Getting third-round and fifth-round picks (66th and 141st) for the best receiver in football over the past six years is absurd. “When I saw the compensation this morning,” ex-Steeler Ryan Clark said Sunday evening, “I was shocked. This is the best receiver in football over the last six years. Oakland had the draft capital to pay a fair price for Antonio.” Credit to Raider negotiator and new GM Mike Mayock for taking a hard line on the trade, but think of this compensation. Put together, the value isn’t even of a top 50 draft choice. That’s awful.

2. The $21.1 million in dead 2019 cap money by trading Brown—11.2 percent of the Pittsburgh salary cap—is a paralyzing effect on the Steelers, obviously.

3. Two straight years, two straight mega-stars slap the Steelers in the face. Pittsburgh couldn’t find a way to make Le’Veon Bell play in 2018, and 2019 is off to a terrible start with the Brown subtraction. I asked Clark what he thought the moral of the story was. “Never be held captive by a player,” said Clark, now an ESPN analyst. “The limbo of Le’Veon Bell, in an organization that prides itself on being drama-free, played a role in the Antonio story. They just didn’t want another year of that.”

4. Mike Tomlin takes a big hit. Great coaches have to find a way to handle big and divisive personalities, and Brown drove a wedge into Tomlin’s team, and Tomlin couldn’t stop it. Tomlin’s going to have to examine how he handled Brown over the years, and be sure he doesn’t make the same mistakes with the next angry star—even if that means letting the guy walk before he can do the damage Brown did.

5. Two years ago, you could argue the Steelers had the best back in football and the best receiver in football, playing at their peaks. What do they have to show for that? For Bell, nothing for now—though they could get a Compensatory Pick in 2020 for him depending on their activity in free agency this spring. For Brown, two mid-round draft choices, and a $21-million anchor on their cap. Not good. Not good at all.

For one of the flagship franchises in the NFL, this has been an ugly last half-year.

Read more from Football Morning in America here

Antonio Brown’s a great fit with Raiders due to Jon Gruden’s street cred

Leave a comment

SEATTLE — Quite a weekend. You probably needed much of Sunday to digest the Antonio Brown trade. I know I did. So much to unpack, really.

I think of Pittsburgh’s trade of Brown to the Raiders for third-round and fifth-round picks the way I think of a college class. You get the syllabus on day one, with 15 compartmentalized lectures, all of them with tributaries that make the class so involved and complex.

With Brown, there are so many angles.

Here is a look at just a few of them, including why Brown is a great fit in Oakland. (Read about more angles of the trade here).

• Talent always wins. John Elway got trashed as a selfish guy coming out of Stanford in 1983, saying he wouldn’t play for Baltimore. Eli Manning got trashed the same way in 2004 saying he wouldn’t play for the Chargers. Deion Sanders invented a persona (Prime Time), found a way to moonlight with baseball as the best cornerback in football, then cashed in multiple times using one team against another in free agency.

Add Antonio Brown to that list now. Brown seemingly eviscerated his market in the last 10 weeks, since going AWOL from the Steelers in the final game of the season, then making a series of one-more-bizarre-than-the-other statements on TV and social media. But as one team executive told me Sunday, “The best players, even the a——, always have a market.” Elway found a team, and peace, and won two Super Bowls. Manning found a team, and peace, and won two Super Bowls. Sanders found multiple teams and broke the bank, and is the most accomplished multi-sport athlete of this time. Brown is a strange guy, but strange guys with six years straight of 100 receptions are going to have options. In this case, one good one.

• Gruden’s a good landing spot. The Raiders have been a willy-nilly trade-and-dump team in Gruden’s 14 months in office. With some reservations—mostly monetary—I’ll say this is a win. “One thing I know,” said Rich Gannon, who was a league MVP playing for Gruden in his first Raider stint, “is Jon loves these kinds of players. He’s got street cred with them. He’s done it with Andre Rison, Jerry Rice, Tim Brown, Sterling Sharpe, John Jett, Keyshawn Johnson … He’ll tell Antonio, ‘I’ll get you your 1,500 yards, your 120 balls, and here’s what you have to do for me.’ There are things Antonio will have to be accountable for. But honestly, I don’t think Jon will have a problem with him. And remember: Jon came up in the league coaching this position. He’ll be coaching Antonio a lot during the season.”

Bold prediction, though Gannon is a big Gruden guy. I do wonder two things: How will Brown handle losing, if the Raiders continue on that path? (Steelers regular season wins per year since Brown entered the league in 2010: 10.5. Raiders: 6.2.) And what happens if there’s a quarterback shakeup this year or next, and Derek Carr leaves and a rookie steps in? Is Brown going to be a steadying force in an unstable situation to help turn the team around? Those are legit questions. Brown was a great player and his work ethic a good example for young players. He’ll have a lot of young kids looking up to him now, and he can’t be the incendiary device he was in Pittsburgh.

• Brown’s a classic Raider. Over the years, so many players the rest the league either didn’t want or thought were kaput found their way to Oakland. Some flourished, some withered. But there’s always been a WELCOME sign in the Black Hole for players like Brown. Right now there’s so much pressure on Gruden to show he’s worth $100 million, and to breathe life into a lousy team, and to show Las Vegas it’s getting a premier team. The marriage, on the surface, makes sense. The football world’s first reaction when it looked like Brown was headed to Buffalo was, What a bummer. Brown with the Bills—that’s no fun. But Oakland is another story, as is Vegas in 2020. Now the players in this drama—Brown and Gruden most notably, and Tomlin righting the shaky ship at the confluence of the Three Rivers—have to play their parts.

Read more from Football Morning in America here