Khalil Mack

Khalil Mack Did Not Want To Play For Gruden

As Khalil Mack prepares to play his former team for the first time in London this afternoon, Mack made it known among then-Raiders teammates that he did not want to play for Jon Gruden after he became the head coach in early 2018, according to FOX’s Jay Glazer.

Mack, who has been a force for the Bears defense and was selected to his third first-team All Pro last year, was holding out for a new contract that lasted through Oakland’s offseason program, training camp, and preseason last year. Mack was entering the final year of his rookie contract and was scheduled to earn $13.84MM in 2018. Mack ended up getting his wish by becoming the highest paid defensive player in the league after being traded to the Bears in exchange for two first-round draft picks, one in 2019 and one in 2020, a sixth-rounder in 2019, and a third-rounder in 2020. 

At the time, Gruden was not willing to budge on a deal that would have paved the way for Mack’s return to the team. The Rams had just signed Aaron Donald to a record contract at the time, which raised the price tag on Mack considerably.

“That pretty much set the stage of what it was going to be,” Gruden said of Donald’s deal and its impact on the Mack trade. “And $90 million guaranteed is an astronomical number. It’s phenomenal, I think, for the players. Great for him, obviously. But that was something we could not do.”

Gruden told The Athletic this past Spring that he “cried for three days” after the deal. His team went 4-12 last season while Mack helped the Bears win the NFC North for the first time since 2010.

Since the trade last year, Mack has played in 18 games, and has 17 sacks, 10 forced fumbles, and a touchdown. In the same time, the Raiders have played 20 games, and their entire defense has recorded 18 sacks, eight forced fumbles, and two touchdowns.

Extra Points: Mack, AB, Ramsey, Kessler

The Bears are set to face off against the Raiders in London this weekend, which means Khalil Mack will have his first chance to play against his former team. The linebacker told reporters today that he actually envisioned playing for the Raiders for his entire career.

“That’s the expectation when you get drafted to a team: You want to be there for the long haul and bring championships and all those good things,” Mack said (via ESPN.com’s Jeff Dickerson). “It’s the business side of it that doesn’t really let you do that.”

Mack spent the first four seasons of his career with Oakland, but the Raiders put him on the block when the two sides couldn’t agree to a long-term selection. The Bears swooped in and ended up signing four-time Pro Bowler to a deal that included $90MM in guaranteed money. Mack rewarded his new team by compiling 47 tackles and 12.5 sacks in 14 games.

Let’s check out some more notes from around the NFL…

  • As the NFL continues to investigate Antonio Brown for alleged sexual assault, the wide receiver still hasn’t met with the league, tweets ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler. Considering the Pro Bowl receiver is currently a free agent, Fowler notes that it’s “unclear how cooperative he plans or needs to be.” As Charean Williams of ProFootballTalk.com writes, it’s likely that no team would sign Brown until the NFL’s investigation is complete, meaning the wideout could be forced to cooperate if he wants to play again.
  • Peter King of Football Morning in America writes that the Chargers might get into the Jalen Ramsey sweepstakes. The writer believes adding a top defensive player would be a savvy move as the organization prepares for a new stadium in 2020. King adds that he “still think[s]” that the Chiefs and Ravens are also involved in talks with the Jaguars. We heard earlier this week that the Jaguars rejected a trade that would have netted them a pair of late first-rounders.
  • Yesterday, the Eagles acquired linebacker Duke Riley and a sixth-round choice from the Falcons in exchange for safety Johnathan Cyprien and a seventh-round pick. SiriusXM’s Adam Caplan tweets that the seventh rounder is actually the Buccaneers’ selection. The Eagles originally acquired the pick in the offseason trade that brought DeSean Jackson back to Philly.
  • Quarterback Cody Kessler signed a minimum contract with the Patriots, tweets Ben Volin of the Boston Globe. This means he’ll earn a prorated $720K salary (a bit less than $593K for the rest of the season) with no guaranteed money and a $448K “injury split.” This essentially means the Patriots can evaluate Kessler’s spot on the roster on a week-by-week basis.

Packers Wanted Khalil Mack

In September, the Bears landed Khalil Mack in a trade that sent shockwaves throughout the football world. In an alternate universe, Mack could have ended up with their divisional rivals. In an interview with 105.7 The Fan Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy says he tried his best to land the All-Pro superstar. 

Well the whole Khalil Mack thing. It’s not that we didn’t try,” Murphy said. “We were aggressive. We wanted to sign him. I think, ironically, the Raiders took the Bears offer because they thought they would be a better [2019 first round] draft pick.”

Ultimately, that was not the case – the Packers finished out with the No. 12 overall pick while the Raiders secured the Bears’ No. 24 overall choice in the deal. Still, hindsight is 20/20 and it’s possible that things could have played out differently if Mack was in Green Bay.

It’s an interesting what-if scenario, but Murphy isn’t necessarily losing sleep over it. After all, if the Packers landed Mack and gave him a monster extension in addition to Aaron Rodgers‘ huge contract, there wouldn’t have been much left for the other players on the roster.

I don’t know if it is good to have the highest paid offensive player in the league, and the highest paid defensive player in the league,” Murphy said. “Is that a good way to build a team?

After the Packers missed out on Mack, the edge rusher inked a six-year, $141MM extension with Chicago that includes $90MM guaranteed and $60MM at signing.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Notes: Green, Bears, Mack, Steelers

A.J. Green is entering the final season of a four-year, $60MM contract. He is also coming off another injury-shortened slate, with a toe malady cutting it short. Bengals owner Mike Brown said earlier this year he would be interested in Green staying in Cincinnati on another deal. Green expressed the same sentiment over the weekend.

Cincinnati is home for me,” Green said, via FOX 19 in Cincinnati (video link). “I’ve been here nine years. This is home as much as South Carolina. All I know is Cincinnati. I can’t see myself playing anywhere else or playing in a different city. Hopefully I can be here for a couple more years, so we’ll see on that part.”

Green is entering his age-31 season and has missed 13 games over the past three years, but the seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver has proven to be one of the best players in Bengals history. The Bengals extended two other cornerstones last year, in Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, and Brown called the wideout a “proven commodity” earlier this year. No known talks have commenced between Green and Bengals. The receiver also said, via FOX 19, he has been cleared from the toe surgery he underwent in December. It is not certain if he will participate in Cincinnati’s minicamp next week.

Here is the latest from the North divisions:

  • During the 2018 Khalil Mack pursuit, Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy began calling their Raiders counterparts (Reggie McKenzie and Jon Gruden) about the All-Pro edge defender once training camp began last year. But the Bears’ prevailing thought as of late July 2018 was, in the words of player personnel director Josh Lucas, “What are we doing? They’re not going to trade this guy,” Lucas said (via J.J. Stankevitz of NBC Sports Chicago). But shortly before Chicago’s final preseason game — which occurred a day after the Aaron Donald extension, and as the Raiders’ patience with Mack was running out — Bears brass were told to submit their best offer. That proposal (a package fronted by two first-round picks and a third-rounder) won out. “I think we had an advantage because they wanted him to get out of the AFC, so being an NFC team, I think we had a pretty good chance,” Lucas said. “I don’t think the Raiders thought we were going to be any good last year, so they wanted our first-round pick. So I think that played a part of it.
  • After Adrian Amos and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix started the 2018 season as Bears and Packers safeties, the respective back-line defenders switched cities this year. Clearly on a roll at the Bears100 Celebration this week, Lucas added (via Stankevitz, on Twitter) the Bears consistently graded Clinton-Dix as superior to Amos. Pro Football Focus would disagree with the Bears’ assessment, particularly in 2017 (when the site gave Amos a 90.9 grade and Clinton-Dix a 71.5 mark). The Bears also landed Clinton-Dix for far cheaper (one year, $3MM) than the deal the Packers gave Amos (four years, $36MM), pointing to other teams sharing PFF’s view.
  • Sean Davis switched agents in advance of his contract year, moving from MBK sports management to Drew Rosenhaus, the safety confirmed (via Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). Davis said no extension talks have occurred between he and the Steelers and noted the safety market’s 2019 explosion as a reason he may bet on himself this season. “I just felt like I needed a change,” Davis said, via Fittipaldo, of switching from Eugene Lee to Rosenhaus. “Drew is a top agent, man. … The safety market went up this year. That puts a little more pressure on me to get the job done and to compete for those contracts.” After faring better as a free safety than he did at the strong safety spot in 2017, Davis will remain there this season.

Bears Restructure Khalil Mack’s Contract

The Bears are freeing up some cap space. Chicago is restructuring defensive end Khalil Mack‘s contract, a source told Field Yates of ESPN.com (Twitter link).

Yates writes that the move will create $11MM of cap space “by converting $13M of Khalil Mack’s base salary & roster bonus into a signing bonus.” It’s a win-win as Mack will get more money upfront, while the team will have some added flexibility. The $13MM will now be spread out over the course of Mack’s contract for cap purposes .

Yates also notes that the Bears are positioning themselves to make more moves in free agency. They signed cornerback Buster Skrine and made a couple of other minor moves like signing running back Mike Davis and re-signing tight end Ben Brauneckerbut it sounds like they’re still looking to make a big splash.

So far the story of Chicago’s offseason has been departures rather than acquisitions. Safety Adrian Amos left for the division rival Packers, while cornerback Bryce Callahan is expected to sign elsewhere. It’ll be very interesting to see what the Bears decide to do with this extra cash.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

49ers Notes: Foster, Mack, Goodwin

We know that soon-to-be-former 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster was arrested on a domestic violence charge last night following an incident at the team’s hotel in Tampa Bay, and that the team is going to put Foster on the waiver wire tomorrow. GM John Lynch has since given an interview on the situation, and he indicated that the decision to cut Foster was made because Foster failed to uphold the standards set for him after the issues he had earlier this year (Twitter link via Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com). Lynch added that he and team ownership agreed on the move.

Now for more from San Francisco, starting with more Foster fallout:

  • Matt Barrows of The Athletic provides a series of tweets with more detail on the Foster incident and Lynch’s reaction to it.
  • Former NFL agent Joel Corry notes that the 49ers will carry roughly $2.35MM in dead money for Foster on the 2019 cap (Twitter link). Foster’s two-game suspension that he served at the beginning of this season wiped out his base salary guarantees, so the dead money figure stems entirely from signing bonus proration.
  • In two separate pieces, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk examines Foster’s chances of being picked up by another club. Florio notes that any team interested in Foster’s services would first want to know if the league plans to place Foster on the Commissioner Exempt list, which is a device for keeping players off the field when those players face certain types of criminal charges, including allegations of domestic violence. A player cannot be placed on the list unless he is on a team, but he would be eligible to be paid during his stay on the list. Any team is free to call the league office to determine what its intentions are with respect to Foster, but unless the league is able to definitively say that Foster is not a candidate for the list — which seems unlikely — it does not appear that Foster will be claimed on waivers. It also seems that no one will be interested in signing Foster even when he clears waivers until his status with the league is determined.
  • We knew that the 49ers were interested in trading for Khalil Mack before he was dealt to the Bears, but we also heard that San Francisco had simply been outbid by Chicago. However, Lynch indicated during a radio interview with 95.7 The Game on Friday that he continues to believe that the 49ers had a better offer on the table for Mack (audio link). To get Mack, the Bears gave up two first-round picks, a 2019 sixth-rounder, and a 2020 third-rounder (though some draft capital came back to Chicago as well), so Lynch is apparently suggesting that he was prepared to give more than that to land the elite defender.
  • Wide receiver Marquise Goodwin traveled with the team to Tampa Bay, but he is not present for San Francisco’s matchup with the Bucs, as Adam Schefter of ESPN.com tweets. Goodwin was reportedly excused from the team to address a personal matter, and he was also excused from practice earlier this week due to a personal matter, though it is presently unclear whether it is the same issue.
  • Ahkello Witherspoon, who was selected two rounds after Foster in the 2017 draft, is at something of a crossroads with the 49ers, as Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle writes. Witherspoon has been benched twice this year and has regressed in coverage and tackling after a strong rookie campaign, and while it seems unlikely the 49ers would cut him at the end of the season, his play over the course of the team’s final six games will have a big impact on how aggressively the 49ers pursue cornerback upgrades in the offseason.

Raiders Owner On Mack Trade, Gruden

Raiders owner Mark Davis is taking responsibility for the team’s 1-8 start, even though many are pointing fingers at head coach Jon Gruden

I always look in the mirror, and the buck stops with me,” Davis told ESPN.com’s Paul Gutierrez. “Where this team is right now is my fault. We haven’t been able to build a 22-man roster. We haven’t been able to give this team a chance to win because the reconstruction failed. We failed from 2014 on to have a roster right now.”

Over the course of a 45-minute interview, Davis discussed Gruden, GM Reggie McKenzie, the team’s widely panned trade of defensive star Khalil Mack, and much more. Here’s a look at the highlights:

On Gruden’s role in the Mack trade:

Jon wanted him. Everybody thinks that Jon’s the one who wanted to get rid of him. Jon wanted him badly. Why wouldn’t you want this guy? Reggie wanted him badly. And I wanted him badly, too. But, if in fact we were going to give the type of money that we were going to give to him, and we had Derek on that type of a (contract), how were we going to go ahead and build this football team, with all the holes that we had?

On what prompted the team to send Mack to the Bears: 

My thought was, “Listen, he signed a five-year contract, if he’s the type of guy that I think he is, he’s going to honor that contract.” And he’s going to come in and play for the $13MM for this year and then we’ll work for him during the year and get it. Word came back through certain players that know him and talk to him and know me as well, that he wasn’t going to come in. He was going to do the Le’Veon Bell (holdout). At that point, I said, F’ it. The guy hasn’t talked to anybody. We’ve got to do something.

On Mack’s agent, Joel Segal:

It might not have been the right decision, but the other point to this whole thing is that Segal is also the agent for Amari Cooper. And we knew the same situation was coming up the next year. It wasn’t just one layer of chess; it was two layers of chess. But to blame Jon, for Khalil Mack not being here, is absolutely not the truth. It was a decision that was made and it wasn’t made easily … I don’t have any bad feelings toward (Mack). I wish he would have talked to Jon and Reggie and wanted to at least honor the fifth year of his contract.

On the future of quarterback Derek Carr:

Derek is taking a lot of s— right now. He is the franchise quarterback right now. He doesn’t have Amari Cooper. He lost (Martavis) Bryant to a knee injury today. Guys have been getting hurt. Who’s he throwing to? Jordy Nelson and Seth Roberts, which are good guys. But they’re not putting the fear of God in anybody. The tight end (Jared Cook) is playing his ass off. You look at the quarterback and he’s playing behind a battered offensive line … so I don’t know what you can put on Derek and I don’t think it’s fair to put all the blame on him.

On McKenzie’s future:

Reggie and I need to sit down and talk and figure out how we are going to go about the future. We’ve got to look in the mirror and figure out, where the hell did we go wrong in trying to build this thing? We failed. I have failed. But at the same time, we wouldn’t have been in the great position we were in without Reggie McKenzie being here.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Injury Notes: Gronk, Mack, Pack, Eagles

A third Rob Gronkowski injury absence appears to be in the cards. The Patriots will not deploy their All-Pro tight end to play Sunday against the Titans, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com tweets. While Gronkowski is traveling with the team to Nashville, per ESPN.com’s Mike Reiss (on Twitter), he’s expected to be held out. Gronk missed games against the Bears and Packers but played in Buffalo on the Monday night in between those tilts. He’s been dealing with back and ankle trouble. While the Patriots have been able to win without their top pass-catcher, these repeated absences are obviously a concern for the future Hall of Famer’s availability for New England’s stretch run and potentially his post-2018 NFL future. It’s likely the Pats are attempting to rest Gronk now to hopefully see him healthy for key late-season games and the playoffs, but that can’t be considered a lock given his extensive injury history. Gronkowski hitting his incentive targets may now be unrealistic as well.

Here’s the latest from the Week 10 injury front.

  • Better news for the Bears. They’re in line to have both Khalil Mack and Allen Robinson back on Sunday when they face the Lions, per the Associated Press. Mack is no longer on the injury report after missing the past two Chicago games because of an ankle malady. His defensive player of the year chances took a hit because of this hiatus and Aaron Donald continuing another all-world season but Mack figures to still be in the running and can help a team attempting reach the playoffs for the first time in eight years.
  • The Lions‘ Robinson coverage options will be limited. Darius Slay is out for Week 10, joining guard T.J. Lang in that regard. Slay’s played in each of Detroit’s previous eight games and hasn’t missed time since 2016 but is battling a knee injury. A neck ailment will sideline Lang, who also missed time because of a concussion this season.
  • A tough injury night against the Patriots will have after-effects for the Packers. Kevin King will not play Sunday against the Dolphins because of a hamstring injury. Bashaud Breeland, whom ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky notes appeared to impress the Packers in his Green Bay debut, figures to see more time.
  • Both Sidney Jones and Jalen Mills are going to miss Sunday night’s Eagles-Cowboys game, but Corey Graham will return after missing four games, per Sirius XM Radio’s Adam Caplan (on Twitter). After claiming Cre’Von LeBlanc off waivers earlier this week, surely due to injuries affecting the aforementioned duo, the Eagles have seven corners on their roster.
  • Taco Charlton and Connor Williams aren’t playing for the Cowboys on Sunday. Xavier Su’a-Filo appears to be the choice to replace Williams at left guard for Dallas, per executive VP Stephen Jones (Twitter link). A full-time Texans starter the past two seasons, Su’a-Filo has not played this season. Williams is down with a knee injury.

Jets Made Strong Push For Khalil Mack

On Sunday, the Jets will face off against Khalil Mack at Soldier Field. Had things gone differently, Mack could have been on their side in Chicago. The Jets were willing to part with a 2019 first-round pick, a 2020 second-round pick, and more in a trade with Oakland, but the Raiders did not engage with the Jets late in the bidding process that ended with the Bears getting the star defensive end, Manish Mehta of the Daily News writes. 

Ultimately, the Raiders traded Mack to the Bears for two first-rounders, a 2020 third-rounder, and a 2019 sixth-rounder. The Bears also received the Raiders’ 2020 second-rounder and a 2020 conditional fifth-rounder.

The Jets might have been willing to match or exceed the Bears offer. Even now, coach Todd Bowles struggles to hide his affinity for the league’s most terrifying defensive player.

He’s more of a complete outside backer than most,” Bowles said. “There are fast ones, there are strong ones, but he can do all of the above. He can run around you. He can run over you. He can strip the ball. He can catch the ball. He can drop in coverage. He’s a more complete player than a lot of players today.”

The Jets believe that the Raiders did not want to trade Mack within the conference, which led to the Bears deal. The Raiders may have been able to get more out of the Jets, but they did limit their exposure to Mack for a long time by shipping him to the NFC. After the trade, Mack inked a massive extension with Chicago that will keep him in place through the 2024 season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jets Looking For Pass Rush Help, Made Big Offer For Mack

The Jets missed out on the Khalil Mack sweepstakes, but will continue looking for help rushing the passer. They recently brought in outside linebacker John Simon for a visit, although they didn’t end up signing him. New York has also worked out a string of other lower-profile defensive linemen and outside linebackers in recent weeks.

Their intention to bring in outside help was recently confirmed by Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, who writes that acquiring such a player remains the team’s primary objective. He adds that the Jets were even more serious about trading for Mack than was originally reported, and that they would likely have been willing to meet or beat the Bears’ winning offer, which included two first-round draft picks.

La Canfora says the Raiders essentially ended the bidding on Mack once they received assurances that Chicago was willing to part with two first-rounders, especially since trading him to the Bears allowed them to get Mack out of the AFC.

But the Jets have a ton of cap space and a commitment from ownership, so they will continue to leave no stone unturned in their pursuit of a QB hunter. Former NFL agent Joel Corry wonders if, next offseason, the Jets could be involved in the first edge rusher tag and trade since Jared Allen was tagged by the Chiefs and traded to the Vikings in 2008 (Twitter link). Whatever happens, expect the Jets to be aggressive in building their roster as they transition into the Sam Darnold-era.