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Khalil Mack reportedly headed to Chicago Bears for two first rounders and more

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Philadelphia Eagles Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

When Khalil Mack’s name started to float around as a potential trade piece for the Oakland (Las Vegas) Raiders, the fan base for every NFL team started to clamor. It has been widely reported and observed that marquee pass rushers, in their prime, rarely make it to free agency and are rarely available for trade. Pass rushers are the most coveted players on an NFL team behind quarterback and they can make a huge difference in the outcome of games, and in changing the personality of a defense.

I suppose all players have their price though, as Adam Schefter and Ian Rapoport reported this morning.

When the story first broke that Jon Gruden was willing to float Mack for potential trade partners, Colts fan were quick to poke fun at him. He is certainly not a traditional strategist, has a mixed track record as a talent evaluator, and has some throwback approaches to coaching his new team. Whether any of that will work out is unknown but to this point, fans of every other team are happy their franchise isn’t on the hook for $100 million in contract guarantees spanning 10 years.

NFL team owners and general managers tend to cling onto their star players. Not only are these players ones who can help win football games, which help put butts in seats, but they also sell merchandise and bring in sponsors. A name like Khalil Mack is one you can market to your fans. It is one that will bring dollars in for a team owner that the other players on his roster, collectively, will not.

Maybe that’s why Raiders owner Mark Davis isn’t too pleased by this development.

While the total compensation has yet to be disclosed, two first round draft picks is certainly valuable to a franchise. Losing those picks means forfeiting the chance to get two of the top players in the the next two drafts. It means potentially sacrificing over the next 2-4 years as a team feels the bulk of the impact of losing out on well above average starters at two different positions.

It is entirely fair and appropriate to acknowledge that draft picks are unknown quantities and first round misses are entirely possible but it is also fair to consider an example of what you might be giving up. Mack is 27 years old and is absolutely in the prime of his career. Barring injury, he should produce at a high level for at least the next 3-4 years. At his projected contract level, that will likely cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $60-$80 million at somewhere close to $20 million per year.

Over the last two seasons, the Colts have drafted Malik Hooker and Quenton Nelson. Both are projected as impact players at their respective positions. Nelson is projected to play at a Pro Bowl level as early as his rookie year. Hooker is projected to be a difference-maker on the back-end and is known for his ability to make plays on the ball and create turnovers. He had three interceptions and 4 passes defensed in seven games as a rookie — he was an early front runner for defensive rookie of the year.

Both Hooker and Nelson are in the growing and improving stages of their careers. They are more likely to improve throughout their rookie contracts as they gain experience and become more comfortable playing in a new system and with their new teammates. Together, Hooker and Nelson will cost just over $36 million over the next four years.

The current rate for a marquee player at safety is an average of more than $8 million per year, with the very best safeties making $10 million per year or more. The top young players at guard are currently pulling in north of $12 million per year on average. If both players compete at a high level relative to others at their position, they will represent $60-80 million in value for an NFL team at a under half the price.

Would you trade Nelson and Hooker, and whatever else the Bears have had to throw in, to receive Khalil Mack? What else could you get right now for a player who is valued at $40 million over the next four years — the amount you save with Nelson and Hooker on their rookie contracts?

According to Spotrac, the following players could also be added during the next four years at or below that projected amount (based upon 2018 contracts signed).

LB - Shaq Mason ($40 million)

DT - Star Lotulelei ($38.1 million)

DT - Dontari Poe ($28 million over three years)

CB - Aaron Colvin ($34 million)

LB - Anthony Hitchens ($33.7 million)

TE - Trey Burton ($32 million)

DT - Sheldon Richardson ($8 million for one year)

LB - Bernardrick McKinney ($31.2 million)

RB - Jerick McKinnon ($30 million)

WR - Paul Richardson ($30 million)

LB - Eric Kendricks ($28 million)

Would you trade Nelson, Hooker, and one of these players for Mack?

I wouldn’t feel comfortable resting the next four years on the health of one body versus three or more others for the same price. While I’m confident Mack will produce at a very high level and will generate a pass rush unlike anyone else on the Colts roster, I’m not sure that his impact outweighs the impact of Nelson on the offensive line, Hooker on the secondary, and potentially Dontari Poe on the defensive line or Anthony Hitches at linebacker or Jerick McKinnon at running back in this scheme.

I would feel more comfortable making this kind of trade if I felt like my franchise was a player away from legitimately challenging for a Super Bowl. I’m not sure the Bears fit in that mold and I’m confident the Colts do not. It comes as no surprise to me that Ballard wouldn’t give such a high price serious consideration at this point in roster development.


Should the Colts have been willing to trade two first rounders for Khalil Mack?

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