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What is the method to Jon Gruden

ALAMEDA, Calif. — Shocking? No doubt.

Trading your best player, in his prime, definitely has a what-in-the-world-is-going-on feel to it … in the moment.

But the haul Oakland will get from the Chicago Bears for Khalil Mack, well, it actually makes sense and sets the Raiders up quite nicely … in the future. So long as the locker room gets over this initial shock (more on that in a moment).

It’s not what many Raiders fans, and Raiders players, want to hear. Not when Mack is a “generational” talent, as Hall of Famer Howie Long has called him. Or when it sends a certain message that the Raiders are unwilling or even unable to pay premium prices for their premium homegrown talent.

The key, then, is Oakland making the most of the ransom it collected and, in a weird way, Raiders coach Jon Gruden recouping for himself what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers gave up for, yes, Jon Gruden in 2002.

But the Raiders have to nail these first-rounders, unlike what they did with Phillip Buchanon and Tyler Brayton in 2002 and 2003, respectively. And therein lies Gruden’s reasoning, although many would call it scouting hubris. Even with a slew of projected quality pass-rushers like Ohio State’s Nick Bosa, Alabama’s Raekwon Davis and Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell — not to mention Florida State’s Brian Burns, Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat and Boston College’s Zach Allen — all in Mel Kiper Jr.’s top 25, Gruden and Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie absolutely have to get these picks right.

The Raiders are really high on their most recent draft class, especially the three pass-rushers they selected: defensive tackles P.J. Hall and Maurice Hurst and defensive end Arden Key. But they were supposed to complement Mack, not replace him.

Mack is a two-time first-team All-Pro and 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year who has three straight seasons with at least 10.5 sacks and whose 40.5 career sacks rank second in the NFL since 2014. But there are financial concerns at play here.

The Raiders, still two years away from the lucrative move to Las Vegas, are more retooling than overhauling the roster. With the defensive market set Friday by Aaron Donald‘s six-year, $135 million contract with $87 million guaranteed, Oakland, without Mack’s pending extension, will also have more financial flexibility — to the tune of about $23 million more per season to spend not on just one player, but at least two.

And you know how much Gruden, rightly or wrongly, loves nameless, faceless veteran guys who would play for the love of the game and, well, next to nothing. This also shows, to an extent, that Gruden did not think the Raiders were one player away from competing for the playoffs this season.


Talk about a buzzkill for a Raiders fan base excited by Gruden’s return this year.

You can’t miss something you never had, right? And with Mack, under contract for more than $13.8 million on the fifth-year option of his rookie contract this season, staying away from the team since last year’s season finale on New Year’s Eve, there was no connection between Gruden and Mack. There was, however, a tight one between Mack and McKenzie, who had talked for more than a year of retaining his star.

“We want to keep our best players,” McKenzie would consistently say, while asking (joking?) at the owners meetings in March if anyone had $100 million to lend him to help pay Mack.

Two first-round draft picks sounds great and all, but for the present, the trade would seemingly marginalize McKenzie in the decision-making process while upsetting the locker room.

Last week, Pro Bowl offensive tackle Donald Penn said Mack “deserves everything he’s going to get, when he’s going to get it.”

This weekend, Derek Carr, a draft classmate of Mack’s who signed a five-year, $125 million contract extension in the summer of 2017, responded to a Mack tweet saying he missed football by tweeting, “I miss you.”

Saturday morning, Carr tweeted, “No way.”

And as teammate Bruce Irvin was awakened with news of the trade, he tweeted, “No f—ing way.” Fifteen minutes later, Irvin wrote, “What a shock. Now move on and win.. time to beat the Rams!!”

Yes, the Rams, Oakland’s Week 1 opponent — the same team that just paid Donald.

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