It’s hard for an NFL team to embarrass itself on cut-down day. Maybe they take an L by cutting a recent draft pick, but such decisions are often seen and understood well ahead of time. Maybe they cut one or two players that cause everybody to scratch their heads, but while these choices stir up message boards, they’re still typically decisions regarding some of the least important players on the roster.
But in a span of a few hours Saturday, the Oakland Raiders made a series of moves that, combined, make no sense. They dumped their one true superstar for a haul of picks that almost certainly won’t replace him, gave up on a player the team just traded for, and gave away a draft pick to completely restructure their backup quarterback situation around a significantly worse quarterback.
I’m sure some degenerates out there have burned their homes down and put all the insurance money on red at a Las Vegas roulette table. But it’s a bit worrisome that this seems to be the entire strategy of the Vegas-bound Raiders, who are somehow shedding talent and assets that could help them acquire future talent.
We could have imagined that Jon Gruden would be an unconventional head coach after a full decade as an unconventional broadcaster, but there’s a difference between being unconventional and foolish, and the $100 million coach is trending toward the latter.
Here’s a rundown of the Raiders’ dreadful day:
Losing One of the Best Players in the NFL … and a Second-Round Pick!
Great football players are exceptionally hard to find, and Khalil Mack is a great football player. The Chicago Bears gave up two first-round picks to get him, which is a huge haul. But even so, it seems unlikely the Raiders will recoup the loss of Mack with two first-round picks.
Here’s a list of every first-round pick the Raiders have ever had. Which two recent picks besides Mack, in their primes, would be worth one Khalil Mack? Amari Cooper and Darren McFadden? Maybe. Players like Mack are rare exceptions. You need a very high draft pick and a stroke of luck to find them.
Hypothetically, the Raiders’ trade was done in the name of finance. Mack was holding out, asking for the biggest contract given to a defensive player in the history of the sport. (The Bears gave it to him.) But I can’t imagine the Raiders are going to find anything better to spend their money on. There are few players better than Mack and guess what? They’re all also making a ton of money.
But it gets worse, because stunningly, the Raiders didn’t just take on picks from the Bears. They also agreed to give up a second-round draft pick.
Trade official, source tells ESPN:— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 1, 2018
Bears get: Khalil Mack, a 2020 second-round round pick and a conditional 2020 fifth-round pick.
Raiders get: 2019 first-round pick, 2020 first-round pick, 2020 third-round pick, 2019 sixth-round pick.
So Bears get back second-round pick, too
The Raiders might be bad this season—they went 6-10 last year and just gave up their best player. That second-round pick might be pretty high!
Giving Up on Martavis Bryant
The Raiders traded a third-round pick for Martavis Bryant in April. The often-suspended wide receiver reportedly recently informed the Raiders that he might be facing yet another suspension, and so they opted to cut him. It’s an odd choice considering there is no official suspension yet and players suspended by the NFL don’t take up a spot on the 53-man roster or get paid.
The Raiders took a risk when they traded for Bryant given that he’d been frequently suspended during his career. Probably an unreasonably large one, to be honest. The second that risk reared its head, they gave up (even though nothing was forcing them to), ensuring their investment would result in nothing. The Steelers used the pick on quarterback Mason Rudolph—who will serve as the team’s backup while growing into a player who could take the reins from Ben Roethlisberger one day. Hmm, I wonder if the Raiders could use a young, intriguing backup QB.
Paying for an Awful Insurance Policy
The Raiders seemed to have their backup quarterback situation squared away. EJ Manuel had a great preseason, going 40-for-56 for 455 yards with four touchdowns and no picks. They also had recent third-round pick Connor Cook on the roster. But instead of just heading into the season with the status quo, they decided to cut both players, opting to trade a fifth-round pick for Bills quarterback A.J. McCarron. (McCarron did not have a great preseason—we’ll get to that.) This means that if starter Derek Carr gets injured, the Raiders will be rolling with a player who has only been on the roster for a couple of days. But it’s even weirder that they chose to give up an actual asset for McCarron.
McCarron was signed by the Bills with the expectation that he would start. It was a pretty reasonable expectation: The Bills had the worst quarterback situation in the league, with Nathan Peterman and Josh Allen the two other options. Peterman, a fifth-round selection in last year’s draft, threw five interceptions in one half in his first NFL start—statistically speaking, the worst game any quarterback has played in NFL history. Allen, a first-round pick this April, was one of the most controversial picks in recent memory, and even his supporters admit that he is incredibly raw.
But over the course of training camp, McCarron lost the job. He played in the fourth and final game of preseason, the one usually reserved for deep bench guys fighting for their roster chances. Against backups, McCarron went 13-for-34 for just 156 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Thanks to his awful early play, the Bills trailed by a lot, and McCarron led a comeback to win the game, leading to one of the saddest quotes I can remember:
AJ McCarron said that comeback was the most fun he's ever had at any level. Told his teammates beforehand they were about to go down and win and it would be legendary.— Matthew Fairburn (@MatthewFairburn) August 31, 2018
“Legendary”! For Game 4 of the preseason! McCarron was the starting quarterback for two national championships in college at Alabama, and he called a preseason comeback “the most fun he’s had at any level.” This is a broken man.
Oakland saw this man, a shadow of his former self, and decided they wanted him. And they decided they would give up a fifth-round pick for him, even though he just lost a quarterback competition to a fifth-round pick who threw five picks in a game. And they decided to simply cut both of their other quarterback options, so there would be no insurance policy besides this guy who’d been playing poorly in a different offensive system on the other side of the country.
The Raiders’ willingness to dump draft picks gives the impression they think they’ll be good soon. Which is an odd stance for a team to take on the same day they dumped the best player they’ve had in a decade.