Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The Bears and Raiders almost had a trade worked out that would have sent Howie Long, entering just his third year, to the Bears for a first round pick in 1983. The trade was going to help Al Davis, in theory, move up to acquire John Elway. Obviously, the trade never materialized and the future Hall of Famer stayed a Raider and made his mark on the west coast. Fast forward to 2018 and the Raiders did pull the trigger on sending a future Hall of Fame defender to the Bears in Khalil Mack. As long as Mack wears navy and orange, these two franchises will be linked.
To help us answer the Mack question and a few others, I reached out to Levi Damien of Silver and Black Pride and he was kind enough to return my questions with thoughtful, insightful answers.
Windy City Gridiron: Let’s not bury the lede. The Raiders traded Khalil Mack to the Bears before the 2018 season for a 2019 1st rounder, a 2020 pick swap in the 1st & 2nd rounds, and some change. The Bears immediately signed Mack to the big-money extension he was looking for and... he’s looked like a bargain. Is this trade something that Raiders fans are angry about or was this a justifiable move in the rebuild?
Silver and Black Pride: There are different factions of Raiders fans. There are some who are and will probably always be angry about the trade. Mack was by far the best player the Raiders have had in several decades and they traded him in his prime. There are other fans who are intent on justifying it by saying ridiculous things like one player doesn’t win games. Other excuses include they couldn’t afford to keep him and Carr (factually false) and sign other players (also factually false) and that Mack didn’t want to be a Raider (absolutely no proof to back that claim). That’s what GMs say when they don’t want to pay a player. And that’s what fans want to hear, so they repeat it. Mack wanted to be paid what he was worth as the league’s top defender. Every time a top five player comes up for an extension, they want to be the highest paid player at their position. Always. But fans act like this isn’t true in order to talk themselves into Mack being a greedy player. I have not found a single legitimate reason to justify the team trading Mack. That tends to infuriate those fans who want to be believe the team is always right and the player is always wrong, but so be it. Teams make mistakes. This was the biggest one I’ve seen since I began covering this team 12 years ago. And there have been many (trading Amari Cooper was not one of them).
WCG: Sticking with defense, rookie Safety Johnathan Abram suffered a shoulder injury that sent him to the IR and Vontaze Burfict has been suspended for the rest of the year. Minus those two big names, who are the players on this defense that Bears fans need to worry about on Sunday?
S&BP: There hasn’t been a lot of consistency with the defensive play this season. Having a lot of young players and injuries is one reason for that. In terms of pass rush, Benson Mayowa leads the team with 3.5 sacks. The rest of the team has a combined 1.5 sacks, but fifth round rookie Maxx Crosby has looked very promising. Safety Karl Joseph has had his moments as well after finishing last season strong.
WCG: Coach Jon Gruden received a 10-year, $100 million contract to come back and coach the Raiders. We’re early in year 2 of that deal and Gruden seems to have remade this franchise in his image. Have you been able to discern what Gruden’s plan is for this franchise? What kind of team is he trying to build and how far away is he from getting there?
S&BP: His plan is not entirely clear. In the draft he was heavily focused on character players. Their first round picks all have great stories and high character and/or leadership abilities. In free agency, he seemed to care only about talent with no regard for character. That’s how the team ended up with Antonio Brown who was the most ridiculous headache I’ve ever seen, leading eventually to the team releasing him just prior to the season. Also the signing of Vontaze Burfict and Richie Incognito. Burfict lasted into the second quarter of his fourth game before getting suspended for the rest of the season and Incognito has been back for two games since serving a suspension to begin the season. So far the character of Abram was great until his style of play caused him to be lost to injury in the season opener. Clelin Ferrell is a great leader but hasn’t shown much in the way of pass rush, which is what the Raiders need from him. Josh Jacobs has been the bright spot. I suppose it’s ironic that he was selected with the pick the Bears traded to the Raiders for Khalil Mack.
WCG: Derek Carr has been efficient this year, completing 72% of his passes on the young season. Unfortunately, he suffered a lower leg injury in the win against the Colts and his status seems uncertain at this point in the week. What’s Carr been doing so far this year to be successful, what are the chances he plays on Sunday, and what is the contingency plan if he can’t go?
S&BP: His leg is fine. He isn’t on the injury report, so there’s no reason to think he is uncertain for the game. His backup is Mike Glennon which I don’t have to tell Bears fans how unfortunate it would be for the Raiders if he stepped in. Carr completes such a high percentage mostly because the majority of his passes are short range. He is a very accurate passer when his mechanics are sound. If he gets pressured, he gets erratic and doesn’t properly reset before throwing. If he gets comfortable back there, he can pick you apart. But if you get to him early, he will begin to hear footsteps where there are none and that means check downs upon check downs. He throws a lot of those as it is, but those are also a product of Gruden’s offense.
WCG: The Raiders used the 1st round draft pick acquired from the Bears in this year’s draft on Josh Jacobs, the running back out of Alabama. So far, he’s averaging 5 yards per carry and looks the part of the physical back his draft profile suggested. Were you happy with that pick and do you think Jacobs and this Raiders offensive line can have success against Chicago’s front seven?
S&BP: My thoughts on the drafting of Jacobs are layered. My immediate reaction was that I didn’t like the pick. He has proven my initial judgment of his skills wrong. I didn’t think he was bad, he just didn’t stand out to me on tape because he isn’t flashy. What I misjudged was his instincts and patient running style. He was worth a first round pick, however my opinion remains that he shouldn’t have been the pick at 24, but rather 27. My pick at 24 would have been Marquis Brown who went with the next pick. Even with Antonio Brown in house, his cousin ‘Hollywood’ would have been a worthy pick. What a top three Brown, Williams, and Brown would have been (and law firm name). Instead they went with Brown, Williams, and Ryan Grant. Then AB forced his way out and Grant was cut after doing nothing the first two games. If they had taken Marquis Brown at 24 they’d still have two worthy starting wideouts. So, you take Brown, Jacobs at 27 and hope Johnathan Abram is there when they pick again at 35. If Abram was not there, you go after a guard (also a dire need position) and the team would basically be in the same position they are in right now plus a top guard to build upon for years to come. Obviously there’s no guarantee all the draft picks would have worked out exactly as the Raiders may have hoped (they likely didn’t anyway), but that’s the draft. There was also no guarantee Antonio Brown was going to show himself to be marginally sane either, and the Raiders put all their eggs in that basket case.
Oh, and as to whether this Raiders offensive line can have success against the Bears’ front seven, I have serious doubts. Mostly that has to do with how good the Bears defensive line is. But the Raiders line has had its issues as well. Kolton Miller has been shaky at times at left tackle, Incognito has been just a passable left guard through two games at age 36, Gabe Jackson is still out at right guard with the team on their third option in Denzelle Good, and right tackle Trent Brown has been banged up a lot this season. Working in the Raiders’ favor is Rodney Hudson who is and continues to be arguably the best center in football, Gruden schemes to have Derek Carr get rid of the ball quickly when facing top pass rushing teams, and Jacobs has been top five this season in forced missed tackles.
Thank you Levi and Silver and Black Pride!