2018 Oakland Raiders: A Lesson Regarding Stockpiling Talent vs Risk
Former 2016 NFL executive of the year Reggie McKenzie was removed from his post as Oakland Raiders general manager. In 2012, McKenzie took over a franchise that was submerged in salary cap hell. His rebuilding efforts led to a 2016 team that finished with a 12-4 record and playoff appearance. Had Derek Carr avoided a late-season injury, a deep playoff run awaited them.
Two years made a huge difference. The Raiders entered 2017 as Super Bowl contenders. They missed the playoffs. Former Raiders head coach Jon Gruden left his cozy Monday Night Football color commentating gig to return to his former employer. Regression continued as, through Week 14, the Raiders are projected to have a top-three selection in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Why is Oakland projected to have such a high draft pick? They traded away Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper for what currently projects as the No. 24 and No. 26 picks in the upcoming draft. Those trades decimated a roster that already lacked talent. The Raiders are focused on maximizing draft capital in an attempt to rebuild their franchise in Coach Gruden’s image.
I won’t get into whether most blame should lie at the feet of McKenzie, Gruden, or owner Mark Davis. Let’s look at how undervaluing stars can decimate a roster when they’re traded for draft picks with undisclosed positions. Oakland traded away their top two talents for what they hoped would’ve been more than two 25ish picks. More like, at worst, top 15ish.
Khalil Mack to Chicago Bears
The Oakland Raiders acquired first-round selections in 2019 and 2020, a third rounder in 2020 and a sixth-round pick in 2019. The Raiders also sent the Bears a 2020 second-round selection. That trade occurred before Week 1. The Bears had a brand new coaching staff that hadn’t even showcased its capabilities. They featured one of the NFL’s finest defensive minds with Vic Fangio. Giving Fangio a 27-year-old Mack who’s entering his prime on an already quality defense? A 5-11 Bears team from a season ago was destined to improve.
Amari Cooper to Dallas Cowboys
Hindsight is 20/20. Coaches and management are paid to have the foresight to avoid these situations. At least they stockpiled multiple high draft picks. They repeated the same mistake when they traded Cooper to a 3-4 Cowboys team whose offense yearned for a wide receiver who could take the top off opposing defenses and eliminate focus on running back Ezekiel Elliott.
Why trade a 24-year-old first-round talent for a first-round pick? McKenzie himself admitted that Cooper was a first-round talent. Trade a proven first-round talent for a maybe first-round talent? Cooper hasn’t even entered his prime. Money shouldn’t have been an issue.
Stockpiling draft picks only works when a team stockpiles TALENT. Draft or free agency, got to stockpile TALENT. Trading one Pro Bowl TALENT for one RISK? Exchanging talent for risk is not a winning strategy.
Fast forward through Week 14. The Bears just dominated a Los Angeles Rams team whom many considered as Super Bowl favorites. Mack looks like the NFL’s best pass-rusher. The Cowboys won their fifth straight game with a season sweep of a Philadelphia Eagles team whose playoff hopes are on life support. Cooper looks like the NFL’s best wide receiver. Barring collapses, both teams will win their divisions.
Trading a proven mid-20s aged talent for an unproven first-round talent requires a gamble on stinginess. A team is trying to replacing a proven talent with a cheaper alternative via the draft.
Trading a proven mid-20s aged talent for an unproven first-round position requires a gamble on respect. The Raiders didn’t even know what draft pick they were getting. They still don’t. They blindly hoped that both teams would continue to fare poorly after major acquisitions.
The Raiders gambled on their respect of the Bears and Cowboys. They gambled on Mack and Cooper not rewarding immediate payoffs for their new clubs. The idea was that Chicago would remain a distant third behind the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings. Cooper wouldn’t give Dallas enough firepower to escape the mediocrity that plagued them during 2017 and the first half of 2018.
Lacking respect for opposing franchises didn’t pay off. Lacking respect for former stars didn’t pay off. Maybe Oakland should’ve dealt these players when they knew what they were getting? Or just pay the already proven and marketable talents while taking risks elsewhere?
Outkick the Coverage owner Clay Travis tweeted his feelings about the Cooper trade:
Amari Cooper: officially the greatest in season trade in NFL history.
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) December 10, 2018
What can the Oakland Raiders learn from this? How about “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure?” Don’t assume that another team can’t find value with your “trash.” Not when your draft positioning literally depends on those teams not improving when they acquire “trash” like Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper.
Aw, shucks. This is the Raiders. “Let’s trade the NFL’s best defensive player for an assumed top 10 draft pick although it could end up 25 or worse. Then let’s repeat the same mistake midseason. We’ll continue rebuilding with senior citizens. Replace Derek Carr with Jeff George. Or how about Blake Bortles? Yeah, that makes sense.”
Take solace in that the AFC West features a nothing special Denver Broncos team and a Los Angeles Chargers team with a quarterback aged 37. Good luck with Patrick Mahomes. Silencing doubters isn’t impossible. Maybe Coach Gruden can help this team return to the cream of the crop? Keep the faith! Umm…
Regardless, the Oakland Raiders have made things unnecessarily complicated.
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Joshua Huffman was born and edumacated in Middle Tennessee. He has published content for Yahoo! Sports (via Contributor Network) and Titan Sized, among other venues. At SoBros, he’ll provide Daily Fantasy Sports suggestions and broad sports coverage. Follow him on Twitter (I rarely use it).