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Graney: Raiders players must shine to justify trading Mack

When it comes to grading a blockbuster trade in sports, think of it this way: It’s like a team watching game film. It’s never as good or as bad as you imagined in the moment.

A final determination on who won a particular deal shouldn’t be made immediately.

How the Raiders ultimately fared in trading a generational talent like linebacker Khalil Mack to the Bears nine days before the 2018 season still isn’t totally known.

It is for the Bears. Has been since Mack arrived in Chicago. They received a Hall of Fame talent who is the first player in NFL history to be selected first-team All-Pro at two positions. The Bears went 12-4 and won their division in his first season with the team.

He’s 3-for-3 on Pro Bowl selections in Chicago. He also has four sacks early this season on a defense that leads the league with 15.

Mack’s value is the easy part to figure out.

The other side

But as the Raiders prepare to host the Bears on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium — Mack’s first game against his former team not played in London — judging the deal’s other side remains a work in progress.

“When that trade happened, it broke my heart,” said Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. “He’s one of my best friends in the whole world. I still miss him. We got a lot of good players from that trade. Good teammates. Good dudes. How I feel about (Mack) has nothing to do with how I feel about them.”

Let’s pump the brakes on the part about good players.

Mack held out in 2018. He wanted a long-term deal and the financial stability that comes with it. Never happened.

So the Raiders, whose owner Mark Davis said at the time that Mack was offered a contract in 2017 that would have made him the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL, traded him to Chicago.

The Bears then signed Mack — who has 34 sacks in his time with them — to a six-year, $141 million extension. He is listed as questionable for Sunday with foot and rib injuries but is expected to play.

Revisiting the Raiders side of things: They sent Mack, a second-round pick and a seventh for two firsts, a third and a sixth. Which, on the face of things, meant they potentially received as much in assets — perhaps even more — than the Bears.

Who those draft picks returned: Running back Josh Jacobs and cornerback Damon Arnette as the firsts and wide receiver Bryan Edwards as the third. The Raiders also eventually added cornerback Trayvon Mullen and tight end Foster Moreau among other names through maneuvering that sixth-round pick.

It’s a tale of below-average results for the Raiders so far.

Jacobs has proven solid — when healthy — at an overvalued position; Arnette has been a complete miss thus far as the 19th overall pick last year; Edwards is steadily improving in a second season.

Also consider: In the two years following Mack’s departure, the Raiders saw their average number of sacks drop by more than 12. They were brutal rushing the passer.

But things are slowly changing. Names like Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue have made the front a source of strength this season. It was actually reported that the Raiders called the Bears about reacquiring Mack before signing Ngakoue in free agency this year.

“We’re going to have our hands full (Sunday),” Mack said. “It’s going to be different because you understand the (Raiders) fan base and what it means to me, especially. It’s going to be fun to play in front of Raider Nation.”

He was then asked if it’s human nature to be more fired up to play the Raiders.

“Would it be human nature for you?” Mack said. “I’ll be out there 100 percent. I don’t care what they do. I just know I’ll be ready.”

Time will tell

The passage of time often changes perception. Three years ago, many believed the Bears had completed a heist larger than anything Ferdinand Marcos pulled off. Others thought the Raiders had gained valuable draft capital.

And yet until those young names on the Raiders ultimately succeed or fail as NFL players — and to what level — assigning a final grade to the trade is pointless.

“It was 100 percent business,” Carr said. “I don’t know what happened with (the trade). … My best friend was gone. But right now, those things don’t matter when it comes to this game.

“I’m not going to stop talking to him the whole game.”

He better hope most of those conversations aren’t in the backfield.

Ed Graney is a Sigma Delta Chi Award winner for sports column writing and can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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