PHILADELPHIA — Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan has already made a major trade this week. Could he pull off another in the coming days?
The Jets and the entire NFL are watching the situation in Oakland between the Raiders and star pass rusher Khalil Mack closely. The two sides are involved in a contract standoff with no end in sight. There have been no contract discussions in months, and no one is sure if Mack will show up for the start of the season after staying away from training camp.
That has fueled speculation the Raiders could trade Mack, the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year. Elite pass rushers, like quarterbacks, do not usually hit the market and are rarely traded. Many people around the league still think it is a long shot for Mack to get traded, but new coach Jon Gruden is a wild card. Gruden is unconventional and could just decide to move on from Mack.
If Mack does hit the market, the Jets would be one of his suitors. Like most teams in the NFL, the Jets are interested in the 27-year-old. They desperately need a pass rusher, which has been a gaping roster hole for more than a decade. How interested? Well, that is going to depend on the price.
The NFL Network reported Wednesday that the Raiders are asking for two first-round picks. That likely is too rich for Maccagnan. But it feels like just a starting point for the Raiders, who do not appear motivated to move Mack at the moment. If things go unresolved for another week or two, that price should come down. One league executive speculated a first- and second-round pick would probably get it done.
The Jets do not have a second-round pick in the 2019 draft after sending it to the Colts to move up in the 2018 draft to the No. 3 pick, where they eventually chose Sam Darnold.
In the trade with the Saints for Teddy Bridgewater on Wednesday, the Jets received a third-round pick, giving them two in that round. That could help in any trade scenarios for Mack, but it still appears the Raiders are a long way off from accepting a package of a first- and third-round pick for Mack.
The trade compensation to the Raiders is just half of this equation, which is why deals like this get tricky. The Jets must also agree on compensation for Mack in the form of a new contract. It is unknown what Mack is seeking. Von Miller received a six-year, $114.5 million contract in 2016, so that is probably the starting point. Mack is probably looking for $20 million per year. The Jets are projected to have $81 million in cap space next year, and they have Darnold on a rookie deal for five years, so they have the capability to make a Mack deal happen financially.
A trade for Mack would be a home run for Maccagnan if he does not have to mortgage the next two drafts. The Jets defense expects to have a strong secondary in 2018 with the addition of cornerback Trumaine Johnson and the continued development of safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye. The defensive line has Leonard Williams and rookie Nathan Shepherd to stop the run. But outside linebacker is a weakness. The Jets rolled through options to play opposite Jordan Jenkins all camp at the position, and none has emerged.
If the Jets don’t land Mack, there has been speculation they could go after other pass rushers like Shane Ray of the Broncos or Dante Fowler of the Jaguars. But those two represent a significant drop-off from Mack, who has 40.5 sacks in four years.
The best argument against making a move for Mack right now is the strength of the pass rushers in the 2019 draft. The expectation is the first round will be loaded with pass-rushing talent, led by Nick Bosa of Ohio State, the brother of Chargers star Joey Bosa.
If the Jets wait and draft a pass rusher next year, that player would be cheaper than Mack and would give them more salary-cap flexibility to add other players.
We will know more in the next week. Does Mack show up for Week 1 and play for his $13.8 million salary this year? If he chooses to sit out, the drama escalates.
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