GREEN BAY - Brian Gutekunst took a swing for Khalil Mack.
But it’s not clear exactly what the Green Bay Packers general manager offered for the Oakland Raiders’ All-Pro outside linebacker. One NFL source, whose team was in on the Mack sweepstakes, heard it was two first-rounders, but another source said it was only one first-rounder and other unidentified picks.
Either way, to me, Gutekunst stopped short. Who knows if he would have ultimately outbid Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace? But he shouldn’t have walked away until he’d offered at least his two first-round picks next year and, if need be, added a 2020 pick to the pot as well.
Look, it’s easy to spend other people’s draft picks and money when you don’t have to live with the consequences. And multiple high picks, plus a huge new contract for Mack, is a steep, steep price for one guy.
But players of Mack’s ability are rare, and he'd have been more valuable to the Packers than just about any other team in the league. Certainly more than to the Bears.
Shortly after the deal, one odds-maker, Westgate Las Vegas, bumped the Bears’ odds of winning the Super Bowl from 100-to-1 to 40-1. Another, South Point, moved them from 50-to-1 to 40-to-1. The Bears’ over-under for wins went from 6.5 to 7.5 for Westgate, and from 7 to 7.5 for South Point.
But if the Packers had landed Mack, they would have been Super Bowl favorites. They already have one of the NFL’s two best quarterbacks. Adding Mack to their pass rush would have given them an elite player at the game’s two most important positions.
What we don’t know is Raiders coach Jon Gruden’ price for topping the Bears’ offer.
The guts of the trade were the two first-round picks (2019 and ’20) the Bears sent to the Raiders. There also was a flip-flopping of picks that makes it a little more complicated – the flip-flop in effect lowered the Bears’ cost, because they traded a 2020 third-rounder for the Raiders’ 2020 second. That’s not nothing.
But Chicago’s first-rounders obviously are huge. The Bears’ quarterback is Mitch Trubisky, and their picks very well could fall in the middle of the first round. If Trubisky isn’t any good – who can say right now? – they might even crack the top 10.
But if Gutekunst didn’t at least offer two first-rounders straight up – they’ll probably be late first-rounders – he made a big mistake. And if he had to, he could have offered even more.
To get a rough estimate of the value of the picks, I consulted four draft trade charts. I included the old Jimmy Johnson chart from the 1990s, though most teams’ analytics departments have at minimum tweaked it if not created their own.
The three other publicly available charts are Football Perspective’s, which updates the Johnson chart, as well as two others based on accumulated trade data that have their own points systems: One by The Harvard Sports Analysis Collective and another by a blogger, Rich Hill.
To keep this simple, we won’t show our math. We’ll assume the Bears’ two first-rounders will be No. 16 overall, and the Packers’ two will be No. 30 (their second belonged to the New Orleans Saints). Also, we don’t know where the Raiders will finish in ’20, so we’ll say the Bears’ flip-flop will move them from the 16th pick of the third round to the 15th pick of the second.
Here’s what the charts say: For the Packers to top the Bears’ value, the Johnson chart calls for an additional late first-rounder or early second; Football Perspective’s an additional fourth-rounder, and Harvard’s and Hill’s both an additional fifth. These trade charts are more guideposts than rules.
So what should Gutekunst have offered? And would Gruden have accepted?
For me, the Packers' breaking point should have been a third first-rounder. You have to draw the line somewhere, and three firsts is just too much. Though you’d rather have the known All-Pro who can help immediately, the early read on next year’s draft is that it’s strong up top for pass rushers. Maybe Gutekunst can move up for a top prospect.
But a 2020 third-rounder? For sure. Or a second? I’d probably have done that, too. Because as valuable as those picks are, nothing is close to guaranteed with them, either.
Look for instance, at the Robert Griffin III trade back in 2012. In trading out of the No. 2 spot overall, the Rams received three first-rounders and a second over a three-year period. They turned them into eight picks who produced a combined zero Pro Bowls, and only one player (defensive lineman Michael Brockers) who’s still with the team.
“The thing that bothers people about this trade is (the Raiders) are trading the known for what’s unknown,” said a scout for an NFC team. “It’s like ‘Let’s Make a Deal.’ Monty Hall says, ‘You can have $100 or what’s behind the box.’ Then you’d look behind the box and it’s a dud.”
We don’t know if Gruden would have taken an added third-rounder, or even second-rounder, if Gutekunst had offered. He might not have, because of the chance Trubisky bombs and those picks jump into the top 10. But it would have been worth the shot.
This trade also makes you wonder whether Pace is an aggressive GM who thinks his team is on the brink of taking off, or if he’s simply desperate and reckless. It might be the latter, because if Trubisky busts, Mack won’t matter.
“If I’m Pace, this team could go 5-11 this year,” another scout said. “Then I’ll get fired, and it will be somebody’s else’s problem anyway.”
Pace unexpectedly made Gutekunst's pitch for Mack harder. But if the Packers GM didn’t offer at least two first-rounders, he didn’t give it his best shot, and really, he could have even gone for more.