The NFL preseason is the books. It's Labor Day weekend. The calendar flips to September. And the regular season kicks off on Thursday.
So, yes, it's getting rather late in the game for the Khalil Mack holdout. And here's the cold, hard truth:
Please, before Raider Nation goes bonkers, understand something very important: I, Adam Schein, would never trade Khalil Mack. I drove the Mack bandwagon when he was coming out of SUNY Buffalo. He's a star. As an AP voter, I've selected him Defensive Player of the Year. Mack and Von Miller are the two most dominant edge rushers in the NFL today. I'd give him the money he craves on a long-term extension. For the third straight year, Derek Carr came on my SiriusXM Radio show and said Mack is capable of sacking the QB 30 times in one season. I won't argue.
Communication between the two sides is reportedly nonexistent. Gruden and Co. know they have contract leverage: This is the fifth year of Mack's rookie deal, and Oakland could theoretically slap the franchise tag on him in 2019 and 2020. Raiders brass apparently wants to exploit this upper hand in the relationship, hoping Mack will cave. But Mack and his team won't play ball, literally and figuratively. They're dug in. They think the Raiders' approach is crazy and disrespectful. This is what we call a major impasse. And the Grand Canyon-sized divide only got bigger on Friday, when Rams DT Aaron Donald signed a six-year, $135 million extension with $87 million in guarantees. I don't see these two sides coming to an agreement that even approaches those monster numbers.
So, if Mack isn't going to play football under his current contract and the Raiders have no desire to pay him what he wants ... well, then trading him is a must. Again, not my choice -- it's a must, based on circumstance and reality.
So, where could Mack end up? While the entire league should be calling Oakland in pursuit of No. 52's game-wrecking services, here are five hypothetical fits that would make a bunch of sense:
1) Green Bay Packers
If the Green Bay Packers trade for Mack, they become the Super Bowl favorite. He's that impactful. Mack would be a sensational fit in Mike Pettine's defense. And both top corner picks, Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson, would benefit greatly from a top-notch disruptor getting after the quarterback up front. Aaron Rodgers, the most talented quarterback in NFL history, wouldn't have to carry the team all by himself.
A few weeks ago, I talked to Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst on SiriusXM Radio. Without mentioning Mack by name, I asked him a "hypothetical" question about swapping top draft picks for a superstar defensive player. Gutekunst revealed, "I think with any players that are available, we're going to look at every avenue to help our football team. I think we've always been a draft-and-development team here for a long time, but if there are players that can help us -- and right now -- I think we will use every avenue to help our team."
Well alright then!
At the moment, the Packers are the only team in the NFL with two first-rounders in 2019, thanks to Gutekunst pilfering one from the Saints on draft night four months ago. And hey, NFL Network's Tom Pelissero says that price -- two first-rounders -- feels like the starting point for any potential trade.
Gutekunst's predecessor, Ted Thompson, was rightly criticized for refusing to strengthen the roster with veteran acquisitions. Gutekunst is already off to a sizzling start with the free-agent additions of Jimmy Graham and Muhammad Wilkerson, a fine draft weekend and this week's contract extension for Aaron Rodgers. A trade for Mack would be a game-changing cherry on top. You absolutely give up both first-rounders to get him. That's the kind of move that gets you a street near Lambeau. Gutekunst Avenue, anyone?
2) New York Jets
Mike Maccagnan smartly dealt Teddy Bridgewater to the Saints for a third-round pick. Pretty sweet compensation for a player you just signed in March on a low-risk, one-year deal. And we all knew where the Jets' quarterback position was headed when the team spent the No. 3 overall pick on Sam Darnold. Darnold is going to start in Week 1, and I think he'll eventually develop into a stud. The team has a franchise quarterback to grow with, but this roster still has holes. The Jets are going to struggle again this year, as Darnold experiences the inevitable growing pains that come in Year 1. Thus, New York is in line to possess a pretty high draft pick in 2019. Regardless, you undoubtedly include that -- and your extra third-rounder -- in a deal for Mack. It's a no-brainer. And the Jets have plenty of cap room to absorb a Mack megadeal.
Todd Bowles is a fine defensive mind. Giving him a piece like Mack would work wonders for a unit that ranked 25th in total defense and 28th in sacks last season. And it'd give the Jets a bright young stud to build around on each side of the ball.
3) Buffalo Bills
A homecoming to the place where Mack starred as a collegiate. Bills coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane have proven to be quite aggressive in the trade market during a relatively short period of time in Buffalo. The Bills have the need, ranking 29th in sacks last season. They have cap room. McDermott is a defensive guru. This is a dreamy hypothetical for the Bills Mafia.
4) Chicago Bears
Imagine Mack playing in Vic Fangio's defense. Imagine Mack being the next legendary Bears linebacker. And maybe most crucially, put yourself in GM Ryan Pace's shoes and imagine looking across the division and seeing Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Kirk Cousins as the opposing quarterbacks. You rightly believe you have a franchise quarterback of your own. How about a franchise pass rusher?
5) Indianapolis Colts
Indy GM Chris Ballard is sharp and proactive. And he currently has about $50 million in cap space, according to Over The Cap. The Colts' 2019 pick could be a very high one, something that could get the Raiders' attention. And I'd ask Gruden if there are young players on the Colts defense he'd like. Nobody would be untouchable.