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Why Khalil Mack was not the way to go for the Buffalo Bills

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Now that the NFL preseason is, thankfully, over the attention is rightfully turned to the NFL’s busiest transaction day and the start of the regular season.

In Buffalo, and other football crazed cities, eyes are also on the West Coast as the standoff between the Oakland Raiders and former defensive MVP Khalil Mack has reached the end with his trade to the Chicago Bears. Many Bills fans believed trading for the former Buffalo Bull would be the correct move and make the defense top-notch.

While the talent of Mack can’t be denied, the resources to get and keep him is what makes this trade a no-go for this writer.

Let’s start with compensation to simply acquire Mack. Oakland received two first round picks and a player for the man with 40.5 career sacks in four pro seasons. For a team with an offensive line that has resembled a turnstyle this preseason, giving up two first round picks is huge. Aside from the occasional big name to enter free agency (Nate Solder this past year, who was 30, for example), teams don’t let quality free agent offensive lineman hit the market. Even when they do become free agents, teams overpay because of the demand for the position. Giving up two first round picks that could provide two top-notch lineman is a lot to ask. Not to mention that 2019’s first round pick very well could be a Top-10 selection, but that’s a different article.

Those clamoring for the Mack trade will argue that we have plenty of cap space heading into 2019 to help offset the surrendered picks and possible players. Let’s examine that.

According to spotrac, the Bills have $61,670,912 in cap space. That is the third most in the league as of 6 a.m. on September 1. What many Bills fans may be forgetting is Mack is holding out for a new contract, so a new contract would need to accompany the swap.

For parameters of what Mack would be seeking, Aaron Donald’s new deal is a great place to start. Donald, who also has held out, signed a deal that guarantees him just south of $87 million. Looking at his year-by-year cap hits, we can see the the ramifications this type of deal has for non-quarterbacks. Again, going to our friends at spotrac, after a team-friendly cap hit of $8.89 million this year, the next three years have hits of $17.1M, $25M and $27.89M. Mack will be looking for a deal similar to this and when he gets it, not if, it would take away about a third of the Bills available cap space in 2019 and beyond.

The final reason this move wouldn’t be in the best interest of the Bills is the impact of the player. For all of Mack’s greatness, he has played in one playoff game in four years. One of the greatest defensive players of all time, JJ Watt, has been injured for two years in a row and before that, while dominating the league, the Texans were never making it past the divisional round of the playoffs. As Bills fans know all to well, big contracts for defensive lineman don’t always result in Ws on the field. (Look at Mario Williams and Marcel Dareus.) Even Donald, who has been like a wrecking ball in his four years in the league, has only been in 1 playoff game and that is because the second-year quarterback developed into the passer the Rams envisioned when they made him the No. 1 pick in 2016.

When you combine the loss of draft resources and the impact on one of our greatest assets heading into 2019, cap space, the Mack trade doesn’t make sense. It would be a great story, returning to Buffalo when many would argue he should have been the pick instead of Sammy Watkins in the first place. Those same people cheering the move would be booing on Sundays when our potential franchise quarterback is on his back every other play because we couldn’t get quality offensive lineman or receivers to support him. Throw in the history of big-price defensive players not leading to much on-field success, it was a no-brainer for Beane and McDermott: Don’t make the swap.