Way back before the 2018 NFL season, the Raiders traded Khalil Mack to the Bears, a deal that would have a wide-ranging impact on the outcome of various football games. Chicago thrived, winning its division on the back of its defense, while the Raiders struggled to generate any pass rush and limped to a four-win season.
Universally, the deal was panned. Until the Sloan Sports Conference anyway, when a bunch of analytically-minded folks in the sports space decided to hand the Raiders a giant trophy as part of being named winner of the “Best Transaction” award.
Yes, the trade of Khalil Mack — largely ripped by everyone, including yours truly right here on this website — was considered the Best Transaction in all of sports in 2018 from an analytical perspective.
So, uh, why? Well, as Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey (one of the conference’s founders and one of the voters) explained to Vic Tafur of The Athletic, it was in large part because of how valuable the panel of people perceive draft picks to be.
“Everybody else thought it was a terrible trade, but draft picks are very valuable,” Morey told Tafur. “Analytics tends to fly in the face of popular convention pretty often.
“We don’t care about what people say.”
The funniest part about this story, by far, is that when Morey called Raiders team president Marc Badain to tell him they won the award, the Oakland president didn’t believe him and thought Morey was pulling a practical joke on him.
“Marc thought I was making fun of him,” Morey said. “I had to tell him several times that I wasn’t kidding. I guess they took a lot of heat for that.”
They sure did! Everyone ripped the Raiders for dealing an in-his-prime pass rusher like Mack, especially when Oakland’s primary logic was that they couldn’t pay Mack what he wanted to get in a deal. (The Bears quickly gave Mack a massive deal, handing him $141 million with $90 million guaranteed after they traded for him.)
With the benefit of hindsight, we can definitely see the Raiders were holding firm on their price tag for Mack, having demanded two first-round picks for him after it was clear Mack and Oakland weren’t going to be able to work out a new contract.
The Raiders did not get the picks they wanted, per se, because the Bears ended up being a much better team than they thought initially. Oakland said after the fact it chose Chicago as the best trade partner because the Raiders and Jon Gruden viewed the Bears as the most likely team out of the ones they were talking with to struggle in 2018.