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What We Learned on a Newsier-Than-Usual NFL Roster Cut-Down Day

From trades (Khalil Mack to the Bears), cuts (Corey Coleman), injuries (Jerick McKinnon) and retirements (Terence Newman), the 2018 NFL roster cut-down day was busier than expected, to say the least.

Ten takeaways cleaning up after a bigger news day than usual as NFL teams cut their rosters down to 53 (here’s a list of the notable cuts)...

1. I wouldn’t trade Khalil Mack, but I can understand why Raiders coach Jon Gruden did it. I know how he feels about where his team is—and know that he thinks it will take a while before the roster is where he needs it to be.

“We had a lot of needs, we were gutted,” Gruden told me a few weeks ago. “We didn’t have a linebacker that we knew of on the team, our secondary, I think they’re all gone. I didn’t know who the right tackle was. Donald Penn was hurt. We needed some depth at all positions. … There’s no one left here from the 2013 draft class, not a player. And we haven’t gotten enough out of our 2015, ’16 or ’17 classes, at all. We gotta generate some competition and some depth and find some guys.”

So here’s the deal: If a head coach feels like his team is a draft or two away, and he has a 27-year-old star who’s looking for a market-correcting contract, might it make sense to project at what level he’ll be playing two years from now? At that point, Mack will be five months from his 30th birthday, and if the Raiders had negotiated a deal with him (no sure thing), he’d be the most expensive non-quarterback player on the roster. Like I said, I wouldn’t deal him, but the idea that there’s no merit doing it—given the haul Oakland got from Chicago and where Gruden saw the team—is off-base. Now, Gruden better hit on those draft picks.

2. Aaron Donald’s new contract absolutely was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Oakland told other teams that Mack wasn’t available for weeks, but that tone changed when it became clear that the type of contract Mack was looking for wasn’t unreasonable.

3. I love this trade for the Bears. Mack’s a generational talent at a premium position, and the absolute right kind of guy. One of his ex-Oakland coaches said this morning, “He’s a relentless worker, great young man—A-plus as a person and player. He’s the kind of guy you want in your building.”

They say money only makes you more of what you already are, and that would be good news for Chicago. It also sends a powerful message on behalf of Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace to the Bears locker room: they’re ready to win now. And it’s a bet on QB Mitchell Trubisky’s ability to ascend quickly and Nagy’s ability to get him there, as the Bears take advantage of the 2017 second overall pick’s rookie contract, following a blueprint drawn by Seattle, Philadelphia and the Rams.

Trading Khalil Mack Is an Insane Move for Jon Gruden and the Raiders

4. As for Mack’s contract—I wrote back in June that defensive players were due for a market correction, and this is it. Ndamukong Suh’s deal in 2015 was 86% of what the top quarterback was making. Von Miller, the highest-paid defensive player before Mack and Donald got their new contracts, was making 57% of what Aaron Rodgers was earning in Green Bay. Mack and Donald got that number up to in the range of 69-71%, which is a big jump.

5. With Martavis Bryant’s release, and reported possible suspension, I actually think that trade was much worse for the Raiders than the Mack trade.

6. Corey Coleman’s release in Buffalo—two years after ex-Browns EVP Sashi Brown took him 15th overall in the 2016 NFL draft—is a sobering reminder, on the day of the Mack deal, that draft capital is only worth what you do with it. Brown did a masterful job building a war chest of picks in Cleveland, but in maneuvering to 15 that spring, Brown traded out of spots where he could’ve had a franchise quarterback (Carson Wentz) or Joe Thomas’s heir apparent (Jack Conklin).

7. The A.J. McCarron trade is more proof that Bills GM Brandon Beane and coach Sean McDermott think there’s something to work with in sophomore QB Nathan Peterman. They showed their hand on that last fall when benching Tyrod Taylor to give him a shot. And even though that move ended in disaster (five interceptions against the Chargers), Peterman kept moving it forward and had a really solid August, quietly making a case to start on Sept. 9.

8. The Niners are understandably bracing for crushing news on Jerick McKinnon, who reportedly tore his ACL on Saturday. This has to particularly tough on coach Kyle Shanahan, who has a very specific idea in what he wants in each position, and as such had a detailed plan for how he’d use McKinnon. Would’ve been fun to watch Shanahan with a Swiss army knife of a player like McKinnon.

9. A great step forward for Robert Griffin III in his comeback; the Ravens fielded trade calls on Griffin, and decided to carry him on the roster past the cut-down deadline. That shows they see value in him—even if they do wind up dealing him down the line—and that’s significant progress for a guy who many though was done.

10. Terence Newman’s a great example of a guy who took care of himself for a long time, did the right things and was the right kind of teammate, and he extended his career as a result. He was older coming into the league (24 years old when Bill Parcells made him his first draft pick in Dallas, 25 when he played in his first game), and still lasted 15 seasons. And for all the reasons I mentioned, plus a great head for the game, I think he’ll make a really good coach in joining Mike Zimmer’s Vikings staff.