The Raiders’ decision to trade away Khalil Mack was widely panned by football fans and the media. But not everyone hated the move.
In fact, in the sports analytics world, the Raiders were given credit for a smart decision. The Sloan Sports Analytics Conference at MIT honored the Raiders with the Best Transaction award, calling it the single best move that any franchise made, in any sport, over the last year.
Why the disconnect between the analytics people and everyone else? Analytics generally favors completely tearing teams down before rebuilding, rather than trying to make patchwork fixes on a bad team. The Raiders were 6-10 with Mack in 2017 and may have needed to get worse (as they did, falling to 4-12 in 2018) before they got better. Analytics also says there’s a lot of value in draft picks, and the Raiders got a big haul of draft picks in the deal, with two first-round picks, a third-round pick and a sixth-round pick going to the Raiders in exchange for Mack and a second-round pick. And analytics generally says teams in sports with salary caps should avoid paying out huge contracts. Mack was already due a big salary last year and was demanding a much bigger contract. The Raiders saved a lot of cap space with the move.
Ultimately, the Mack trade will not be judged on Year One, but on what happens in the years to come: How well Mack plays for the Bears, how well the Bears recover from those lost draft picks and the big piece of their salary cap Mack is taking up, and how well the Raiders use those picks and that cap space. The Sloan award suggests the analytics community believes that in the end, the Raiders will come out on top.