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Should the Falcons try to trade for Khalil Mack? The case for and against it

It would be a huge move for the Falcons, but would it be worth the price?

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Oakland Raiders Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve learned that teams are reaching out to the Raiders in hopes of securing a trade for Khalil Mack. The veteran is one of the better pass rushers working in the NFL today, and it remains a mystery why the Raiders would even consider moving him, but their handling of their star defender suggests they might be. There are conflicting reports about whether he’s truly on the block—the Raiders are said to have rejected every trade offer that has come their way thus far—but teams are going to keep trying.

The obvious question, then, is whether the Atlanta Falcons should try to get in on the action.

Atlanta’s pass rush looks solid for the year ahead, but Mack would be a massive upgrade in a year where the Falcons are pushing hard for a Super Bowl. Securing him would lift this defense from “potentially elite” to “definitely elite.” The problem, of course, is that it would cost them a huge amount of money to keep him around beyond the 2018 season, and it would cost them an enormous amount of draft capital just to get him to Atlanta in the first place.

With the for and against case for an Atlanta Falcons trade for Khalil Mack, here’s our own Cory Woodroof and Adnan Ikic.

The case for the Falcons trading for Khalil Mack

Cory Woodroof: Where do I begin?

First off, that’s an NFC Championship falling into your lap. I know that’s quite hyperbolic, but adding Khalil Mack to your already-strong defense with no room for starters would be like would be quite beneficial. Atlanta already hosts two young, quite good pass rushers in Vic Beasley and Takkarist McKinley. They’re not Mack, though.

Mack is Von Miller. Mack is in-his-prime J.J. Watt. Mack is building a Pro Football Hall of Fame career. Mack is a superstar. Do you know how often those guys become available outside of the draft? Not often!

We have no idea what Atlanta’s window is. We like to think it’s pretty open, but it’s hard to tell as the years go on and unexpected developments pop up here and there. In 2018, though, they are playing on a third-place schedule with a first-place quality team. Do you know how rare that is? Not to put undue pressure on the year ahead, but this is the best opportunity the Falcons are going to have to get back to the Super Bowl in the Matt Ryan/Dan Quinn era. There’s no doubt. Why not sell out? Why not, if it’s at all possible, just push all the chips in and go for it by adding a superstar like Mack to your team?

Some might fret about the price, but in my mind, a ring washes away two or even three firsts given over. That changes your franchise. That gives you years ahead of being okay with not getting as far as you’d hope to. If the Falcons add Mack and avoid some sort of catastrophic, they’re going to the Super Bowl. There will be nothing opposing teams can do with a Mack-Takk-Vic-Grady-De’Vondre pass rush on top of the offensive weaponry. There is nothing. They will win the NFC, no matter who they play. Did you see what Denver’s pass rush did in 2015 to get to the big ‘16 game? They rushed the stuffing out of you until you couldn’t do anything about it. The Broncos’ quarterbacks were Brock Osweiler and Peyton Manning’s head on a stick.

You add Mack, not only does the front four get better; the linebackers get better, the secondary gets better, heck, the offense gets better.

I get the minuses. It’s a big contract to dish out when money’s tight; it’s keeping potentially two firsts away from Quinn’s scouting department; if they don’t win the Super Bowl, it’ll draw its criticisms that Atlanta sold out too early. But, you know what, forget all of that. Give up three firsts if you have to. Mack would be the golden key to unleash a juggernaut. The Falcons are a very good team right now; Mack would make them an elite one, one that might earn their ring the second he comes over.

I feel that strongly. There is nothing Tom Brady or anyone else in the AFC will be able to do come Super Bowl Sunday. Barring catastrophic injury, trade for Mack, rectify 28-3.

The case against the Falcons trading for Khalil Mack

Adnan Ikic: First of all, let me say that Khalil Mack is undoubtedly one of the best defensive players in the NFL. In a vacuum he is worth a first-round draft pick, but in a potential bidding war for an elite pass-rusher who knows if just a first would even be enough to secure his services. Two first-round picks for a non-QB in today’s NFL is just out of the question, if it comes to that.

Let’s say in our hypothetical that the Raiders accept an offer of a first-round pick for Khalil Mack. The problem for the Falcons would lie within what they would have to surrender after actually securing Mack’s services.

There’s a reason why the Raiders may be considering shopping their best player in the first place — he’s holding out for a major contract extension. Mack is due for a new contract, as he’s entering the final year of his rookie deal. This offseason, the Falcons have given big-money extensions to Matt Ryan, Jake Matthews and Ricardo Allen, after giving new deals to Devonta Freeman and Desmond Trufant last offseason. These extensions made Ryan, Freeman, Matthews and Trufant among the five highest-paid players at their respective positions.

You see where I’m going with this, don’t you?

The Falcons won’t have enough money to extend Mack without losing significant pieces moving forward. Thomas Dimitroff and the front office have already promised Julio Jones that they’ll sit down and talk about his contract next offseason after Jones’ minor holdout. Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones, Keanu Neal and Vic Beasley have to be extended, and giving Mack big money could hinder some of those upcoming deals. Even if Atlanta sees Mack as a Beasley replacement and decide to let Vic go, money would still be an issue because Mack will command a much bigger extension than Beasley.

Von Miller signed a 6 year/$114 million contract extension with the Denver Broncos in 2016 ($70 million guaranteed). That’ll be the baseline for a Khalil Mack contract extension, and he’ll most likely demand even more with the NFL salary cap increasing the past two offseasons. That’s quarterback money, when the Falcons have already given their own QB the richest contract in NFL history just a few months ago.

I understand how enticing it would be to trade for Mack and make a run at the Super Bowl this year, with the final game being played in Atlanta. Adding this guy would make the Falcons proverbial Super Bowl favorites, but no one season is ever a given in the NFL. It’s far from guaranteed that the Falcons would even make it to the big game, even with this addition. And if they don’t win it this year, with the piper coming for his paycheck shortly afterward, then what?

Atlanta already stands to lose Tevin Coleman to free agency next offseason and perhaps De’Vondre Campbell the year after because they can’t afford to keep everyone. Add a possible $120 million contract for Mack to the books and they may lose a combination of Grady Jarrett, Deion Jones or Keanu Neal to boot. This is the kind of move that can gut a team’s core in the long term. Here’s the kicker, they’ll also be short a first-round pick (maybe even more) as they attempt to replace some of those guys.