Oakland Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack would be a great fit...

Oakland Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack would be a great fit for the Jets, who need an elite pass rusher, but they shouldn't give up two first-round picks to get him. Credit: AP/Ben Margot

It isn’t often that elite pass rushers become available on the open market, especially in a league in which getting to the quarterback is so important. But with Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack engaged in an extended contract holdout, there could be a rare opportunity for a team in need of a sack specialist.

Should the Jets be interested? Yes, they should be interested, and general manager Mike Maccagnan already has put out feelers about a potential deal.

The Jets haven’t had a big-time pass rusher since the days of John Abraham and Shaun Ellis, and repeated attempts to find one have all too often resulted in first-round disappointments such as Quinton Coples and Vernon Gholston, one of the biggest busts in franchise history. Mack would be a perfect fit in Todd Bowles’ defense, the kind of game-changing player the Jets so desperately need.

A first-round pick out of the University of Buffalo, Mack has totaled 36½ sacks over his last three seasons and is considered one of the top pass-rushers in the game. At 27, he is entering his prime and would be a major upgrade for any defense.

Especially the Jets, who have no legitimate pass rush threat on the roster.

Of course they should be actively engaged in bringing Mack to New York.

But only up to a point.

Reports this week suggest the Raiders are interested in trading Mack, but only if a team is willing to surrender two first-round picks. With perhaps a half-dozen teams, including the Jets and Packers, showing interest, Oakland is asking a premium price on a premium player.

But if the Raiders are holding fast at two first-rounders, then the decision for Maccagnan is easy: Thanks, but no thanks. That’s too high a price to pay, even for a player with Mack’s talent. As we saw last April, the value of a first-round pick can be enormous, and giving away two of them simply isn’t smart. The Jets took Sam Darnold at No. 3 overall and are ready to place their offense in his hands after a promising preseason in which he looked comfortable handling their system.

We’re not touting Darnold as a future Hall of Famer just yet, and he’ll undoubtedly endure plenty of growing pains. But to have a player with his kind of ability and potential makes for a much more promising future, and giving away two more first-round choices for potential foundation players is prohibitively expensive. Consider: If the Jets struggle this season – a plausible scenario, given that they’re ready to go with a rookie quarterback – they likely will have another top-10 pick in 2019. You just don’t give that pick away, plus another in 2020, without some serious consequences. Throw in the fact that Mack will demand a salary in excess of $20 million a year, and a trade becomes even more involved.

Not that the Jets have had much luck in the draft getting a pass rusher, but with a core of young players on the roster, and with Darnold needing at least a year or two of experience before he can be expected to be a playoff-caliber quarterback, this process may take a while. Is Mack worth a top-10 pick in next year’s draft? Yes, which is why it’s reasonable to consider him for that cost. And even throw in the third-round pick the Jets got in the Teddy Bridgewater trade.

Is Mack worth another first-rounder in 2020?


This isn’t Lawrence Taylor or Reggie White we’re talking about here. Or even a Von Miller or J.J. Watt.

Mack is a terrific player who can be disruptive and potentially change the course of a game. But if you’re building a team responsibly, you should be able to find your own pass rusher. The preferable route is through the draft, but there are opportunities to get quality veterans who might be past their prime, as the Packers did recently with Julius Peppers or the Broncos did with DeMarcus Ware.

Maccagnan is absolutely on point to be interested in Mack, and having him would make the Jets a much better team.

But only if the price is right.

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