Biggest surprises and takeaways from NFL cut-down day

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Riddick: Mack trade is 'huge win' for Bears (1:37)

Louis Riddick reacts to the Raiders trading Khalil Mack and says Oakland can't rely on draft picks to replace him. (1:37)

Cut-down day in the NFL is wild. In context, though, we should see it for what it truly is: The capstone to a blizzard of decisions aimed at aligning rosters and salary-cap spreadsheets in time for the start of Week 1.

The trade of All-Pro linebacker Khalil Mack came on Saturday, amid many other moves. Of course, the week began with the New York Giants extending the contract of receiver Odell Beckham Jr., and then continued with extensions for Cincinnati Bengals defensive linemen Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, along with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

What can we take away from the news of the past week? Let's take a closer look.

An awful day with big surprises for the Oakland Raiders

I'll keep it simple. There is only one reason for the Raiders to make the Mack deal: If Mack, somehow without anyone knowing or reporting it, made clear to the team that he would never under any circumstances play another down for the franchise.

If that were the case, it would make sense for the Raiders to (1) keep it quiet, and (2) get as much as they could for him. Short of that, though, there is no justifiable reason to trade an All-Pro pass-rusher in the prime of his career for anything. Pass-rushing has never been more important in the NFL, especially if you have a player who forces opposing coaches to design their entire blocking schemes around him.

There are some teams in the league who have never had a pass-rusher as good as Mack, who just reached agreement with the Bears on a record-setting six-year, $141 million extension that includes $90 million guaranteed, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. You're lucky if you get one per generation. That the Raiders couldn't find a way to make this work will forever be a stain on the franchise.

Although it was the worst thing they did Saturday, the Mack trade wasn't the only move that makes you question just what in the world is going on in their front office. They gave up a fifth-round draft choice to acquire quarterback AJ McCarron and also made plans to release receiver Martavis Bryant, whom they acquired this spring in exchange for a third-round draft pick.

McCarron has now blown through two teams in less than a calendar year. His extended playing time with the Buffalo Bills this preseason suggested he is the kind of backup you hope never gets onto the field. Bryant, meanwhile, has had his troubles -- but none of them were unpredictable given his history. What a ridiculous day in Oakland.

Quarterback turnover

We’re continuing to see an incredible display of quarterback turnover this summer. With Nick Foles set to start next Thursday for the Philadelphia Eagles, nearly half the league -- 15 teams in total -- will have a different Week 1 starter than in 2017. That ties for the NFL’s second-highest total during its Super Bowl era, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

But the musical chairs haven’t been contained to the starting spot. We’re seeing teams around the league rearrange their backup situations as well. One of the most prominent moves came last week, when the New Orleans Saints acquired Teddy Bridgewater from the New York Jets.

Saturday, we saw the Raiders replace Connor Cook with McCarron. The Pittsburgh Steelers moved on from Landry Jones, meaning rookie Mason Rudolph is likely to be their backup. The Carolina Panthers appeared set with Taylor Heinicke as the No. 2 behind Cam Newton -- more on Heinicke below -- and the Baltimore Ravens decided to hold on to both Robert Griffin III and rookie Lamar Jackson behind Joe Flacco.

It's about who you know

We all learn this life lesson at some point, but it's always interesting to see it play out on NFL rosters. This year's example: Why would the Carolina Panthers keep a journeyman named Taylor Heinicke as their backup quarterback to Cam Newton? (Assuming they don't make another move in the coming days, of course.)

You have to go back to 2015, when then-Minnesota Vikings quarterbacks coach Scott Turner grew intrigued with Heinicke's final-season performance at Old Dominion. Turner studied him closely, hoped no one else would notice and then pushed the Vikings to sign him as an undrafted free agent.

Heinicke made the Vikings' final roster -- funny how those things tend to work out -- and spent the next two seasons with the franchise. Turner (and his father, longtime offensive coordinator Norv Turner) left the Vikings in 2016. Heinicke was released during training camp in 2017, hooking on for a time with the Houston Texans. But when the Turners were hired this winter by the Panthers, they went looking for their guy. They found him.

There is always money to be found -- and wasted

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that teams can’t afford a player, be it via cash or salary-cap space. Every year, we see teams make moves that in retrospect would appear a flagrant waste of money.

On Aug. 5, for example, the Bills acquired receiver Corey Coleman from the Cleveland Browns for a seventh-round pick. In so doing, they took on the final two years of Coleman’s rookie contract. Both were guaranteed, for a total of $3.5 million. When they released him Saturday, they were still on the hook for that $3.5 million, unless another team claims him on waivers.

Meanwhile, the Detroit Lions released cornerback DeShawn Shead -- just a few months after guaranteeing him $1.5 million to close the deal on a free-agent contract. And the Dallas Cowboys released receiver Deonte Thompson after giving him a $1 million signing bonus.

We all make mistakes, and for NFL teams that includes guaranteeing millions of dollars to players who prove so disappointing that they can’t make the Week 1 roster. But each year, there are enough Corey Colemans, DeShawn Sheads and Deonte Thompsons to remind us that teams always have some extra money around to pay for their misses.

Unresolved questions

There almost certainly will be some significant moves in the coming days. Some teams, for instance, will hold a player on the 53-man roster for a period of time before ultimately trying to slip him through waivers and onto the practice squad. But at the moment, there remain some significant unresolved questions around the league. Among them:

  • Are the Seattle Seahawks really going to hold on to safety Earl Thomas, who never reported to training camp? Will he report this week? Or will the Seahawks find a trade partner?

  • Which team will cut its kicker for the chance to sign Dan Bailey, who was surprisingly released by the Dallas Cowboys? Bailey is the second-most accurate place-kicker in NFL history (88.2 percent) and is young for a kicker. He’s 30.

  • Once rosters settle, which probably won’t happen until Tuesday, it will be interesting to see the impact of the NFL’s new kickoff rule. The requirements all but eliminate the use of offensive and defensive linemen, and some front-office executives have wondered if that would necessitate an additional linebacker, defensive back or both on 53-man rosters. No team wants to jettison a qualified “big man,” but their roster value might have dropped with the new rule.