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Reggie McKenzie: Amari Cooper trade for first-rounder too good to pass up

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Cowboys add Cooper to bolster offense (1:09)

Adam Schefter breaks down the Raiders' trade of Amari Cooper to the Cowboys for a first-round pick. (1:09)

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- Still wondering if the Oakland Raiders are in full rebuild mode after a 1-5 start under coach Jon Gruden?

Just don't confuse "rebuild" with "tanking" around the Raiders.

Because in their mind, Monday's trade of two-time Pro Bowl receiver Amari Cooper to the Dallas Cowboys for a first-round pick sets the Raiders up nicely, thank you very much.

The Raiders may actually be trying to win games this season, but they are loading up for the future. They now have three first-round picks in the 2019 NFL draft: their own, which figures to be a top-5 selection, a pick from the Cowboys, which could be a top-10 pick, and a pick from the Chicago Bears via the Khalil Mack deal on Sept. 1, which could come in the top 15 choices. The Raiders also have two first-rounders in 2020, giving them five such selections in the next two years. And with Cooper's fifth-year option for next season carrying a cap number of $13.924 million now gone, the Raiders should also have more than $64 million in cap space for 2019.

"It was an opportunity I felt like I couldn't pass on," Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie told a group of reporters Monday afternoon. "To get a first-round pick in this business here, I thought was invaluable. It was something that I felt like I had to do moving forward for this organization.

"I love Amari, what he stands for, but I just felt when I got a call from [Cowboys CEO] Stephen Jones this morning and he put it on the table, what he wanted to do, he wanted the player, and he gave me the pick. And that's what it came down to."

McKenzie said Jones first inquired about Cooper on Friday and when reports hit the news cycle, "about five other teams call(ed)," McKenzie added. "That's when it got a little haywire and then all kinds of proposals were coming at me and I pretty much shot them all down until this one that came this morning."

The Raiders last had three first-round picks in the same draft in 1988, when they took Heisman Trophy-winning receiver-returner and future Hall of Famer Tim Brown (No. 6 overall), cornerback Terry McDaniel (No. 9) and defensive end Scott Davis (No. 25).

Oakland has now traded away its first-round picks from the 2014 and 2015 drafts in Mack and Cooper. And 2016 and 2017 first-rounders Karl Joseph and Gareon Conley are also purportedly on the block. In fact, since 2007, only one Raiders first-round pick has lasted long enough to get a contract extension in Oakland -- running back Darren McFadden, who was drafted in 2008.

Asked if any players on the Raiders roster were "untouchable," McKenzie laughed.

"I'm untouchable," he said. "Seriously [though], I'm not going to say anyone's untouchable. In my heart of hearts would I hate to lose some players more than others? Absolutely. I know the difficulty in replacing, whether it's positions I feel stronger about than others. The lines, as far as communication for me with any team, will always be open to anyone on any one of our players. Whether I'm going to like it or not, more than likely it's hard to say that anybody is untradeable."

And while McKenzie said he was open to listening to offers up until the Oct. 30 trade deadline, Gruden told ESPN's Chris Mortensen, "We're not trading anyone else," when asked specifically about quarterback Derek Carr. "We're trying to stay competitive and figure out a way to compete this next game."

The Raiders play host to the Indianapolis Colts Sunday and will also be missing running back Marshawn Lynch, who was placed on injured reserve Monday with a groin injury.

Running back Jalen Richard was asked if trading away a player of Cooper's caliber was a sign that management was giving up on the season. Richard was stumped.

"I don't even know how to answer that," he said after a pause. "It's the name of the business. We've still got to come in here and perform on Sunday with whoever we've got."

But this trade was made with the future in mind, right?

"This is where we get a great opportunity to build," McKenzie said. "We've got pieces now, but we can really rebuild on what we have. With this group, the coaches that I've got here, knowing where we're heading schematically on both sides of the ball and special teams, we're going to build this thing ... we've got the ammunition to build this thing really well."

The inconsistent production of Cooper -- he began his career with consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons but has been on a downward trajectory ever since with 48 catches for 680 yards last season and 22 catches for 280 yards and one TD this season -- made trading him more palatable, McKenzie acknowledged. And while Cooper has had three 100-yard receiving games in his last seven outings, he has also had 12 games with less than 35 yards receiving in his last 19 games.

Still, fans and players alike may wonder how the Raiders could go from being 12-4 and in the playoffs two seasons ago to their current situation and what the trade of Cooper says.

"The opportunity," McKenzie said. "We're building this thing in concert together, I'm talking about me and coach Gru. We're doing this thing together. When we make a deal, I think these picks are going to help this team tremendously, bottom line. It's something I saw as a great opportunity. We're not tanking this season.

"These guys will have to step up and continue to work to win some ballgames. That will always be the case. There's always opportunities elsewhere for trades. We have another week to do something else down the line or acquiring somebody. We're not tanking this season. I want to win bad."

All of which begs the question amid rumors of discord between Gruden and McKenzie -- are they on the same page going forward?

"Absolutely," McKenzie said. "I don't mean to laugh, but it's comical, a little bit, around here. ... Gruden and I, we work together very well. Let's make no mistakes about it. Him pushing me out? That's not happening. Me, not being able to work with Gruden? That's furthest from the truth. OK? We work really well together. We're in each other's offices all the time.

"The negativity that I hear is between me and Gruden, there's been times I want to make a statement and say, 'Really?' But, I do understand. I understand when you guys see Khalil Mack leave or something like this [Cooper trade], I get it. But a lot of these instances, it's not about -- I don't think you'll find anybody in the building that didn't like Khalil Mack, including Gruden -- but the factors were more than us just liking him. So, let's put that to bed now.

"The bottom line is we're building with what we have now, we've got a lot of free agents that are coming about and we've got to have some impact players. More impact players. And I want to do it from the ground up, from the standpoint of the draft."