With reports circulating all offseason that linebacker Khalil Mack and the Oakland Raiders are at an impasse on a contract extension, many Chicago Bears fans have salivated at the thought of adding the 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year to the roster.
But could this pipedream actually be closer to reality than we originally thought?
ESPN NFL Nation published an article Tuesday listing preseason trade candidates. In the piece, Raiders beat reporter Paul Gutierrez wrote that Mack would be a likely option for the Raiders to move before September. Gutierrez cited strained relationship and the organization’s need to shed cash.
While it’s a long shot, Bears’ GM Ryan Pace should still gauge the Raiders. There might be a package that would at least make them consider a trade. However, Gutierrez speculates that the asking price would be steep.
“If a team dangled two first-rounders and, say, $8 million, the Raiders would be wise to listen,” he wrote.
Whether it’s two first-round picks or a first-round and third-round pick, the move would be risky. Not many GMs are interested in offering highly valued draft picks.
But for someone like Mack? The risk might be worth the reward.
At 27, Mack is entering the prime of his career, and the Bears are an elite pass rusher away from being a top-five unit. The team also has plenty of cap space this season and going forward to give him the contract he desires.
The fit seems too good to be true.
Vic Fangio’s defense has plenty of solid players, but no one is near an All-Pro level yet. Akiem Hicks is a top-tier 5-technique but not a blue-chip talent. Cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara were solid last year. No one is confusing them for lockdown corners at the level of Jalen Ramsey or Marcus Peters, though.
In terms of pass rushers, the Bears don’t really have a guy capable of getting double-digit sacks in his sleep. Leonard Floyd, who Pace drafted with the ninth overall pick in 2016, has shown flashes in his first two years on the field. However, he’s tallied just 11.5 career sacks and has missed significant time due to injury in both seasons.
Even if Floyd takes the next step in year three, the pass-rushing options opposite Floyd are unproven or average at best. Our sincerest apologies to Aaron Lynch, Sam Acho, Isaiah Irving and rookie Kylie Fitts.
Fangio’s unit finished in the top 10 last year and tied for seventh in sacks (42) without a Pro-Bowler or an elite pass rusher. Mack registered 15, 11 and 10.5 sacks the last three seasons. Even when he’s not sacking the QB, he still generates pressure off the edge to be disruptive.
His addition would have a profound effect on the entire defense, especially on Floyd and Hicks. Instead of seeing a large number of double teams, both guys would get more opportunities to feast off one-on-one matchups.
So what would it take for the Bears to pull off a trade for Mack?
The bidding might start at two first-round picks, as Gutierrez speculated. However, that asking price would probably come down. Even contending teams looking to add the last piece to a Super Bowl puzzle will hesitate to part with two first-rounders.
If that price didn’t drop, Pace would have to weigh the pros and cons. The biggest upside is adding a young, elite pass rusher with plenty of productive years still ahead of him. You might never find that caliber player in the first round of either the 2019 or 2020 drafts.
The biggest downside is losing draft equity. The Bears already are without a second-round pick in 2019 after trading it to move up and draft rookie receiver Anthony Miller. For a team as young as the Bears, having a full complement of picks is ideal.
Even dealing a first-round and third-round pick would still be costly. If the Bears parted with both those 2019 picks, they wouldn’t make their first selection until the fourth round. However, it would allow Pace and company to keep a first-round choice in 2020.
Given the current holdout with rookie Roquan Smith, one offbeat idea would be trading the rights to Smith and next year’s first-rounder for Mack. While Nick Kwiatkowski has performed admirably next to Danny Trevathan in camp, the Bears probably would prefer a linebacking core that features Smith and Mack.
No matter what the package includes, the Bears would have to be aggressive. On paper, they’re a young team that appears to be trending upward. Eventually, the next move will be a splash acquisition that would shift the balance of power.
Mack represents that, but a pass rusher as good as him doesn’t hit free agency often. They’re either re-signed or franchise tagged before getting a chance to test the market. So why run the risk of a bare cupboard when the time comes?
Again, all this is highly unlikely. The Raiders defense finished in the bottom half in a lot of key statistics, and Mack is a Pro-Bowl caliber piece that any team would prefer not to part with.
But if the relationship between the Raiders and Mack really is beyond repair, the Bears should be in hot pursuit.