The Chicago Bears pulled off a stunner Saturday morning, acquiring Oakland Raiders’ pass rusher Khalil Mack. According to multiple reports, the Bears are sending two first-round picks and negotiating an extension with the All-Pro edge rusher.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Mack’s contract is likely to eclipse Aaron Donald’s record-setting extension, which is a six-year, $135 million contract with $87 million guaranteed. While the price may be steep in terms of cap space and draft equity, the move represents the last piece to GM Ryan Pace’s puzzle.
And it could be the game-changing move that turns the tide for the franchise.
The Bears have been an abysmal 14-34 under Pace. However, he inherited a team with an underachieving quarterback, a poisonous locker room and not enough young pieces to build sustainable success. The situation left by former GMs Phil Emery and Jerry Angelo forced Pace to tear the team down to the studs.
The rebuild started with adding complementary pieces like Adrian Amos, Leonard Floyd, Jordan Howard, Cody Whitehair and Eddie Jackson in the 2015 and 2016 NFL Drafts. Then, Pace went bold in 2017 by moving up one spot in the draft to secure his quarterback of the future in Mitchell Trubisky.
Once he found his young quarterback, Pace made sure to stock the roster with blue-chip talent. Free agent acquisitions like Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton are all young pieces either entering or still in their primes. Rookies Roquan Smith and Anthony Miller come in as near pro-ready pieces and aren’t risky boom-or-bust picks.
With defensive coordinator Vic Fangio sticking around, Pace also made sure to keep most of the defense intact, re-signing cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara. The Bears have 10 starters returning on defense.
Despite not having a single Pro Bowl selection on defense, Fangio’s unit finished in the top 10 in most statistical categories in 2017. What was most impressive was Fangio’s ability to generate a decent pass rush without having a top-tier edge rusher. The Bears finished tied for seventh in sacks last season with 42.
Now, the biggest hole on the roster is filled. Fangio and company have that elite pass rusher in Mack.
Mack, 27, is in the prime of his career and has registered 15, 11 and 10.5 sacks the last three seasons. The former 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year has the distinction of being named All-Pro at two positions in the same season, earning the honor at defensive end and outside linebacker in 2015.
When he’s not sacking the QB, he still generates pressure off the edge to be disruptive in both pass and run defense. His addition not only could help catapult the Bears defense into a top-tier unit, but it also could help Floyd take the next step in his young career.
Prior to the trade, the Bears lacked a pass rusher opposite Floyd. The 25-year-old should no longer see a high number of double teams, allowing him more opportunities to feast off one-on-one matchups.
For a team looking to take the next step, adding Mack is worth the high price tag.
From a cap perspective, the Bears benefit from having a roster chalked with young talent, especially at the quarterback position. It allows them the ability to sign a player like Mack before other players either come off the books or demand large contract extensions down the road.
In terms of draft capital, you have to look at it from Pace’s perspective. He’s already gone all in on his quarterback and made key acquisitions in the draft and free agency to improve the roster. The biggest hole on the roster, by far, was pass rusher.
Would you rather have a 50-50 shot at landing that pass rusher in either of the next two drafts, or get an established All-Pro now?
Also, the holes at other positions aren’t as gaping. The Bears might need to add better options at the left and right tackle spots next offseason, and it might be difficult to do without top draft picks next year. Pace also will be without a second-rounder after trading it in April’s draft to get Anthony Miller. However, they still can find solid options in the later rounds or find solutions via free agency.
There is no doubt that Pace is putting his neck on the line with the moves he’s made in the last few years, but you have to be bold to get your team to the next level. Like Jon Lester to the Cubs or Reggie White to the Packers, Mack’s addition could change the tide for the franchise going forward.