The Bears reported trade to acquire Oakland Raiders rush-linebacker Khalil Mack answers perhaps the single biggest question hanging over the on-field portion of the Chicago football franchise. It comes effectively at the end of an offseason spent by the Bears pursuing offensive weapons in free agency and the draft, and not aggressively addressing the need in the draft: that of having in place a pass-rush talent capable of altering not only games, but also perhaps the balance of power within a quarterback-rich NFC North division.
The moved on Mack also stands as the boldest statement yet that the Bears are in a win-now mode. Coach Matt Nagy may caution patience with quarterback Mitch Trubisky and others settling into his iteration of the Andy Reid offense, but defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has been handed a piece that requires no such period of orientation.
Mack ranks as one of the three or four best defensive players in the game, a distinction the Bears have not been able to come close to boasting of since the retirement of Brian Urlacher after the 2012 season. Edge rusher, in particular, is one of the few positions (with quarterback, running back and possibly cornerback) that can single-handedly change a game and disrupt an opponent’s scheme, offensively or defensively.
That the Bears were able to engineer this strike speaks well of where the regime of GM Ryan Pace has positioned the organization vis’a’vis the salary cap. Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay noted that it has been easier to make defensive tackle Aaron Donald the highest-paid defensive player in the game because quarterback Jared Goff is still under contract with a rookie deal. McVay told reporters on Friday, “When you see the types of contracts that these really good quarterbacks are earning in this league, it does help to have a player of Jared’s caliber on his rookie deal still.
The Bears have Trubisky entering year two of his rookie pact, meaning they won’t have to deal for another couple years with a quarterback market pricing that position in the range of $30 million per season. In three years, receiver Allen Robinson will be at the end of his contract, cornerback Prince Amukamara at the end of his, and so on, meaning the Bears will have some drafting and deal-making to do, but that’s just basic NFL stuff anyway.
For now, Mack also projects to give the Bears a trilogy of terror, a core that Bears Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent once called “the Rule of Three,” that all truly great defenses have had three major pass-rush threats. The ’85 Bears (Dent, Dan Hampton, Steve McMichael), the Purple People Eaters (Carl Eller, Jim Marshall, Alan Page, the Steel Curtain (Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Dwight White), the Fearsome Foursome (Deacon Jones, Lamar Lundy, Merlin Olsen), even the Doomsday Defense (Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Harvey Martin, Randy White).
The acquisition of Mack does not bring with it a catchy name for a defense that ranked statistically in the top 10 last season and has targeted the top five in 2018. But Mack unquestionably just made Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks even more formidable, and that with Floyd dealing with a broken hand that will be encased in some form of club.
Ripple-effect’ing out from that, Mack’s effect on the Chicago Bears defense is potentially enormous, beyond his immediate and individual impact. The reason Dent’s Rule of Three applies is because that breadth of quarterback menacing cannot be double-team’ed away. Floyd, clearly an ascending rush talent even with his durability concerns, instantly becomes a better pass rusher because neither he nor Hicks will not be facing virtually automatic double teams. Offensive lines slide protections in part to confront threats, and Mack is every bit that, a threat.
Taken to another level, Amukamara and Kyle Fuller just became better cornerbacks, and Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson just became better safeties. And it is hardly a stretch to extrapolate even further and muse about the blitz potential represented by yet-to-arrive Roquan Smith and even Danny Trevathan, allowing that centers, guards and offensive coordinators will now be forced to account for an edge danger significantly greater than that represented by Sam Acho, Kylie Fitts, Isaiah Irving and Aaron Lynch.
If there is one puzzling aspect to the bold stroke, it might be why the Bears were willing now to trade away the monumental draft capital for a pass rusher when Pace was unwilling to part with it in 2015 for the even more important position of passer. The Tennessee Titans at No. 2 in the 2015 draft wanted too much in Pace’s reckoning to swap places with the Bears, who wanted to move up from No. 7 to acquire perceived franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota, who’d won the Heisman trophy in 2014 playing for current Bears offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich.
The Bears at that point were locked into $16 million guaranteed to Jay Cutler. While Chairman George McCaskey stated at the time that the Bears would not be making roster decisions based on money, it’s just mildly curious that such a bold future-mortgaging step wasn’t made for someone that the organization had concluded had franchise-grade-quarterback potential.
But that was then, the past is indeed for cowards and losers, and if Mitch Trubisky can do something with the turnovers that Floyd, Hicks, Mack and a suddenly very dangerous front seven can be expected to assist in generating, the 2018 season and beyond just got a whole lot more interesting in Chicago.
And in Detroit. And Green Bay. And Minnesota.
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