For those worried Ryan Pace shipped away an egregious amount of draft capital to acquire Khalil Mack, the Bears’ general manager offered a compelling counter-argument on Sunday.
Pace traded his 2019 and 2020 first-round picks to the Oakland Raiders for Mack, and coupled with a draft-day trade to move back into the second round and pick Anthony Miller this year, the Bears won’t have a selection until the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft. They won’t have a pick in the first round of the 2020 draft, either.
“When we look at this next draft, right, our first-round pick is Khalil Mack and our next round pick is Anthony Miller,” Pace said.
And while the Bears won’t have that first-round pick in 2020, they will have two second-round picks after securing the Raiders’ selection in exchange for a third-rounder as part of the Mack trade. Getting that second-round pick back was important for Pace as part of the deal — and while he’s not going to say it, if the Raiders are indeed building toward their move to Las Vegas in 2020, that second-round pick could be a high one.
“The next draft we have two (second-round picks). I’ll take that,” Pace said. “We can do some damage there.”
Another part to this for the Bears: Parting with two-first round picks would look better if the team can meet the winning expectations that have been — and should be — set by Pace’s aggressive moves to add talent around Mitch Trubisky over the last six months. Parting with, say, the 17th and 24th overall picks in successive drafts (or, if you’re in the deep end of optimism, two No. 32 picks) is far more palatable than the third and eighth selections, which the Bears have owned in the last two years.
It’s unlikely the Bears, too, would’ve found a generational Hall of Fame talent like Mack in the next two drafts. They could’ve, sure, but players like Mack and Aaron Donald and Von Miller — the last three highest-paid defensive players of all time — are incredibly rare and hard to find.
Mack is as close to a sure thing as possible, having established himself as a dominant pass-rusher who’s also one of the more reliable players in the NFL. Mack has never missed a game in his career and played a little under 90 percent of the Raiders’ defensive snaps from 2014-2017.
“When a guy like this becomes available in the prime of his career and not just the physical talent; the person that he is, too, and I think you felt a little bit of that, today, you've got to be willing to act,” Pace said. “We're never going to be a team that's going to sit back — we talk about, (don’t) sit on your hands. It's very easy in our league to play it safe and play it cautious, and not that we're going to be reckless, but we're going to be aggressive.”
The Bears, according to The Athletic’s Michael Lombardi, were the only team to offer the Raiders two first-round picks for Mack. But if the Bears really wanted to, they could probably trade back into the first round with one or both of their second-round picks in 2020 — and given Pace’s draft-day aggression in years past, consider that option on the table two springs from now.
This isn’t to say the Bears didn’t get up a lot to get Mack. They did.
But it’s also hard to argue with Pace’s rationale: If a player like Mack is available, you do what you can to go get him.
Maybe view it this way: The Bears traded their 2020 first- and third-round picks for Mack (their 2019 “first-round pick”) and a second-round pick. And that’s more than palatable to get a player of Mack’s caliber.
“You're talking about draft capital and also financial resources you're giving up, but fortunately we're in a really good space with our salary cap, and so our roster can handle this right now,” Pace said. “We're a young team with a lot of depth we feel good about. … I think the youth of our team, the depth of our team, the financial health of our team and then getting that second round pick back was important.”