The Chicago Bears traded Khalil Mack to the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday for a second-round pick in 2022 and a sixth-rounder in the 2023 NFL Draft. Yes, that Khalil Mack. And yes, he’s no longer on the Bears.
It’s a difficult reality to comprehend. It doesn’t feel right, and it probably won’t for a while. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right move because, well, it was.
Newly hired general manager Ryan Poles has one very basic yet very difficult job to do: construct the best possible roster in the shortest amount of time. In order to do that, he needs to have assets—draft picks and salary-cap space. And while Mack undoubtedly has a Hall-of-Fame resume since entering the league as a first-round pick in 2014, there’s also no denying that his play has slowed over the last few seasons.
Mack’s first season with the Bears (2018) ended as his fourth-straight double-digit sack year. It’s been downhill since. He’s failed to reach more than nine sacks in each of the last three seasons, including 2021 when his body simply broke down. For a player with three years remaining on a six-year, $141 million contract, his downward trend in production is a justifiable cause for concern.
You can quote analytics, player grades, or any other metric to suggest Mack is still an elite defensive player. I get it, and in spurts, he still plays like one. But ask yourself this question: has he really been the game-wrecker the Bears expected him to be since that first year in town? If you’re being honest with yourself, the answer is no.
And remember Poles’ job? To get this Bears roster as well-rounded as possible as fast as he can? It doesn’t seem like Mack would’ve helped him get there. The returns on Macks’ bloated contract are likely to be diminishing, at best. Sure, he’s entirely capable of flipping the narrative and having a Robert Quinn-like renaissance season, but with the current makeup of this Bears team, would it even matter?
Chicago is more than one big Mack season away from being a contender. Heck, Quinn just set the franchise’s single-season sack record and it barely moved the needle. The Bears need to focus their attention—and assets—on the offensive side of the ball, and the fastest way Poles can upgrade the offense is by parlaying his most valuable trade asset on defense (while it still has value) into capital he can use to invest in the offensive line and wide receivers.
And he did just that.
The Mack trade frees up just over $6 million in salary-cap space for Poles to use in free agency if he so chooses. A wide receiver like Amari Cooper (assuming he’s released) or an offensive tackle like Terron Armstead won’t come cheap, but they’d instantly level up the talent around Justin Fields. Now, the Bears have a few million dollars more to throw their way.
It’s entirely possible that Poles will still play free agency conservatively and target a handful of second- and third-tier players. And that’s fine. With the extra cap space, he can sign more of those guys to build depth and competition—a well-rounded roster. Plus, the real spending can begin next year.
The Mack trade arms the Bears with the Chargers’ second-round pick this year, No. 48 overall. Chicago now has the two picks in the top 50 in a draft class that is universally viewed as extremely deep; the Bears are going to add two starters with those picks, and there’s a good chance both of them will be on offense.
So, yeah, a Bears defense without Mack will feel weird, initially, but Bears fans will get over it, especially if Poles gets it right in free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft. Let’s face it: there’s no choice but to move on and trust Poles’ vision. It’s a vision that will include a rebuilt offensive line, an entirely new wide receiver room, and a complete shift in defensive schemes. For as great as Mack is, he doesn’t help accomplish those goals.
In Poles we trust, right?
- Sep 25, 2023
- Sep 25, 2023