Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears for WARR
Is it the spring of 2009 again or is that deja vu we’re feeling, Bears Nation?
The Chicago Bears have made another franchise-changing trade in acquiring former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack from the Oakland Raiders. The move, announced the morning of September 1, will likely always be associated with the beginning of the ninth month and Labor Day weekend for Bears fans. It can also be directly associated with the last franchise talent Halas Hall scooped up in a trade for two first-round picks.
Back on April 3, 2009 the Bears gave up two first round picks and a third for what they hoped would be their foundation in quarterback Jay Cutler. No championship, not even a Super Bowl appearance came of Cutler’s time as the man in Chicago but the Bears at times had as explosive of an offense as it has had in the Super Bowl era.
Regardless of how one believe’s the Cutler trade played out, it was a move that instantly changed the perception and expectations for the Bears in regards to competing in the modern NFL. On September 1, 2018, the Bears did the exact same thing in trading for Khalil Mack.
Trading for Mack was yet another shocking move by Bears general manager Ryan Pace, actually the most shocking move in an off-season full of at least surprising ones.
Many had believed that if Mack, mired in a hold-out with Oakland that some believed would drag into the regular season, would be traded that Green Bay was the favorite to land his services. Seriously — imagine that for a minute — Mack with the Bears’ mortal rivals, likely making the impact on defense that Aaron Rodgers continues to make on offense would have been a nightmare. Instead the “wish upon a star” dream came true for Chicago fans as the Bears ripped Mack away from the Packers as well as the Jets (reportedly close on the Mack trade as well) and the rest of the NFL who would have loved to have him.
This trade is fascinating because of three specific elements. First off, the trade itself, no team has ever given up what the Bears gave up to acquire Mack. Secondly, the contract as Mack became the highest paid defensive player. And finally, the type of player the Bears are getting and what it means to the “Monsters of the Midway” defense and the rest of the team.
The Bears have made a big splash in the NFL water at a time when these types of things rarely happen, on cut day just before the season. Whatever expectations Chicago had for this coming football season have to be readjusted to say the least. Let’s dig into one of the most notable trades in NFL history.
Whats the Deal?
The Raiders were asking a huge price as it was rumored and reported that they would want two first round picks in exchange for the Pro Bowler Mack. Chicago would decide to make that payment in giving up a plethora of picks, but in yet another shock by the Raiders, the Bears were able to recoup a second-round pick on top of getting a great active talent.
What played out was a good deal for the Bears. Giving up first round picks is risky, but Mack is clearly a guy worthy of a risk. There are no guarantees with the draft and guess what would be the biggest need in the 2019 draft for the Bears — pass rusher. Mack gives the Bears something that the desperately needed.
Giving up a second first-round pick is potentially losing out on a great player but the Bears got back a second-round pick to mediate the loss. Look at it this way: the Bears gave up a 2019 first-rounder, which would have been a pass rusher if the draft had went the Bears way, and a 2020 first-rounder, which is essentially the Bears trading down to the second round and losing a third round pick.
Ask yourself if you would agree to get Khalil Mack in exchange for giving up a first-round pick, trading out of the first round to the second round the following draft and giving up a third-round pick in two years? Seems like a no-brainer but then again teams that are smart don’t trade away Khalil Mack because of a money crunch.
The next element of the deal, the closing element, was Mack agreeing to a contract extension with the Bears. Chicago had received permission from the Raiders to start negotiations with the 27-year-old — and kudos to Ryan Pace for figuring out a way to get the deal done — as both the Raiders and Bears have the cap space to get a deal done and both have cash flow issues but one team wants to win and get better and that was the Bears.
Pace finalized the deal and NFL history was made with its announcement. The Bears gave away two first-round picks for a defensive player, which has never happened before.
Then upon the trade, the Bears made Mack the highest paid defensive player in NFL history, which also meant that Aaron Donald’s deal this past Friday might exist as the shortest-lived record contract of all time.
Mack now has his deal and can end his holdout and focus on football. Now that the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed all the focus shifts to Week 1 in Green Bay and imagining the impact of Mack on the board.
Earlier this camp season we talked about the linebacker group heading into the season and noted how the Bears did what they could with the options available. The Bears didn’t have a pass rusher worthy of the eighth pick and there wasn’t any big name free agents. Plus the trade market left little options because who trades away top pass rushers? (insert Homer Simpson “DOH!!”)
Now that the Bears have that player we see how suddenly all the pieces fit. Back in San Francisco’s hay days with Vic Fangio they had Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman patrolling the middle aka Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith. They had a defensive lineman that defenses had to double team to stop pressure up the middle in Justin Smith, or Akiem Hicks in this case. A ferocious pass rushing force on the outside that defenses had to account for on every play was represented in Aldon Smith (now Mack).
You can also throw in a player in Leonard Floyd who will now get more one on one blocking situations and has the speed to clean up rushes by other teammates if he doesn’t get there first.
This group has big shoes to fill in order to achieve the same amount of success as those 49ers defenses but Fangio now has the pieces he has coveted. The Bears now have arguably the best front seven in football when healthy.
Chicago’s secondary should have an easier time and not have to cover receivers as long. A guy like Eddie Jackson could see a lot of turnover opportunities this year. Overall, this defense was statically a top-ten defense coming into 2018, featuring 42 sacks from 2017, which was tied sixth in the league and that was without Floyd for six games. With Mack this defense has legit top-five ability.
Green Bay had coveted Mack and many thought Green Bay was the favorite to land him. Now the Sunday Night Football opener has got even more exciting, but the question is whether Mack can get ready for this game. Remember Mack hasn’t been in Raiders camp at all so he is not in football shape. Roquan Smith pulled a hamstring in recent practices potentially due to his holdout. It doesn’t matter how hard a player trains while not being with his team, that practicing isn’t the same as playing football.
It’s this writer’s guess that the Bears will play Mack against Green Bay and have a snap count for him or at least take him out of the game in situations that make sense. No doubt that coach Matt Nagy and coordinator Vic Fangio will try use him as much as possible. Due to the trade Green Bay will have to change and make game plan adjustments to their protections, route combos and situational play calling before the night of September 9th.
The expectations for the Bears have changed somewhat now. A playoff season isn’t exactly a fair outlook one season after being a five-win team regardless of its additions, there will be growing pains. But it should be fair to expect the Bears to not finish last in the NFC Central division and be in wild-card contention late in the season at the least.
Then there is the other hand where the growing pains seem non existent and the Bears have an Eagles like boost into the playoffs. It should be that much more of a fun season with Mack in the fold.
Also, it should be noted that Ryan Pace’s off-season plan to overhaul the offense from coaches down while keeping his top tier defense in place has been made complete with the addition of Mack. The Bears have a complete roster without a glaring hole at any level of the offense or defense, its time to start seeing results on the field. Bear Down.
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