Hub Arkush: Bears are big winners in Khalil Mack trade
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Chicago Bears are not contenders just yet.
But the Bears are closer to competing in the NFC North than they’ve been at any time since they last won it in 2010, and a run at their first NFC title is much closer than it’s been since they last won it in ’06 if three things happen for them over the next 17 weeks.
None of that was even close to true until the team completed a trade Saturday for 27-year-old, 2016 NFL Defensive Player of The Year Khalil Mack and then made him the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL.
Let’s be clear on the price the Bears paid.
Sending their 2019 and 2020 first-round draft picks to the Raiders is a very steep price to pay for one pass rusher, and moving your best draft capital is always fraught with risk.
See the Jay Cutler trade.
But by getting the Raiders’ second-round pick back in 2020 in exchange for their third-rounder next year, and a conditional fifth-rounder for their sixth-rounder in 2020 makes the price a hair or two less than two first-round picks, not more.
The payout to the Raiders is significantly less than the Rams gave up for Jared Goff and the price the Eagles paid for Carson Wentz.
Granted, quarterbacks cost more, but Mack has already proven he can have every bit as big an impact on a team as Goff and Wentz did last year.
If Mack remains one of the game’s elite pass rushers, his presence allows Leonard Floyd to join him in that group, and the Bears can become a top-five defense.
His presence also brings a whole new swagger to the locker room and huddle.
The real danger in the deal is Mack’s new contract.
The Bears have been among the league leaders in cap space in recent years mainly because they’ve been so bad. But with the fortune they doled out in free agency this offseason, and now Mack’s new deal, the Bears are certain to have less cap space the next few seasons.
Should they become a playoff team but still short of a legitimate contender, and have two or three specific needs to get to the top, with no first-round picks the next two years and actually none in the first three rounds next year, plus limited salary cap space, they could end up stuck a notch below the elite.
Right now you can hope that becomes a problem.
What are the three things that must happen for the Bears to make a run at Atlanta in February this season?
Mitch Trubisky is a prospect and a promise. The popular refrain in Bears Nation that the club has finally fixed the QB position is simply untrue — so far. Trubisky has shown everything you want to see to suggest he can be that guy, but he didn’t show much in training camp to suggest he’s ready yet. He will start this season far less advanced than Wentz and Goff were last year, but he appears capable of the leaps they made, and if he makes it the Bears can contend.
No. two is that the Bears, who have been strangled by injuries the last few seasons as badly as any team in the league, must stay healthier this year or they aren’t going anywhere.
This is the most talented Bears team in years at the top, but they aren’t deep anywhere.
No. three is that the offensive is not great — even healthy it could be a problem, and that would not bode well for Trubisky or the offense.
But if Kyle Long is Kyle Long, someone emerges at left guard and Charles Leno has one more level in his game, they can be good enough.
Those are three fairly heavy lifts, but it is not a very long to-do list.
There really is no question that the Bears are the big winners in the Mack trade. Now the question of how big they won can make the next seventeen weeks a lot more promising for Bears fans than they were when you went to bed Friday night.