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Trade for Khalil Mack latest reminder that Bears’ Pace among NFL’s most aggressive GMs

September 2, 2018

What do the last four Super Bowl-winning GMs have in common? Philadelphia’s Howie Roseman, New England’s Bill Belichick, Denver’s John Elway and Seattle’s John Schneider all attacked their rosters with unwavering aggression with a singular focus: Winning a Super Bowl.

Roseman made a series of moves to get from No. 13 all the way up to No. 2 in the 2016 draft to nab Carson Wentz, then built his new franchise QB’s supporting cast by signing a WR1 and trading for a CB1 and RB1 over the next year en route to the franchise’s first Lombardi.

Belichick’s Patriots have won two of the past three Super Bowls and clinched a spot in three of the past four with a slew of high-profile acquisitions of established plug-and-play vets: Darrelle Revis, Martellus Bennett, LeGarrette Blount, Brandin Cooks and Stephon Gilmore, to name just a few.

Elway pulled off one of the modern era’s biggest free-agent signings in Peyton Manning and buttressed homegrown stalwarts on a Super Bowl-caliber ‘D’ with the likes of DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward.

Schneider and Pete Carroll gave up a first-rounder for Percy Harvin, who wasn’t a hit like some of the others mentioned above but helped put the dagger in Denver with a monster Super Bowl XLVII.

We’re not suggesting that Bears GM Ryan Pace’s bold trade Saturday to acquire Khalil Mack means the Bears will win the Super Bowl. But we’re stating unequivocally that he sent a pair of first-rounders, a third-rounder and a conditional fifth-rounder to Oakland in exchange for the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year (plus a second- and conditional fifth-rounder!) expecting nothing less than it helping return the Lombardi Trophy to Chicago for just the second time ever — and soon.

Perhaps we shoudn’t be so surprised. With four full offseasons under his belt, in addition, albeit, to thee double-digit losing campaigns, Pace has built a reputation as one of the NFL’s gutsier general managers. His legacy is still to be determined, but any lingering belief that the Bears are a cheap organization that’s comfortable with complacency has been completely blown up by Pace’s all-in approach that started almost immediately upon his arrival.

Let’s review a few of Pace’s bolder acquisitions:

In four drafts, Pace has traded up three times in the top two rounds

Everyone remembers Pace taking a page from the Roseman book in moving up to the No. 2 overall slot for a potential franchise QB in Mitch Trubisky. And many questioned at the time whether he needed to move up one spot in exchange for three picks to get his guy. Remember, though, Pace also jumped up a couple spots for Leonard Floyd one year earlier, and just this past April, maneuvered back into the second round for Anthony Miller.

Splashy vet FA signings

From Ray McDonald to Josh Sitton to Allen Robinson, Pace has sensed unique opportunities on the open market for players with inherent risk. Whether it was McDonald’s off-field turbulence, Sitton getting dumped by the Packers on the cusp of 30 or Robinson rehabbing a torn ACL following a lost season, the Bears under his control have consistently made earnest attempts to add potential foundation pieces — for better or worse.

Was Pace’s timing off on the first two moves? Yes. With the benefit of hindsight, we know this team was never going anywhere with Jay Cutler and a flawed roster, so he probably pounced a bit early on risky signins like McDonald and Sitton — though it should be noted Sitton went to a Pro Bowl and was generally the Bears’ most consistent performer up front over his two seasons here.

Aggressive up-and-comer deals

Pace has hardly sought only established players in free agency. His first-ever signing, a whopper deal for Pernell McPhee, was a calculated risk on a 26-year-old coming off a Super Bowl who’d never been a full-time starter, buried behind a Hall of Famer (Terrell Suggs) and Pro Bowler (Elvis Dumervil) on the depth chart. McPhee’s chronic knee issues marred his Bears tenure, but the move made great sense from purely a talent and financial standpoint.

If that sounds familar, it’s because Trey Burton is essentially this year’s McPhee, save, the Bears most hope, for the troubling medical history. Burton played behind a Pro Bowler in Zach Ertz but flashed high-end starting ability, like McPhee, whenever his number was called. He also fits to a tee Matt Nagy’s offense, just as McPhee did Vic Fangio’s.

Pouncing on Nagy

The Bears kicked off the 2018 hiring cycle merely eight days after last season ended by tabbing Nagy, the antithesis of John Fox, to oversee an offensive and organizational transformation. Nagy had other suitors, including former Bears personnel man Chris Ballard’s Colts. But, like in the case of Trubisky and Mack, Pace identified his guy and wouldn’t stop until he was signed, sealed and delivered.

Mack attack

We get it: You’ve heard enough by now of the Rams comparisons this offseason (the Eagles comp might be even more apt but we’ll stick with the Rams for this specific argument).

Guess what? The biggest story in the NFL this weekend only reinforces that Pace is taking a page from their playbooks. Mack likely is only here because the Bears understand the benefit of a cost-control quarterback and the leniency it provides in using the lion’s share of resources to support him.

Look at what the Rams, after being a year ahead of schedule, did this offseason, when Goff is still two years away from a possible extension: trade for Cooks, Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, and sign Cooks, Todd Gurley, Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh to massive deals.

Again, sound familiar?

The Bears are operating a year ahead of the Rams’ schedule, yet another illustration of Pace’s aggressiveness, and just added arguably the best defensive player in the NFL to a top-10 ‘D.’

Whether it leads the Bears back to the postseason in 2018 remains to be seen, but it’s tough not to admire Pace for having the courage in his convictions and the awareness that, despite saying he was a draft-and-develop GM the day he arrived, we’re no longer operating in a time where that method alone is viable in contending.

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