Sometime in the evening on August 31, 2018, Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace sat across the proverbial poker table from John Gruden, Mark Davis, and the Oakland Raiders organization, stared down the two-first-round-pick draft price the Raiders were demanding for mega-star edge rusher Khalil Mack and pondered everything he built over the last two seasons, especially — moving up in the 2017 Draft to take Mitchell Trubisky second overall; firing John Fox and betting on first-time head coach Matt Nagy; signing Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, and Taylor Gabriel to revamp the receiving corps; re-signing Kyle Fuller and extending Akiem Hicks.
Did he believe this group could make the playoffs in the 2018-2019 season? Would he rather keep building through the draft and biding his time? Or was this the time to stake his reputation to a move that could change the trajectory of the Chicago Bears?
And then, in a move that we’ve almost come to expect — and yet, were we really expecting THIS? — he pushed his whole stack into the center of the table like James Bond in Casino Royale.
The #Bears have permission to negotiate a deal with star Khalil Mack, and that has been ongoing since last night. They are the one team willing to go where the #Raiders needed them to go. This is happening.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 1, 2018
Pace felt that all-powerful conviction that has blown Bears’ fans minds for the last two years, and he gave in to it.
He got his guy: Mack, the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year, the hellacious Hall-of-Fame-level force of nature whose truest comparison might just be New York Giants legendary alpha predator Lawrence Taylor.
And just like that, the Chicago Bears just announced to the world that they intend to make the playoffs this season.
This is DEFCON 1, Bears fans. This is not a drill. This is real life.
First, let’s talk about the player the Bears got and why this is so huge.
I mean, to start off, this is a monstrous bet by Pace. We’re talking about sending the Bears’ 2019 and 2020 first-round picks (along with a probable mid/late-round pick swap) AND signing Mack to what should be the richest deal for a defensive player in NFL history to keep him around for the foreseeable future.
So yes, I can see how some fans might be apprehensive about yielding all that capital, likely not having a pick in next year’s draft until the third round (thanks to the Anthony Miller trade) and wrapping up a lot of their cap space for the next few years. Was the player worth all that?
But I’m here to tell all of you that this is not your typical high profile trade/signing. In fact, this by far eclipses the signing even of Julius Peppers (who was 30 at the time) back in 2010.
Mack is 27, going on 28 in February, has been remarkably durable, and only perhaps entering the very height of his eventual Hall-of-Fame powers.
And dear Lord, he is quite simply a sight to behold.
Khalil Mack Accomplishments
– 2016 AP Defensive Player of the Year
– 3-time Pro Bowler
– 2-time 1st-team All-Pro
– 40.5 career sacks in 4 seasons
– Started all 64 games in 4 seasons pic.twitter.com/YOi0JEHCde
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 1, 2018
For goodness sake, back in his 2016 DPOY campaign (he had 15 1/2 sacks that year), he was named All-Pro at two positions (defensive end and outside linebacker).
He is a force to be reckoned with on the edge in run support, brutalizing blockers with brute strength. He can drop into coverage. And he is the unholiest of beasts as a pass rusher. Like, to the point that he almost requires two people blocking him on every play, and if they both aren’t elite offensive tackles, you’re done for.
So just on its own merit, trading for Mack immediately makes the Bears a significantly better team.
By the way…not to make you drool even harder, but this defensive front has the capability to be one of the best in the league.
Teams can no longer double-team Leonard Floyd, or they risk getting bludgeoned to death by Mack. And if you double-team Mack, you’re leaving the likes of Floyd and Akiem Hicks, who routinely annihilated single-blocking last season, one-on-one matchups.
And you have now just added several opportunities for Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Eddie Jackson, and Adrian Amos to make plays on the football in the passing game. After all, with Khalil Mack screaming off the edge to devour quarterbacks within 2.5 seconds, I anticipate some balls are going to be up for grabs.
Bottom line: this defense might have just skipped being a borderline top-10 unit and jumped straight into the top-5, on paper at least. And they turned possibly their biggest weakness on the entire football team into a resounding strength.
Meet your new Monster of the Midway. 😱
— NFL (@NFL) September 1, 2018
But even more than that, Pace just showed today that he understands the score and that he knew that now was the time to prove his trust in his own plan and in his team.
Nagy gave us a hint of that confidence last week in resting his starters, indicating that he had seen everything he needed to see to believe that the Chicago Bears’ starters would be ready for Week 1. And not even just ready: he believes that this team will win Week 1, no question about it.
This move from Pace shows that he believes it, too. So he doubled and tripled down on that confidence, sending the message that he thinks it’s time to really start winning at last.
Admittedly, it’s been a slow process with Pace. And certainly, no one enjoyed going 14-34 in his first three years as a general manager than he did. But he stuck with his plan, shook off a shaky first draft and rebounded with stronger subsequent drafts, handpicked his quarterback of the future, and surrounded him with weapons that would help him succeed. Plus, he didn’t splurge in free agency, maintaining a solid amount of cap space with which to potentially make that one big move.
We didn’t know it would be this move until Mack became available, but this is exactly why you make the moves Pace made to this point: to be able to strike at the right player when the opportunity arises.
— Charley Casserly (@CharleyCasserly) September 1, 2018
So thank goodness he didn’t blow crazy money on an overpriced corner, that he signed several players to relatively team-friendly deals, and that he didn’t wait until it was time to fork up the long-term cash for Trubisky. Because his way allowed him to land one of the best pass rushers in today’s, or any era’s, game.
So pull out that Kool-Aid IV and jam it straight into your veins, Bears fans. This isn’t delusional hopes and dreams anymore. This team is ready to make a run, an actual legitimate run, for the playoffs. Forget 8-8. That’s just the floor now.
They have the quarterback. They have the coach. They have weapons on offense. And now, they have truly elite talent to torture opposing teams on the defensive end.
Week one against Green Bay is just seven days away, and when it comes, Khalil Mack will be lining up on defense for the Chicago Bears. And for the first time in almost five years, the Bears might actually have something to play for at the end of this regular season.
Yes, your team is about to be a playoff contender, Bears fans. It’s time.
Follow Khari Thompson on Twitter–Feature Photo Credit: USA Today