After years of hibernating, the Monsters of the Midway are back.
The Bears’ highway robbery of the Raiders in their stunning acquisition of pass rusher Khalil Mack has sent shock-waves throughout the NFL and is bound to have franchise-altering repercussions not only for the Bears but also for the other 31 NFL teams.
Mack is a generational, once-in-a-lifetime, bonafide superstar, who many are now hailing the Bears’ final piece in a puzzle that was previously deemed years away from being solved. Barely a week ago, the Bears were viewed as a middling team that had potential but had a lot of holes. Question marks on the offensive side of the ball, despite a plethora of talent, were among the headlines.
On the defensive side, there was optimism surrounding a group that ranked 7th in the NFL last season, but there was also concern surrounding the Bears’ (lack of) pass rushers. Surly veteran Akiem Hicks and the oft-injured Leonard Floyd stood out as the Bears’ best pass rushers, but behind them were a bunch of rotational guys like Sam Acho, Aaron Lynch, Isaiah Irving, and Kylie Fitts.
The addition of Mack puts these players in a position that suits them better, as complementary and rotational pieces. Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks go from being the focal points of opposing offenses’ game-plans to being strong complements to a former First-Team All-Pro at two positions in the same year. Focus on Mack, and Floyd and Hicks are hunting Aaron Rodgers‘ collarbone. Focus on Hicks or Floyd, and Mack is raising Rodgers’ life insurance bill from State Farm.
If you had asked me a week ago to project the Bears’ success going into the next few seasons, I would have had tempered expectations for this season, seeing as the offense was unproven and the defense lacked pass rushers, which would put pressure on a secondary that had only 8 interceptions last season.
My expectations were for the Bears to make their playoff push in 2019 and 2020 before they would have to start shelling out money to their key contributors. The 2019 NFL Draft is supposed to be filled with talented pass rushers, and I thought that would be Ryan Pace’s plan. But if I have learned anything from seeing Ryan Pace work his magic the past few years, it is that you can’t simply predict what he will do.
The addition of Mack totally changes my expectations.
Although the Bears lack elite talent at many positions, the addition of Mack changes their biggest position of weakness into their biggest strength, as Mack is without a doubt the Bears’ best player. He brings them into win-now territory, as the Bears’ defense seemingly has no question marks, except for defensive end, where Roy Robertson-Harris and Jonathan Bullard are fighting for the starting spot.
So, what should we expect from the new Monsters of the Midway?
Expectations for this season are soaring, with the Bears’ Super Bowl odds jumping from 100/1 to 40/1 after the addition of Mack. While Super Bowl ambitions could come to fruition, the Bears’ offense is still unknown and will have to gel. In Kansas City, it was reported that players took up to 3 years to truly learn Andy Reid‘s offense, meaning that the offense may not reach its potential until a few years down the line.
Nonetheless, with the addition of Mack, the Bears’ defense should be vaulted into the Top 5. Adding Mack significantly improves the pass rush, which will help the secondary generate more takeaways. The Bears no longer need a stellar offense to complement their defense, they just need a decent offense to complement a stellar defense, and I feel that Matt Nagy’s offense can at least meet these expectations this season.
I would expect the Bears to be in playoff contention, something I wouldn’t even think of saying a week ago. With teams such as the Vikings, Eagles, Saints, and Rams near locks to make the playoffs, that leaves the Bears, Packers, Cowboys, Falcons, Panthers, Seahawks, and 49ers vying for the final 2 wildcard spots. I believe that the Bears can compete with if not beat many of these teams, so it will be a close call.
If I were to pick a year for the Bears to go all-in on their Super Bowl run, it would be 2019. They will still have all of their key contributors on cheap deals, with players like Mitch Trubisky, Jordan Howard, Roquan Smith, and Eddie Jackson proving to be bargains. After the 2019 season, the Bears will face the possible losses of Jordan Howard, Cody Whitehair, Leonard Floyd, and Danny Trevathan, meaning that the 2019 season will be the last season where they can expect a much higher return of value from a lot of players.
Most dynasties in the NFL don’t last long, because when you have good players, they get paid. Big time. The Bears have to capitalize on their prime, and Ryan Pace knew that when he traded for Khalil Mack. There is no more waiting for the development of the team. The Bears must have Super Bowl ambitions in 2019 before their team starts falling apart. 2018 can be their developmental year, but 2019 must be their year. Looking around the NFC, it will still be a tough battle, but the Bears will have as much talent as other contenders do.
The Vikings will be among the best in the NFL, as will the Eagles and Rams, but these teams will face cap issues before the Bears will. Other teams with aging players, like the Saints and Packers, could still be a threat, but with some more development and another year in the system, the Bears could vault above them.
The 2020 season will still be an opportunity for the Bears to make their Super Bowl run, but they will have to do so after paying numerous key contributors. Mitchell Trubisky’s rookie contract also ends after the 2020 season (not including the 5th-year option, which will definitely be taken if Trubisky proves himself), meaning the Bears will have to shell out money to a quarterback one way or another.
Either way, it seems as though the Bears’ best window to win a championship will be in the next two years. If the rise and fall of the Legion of Boom have shown us anything, it is that teams in their prime don’t last forever and that you must capitalize on young talent.
Ryan Pace knew that the Bears’ young talent would be at its peak for the next few years, and he really stepped up this off-season, especially with his latest acquisition. By trading for Khalil Mack, he has acknowledged that the time is now. The addition of Mack proves that the Bears believe in Trubisky and Matt Nagy’s offense, and if the offense can put it together, the Bears will be a force to be reckoned with.
Whether they can sustain success will be another question, as money may prove to be their demise. Without their first and second round picks in 2019 and they’re first in 2020, it will be hard for the Bears’ to draft capable replacements for players that may be let go due to cap constraints in the future. By mortgaging their Nonetheless, Ryan Pace’s success in the second round and beyond does leave some hope that the Bears can withstand these pressures.
The Bears are built to win now, and that means their Super Bowl window will be open for the next few years. There hasn’t been this much excitement surrounding the Bears since Brian Urlacher was pummeling Aaron Rodgers to the ground. If the offense can put it together, it will be paired with a defense that has the talent to be a Top 5, maybe even the best, group in the NFL. If it can’t, perhaps the Bears defense could still lead them to a Super Bowl, a la 2006. After all, Mitchell Trubisky can’t be worse than Rex Grossman. Right?
The future is now. The Monsters of the Midway are back. After years of watching the Bears defense wither and allow 50+ point games, the Bears defense will finally be a force to be reckoned with once again. Football season is coming, and so are the Bears.
Follow Kedar on Twitter–Feature Photo Credit: Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune