Lake Forest, Ill.– With the Chicago Bears trading star pass rusher Khalil Mack to the Los Angeles Chargers, the outlook of the defense remains significantly changed. With a different outlook come different expectations. Now, on paper, the Bears have just middle linebacker Roquan Smith as a legitimate building block.
While veterans Eddie Jackson and Robert Quinn are still under contract, the Bears trading Mack signals the end of an era and one where the franchise will need to rebuild the defense, hoping to find the next generation of Bears.
But there’s a unique catch to the Mack trade. Trading Mack isn’t about trading an aging defensive superstar who’s dealt with injuries over the last three seasons. It’s about creating some additional cap space, roughly $6M while acquiring an extra set of draft picks, to help first-year general manager Ryan Poles rebuild the roster.
When Mack arrived in Chicago just a week before the start of the 2018 season, expectations were sky high. The Bears, winners of the NFL offseason at the time would go 12-4, and all seemed well in Chicago. Glory days appeared to be ahead with a Super Bowl title likely on the way. Instead, the Bears would flounder, going 8-8 in back-to-back seasons, with the Bears making two playoff appearances with no victories to show.
Fast forward to 2021 and the Bears would face a bleak reality. Mack would be injured, miss the rest of the season, and eventually shipped off the following offseason with the Bears opting to eat $24M in dead money as a means of unloading Mack’s hefty contract. It’s a move that hurts the Bears now but gives the franchise ample flexibility in the future.
It’s flexibility that will be used to build the next great Bears defense, whenever that may be. Trading the face of the Bears defense is a bold move by Poles, who’s automatically being held to a higher standard compared to his predecessor, Ryan Pace, who was instrumental in trading for Mack.
Poles has turned the page on Mack’s tenure in Chicago, a move he’ll be judged by. Should Mack go onto succeed in Los Angeles while Poles fails to get the Bears back to relevance, there will be questions about Poles’ approach, including why even bother to ship off your star defensive player.