When Bears general manager Ryan Pace sat down for an interview with the “Hoge & Jahns Podcast” on Aug. 24 at Halas Hall, he was asked about acquiring pass rusher Khalil Mack from the Raiders for two first-round picks.
It was a lighthearted question but one still with serious undertones.
Pace laughed, then briefly paused.
“We’re going through every scenario … ” Pace said before trailing off.
Well, it’s a scenario that’s about to become a reality.
Saturday night, the Bears officially added Mack in a bold, NFC North-changing trade with the Raiders, and gave him a six-year contract extension that made him the highest-paid defender in the game.
Here are five takeaways on the Bears’ addition of Mack:
From good to great
The Bears wanted to protect quarterback Mitch Trubisky as he adjusted to coach Matt Nagy’s offense by playing good defense. The Bears now have the makings of a great defense.
Mack is joining a defense that returns players with starting experience at all positions, but also one coming off a solid 2017 season.
Last year, the Bears finished 10th in total defense, ninth in scoring, eighth in passing and tied for seventh in sacks, despite lacking a player with double digit-sack production.
Despite that solid 2017 campaign and the return of coordinator Vic Fangio, many across the league felt the Bears’ defense still was short on true difference-makers.
Drafting linebacker Roquan Smith in the first round this year helped changed that perception. But acquiring Mack erases it.
Mack has 37 sacks over the past three seasons. He’s widely considered one of the best defensive players in the NFL right now.
The cost of acquiring of Smith certainly is high — in addition to the extension, the Bears gave up first-round picks in 2019 and 2020, a third-rounder in 2020 and a sixth- rounder in 2019, The Bears are getting a second-round pick and a conditional fifth-rounder in 2020 . But the Bears believe they’re in the early stages of a turnaround.
That was the case before trading for Mack, too.
This is a win-now and a win-later move. Mack is 27 years old and in the prime of his career. This season only will be his fifth in the NFL.
Many of the Bears’ best players are 27 or younger. Mack is joining a young, talented core.
On offense, that includes: Trubisky, receivers Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller, tight ends Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen, running backs Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard and linemen Cody Whitehair, Charles Leno and James Daniels. Right guard Kyle Long is only 29.
On defense, it includes: Smith, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, cornerback Kyle Fuller, safeties Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson and defensive linemen Eddie Goldman, Jonathan Bullard and Roy Robertson-Harris. Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks is only 28, too.
Faith in Trubisky
The Bears continue to follow the scripts of the Eagles and Rams.
First, it was pairing a first-round quarterback with an offensive-minded head coach who has an innovative approach. Now, it’s taking advantage of their quarterback’s contract situation.
Trading for Mack means paying Mack. But with Trubisky on his rookie contract, the Bears can afford a spending spree. They already had one in free agency. Mack is the icing on the cake that already includes Robinson, Gabriel and Burton on offense.
Adding Mack also is a sign of the Bears’ belief in Trubisky. The team knows it will take time for everything to click for him in Nagy’s complicated offense. But the team is encouraged that it will happen sooner, than later.
‘‘I know where he’s at; I know where our offense is at,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘I feel good knowing this is the time we were given [and] this is where I’m at. I do not expect to roll into this thing with five years’ worth of this offense. That’s unrealistic expectations. But with where we’re at and what we have, I’m very excited for our opportunities.’’
It’s that faith in Trubisky combined with Mack’s arrival that make parting with first-round picks easier to swallow. It’s a projection, but the Bears don’t believe they’re giving up a top-10 pick. They banked on a young, All-Pro player over potential.
Another bold move
When Pace talked with the “Hoge & Jahns Podcast,” he was asked how difficult it can be to find a special pass rusher.
“When you’re saying the hardest positions to find, obviously it’s quarterback, it’s pass rushers, it’s cover corners,” Pace said. “Those are all desirable positions. There’s probably 31 other teams right now looking for corners and pass rushers, right?”
Those are now desirable positions that have been addressed by Pace in bold fashion. His acquisition of Mack from the Raiders rivals his decision to trade up and select Trubisky with the No. 2 pick last year.
The Bears also re-signed Fuller and Prince Amukamara. To keep Fuller, Pace had to match the offer sheet he signed with the Packers. He did that quickly.
Fangio and Floyd
Floyd is a good player, but there were doubts that he’d become what former outside linebacker Aldon Smith was for Fangio’s top-notch 49ers defenses.
Mack changes that because he is that.
Smith wreaked havoc in 2011 and 2012 under Fangio. He went off for 15 and 19 ½ sacks, respectively, working alongside Pro Bowl defensive tackle Justin Smith. They formed a dominant tandem.
Fangio gets to pair Mack with Hicks now. It helps to have Goldman, too.
But Mack is also the help that Floyd, the ninth overall selection in 2016, needs to take that next step in his own career. Their combination is more than intriguing. It could be potentially devastating for opposing offenses with Fangio at the controls.
Floyd’s development has been hindered by his own injuries. He will play in Week 1 with a cast/club on his right hand after undergoing surgery for broken bones.
But Floyd still has made considerable improvements technique-wise at outside linebacker over three years. He had to after handling different roles at Georgia.