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Why Khalil Mack could make a solid Bears defense elite again

Khalil Mack is one of the NFL's top defenders. | Tony Avelar/AP Photo

The Bears spent all offseason touting the continuity of their defense. Their entire defensive staff returned despite the team boasting a new head coach, an unusual move in a transient league.

Only nine teams allowed fewer yards than the Bears did last year. Only eight allowed fewer points. The Bears figured they’d build steadily on that success — at least 10 starters were returning to the same role in 2018.

A steady rise, though, was blown out of the water Saturday morning.

The pending acquisition of edge rusher Khalil Mack, according to NFL Network and ESPN, gives the defense a chance to be elite. Forget a top-10 defense. How does top-five sound?

In a sentence, Mack makes them dangerous. And he’s stepping into a perfect situation — one where the Bears’ only weakness was the exact position he plays. Saviors usually don’t have the luxury of joining a unit set up perfectly around them.

Mack posted 36 1/2 sacks over the last three seasons, His 74 quarterback pressures last season, per Pro Football Focus, were only 26 less than the entire Bears team.

He’s being paired with a defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio, who will use his famous creativity to create mismatches.

Mack will line up at outside linebeacker opposite former first-round pick Leonard Floyd on most downs. On passing downs, though, imagine a four-man front with Hicks, Floyd, nose tackle Eddie Goldman and Mack rushing the passer from the defensive line. Or maybe even three rushers — Hicks, Floyd and Mack — rushing with two inside linebackers behind them. Or maybe even three, if the Bears want to put Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski and No. 8 overall pick Roquan Smith on the field at the same time.

Mack’s very presence will force defenses to game plan around him. Hicks, Floyd and others will benefit. In the modern NFL, there is no more important skill than rushing the passer. In a division with Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Kirk Cousins, it’s essential.

The Bears could dominate on defense for the first time in a generation. In the 11 years since the Bears’ Super Bowl season, they’ve boasted a top-10 defense, in terms of points allowed, only three times. Their last Pro Bowl defensive player: cornerback Tim Jennings, after the 2013 season.

They now have a chance to post the best Bears defense since Lovie Smith’s final season. In 2012, the Bears ranked thirds in points allowed and fifth in yards allowed.

The price to upgrade will be steep — the exact return from the trade is unknown, but figures to include at least two first-round picks for the privilege of making Mack, perhaps, the highest-paid defender in football. The Rams signed defensive tackle Aaron Donald to a six-year, $135 million extension on Friday with $87 million guaranteed. Mack’s new deal will be in that ballpark.

The result, though, could be breathtaking.