Ryan Poles started the Bears’ rebuild when he agreed to move Khalil Mack

Poles agreeing to trade a surefire Pro Football Hall of Famer in his first major Bears move is bold and refreshingly coldhearted, considering the Bears made Mack the richest defensive player in history when they traded for him four years ago.

SHARE Ryan Poles started the Bears’ rebuild when he agreed to move Khalil Mack
Khalil Mack rushes against the Raiders last year.

Khalil Mack rushes against the Raiders last year.

Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

Last week, new Bears general manager Ryan Poles bemoaned the lack of draft picks left by Ryan Pace.

“That’s just the hand we were dealt,” he said. “And we’ll be open-minded on how we can create more picks.”

On Thursday, he certainly was open-minded, agreeing to trade edge rusher Khalil Mack to the Chargers for a second-round pick next month and a sixth-round pick next year. The trade cannot become official until the start of the league year Wednesday and is contingent on Mack passing a physical after having season-ending foot surgery in November.

Poles trading a surefire Pro Football Hall of Famer in his first major Bears move is a bold, refreshingly coldhearted move, considering the Bears made Mack the richest defensive player in history when they traded for him four years ago.

It’s also a smart way for Poles, 36, to begin reshaping his team. There will be more trades, too. The Bears are eyeing 2023 or later — and not 2022 — to begin competing at the highest level.

This is a rebuild. The Bears were always in need of one — and it became more logical the second quarterback Aaron Rodgers agreed to return to the Packers last week.

The Bears figure to look for free agents next week that will allow quarterback Justin Fields to operate within a functional offense. Otherwise, improving the team’s long-term roster outlook will be prioritized over bettering last season’s 6-11 record. The Bears have their first-round pick next year — unlike this season, they will be able to reap the draft rewards of a bad season.

The Bears’ roster, as it stands now, is devoid of elite players. Poles knows that.

When adviser Bill Polian analyzed the roster before suggesting the Bears fire Pace and coach Matt Nagy, he found the team had six or eight difference-makers. Good teams, he said, have a dozen or more. Mack, 31, was among them, but it was always fair to wonder whether he would still be playing at an elite level by the next time the Bears fielded a good roster around him.

Moving Mack this offseason eliminated the risk his value would be torpedoed by an injury. In the short term, it will hurt. Mack was due to have a $30.15 million cap charge in 2022. Trading him means the Bears have to eat $24 million in dead cap this year — the fourth-most in league history and the most for someone who doesn’t play quarterback.

Poles’ reward for paying $24 million for Mack to play for someone else: The Bears are free and clear after 2022. With Mack gone, they are projected to have $120 million in salary-cap space in 2023 — and that counts the salaries of edge rusher Robert Quinn, safety Eddie Jackson and defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, who could all be on the move. Goldman seems unlikely to still be on the Bears at the end of next week.

Fields turned 23 last week. His growth this season will determine how fast the Bears attack the free-agent and trade markets going forward. Now they’ll have the money to do so. The Bears gained $6.15 million in cap space this season, $28.5 million in cap space in 2023 and $26.25 million in 2024, the last year of Mack’s contract.

Poles doesn’t have a first-round pick because of the Fields trade, but he now has two second-rounders: the Bears’ original No. 39 overall pick and the Chargers’ No. 48. That gives Poles flexibility to move around on draft day and maybe even trade into the back end of the first round.

That’s not as exciting as being the team that trades for a Hall of Famer — just ask Bears fans who consider Sept. 1, 2018, the best day their franchise had since they reached the Super Bowl. But it makes sense.

Bring on the rebuild.

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