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Adam L. Jahns: Answering the Bears’ biggest questions before the 2018 season

The Bears feel like a different franchise.

After an offseason in which they (deep breath) replaced head coach John Fox with Matt Nagy; signed three starting pass-catchers; drafted a starting inside linebacker, then dug in for a 29-day standoff with him; played five preseason games; and finally, traded for Khalil Mack and paid him the most money of any defender, ever, it’s finally game week.

How will the Bears fare? Sun-Times’ Bears expert Adam L. Jahns weighs in:

The Bears’ trade for Khalil Mack proved …

That there are no limits to general manager Ryan Pace’s boldness. If he believes in a player, he will do what it takes to get him. Pace called acquiring a 2020 second-round pick from the Raiders with Mack “a critical piece” of the historic trade. But the fact that Pace was willing to entertain trade talks with two of his first-round picks on the table is telling. Pace is operating with a “no regrets” mindset, and by doing so, he just acquired a player with Hall-of-Fame talent.

Bears coach Matt Nagy and GM Ryan Pace at training camp. (AP)

Bears coach Matt Nagy and GM Ryan Pace at training camp. (AP)

Khalil Mack will be worth it if …

The Bears not only become regulars in the postseason but also win a Super Bowl at some point over Mack’s six-year contract extension. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky and Mack are in charge of opening up that championship window for the Bears. But they also have plenty of help. It took four drafts, four runs at free agency, the hiring of a new coach and an unbelievable trade, but Pace now has foundation in place that he strongly believes in.

Matt Nagy’s biggest impact will be …

On Trubisky, of course. Nagy and Pace connected over many things during Nagy’s interview process, but their shared belief in Trubisky arguably was the most important. Nagy is here to change the Bears and that starts with turning Trubisky into a franchise quarterback.

Mitch Trubisky’s passer rating will be …

Between 91.2 and 104.7. Those are quarterback Alex Smith’s passer ratings during Nagy’s two years as the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Trubisky will experience his ups and downs over his first full season as a starter, but he still has weapons all around him. In a similar offensive system, Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz went from having a 79.3 passer rating in 2016 to 101.9 last season.

Roquan Smith will start …

Contributing immediately in Week 1. Smith might not start following his contract dispute and after dealing with a tweaked hamstring, but the Bears would be foolish not to have a special package in place that features Smith in some capacity. Nick Kwiatkoski doesn’t have much margin for error with Smith behind him, though.

Biggest upgrade from 2017 …

The pass rush. The Bears were tied for the seventh-most sacks last season with 42, but they still lacked a true double-digit threat off the edges. Mack fixes that. He’s a transcendent talent who helps every player on defense.

Biggest downgrade from 2017 …

There isn’t one. You could argue that every position across the board has improved this season, whether it was because of a historic trade, free-agent signings or the continued development of young players.

Projected record:

9-7. Many around the league already considered the Bears a markedly improved team. Nagy’s hiring was praised, too. But adding Mack changes the conversation. He’s a game-changer and a season-changer. The Bears might not make the playoffs, but they’re certainly capable of flirting with it this year.

Read our other writers’ takes entering Week 1

• Patrick Finley answers the Bears’ biggest questions
• Mark Potash answers the Bears’ biggest questions