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Why Khalil Mack is essential if Bears want to dominate the NFC North

The last time Ryan Pace took questions from a media throng, he detailed the transformation he ushered in during the Bears’ offseason.

“I’d say it’s been aggressive,” the general manager said on the day the Bears reported to training camp. “There’s been a lot of work that’s been done.”

It never stopped. When he packaged four draft picks for Raiders outside linebacker Khalil Mack and other draft considerations Saturday, he did so with the Bears’ future — and division — in mind.

If the most important trait of a modern defense is its ability to sack the quarterback, it’s doubly important in the NFC North, which — sorry, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Jameis Winston —  has become the cradle of quarterbacks.

The Bears traded for Khalil Mack on Saturday. | Jeffrey T. Barnes, AP photo

The Bears traded for Khalil Mack on Saturday. | Jeffrey T. Barnes, AP photo

The Bears will play six games this season against the Packers, Lions and Vikings — and, presuming health, starting quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Kirk Cousins. Rodgers is a legend, Stafford is the rifle-armed unicorn and Cousins simply had his full contract guaranteed this offseason.

No one will earn more this season than Rodgers’ $66.9 million cash payment. Cousins will make $26 million, eighth-most, while Stafford will pocket $16.5 million.

Stafford finished sixth in the NFL in passer rating last year, while Rodgers was eighth and Cousins 12th. Only four passers averaged more passing yards than Stafford’s 278 per game, while Cousins ranked 10th with 256 yards and Rodgers 14th with 249.

The Bears are fighting fire with fire — and dollars with dollars — after agreeing to pay Mack the most money ever for a defender, guaranteeing him $60 million at signing and $90 million overall over six years.

Assuming he’s stayed in shape during his contract holdout, Mack will get his first look at Rodgers as a division rival on Sept. 9. His performance against the NFC North’s best quarterbacks will go a long way toward justifying the trade — and his salary.

If the Bears have plans to make the playoffs, momentum has to start in their division. With the Falcons, Saints and Panthers poised to thrive in the NFC South — and the Rams and 49ers battling in the NFC West — the Bears have a better chance of claiming the North than waltzing into a wild-card spot.

The only way to win the division is to slow its quarterbacks.

In Mack, the Bears traded for someone who can do just that.