The Chicago Bears seem to be at a bit of a crossroads.
A competitive window that began in 2018 is shut, with the previous regime gone by the wayside, too. After spending gobs of money and premier draft capital to field a top-flight defense, it is probably time to start shifting resources to the other side of the ball. What better time to build around rising second-year quarterback Justin Fields’ development than now?
But as the old adage notes, you’ve gotta be willing to give something to get something. And for the Bears, this could mean sacrificing a top defensive player (or two) in order to kick-start the effort toward re-allocating the team’s spending. Ironically, by possibly trading the player who got the ball rolling for the last set of competitive years in Chicago.
Let’s stop beating around the bush: Brad Biggs (Tribune) wonders if the Bears would trade star pass-rusher Khalil Mack.
This feels timely in the wake of new GM Ryan Poles’ comments about being “open minded” about getting more draft capital. So with the Bears pivoting as a franchise, this feels like the best time to explore creative options. Which, yes, could mean gauging interest from other teams about a player of Mack’s caliber. Biggs hears the Broncos-Rams deal with Von Miller could be a blueprint to follow. An anonymous NFC executive told Biggs a second-round pick and a late-round selection could be a fair return. It is worth underscoring that Denver ate more than 90 percent of Miller’s $9.7 million 2021 salary in order to receive second- and third-round picks in the 2022 NFL Draft from the Rams.
Some might point to an injury shortened 2021 as something that could limit Mack’s trade value. But Mack had six sacks, six tackles-for-loss, and seven quarterback hits in seven games before that season-ending IR stint. And he is just one season removed from playing at the top of the position ranks. That it appeared as if Mack was on pace for another game-wrecking season could soften the blow that come with the recent injury concerns. Nevertheless, Mack represents Chicago’s biggest trade chip. It should proceed as if it knows that much one it comes to trade discussions.
To be clear, trading Mack solely for the sake of saving cap space and draft capital would be problematic. Mostly from the perspective of realizing that trading Mack before June 1 would clear just $6.15 million in cap space. That would be welcome wiggle room under the cap for a Bears team already with $26,408,726 to work with according to OverTheCap.com’s calculations. But it would come with a dead money hit of $24 million. Among the many lessons we learned from the Pace era is that eating big money up front comes with consequences. With that in mind, the Bears could deal Mack after June 1, which would spread the dead money hit over two years and give the Bears $17.75 million in newfound cap space. But they wouldn’t be able to use that money until after June 1.
In other words, trading Mack right now isn’t as cut-and-dry as a first-year GM might otherwise want it to be. Making these potential franchise-altering deals deserve to be treated with caution and care.
All of this brings us back to asking if the Bears could or would trade Mack. To which I would respond “sure” to both questions. I’d even go as far as to suggest that they would be wise to explore doing so. However, Poles and the new front office need to ask if trading Mack would be worth it. After all, just because you can doesn’t mean you should. This all makes for a fun conversation to kick around. And it is one I hope the Bears brass is having now. Trading Mack should be in consideration, if only because the Bears aren’t in a position to be choosy about how they go about building their team. No stone should be left unturned as this group digs out from the ashes of the Ryan Pace era.
Poles should be as progressive in building around a second-year quarterback as Pace was in trading for Mack when he was crafting a team around a quarterback on a rookie-scale deal. To that end, the cap savings and extra picks that could come via a Mack deal would be welcome. But every decision the Bears make should be rooted in answering this question: Does this help Justin Fields’ development right now? And I’m not sure trading Mack just to be happy about having some additional cash to spend against the cap and and an extra draft pick would be the right way to go about it. This is to say that there is a right way to go about making this kind of move. But tearing it down to the studs doesn’t seem like it would be doing right by Fields.
In the end, let’s be open-minded. But let’s not go too far off base while doing so.