Fallout from the Khalil Mack Trade: Who's Gonna Sack the QB? Cap Gains, Clarity, and a Reality Check

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Fallout from the Khalil Mack Trade: Who’s Gonna Sack the QB? Cap Gains, Clarity, and a Reality Check

Chicago Bears

Khalil Mack’s arrival was a turning point in the history of the Chicago Bears’ franchise.

Prior to the Mack trade, the Bears weren’t known to be willing to go all in. And even though they had been spending at different points in recent years, giving Mack the largest contract ever to a defensive player upon his acquisition was essentially a deathblow to the narrative of the McCaskey’s being cheap. The Mack deal was a landscape shifter (to say the least).

Fittingly enough, Mack’s departure — by way of trade to the Los Angeles Chargers — also serves as a watershed moment for the franchise. Because just as trading for Mack was signifying the opening of a competitive window, trading him away is a declaration that said window is shut.

Just like that, we have a harsh reminder of how quickly a moment can come and go. And we’re only beginning to deal with the fallout.

What are the Bears Getting?

The Chargers are getting the end of the deal that folks obviously want to be a part of when things like this go down. They’re getting a good player, that much is clear. HOWEVA, it isn’t as if the Bears walk away with nothing. Because in addition to the 48th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, a sixth-round selection in 2023, and an out from under the remaining three years and $63.9 million of Mack’s contract, the Bears are getting some clarity. Clarity regarding (1) who they are, (2) how far they have to go to get where they want to be, and (3) what it will take to get there.

First-year GM Ryan Poles has said on numerous occasions already that there are shortcuts in building a team, but it will take discipline to not fall into those traps. So rather than cut corners, Poles’ first splash move is kin to ripping off a band-aid. It hurts now. But if you don’t pick at it, then it’ll heal just fine.

So … What Does the Cap Situation Look Like Now?

Trading Mack now comes with a newfound creation of $6.15 million in cap space. That isn’t insignificant. Not when it bumps the Bears’ available salary cap space to $29,773,726. That represents the eighth-most cap space for any NFL team going into this offseason. But we shouldn’t overlook the future cap space gains on the horizon. That is the stuff that is far more important to Poles as he goes about this team-building process.

Getting Mack off the books now means the Bears have $121,406,894 in cap space going into the 2023 offseason. Signing players this offseason will chew into that some. Keep in mind the Bears have at least 32 players who could hit free agency in one way or another this offseason. Nevertheless, being more than $120 million under the cap is a solid starting point for the future.

Did the Bears Do Well?

All things considered, they did OK. Ideally, the Bears would’ve been able to net a first-round pick in the deal. But they didn’t. So now, Poles will be shredded in some corners of the football world. And because it’s the Bears we’re talking about, some folks wasted no time in pushing that narrative:

I’ve got some time before my coffee gets to me, so I can squabble with this take.

Did the Bears pay a premium for Mack? Yes. But what was the alternative? Not trying? Just letting other teams have their way with them because they weren’t fielding a competitive pass-rush? Opining that someone paid a lot for something good, cool, and fun isn’t the flex one might think it is. Last I checked, they don’t let you lift the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the year for fiscal responsibility in a billion dollar industry. Great players win championships. To that end, Mack did his part to hold up his end of the bargain. That Ryan Pace was unable to support Mack’s excellence with offensive firepower or supplement the team with a head coach who could do more than piggyback off of the previous week’s successful plays from Andy Reid’s playbook isn’t on Mack. Full stop.

Wait … Who’s Gonna Rush the Passer?

Robert Quinn and Trevis Gipson are starters. Even with Mack’s departure, the Bears are in good shape because Quinn is an established stud pass-rusher and Gipson is a rising third-year player who looks to be scratching the surface of his potential. Gipson has quite the hill to climb, especially since this will be his first year as a pro playing with his hand in the ground full time after spending the first two years as a stand-up pass-rushing outside linebacker. If Gipson can prove he is up to the challenge of a significant position switch that coincides with a system flip, we could be talking about extending him this time next year. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

As of now, reserve pass-rushers include Jeremiah Attaochu, Charles Snowden, and Sam Kamara. I suppose Mario Edwards Jr. could play defensive end in a 4-3 defense in a pinch. However, that isn’t why he was brought in (or re-signed) by the previous regime. In the end, I expect more turnover to hit this group.

Is Robert Quinn Next?

A Mack trade puts us on high alert for other possible deals. Because if Mack is deemed to be tradable, then no one is necessarily safe. However, trading Mack doesn’t mean the Bears need to have a fire sale right now. This front office could easily hold on to players until the time comes when the trade value for said player is at its peak. For instance, the Bears could trade Quinn right now. Or they could cite what the Broncos got for Von Miller before last year’s trade deadline and aim to get that type of return in Fall 2023.

What Does This Mean For Competitiveness in 2022?

On the one hand, trading Mack is an important first step in jump-starting a roster overhaul that probably should’ve begun last offseason. But on the other hand, this is a tough pill to swallow. After all, no one likes trading away good and popular players.

Sending Mack packing might as well be a proclamation that this upcoming season will be more transitional than it is competitive. To be clear, this doesn’t mean the Bears are stripping it down to the studs. The last thing this team should be doing is a complete tear-down while Justin Fields is on his rookie deal. Because any situation that leaves Fields feeling as if the team isn’t doing right in trying to build around him is one step closer to Fields being the disgruntled QB looking for a trade out of the NFC North. The Bears should be looking to avoid being part of that narrative. So before I go too far in one direction or the other, I’m curious to see how the Bears re-allocate their assets.

By making a trade like this, Poles is signaling that this franchise isn’t as close to competing at a high level as his predecessor previously thought. As sobering as this might be, Poles’ actions say more than his words ever could.

Author: Luis Medina

Luis Medina is a Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at@lcm1986.