The Bears seems to be going all-in with an ace-high hand.
In making a massive trade for defensive end Khalil Mack, and in inevitably agreeing to the massive contract that will go along with it, Chicago wants to reverse a decade of doldrums, featuring no playoff appearances since the day Jay Cutler was smoking a cigarette (not really) on the sidelines during a loss to the Packers in the NFC title game. And so, in the team’s biggest personnel move since trading for Cutler a year earlier, Chicago hopes to get back there.
But when will that happen? The Packers and Vikings are loaded, loaded enough presumably to fend off a Bears team that has a strong defense but a work-in-progress offense that may, or may not, gel quickly under coach Mark Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich. If anything, this move puts more pressure on the offense to complement a defense that was already pretty good and now could be a lot better.
If the Bears did indeed give up a pair of first-round picks for Mack, the rationale is simple. No first-round pick is guaranteed to become a great player; if one first-round pick can be packaged with another to give a team a can’t-miss star player, why not do it?
A decade ago, the Vikings applied similar reasoning when sending a one and a three to the Chiefs for defensive end Jared Allen. The third-round pick became insurance that the first-round pick would become a great player, and it did. The Bears are simply using a second first-round pick to nail down a great player with the first one.
The bigger issue is the money. When the Vikings traded for Allen, first-round picks were pricier than they now are. Given the rookie wage scale, it’s much, much cheaper to pay first-rounders than it is to pay established veterans. But it will be easier for the Bears to pay Mack because their potential franchise quarterback, Mitchell Trubisky, is two or three (or maybe four) years away from a second contract. So with Trubisky consuming a lot less cap space than the second overall pick would have gobbled up pre-2011, the Bears can jam a bunch of cash and cap dollars under Mack’s name.
In the end, there’s no guarantee that this move will make the Bears better. But at least it creates the impression that they’re trying, and it carries with it the arguably implicit admission that they haven’t really tried nearly enough in recent years, while their arch-rivals from Green Bay have owned the division.
Speaking of Green Bay, the Packers and Bears get together there in eight days, on Sunday Night Football. And what a night it will be if Mack makes his debut in that game, with his first order of business being chasing around the field the guy who just became the highest-paid player in NFL history.