The Chicago Bears Did the Right Thing Trading Away Khalil Mack Now

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Fans of the Chicago Bears certainly cannot be called ‘fair-weather’. Not after the range of emotions they showed following the trade of EDGE Khalil Mack to the Los Angeles Chargers. The deal, first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, re-unites Mack with former Bears assistant and current Chargers head coach Brandon Staley while giving the Bears some extra breathing room and draft capital.

The Chicago Bears Dealt Khalil Mack to the Chargers for Cap Space, Picks

The Why

Los Angeles is sending the 48th overall pick this year along with a sixth-rounder in next year’s NFL Draft in exchange for the six-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro pass rusher. The Bears are also getting around $6 million in cap space in addition to more ammunition to replenish the coffers in Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus’ first season.

They now have upwards of $29 million in cap space and six picks with their own second (38th) as well as a trio of fifth-rounders.

It was a light war chest before this move and could portend other deals but more on that later.

Mack just turned 31 and recorded six sacks in seven games last season before going down with a foot injury. He should still have a lot of quality football left. But his best days for the Bears seemed to be behind him.

The former fifth-overall pick out of Buffalo in 2014 notched 12.5 sacks across 14 games in his first season with the Bears 2018 after being brought over as the “final piece” for what Ryan Pace believed was a championship-caliber roster. In the two years that followed, he had 17.5 sacks combined despite not missing a game.

Some of that is because the Bears failed to develop Leonard Floyd into the compliment for Mack that he has been for Aaron Donald in Los Angeles.

Robert Quinn solved that by breaking the franchise single-season sack record.

But, with a focus on building around Justin Fields, moving off of Mack’s deal now makes the most sense. The Chargers are taking on his full contract meaning that, after absorbing the $24 million cap hit this season, the Bears are free from the remaining $63 million on his deal.

What It Means

Hopefully, this means a breakout season for third-year EDGE Trevis Gipson after he put up seven sacks opposite Quinn last year. Gipson, Roquan Smith, and Jaylon Johnson are pieces of Pace’s legacy that have a chance to be long-term fixtures for the new regime. Smith is already in line for a big payday but Johnson and Gipson still have much to prove.

A more likely scenario is that we see the Bears address the position either in free agency, which starts next week on Mar 14 or via the NFL Draft in April. They could attack it both ways, which was, of course, a Pace staple.

The move does give the Bears the kind of ammo they might need to move up if a wide receiver slides in the first round.

But the key is they will have over $120 million in cap space in 2023.

That kind of space and, again hopefully, a much-improved Justin Fields could lead some big fish on the open market. Even if they are worse off (or the same) for the loss, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. They own their first-round pick next season after trading this year’s first, the seventh-overall pick, for the rights to Fields last season.

Fields along with Gipson and Johnson are among the many signs of Pace’s tenure. This trade is the first of that era ending and Poles’ beginning. Even more than the hiring of Eberflus given all of the consternation surrounding the Bears hiring process.

Of course, what they do next will undoubtedly be viewed under the same intense microscope as that was.

So…What is Next?

Quinn was listed along with Mack as one of the pieces the Bears could lean on defensively this season. Many felt that a trade was unlikely with the amount of dead money they would incur even after rumors began to swirl at the NFL Combine last week. But they clearly view the future as far more important than right now. 

That doesn’t mean they are going to rest on their laurels, though.

We could still see Quinn moved, however unlikely, as his value will never be higher. Maybe even Eddie Jackson if they are really lucky.

The thing is, there might not be much more they can or should do on the trade market. Mack was their best trade asset and he yielded them a second-round pick and a late-rounder. The returns are only going downhill from there.

Perhaps this gives them the wiggle room needed to go after a left tackle like Eric Fisher and/or a wide receiver like JuJu Smith-Schuster to pair with Darnell Mooney and a draft pick. On the flip side, Eddie Goldman has likely played his last down in Chicago. Tarik Cohen too. At any rate, this won’t be the last shakeup to a roster already expected to lose Allen Robinson and Akiem Hicks in free agency.

We can argue over whether or not the deal that brought Mack to Chicago was worth it until we’re blue in the face. 

The bottom line is they didn’t win.

Now, the new leadership has been tasked with moving this thing in the right direction. That meant moving on from arguably the on-field face of the last regime after Mitchell Trubisky and, in many ways, even more.

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