Christmas came early for Bears fans, who awoke to the news that their team was poised to trade for one of the premier pass rushersdefendersplayers in the league, Khalil Mack. On the other end of the spectrum, the Raiders effectively threw up on the white flag on the season before it even began, demoralizing the team and its current fan base, while alienating potential future fans in Las Vegas. The reaction was fairly consistent:
— Derek Carr (@derekcarrqb) September 1, 2018
No fucking way
— Bruce Irvin (@BIrvin_WVU11) September 1, 2018
There’s already been a ton of discussion about the inauspicious start to the Jon Gruden era in Oakland, so let’s talk about the ramifications for Chicago. The Bears last made the playoffs in 2010, when they fell to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship. The eight years since have felt like 20. They’ve suffered through the age and decline of their once-dominant defense, Jay Cutler’s unrealized potential, and most painfully, John Fox. With the dawn of the Matt Nagy era and questions about whether Mitch Trubisky can be a franchise quarterback, Bears fans can be excused for dipping their toe into this season’s water with their usual trepidation.
But now? It’s Return of the Mack/Mack the Knife/the Daddy Mack will make ya’ Jump Jump! Today is a day of unbridled joy in Chicago, and for good reason. Premier edge rushers do not fall from the sky in the NFL, and this position was the Bears’ one glaring gap in what was shaping up to be a solid defense under the tutelage of heralded defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio. The squad boasts a solid defensive backfield of CBs Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamura and second-year safety Eddie Jackson, a fierce linebacking core including Danny Trevathan and first-round draft pick Roquan Smith, and a stout interior led by (should have been) Pro Bowler, Akiem Hicks. Adding Mack to the edge opposite another potential star in Leonard Floyd should strike fear into the hearts of NFC North quarterbacks.
But beyond the metrics, this trade truly signals a new era in Chicago. After years of suffering through a perpetual rebuild, this move signals to fans, and the team, that the chips are all-in to win NOW. The take-it-with-a-grain-of-salt debate in Chicago this summer was whether the Bears could be this season’s LA Rams, having added an innovative offensive-minded new coach to replace a stodgy old one (Jeff Fisher = John Fox), a ton of weapons (adding Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, and Trey Burton to intriguing backs Tarik Cohen and Jordan Howard), a solid defense led by a seasoned defensive coordinator (Vic Fangio=Wade Philips) and a second-year high drafted QB who is posed to make the leap. Now putting Mack in the mix, whose defensive dominance is perhaps only rivaled by Aaron Donald, and the comparisons start to look eerily similar.
Is the move guaranteed to work? Of course not. If Mack tears a ligament in the first game of the season, Bears fans will be pining for the King’s ransom that they gave up to acquire him (reportedly two first found picks and a player) and start filling up sports talk phone lines complaining about how GM Ryan Pace mortgaged their future. And there’s unfortunate precedent for a move like in Chicago, as prior GM Jerry Angelo gave up to first rounders (and Kyle Orton) to acquire Jay Cutler in 2009. We all know how that turned out. Good for reality tv lovers, bad for football.
Therein lies the anxiety for NFL fans. We are all one serious injury to a critical player from our season being effectively over. It’s why NFL front offices are notoriously risk averse. So to have a GM put his career on the line like this (as Ryan Pace also did in the Trubisky draft trade last year) is nothing short of sports fandom heaven. Seriously, just ask this Bears reporter who couldn’t contain his excited long enough to dry off:
The Bears are back! Khalil Mack now wears the Blue and Orange! Damn right! pic.twitter.com/17oFyOxg1i
— David Kaplan (@thekapman) September 1, 2018
As a fan, you want your GM to embrace the boom versus bust nature of the NFL and make moves that can win a Super Bowl, not go 9-7 and sneak into a Wild Card berth. Trading a couple possibilities tomorrow for a sure thing today, when your team has been wandering in the NFL desert? Yeah, I’m down with that. Bring on the egg nog…and a towel.