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All in: the Bears must push their chips in for Khalil Mack

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A top 10 player is inexplicably available. Hey, he plays the position the Bears need the most! What a coincidence they can’t waste.

New York Jets v Oakland Raiders
That’s actually Mack spinning a ball to determine his NFL future.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

In terms of player transactions in free agency or trades, the NFL can be such a mind-numbingly boring league in major movements. Due to a variety of issues like front offices afraid to push boundaries, and precious continuity being extremely overvalued, blockbuster deals of legitimate superstars so rarely occur. As the saying goes, the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. In the NFL, that’s to a fault.

It’s different when the devil you don’t have any familiarity is so conclusively better than anything in your possession. When that devil is a special talent of the highest order, and the missing piece to a puzzle you’ve strung out on your dining room table for almost four years now.

That devil is none other than Raiders terror, Khalil Mack, who after a consistently developing story throughout Friday, is on the trade block according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport. That devil is a pass rusher the Bears would do their best to get to know in their uniform.

When the summer started, Mack began a holdout as he entered the fifth-year option season of his rookie contract signed in 2014. The 27-year-old wants to be the highest paid defensive player in football, and the Raiders for the time being don’t want to compensate him in that fashion. No one on any side thought it would come to the generational talent actually becoming available. Where the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year with 40.5 sacks in four seasons would potentially see his services go elsewhere on the last weekend before the regular season. Deadlines can be pushed up dramatically.

The NFL is entirely predictable at this point in it’s life span. A trade of Mack is then, incomprehensible. An acquisition of him by the Bears as one of three teams in the running, unfathomable. If general manager Ryan Pace truly believes his team to be on the cusp of contention, then under no circumstances can he let someone of Mack’s elite caliber slip through his fingers. Opportunities like this don’t come around often, if ever. Remember, this is the same old boring NFL. No one takes risks or gets this bold.

The asking price for a trade of Mack from Oakland at this stage starts with two first-round picks, according to Pro Football Talk. Who, after the mega extension of Rams bowling Aaron Donald, will now likely seek at least $23 million per season and $90 guaranteed on a new contract as the highest-paid defensive player in football.

That’s a stiff price to pay for a pass rusher like Mack that doesn’t touch the ball every play, try as he might. A daring game of negotiations that would mean your franchise was all-in on the short term for a Super Bowl or two - yes a Super Bowl - while worrying about coming issues later after emptying the resources cupboard. Never mind the fact that you’re not guaranteed a Super Bowl.

The thing is, though, the only other NFL rostered player worth more than that money to compete is the quarterback. The guys who “secure the bag” are those who throw the ball, and those who hit those who throw the ball. In an ever-evolving passing league, it’s the only dynamic and counter-opposite relationship that matters. It’s the Yin and Yang every team wants and needs on offense and defense to climb the mountain. And it’s a prime position the Bears are in where they can take advantage while their offensive face in Mitchell Trubisky is at his cheapest on his own rookie contract.

For the next four years, the depressed salary of Trubisky’s deal is the ideal asset the Bears have in their hand aside from their rostered players. It’s flexibility afforded from the game’s best position - provided Trubisky pans out as planned, of course - that’s tailor-made for outside-the-box moves such as a trade of Mack. That goes for any trade for any superstar in a hypothetical where the Bears can more than fit it into their financial books, especially as the NFL salary continues to rise exponentially every March. It’s a delicate balance men like Pace have to strike with young quarterbacks, but one that’s well worth it if properly put to ample use.

Now is not the time to play for the future for these Bears. Now is not the time to dilly-dally and consider every pitfall in a fit of hesitation, as another team swoops in. A legitimate future Hall of Fame defender in Mack is available. You don’t ask questions in the most unique of circumstances in a league where most teams perennially hold their cards close to the vest for no sensible reason.

Mack plays the one position Chicago is inarguably incredibly thin with on the defensive edge, and the only major dire need over the next few seasons. The one position Pace needs to finish his full-on roster rebuild. Yes, if you were wondering, the Bears roster is largely finished for the short term. If the Bears are going to compete and be a relevant contender soon, this is the team they’re going to battle with.

It’s going to take Trubisky becoming a competent quarterback and more, but the Bears have their chess pieces of weapons like Allen Robinson and Tarik Cohen, and men up front such as Cody Whitehair and Charles Leno after an aggressive 2018 off-season. They have their head coach in Matt Nagy to keep Trubisky and the offense on schedule. Of course, they have their defense set in almost every spot too, and with a coach in Vic Fangio that knows how to maximize them. That defense is only complete, unfortunately, aside from a gaping pass rush sinkhole only Mack could appropriately fill.

Which is why in combination with Trubisky’s affordability for awhile, the Bears should gather every draft asset and financial resource they feel comfortable in departing with to lock in a player of Mack’s aptitude. In fact, they should venture far outside of their comfort zone to seal the deal. If that means not drafting until the fourth round in 2019, so be it. If that means parting with multiple first round picks, so be it.

The future and what those picks and some salary cap flexibility represent is undoubtedly nice. They’re not nearly even close to the same value of the now, and accomplishing your ultimate goal - fighting for and or winning a championship - in the present.

As Herm Edwards would emphatically say, “You play to win the game.” You don’t play for the future, continually pushing responsibilities off. You play to win the game.

The future is an ideal we’re obsessed with in sports. It’s why people keep coming back: sports franchises sell the future as hope, and that’s what gets people into their stadium’s seats. So they patiently wait, and wait, and wait for that payoff. They wait some more. The future is the plan, and if you’re the Bears you can’t possibly veer away from the plan once that’s been all you’ve previously sold.

Going into Year 4, Pace has sold that future and promise for the Bears for quite some time. His modus operandi has been sustained success in looking to keep the future continually promising. It’s been about putting off entire seasons for the greater long term good down the line. A noble cause, and a worthy thought process provided there’s that mentioned eventual payoff.

The time for that payoff has arrived. The future is here for the Bears, and it’s face must be Mack. If Pace and company have any tricks left up their sleeves, they’d do well to make sure the devil in Mack they don’t know in the least, soon becomes the one they do.

Robert is an editor, writer, and producer for Windy City Gridiron, The Rock River Times, The Athletic Chicago, and a host of other fine publications. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski and reach him by email at robertpoduski@gmail.com.