In three seasons under general manager Ryan Pace, the Bears have won a total of 14 games. That is an indisputable fact because math. They’ve been mired in the NFC North cellar even longer, finishing last in the division on every occasion since 2014. The NFL’s oldest franchise stuck in the darkest of shadows. Pace, very evidently, isn’t content with being a cellar dweller anymore.
Khalil Mack, 2016 Defensive Player of the Year and a generational pass rusher, was available for a trade from the Raiders. The price to acquire him meant that whoever completed the trade would effectively be pushing their chips in on a two to three-year contention window. In the most dire of fashions, Pace and the Bears just so happened to need an edge rusher. To not only finish their defense, but finish a roster with many players entering their physical primes.
Pace wasn’t about to let this tremendous golden opportunity slip through his fingers. So at the cost of a hefty contract extension, a couple of first-round picks, and potentially a player to still be named, Mack is a Bear. Acquiring Mack is of the biggest trades in franchise history next to Jay Cutler. It’s one of the biggest trades in NFL history, not just for the Bears. Any time an All-Pro in his prime switches teams, it’ll be remembered for decades. Making that decision means the Bears are ready to win now.
Not in five minutes. Not later. Now.
In case anyone doesn’t know this about Pace yet, I’ll spell it out: he’s bold. His methods in building the Bears haven’t bared any fruit to this point, and they still might not with the ultimate Super Bowl goal. But he’s bold. No one can say Pace isn’t aiming for that Lombardi trophy, though. No one can say he isn’t shooting for the stars. Some have patient and tried and true methods to potentially achieve that championship dream. Pace has been patient long enough.
Everything Pace has done in the past 18 months paints the picture of a man who isn’t content with letting his team sit idly by as the NFC landscape dramatically shifts. Of a man who pushed an entire situation into overdrive as soon as he saw a gaping opening, multiple openings, in fact. If that’s not something to be appreciated in a professional league of timid evaluators that sit on their hands and passively let life pass them by more often than not, I don’t know what is.
As a wise man once said, life moves pretty fast sometimes (in the NFL). If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.
Every successive step of the way since April 2017 has been elevated for Pace, with the ante being upped so much, I’m surprised there are players left at the poker table. Pace is the player that’s never bluffing with an unreadable poker face that surprises you with a royal flush just when you thought you had the winnings.
When he saw that he might have been in danger of losing Mitchell Trubisky in the 2017 NFL Draft, Pace went up and traded for his man, his quarterback. You don’t let someone you believe to be a worthy face of the franchise go somewhere else for the cost of other less important draft picks.
When he saw that defensive coordinator Vic Fangio may leave in January following the end of his first contract with the Bears, Pace sold the surly coach on Matt Nagy’s vision, where Chicago’s defense was headed, and would not let the 60-year-old guru depart. You don’t let a coordinator coaching your best unit go somewhere else when you believe you’re on the cusp of something special.
When he saw Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, and Taylor Gabriel were available as badly needed weapons for his young quarterback in Trubisky, it was time for Pace to strike while the iron was hot. It was time to use up gathered cap space from three off-seasons for a complete offense. You don’t wisely keep your financial flexibility, only to never use it while your rostered players eventually leave their primes.
Most importantly, most boldly, most shot from the hip, most unfathomably insane: when he saw Mack available - a legitimate superstar pass rusher that can morph an entire defense -Pace had to get him. He had to trade for him. No questions asked, and without hesitation. Draft picks and cap space are nice, but they don’t offer what Mack does immediately. Neither are anywhere close to the same as proven stars like him, and Pace knew that definitively.
As he has through every striking acquisition and personnel move recently, Pace didn’t blink with Mack and the Raiders. If he did blink, it had to be to get everyone else to ease up and feel comfortable at a sign of vulnerability while he ruthlessly swooped in. Pace is perpetually playing a covert game of cat and mouse. A man of admirable conviction not satisfied with the losing he and his organization have been subjected to anymore.
Mack is undoubtedly going to transform this Bears defense, and sometimes not even through his individual play. His galvanizing, terrifying, and magnifying presence alone will draw attention away from his teammates, really projecting this unit to the next level. If you double team Mack as an offense, now Akiem Hicks is free. If you double team Hicks, and chip block on Mack, now Leonard Floyd is free. A calculus test offensive coordinators across the NFL won’t be able to appropriately study for week in and week out.
Mack completes a Bears trio of pass rushers every exceptional defense possesses because of the headaches they can create. A classic “Monsters of the Midway” front, if there ever was one, that also translates to everyone else.
The Bears now inarguably have one of the most talented front sevens in the NFL with his addition to Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan, and Roquan Smith, Hicks, and Floyd. They have a secondary with Eddie Jackson and Kyle Fuller that can capitalize on what will surely be a higher amount of opportunities at takeaways simply because Mack is that good, and that dominant.
The Bears defense itself is now good enough to stand on it’s own, without any assistance. It’s virtually matchup proof against almost any attack football has to offer. It’s the kind of defense that can take the immense pressure off a young quarterback like Trubisky and his offense when they’re not performing not up to snuff. A defense that can contend for a title. Mack’s presence is what places the Bears in that position.
And it’s thanks to Pace and his aggressive convictions. A loss of draft picks doesn’t matter as the Bears aren’t cellar dwellers anymore. They’re all in, prepared to execute the dynamic vision of a general manager who for once dared to stop and look around.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.