Is Ryan Pace out? Are the McCaskey’s going to make an unprecedented move and fire Nagy before the season is over? One way or another, the Bears need to look to the future. Here are the players the contributors think will be an essential part of any rebuild.
#4 Khalil Mack (30 points)
Jeff B: He’s too old to be on this list, you say. Too many injuries piling up, you add. Maybe. But I do know he’s a dominant OLB that offenses gameplan around and the Bears defense is significantly better when he’s out there. He’s still a guy that is likely to wind up in the Hall of Fame and those guys are just built differently.
Bill: Yes, he’s going to be 31 next season. Yes, the injuries seem to be piling up, but there’s no question that when Khalil Mack is on the field, the Bears are a significantly better defense. Bears fans have gone from praising Sean Desai to ripping his scheme and the only significant difference has been the availability of Khalil Mack. He won’t be as dominant as he once was, but there’s no reason to think he can’t continue to be a strong force on the Bears’ defense.
ECD: Robert Quinn has shown it’s still plausible for any veteran past the 30-year age mark to make a meaningful impact on defense. Let’s not kid ourselves here, had Khalil not suffered three different injuries including the season ending foot injury, he was well on his way to an All-Pro appearance for 2021. He’s, still, a premier player on the defensive side of the ball. And there’s no way anyone would be dumb enough to move him elsewhere.
Josh: I know he’s old. I know he’s been injured of late. It’s unlikely he will return to his 2018 glory. Ultimately, however, he can still catch lightning in a bottle sometimes and he can play with the aggression and skill needed to secure at least one of the edge-rusher spots, and he’s the Bears (likely for better or worse) through 2023 if not 2024. At the absolute worst, he’s a savvy veteran and leader to build a position group around.
Lester: He’ll be 31 next year and coming off an IR stint, but the Bears need him to be the guy he’s paid to be. Best case scenario is the time off will do his body well, and he’ll be refreshed to dominate in 2022.
Rob S: Legend. Sure-fire Hall-of-Famer. Leader. Expensive. All of these things describe Khalil Mack, but they also describe what he was and likely don’t describe his future — I want to believe in a future where the Bears’ 30-million-dollar man continues to dominate, but between years of battling injuries, his clearly-declining explosiveness, and his worst defensive year (per PFF [73.5 2021 grade] & my own eye test) yet, I’m officially worried that Mack’s window of dominance is closing quickly. Even still, he’s going to cost the Bears roughly 14.4% of their cap space next year so he had to land on this list somewhere... this was about the best I could do.
Rob Z: The fat lady ain’t singing for this Hall of Famer yet. While I do think we’re probably heading downhill on his career, Khalil Mack has elite football left in him. Hell, on a bum foot this year he looked like he was 25 again and on his way toward a Defensive Player of the Year. I don’t think Mack is going to be like a Bruce Smith that plays into his 40s. But 2-3 more All-Pro years, maybe one that plays into a contending window? Oh boy, it’s coming.
Sam H: He is no longer ascending but he is still a fantastic piece. Even if he’s lost something in his injuries (which I’m not totally sold on, but is a reality), the defense is still better when he’s on the field. He’s also one of those rare guys that has the ability to adapt in the latter part of his career and continue to win on technique and power even when his speed has left him.