Sometimes, one move is all you need to see the forest for the trees.
When the Bears traded for Khalil Mack in 2018, it was a not-so-subtle hint at higher ambitions. You only acquire a player like Mack in his prime if you’re thinking Super Bowl, and you're thinking of winning one quite soon.
By that same token, what the Bears—and GM Ryan Poles—did on Thursday signifies a different direction. You only trade a 31-year-old player past his prime, like Mack, if you’re thinking of winning a Super Bowl, but not right away. You only trade a player like Mack if you believe your team is far away and needs a massive remodel. The end of an era for Mack in Chicago is foreshadowing for Poles’ construction plans.
I want to clarify that this is not an analysis of the trade and the return and how it affects the Bears. We have plenty of other spaces for that here at Windy City Gridiron. There will be plenty of time to try and understand the nitty-gritty in due time.
No, no. I want to focus on the approach of a 36-year-old first-time lead personnel executive and what he told the greater Chicago area (and his team) by trading a player like Mack. A player like Mack with some tread left on his tires: The rebuild, no matter how soft (again, I don’t care for the semantics right now) is on. Steel your nerves.
A rebuild now means centering your franchise direction around a quarterback. The way you should, in all honesty. In this case, that’s Justin Fields. A rebuild now means stripping the financial books, enduring temporary pain, while moving on from any players you deem unworthy of their compensation to get back as many new pieces in return as possible. In this case, it’s Mack, but it could soon include Danny Trevathan, Tarik Cohen, Jimmy Graham, and perhaps even Robert Quinn (in a trade), among others.
A rebuild now means moving forward, trying to start with a clean slate as fast as possible, regardless of any hurt feelings in the immediate aftermath. It takes a lot of guts to trade someone like Mack, no matter his advanced age or the return. You’ll get pilloried for it in the media and the always-kind Internet, and you don’t have a replacement for a player of that caliber, at least right away.
Unlike any official press conference introductions, it's also the unofficial start of Ryan Poles’ tenure as Bears general manager. You know how they say a playoff series isn’t a series until someone wins on the road? The same goes for GMs until they trade (or release) previous fixtures of the last people in charge. Poles, finally, has his first navy and orange merit badge.
I don’t know what Poles plans to do to make Justin Fields the first star Bears quarterback most of us have ever seen in our lifetime. And I don’t know if it’ll work out. But Thursday told me that he’s going to be patient, that he won’t wring out every last drop of a team era that ultimately fell short. Thursday said that he’s ready to mold the Bears into his vision, and it’s better to rip the Band-Aid off now, rather than prolong the inevitable.
The hard part is turning that vision into something of significance, where countless Bears GMs have failed. But then again: Poles wouldn’t have taken the job if it was going to be easy, right? If he’s bold enough to move on from Mack, no one is safe. You need only remember the foreshadowing. An off-season of upheaval is sure to follow.