How Will History Remember Bears' Mack Trade?

September 04, 2018 - 10:41 am

(670 The Score) The whirlwind weekend for Khalil Mack, the Bears and all of Chicago is finally over. It's back to work for all parties still thrilled by what went down.

Saturday morning brought the stunning trade of Mack, an elite pass rusher, from the Raiders to the Bears in exchange for draft capital that included two first-round picks. By Saturday evening, the Bears had signed Mack to a six-year, $141-million extension with $90 million guaranteed that makes him the highest-paid defensive player in league history.

What followed after that were billboards of Mack placed through Chicago by the Bears, jerseys already on sale in stores and online and, eventually, turning the page to the Packers and the regular-season opener at Lambeau Field on Sunday night.

The hype was warranted, because trades of this magnitude have been so rare in the NFL. Only eight times in league history have a pair of first-round picks been traded for an active player, with the last instance being the Bears-Broncos trade that sent quarterback Jay Cutler to Chicago in 2009.

That deal seemed shocking yet ideal at the time. In Cutler, the Bears acquired a 26-year-old who had just earned Pro Bowl honors in his third season and seemed destined for greater accomplishments. The Bears had been desperately searching for a franchise quarterback, and Cutler had been feuding with then-Broncos coach Josh McDaniels.

What followed was an eight-year run for Cutler and the Bears that included only one playoff berth and countless opinions. However, the greatest distinction between the Cutler and Mack trades is that the Bears were strong in their belief that Cutler would become one of the top players in the game. Mack is already established as a star. I believe he's the best defensive player in the league.

The Bears did receive the benefit of also acquiring a 2020 second-round pick from the Raiders in this trade, which well become a selection in the mid-30s. Bears general manager Ryan Pace could flip the two second-round slots they own in 2020 and move back into the first round, changing some context involved with this trade. The Bears were thrilled they got that pick in return.

ESPN writer Kevin Seifert did excellent work compiling the aforementioned list of eight trades and analyzing the lasting impacts on both sides, which can shed some insight to what the Bears can expect here with Mack.

Back in 2002, the Dolphins faltered after landing running back Ricky Williams, in part because of the off-field interests they failed to recognize. Across the state of Florida that season, the Buccaneers went 12-4 and won the Super Bowl in part because of the trade two years earlier with the Jets in which they acquired Keyshawn Johnson, who became their leading receiver.

The Buccaneers were the only team of the eight acquiring that top talent to win a Super Bowl with that player. The only team to win a Super Bowl after landing draft capital in return was the Cowboys, who traded 27-year-old running back Herschel Walker to the Vikings in 1989 in a trade that ultimately sent Dallas on a path to becoming a dynasty.

The Cowboys received five players and a haul that included three first-round picks (two conditional), turning their draft capital into Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith, three-time All-Pro safety Darren Woodson, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Russell Maryland and star cornerback Kevin Smith. Dallas would celebrate three Super Bowl championships from there.

How will history remember the bold move of Pace and this Bears organization desperate for the postseason? The circumstances surrounding this team seem to support the trade.

During his three-and-a-half years as general manager, Pace has gutted the roster he inherited and built the Bears a young foundation. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, the product of Pace's prior bold conviction, will ultimately have the greatest say in what happens during this window for championship contention. After all, this is still a quarterback's league, and the Bears are built around Trubisky.

But the arrival of Mack was crucial for the Bears in that he's the caliber of player who makes everybody better on the defense. A unit that had plenty of good pieces was missing a star pass rusher, and that's what the 27-year-old Mack is, with plenty left in his prime. Mack is what the Bears needed to rise from being a top-10 defense to one of the NFL's best. 

By fortifying their defense, the Bears took pressure off the shoulders of Trubisky within the confines of each game while adding urgency as an organization to have success in his rookie contract. An offseason of building around Trubisky was capped off with a monumental investment in the defense.

Trades like this have been rare in NFL history and have produced varied results on both sides -- some boom and some bust. The Bears appear well-positioned to maximize their time with Mack and convert this opportunity into playoff success. 

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.