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Ryan Poles proved he was not afraid of criticism when he traded Khalil Mack to the Chargers in his first big move as the Bears’ general manager. The decision was met with mixed reviews, as many thought they should have gotten more out of the six-time Pro Bowler, while others understood the move from a salary cap standpoint (the Bears saved $64 million over the next three seasons). The deal clearly indicated that the front office did not believe the team had a chance to compete this year, and it seems like they made the right call on the matter, as the Bears are currently sitting at 3-8. However, it is fair to wonder where they would be if they kept Mack in the Windy City, as premier pass-rushers impact the game in a variety of ways.

It would be an understatement to say the Bears’ defense has sorely missed Mack this season. The defensive line has failed to generate consistent pressure, and safety Jaquan Brisker leads the team with three sacks. They currently rank 31st with 15 quarterback takedowns (behind only the Raiders, who clearly also still miss Khalil Mack). Meanwhile, the 31-year-old already has seven sacks, only .5 less than Chicago’s defensive line has produced all season. While the lack of production is telling, it does not begin to tell the whole story, as the team’s coverage ability has also suffered due to opposing passers having all day to throw.

The Bears may not have won many games this year, but they have been competitive in every one of them. While one man rarely can turn a unit around on his own, Mack might be the exception to that rule, as he was the catalyst for the team’s defensive turnaround during their incredible 2018 campaign. His impact on Los Angeles’ defense might not be as spectacular, but he has still provided a jolt to their defensive front. Nevertheless, they have been unable to shake the injury bug and are currently on the outside looking in of the AFC playoff picture at 5-5.

While the Chargers have struggled to tread water in a crowded conference, the NFC is wide open for the taking this season, as all the contenders have failed to separate themselves from the competition. The Eagles currently hold the top seed with an 8-1 record, but they had to come from behind to score a one-point victory over a mid-tier Colts team that already has one foot out the door and lost to the Commanders in back-to-back weeks. The 8-2 Vikings barely escaped their first clash with the Bears and currently have a negative point differential (-2) following an embarrassing 40-3 loss to the Cowboys.

The 49ers are arguably the hottest team in the NFC, and Chicago already proved they could beat them (albeit with Trey Lance under center) in Week One. The Bears could make some serious noise come playoff time if they fielded a serviceable defense. In fact, with the offense clicking on all cylinders, they would probably be the feisty team that no one wants to face. However, is it safe to say that adding Mack to this defense would provide that type of impact?

Mack has proven he is still an elite threat off the edge that can take over a game at a moment’s notice. Players with that type of ability are hard to come by, which is why elite pass-rushers get paid more than any position after quarterback. Defenses that can consistently pressure opposing passers tend to fare much better than those that cannot, and Mack would not only be an upgrade in that regard, but he would also open up opportunities for Trevis Gipson and Dominque Robinson to have easy assignments opposite him.

All things considered, the decision to trade Mack should work out for Chicago in the long run. They have the most cap space in the league (by a wide margin) in the offseason and found a game-breaking safety with the pick they received for the pass-rusher. Likewise, they are also playing themselves into position to land his replacement in the upcoming draft. However, the move certainly hurts in the short-term, as the former Defensive Player of the Year could have been the difference maker in some of the team’s close losses this year.

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