Have we seen the last of Khalil Mack in a Chicago Bears uniform?
One top insider covering the team thinks so.
The Bears placed the All-Pro edge rusher on injured reserve on November 19 and announced he would be having season-ending surgery on his foot. It’s the first time Mack has missed more than two games in a season during his eight years in the league. He’ll close out his 2021 campaign playing in seven games, finishing with 19 tackles (six for loss) 6.0 sacks, a fumble recovery, 16 QB hurries and 22 total pressures.
Seeing Mack go on IR for the rest of the year is devastating on many levels. He and highly-paid linebacker Robert Quinn were the top pass rushing duo in the league before he went down with the foot injury, and were just starting to become the formidable force many hoped they would be last season.
Mack was also brought to Chicago with the hopes of winning a Super Bowl in a championship window that was deemed small three years ago. That window has all but closed now, and top Bears insider Adam Hoge thinks Mack is a likely trade candidate next season as a result.
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Bears Likely Pushing ‘Reset Button’ in 2022
In his November 19 column for NBC Sports, Hoge says that the Bears will be in rebuild mode next year — and Mack is no longer young enough to build around.
“Maybe the Bears have their quarterback now,” Hoge wrote, “but the defense needs to be rebuilt. It’s not a total teardown with Roquan Smith and Jaylon Johnson still around, but continuing to push on with high-priced veterans over the age of 30 is a bad strategy.”
While the Bears failed Mack in many ways, arguably the biggest way was their failure to shore up the quarterback position years ago. Whether it was finding veteran busts (Nick Foles, Andy Dalton) or the team’s inability to develop or properly utilize ex-QB Mitch Trubisky, much of the blame for Chicago’s championship window closing falls on the shoulders of poor coaching and mismanagement by the front office — and Hoge says that change is coming to Halas Hall:
A reset button must be pushed, either by the current GM or the next one, and don’t be surprised if Mack is part of that reset. When the Bears gave him a massive six-year, $141 million extension in 2018, they knew his production and reliability would probably not be the same in the back half of the contract. Mack is still a very good player when healthy, but he’s also 30 years old now and the Bears have pushed more and more of the cap hit down the road due to restructures, which means it will be very hard for Mack to ever provide relative value to his massive salary cap share. In 2022, his cap hit is projected to be $30 million.
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Hoge: Mack’s Contract is Still Tradeable
If the Bears do clean house and fire general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy — and it’s completely up in the air as to whether that will happen — Mack’s exit will likely be next, because, as Hoge points out, his contract can still be taken on by another team with money and the need for still-dominant pass rushers.
“The only good thing about Mack’s contract is that it is still tradeable,” Hoge added, before breaking down why he thinks Chicago is going to trade Mack next year:
Moving Mack would reduce the Bears’ 2022 cap hit to $24 million (creating $6 million in space) and take him off the books in 2023 and 2024. Meanwhile, a team trading for Mack would only be acquiring his base salaries and roster bonuses, which are non-guaranteed. That means a team would still have to pay a relatively fair price of about $17.5 million for Mack’s services in 2022, but would not be on the hook for any money in 2023 and 2024 if it doesn’t work out. Again, Mack is still a very good, disruptive player who was on pace to reach double-digit sacks this season for the first time since 2018. But tough decisions are on the horizon — especially on the defensive side of the ball — and the Bears now have eight games to see what life without Khalil Mack is like.
Mack has played in 53 games for Chicago, and he has accumulated 121 total tackles (35 for loss), two interceptions, 14 forced fumbles, 11 PDs, six fumble recoveries, 52 QB hits and 36.0 sacks. It’s no bold prediction to suggest life without Khalil Mack may not be as fun as life has been with him.