Hub Arkush: Khalil Mack trade signals beginning of Bears’ rebuild

Detroit Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson (left) blocks Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack in the first half Sunday at Soldier Field. Mack had no sacks or tackles in the game.

From the moment Bears chairman George McCaskey pulled the trigger on the futures of former general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy, one of the most pressing questions facing fans has been if the team would attempt to compete immediately with its current core.

Or would the immediate future offer even more losing while the team undertook a rebuild.

Upon their arrival, new GM Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus stressed a desire to compete and contend immediately, although in fairness they didn’t say how or promise success.

With the news Thursday that the team is trading All Pro defensive end Khalil Mack to the Chargers for a 2022 second-round pick and a 2023 sixth-round pick, it is now clear the rebuild is under way. There will most likely be more losing before the winning begins.

Good or bad, right or wrong is in the eye of the beholder, but it is clear from the meager return for one of the game’s best pass rushers that this move is about clearing salary cap space for the future and it is now highly unlikely that anyone – read Robert Quinn, Eddie Jackson, etc. – is safe, or that the team will dig deep to re-sign Allen Robinson, Akiem Hicks or any of their other veteran free agents.

Make no mistake, according to the trade clears up the $28.5 million Mack was due in 2023 and the $26.2 million he was due in 2024, and that is why Poles got so little in return in terms of the draft picks.

Mack is clearly worth more than those two picks, especially if you’re trying to compete now.

In addition to the cap relief over the next two years, the Bears will get about $6 million in extra space this year, but Mack will also still count $24 million against the Bears’ cap while rushing quarterbacks for the Chargers, reportedly the highest dead cap hit in history for a non-QB.

While I strongly suspect the answer is no, many will ponder whether this decision was a reaction to Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams returning to Green Bay.

It is a concession speech, but drastic moves like this don’t come overnight, it had to be the plan all along.

There is also the question of Mack’s recent foot surgery, really the first serious injury of his career.

While he will have to pass a physical and almost certainly will to seal the deal, perhaps the Bears’ brain trust believes we’ve seen the last of the old Mack?

Here is what we know the deal means.

The Bears now have more than enough money to do a mega-extension with linebacker Roquan Smith before he gets to test the market after next season. If they don’t, it will radically increase the possibility they’ll be starting over on defense with the meter running on Justin Fields’ rookie contract.

It is also a clear signal they are all-in on Fields and are prepared to struggle on defense while they are trying to mold him into a franchise quarterback.

And while there have been skeptics as to how long the honeymoon period extended to all new management will last for Poles and Eberflus after the massive disappointment of Pace and Nagy, the commitment to a fresh start will buy them at least a little extra time.

But should Mack return to his All-Pro form in Los Angeles and the Bears still are searching for answers in 2023, the wolves will be at the doors of Halas Hall before we know it.

At the end of the day, the Mack trade is a bold move, courageous and born of confidence in Poles’ ability to build from near the bottom up.

Whether or not it’s the right move remains to be seen.

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush was the Senior Bears Analyst for Shaw Local News Network and