Khalil Mack makes Chicago Bears legit threat in NFC North

BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 29: Khalil Mack #52 of the Oakland Raiders warms up before the start of NFL game action against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on October 29, 2017 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
BUFFALO, NY - OCTOBER 29: Khalil Mack #52 of the Oakland Raiders warms up before the start of NFL game action against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on October 29, 2017 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

After the Chicago Bears made the biggest splash in the organization’s history by trading for Khalil Mack, how much better does the former DPOY make the team in 2018?

The long stand-off between Khalil Mack and the Oakland Raiders ended on Saturday morning with the Raiders blinking first and trading the 016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year to the Chicago Bears for a package of draft picks. Mack held out all offseason and preseason waiting for a new deal from the Raiders, but now that new deal will come from the Bears who have a bona fide star in his prime who could follow Brian Urlacher to the Pro Football Hall of Fame five years after his career ends.

Today may as well be a holiday in Chicago and Bears fans across the world are undoubtedly celebrating the addition of one of the league’s best players. Forget about qualifying him as one of the best defensive players. Mack is one of the best players in the NFL who can change games with his ability to get to the passer.

The Bears had a glaring need for an edge rusher opposite former first round pick, Leonard Floyd, and weren’t able to find one in the draft or in free agency. You have to pay a high price to get those types of talent, and the Bears did that giving up a pair of first round picks, a third and a sixth rounder. However, the Bears and their fans should be feeling like they just got a Honda price for a Mercedes-Benz.

In a division with Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Kirk Cousins, the Bears needed a force that can keep opposing quarterbacks and offensive tackles up at night.

But how much better does Mack make the Bears in 2018?

All offseason and preseason, I was optimistic the Bears could take a nice step in Year 2 under Mitchell Trubisky under new head coach Matt Nagy and with the reinforcements general manager, Ryan Pace added in free agency. Despite my optimism, I thought a best-case scenario was 7-9 or 8-8 if things really break their way.

That was all before they shored up their biggest weakness with the best player at the position.

After trading for Mack, a playoff berth is a realistic goal and anything short of that is going to feel like a disappointment, even if Mack has 15 sacks and forces a handful of fumbles.

Not only does the addition of Mack make the Bears better simply by his presence alone, but Mack will instantly make the players around him so much better too, especially Floyd. If I’m the Bears, I’m putting Mack’s new locker right next to Floyd’s so he can soak up every bit of knowledge from Mack.

Mack will garner constant double-teams which will free up Floyd to take advantage of man blocking. This should be a breakout year for Floyd, despite beginning the season with a fractured finger that may limit him in the opener vs. Green Bay. In addition to the benefits for Floyd, the same rings true for the defensive linemen, including Akiem Hicks who played at a near-Pro Bowl level last year and should have a great shot at making this year’s team.

With so much focus paid to the edge, I am envisioning a dream scenario for first round pick, Roquan Smith to be a dominant force in the middle of the defense. Without Mack, teams could run away from Smith or try to run right at him with a fullback. If they want to do that, they’ll have to contend with Mack screaming off the edge to blow up a play in the backfield.

Just like a strong run game is a quarterback’s best friend, the same is true for a great pass rush being the best friend of the secondary. The Bears re-signed Kyle Fuller after a resurgent season last year and have a promising second-year safety in Eddie Jackson that should benefit from quarterbacks having less time to pick apart the secondary. Further, the secondary won’t have to cover as long, which is a daunting task, in today’s spread, offensive-friendly NFL.

The Bears aren’t going to be confused for Super Bowl favorites, but they’re no longer a team that’s going to be a guaranteed win for teams on the schedule. The Bears, with Mack, are a playoff team. If Trubisky develops as Bears fans hope, Kevin White stays healthy and looks like the former No. 7 pick and Allen Robinson comes back from ACL surgery, the Bears can make some noise in the NFC this year and for the next handful of years.

Bears fans love great defense, and now they have that, and arguably the best roster they’ve had since making the Super Bowl in the 2006-2007 season.

The Packers, Vikings and Lions have to be concerned about this budding giant of a team now. Look out NFC North, the Monsters of the Midway are back.

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