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Football lives. In fact it thrives - especially in Chicago.
That much is crystal clear after the Bears went all-in Saturday on their "Drafts Be Damned" strategy. They traded a giant two first-round picks for the 27-year-old 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack (and a draft upgrade in 2019 - receiving a second round pick from the Raiders for a third, and a possible one in 2020 - a conditional fifth for a sixth). Then they made him the highest paid defensive player in the NFL with a $90-million (the part of the contract that is guaranteed) deal.
Chicago, and the entire league, is still buzzing about this absolute blockbuster three days later and will be for a while longer. In case Oakland doesn't have enough that ails it, now its football team has announced it isn't just moving to Las Vegas, it is tanking all the way there. The ridiculous Raiders, led by legacy owner Mark Davis, paid their coach (Jon Gruden) $100 million but they wouldn't pay their best player. And Bears fans thank goodness for that.
That being said, how giant are those draft picks? So giant that NBA teams are not allowed to make deals like this, i.e., trade consecutive first-rounders. That is due to the "Stepien Rule," named after infamous former Cavaliers owner Ted Stepien. After that genius had traded away five consecutive first-round picks that started in 1982, the NBA was forced to take action to protect owners/general managers from themselves.
A trade like this hadn't been made in the NFL in almost a decade. That was when the Bears traded two first-round picks and a third, plus Kyle Orton, for Jay Cutler and a fifth. I don't recall that going so well for the Bears (except in the first two years - remember that Cutler led the Bears to the NFC championship game in his second season here), but it wasn't like the Broncos got a king's ransom either.
But Ryan Pace doesn't care about all that. The fourth-year general manager made it clear he was going in a different direction than conventional pro football wisdom would dictate when he traded a ridiculous three picks (two thirds and a fourth) to move up one spot in the first round of the 2017 draft.
He then selected quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Pace could have stayed put - heck, he could have traded down at least a half dozen spots and taken a better QB, Deshaun Watson. But he had fixated on Trubisky and many in Chicago still praise him for it, despite the obscene number of valuable draft picks lost. When Watson has a Pro Bowl season for the Texans this year, maybe those people will start to shut up.
Then this season, when the team was starting to recover from having only five picks total in 2015, the impatient Pace traded his 2019 second-round pick for a 2018 second-round pick he used to draft unheralded wide receiver Anthony Miller. The Bears now have only one pick in the first three rounds of the 2019 draft and five overall.
But next year's draft be damned. Most Bears fans just want the team to not finish last again. And this trade is a huge step in that direction. These guys now have a great chance to finish 9-7 or better and it is hard to argue that such an upgrade wasn't worth a huge price. And that prediction has a ton of company.
My favorite thing about the deal was the fact that it stopped the Matt Nagy excuse parade before it started. The head coach seemed to realize last week that it will be tough for the Bears to succeed on offense in his first year at the helm and Trubisky's second. Where the stories had all been about how smart Nagy is and how much potential the quarterback has, the theme changed last week to "this is going to take some time."
The theme changed again on Saturday. Now it's "Playoffs or Bust." The Bills made the playoffs last year, people. The Bears can do it this year.
As for football's popularity overall, the latest greatest example happened toward the end of the preseason, when the Cleveland Browns' scintillating 5-0 exhibition victory over the Philadelphia Eagles earned the best ratings for an exhibition game since 2012. Those ratings were so high they enabled Fox to record a rare weekly ratings win. The game featured the Super Bowl champs versus the team featured on HBO's Hard Knocks this year but still, 5-0!
Football is huge and the Bears have acquired some of that hugeness. Bring it on!
Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.
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