In hindsight, maybe expecting Khalil Mack's 2019 encore to match his show-stopping '18 debut wasn't entirely realistic. Then again, it was at least partially based on sidekick Leonard Floyd picking up where he left off rushing the passer late in his first season alongside the Bears' best player.
Neither scenario materialized. Despite his first full offseason preceding his first healthy full season with the Bears — after arriving on the eve of Week 1 and dealing with his most significant NFL injury two seasons ago — Mack's production was his most pedestrian since his rookie campaign ... and the same held true for Floyd.
Assuming Floyd returns, far greater expectations will accompany both next season, the second in Chuck Pagano's scheme, when Akiem Hicks and Roquan Smith should again be healthy and making the outstanding contributions that were sorely missed.
2019 Matter of Fact: Mack managed only 8.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss — the first time in five years he hasn't had double digits in the former, and the first time as a pro for the latter. His five forced fumbles trailed only All Pros T.J. Watt (8), Chandler Jones (8) and Shaq Barrett (6), yet four of them came in the first month of the season. Still, his statistical decline is less damning with added context, such as advanced metrics illustrating that Mack recorded more hurries (30) than everyone not named Aaron Donald, the reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year.
Mack also was among the top 10 edge defenders in the NFL in terms of drawing and defeating double teams, at the opposite end of the spectrum as Floyd, who had only half of Mack's hurries and slightly more than half of his pressures (45 to 26), according to Pro Football Reference.
But taking the dubious distinction here is OLB3 Aaron Lynch, whose seven penalties — all neutral zone infractions! — trailed only Pro Bowler Kyle Fuller on defense. Fuller, of course, also led the unit in snaps (1,070, 99.7 percent), whereas Lynch played 244, tallying an inexcusable penalty per every 34-plus snaps. That stunning lack of discipline might be tolerable if Lynch was producing, but he was essentially a nonfactor after re-upping on a one-year deal following a quietly productive 2018.
Cap Commitment: Lynch is an impending free agent unlikely to be re-signed, but Mack's cap charge explodes from $11.9 to $26.6 million — more than 12 percent of the Bears' entire cap — and Floyd is currently on the books for $13.2 million. The $46.2-plus million allocated for Chicago's inside and outside linebackers combined accounts for a league-leading 21.48 percent of the total cap, per spotrac.
Moreover, Mack and Floyd are the only two outside backers under contract — and there's a realistic possibility it'll be only Mack by the time new league year opens, when Floyd's salary in his team option season becomes fully guaranteed. One of the harder questions the Bears must answer is whether they can spend that $13.2 million more effectively to help rebuild the OLB room around Mack, ideally alleviating his burden as a double- and triple-team magnet and their lone game-changing edge rusher.
Offseason Need (1 lowest, 5 highest): We're calling this a 4 because the defense simply wasn't formidable creating havoc, an unacceptable fact given the resources invested on pass rush and the adverse effect it had on Chicago's dramatic takeaway decline. The Bears have said repeatedly they're happy with Floyd, who has become a solid all-around linebacker but not nearly the pass rusher they surely sought in trading up to select him No. 9 overall in the 2016 draft. If they do intend to keep him, it can't come at the expense of finding someone who can consistently affect the passer when he's singled up.
Available prospects to watch: An unusual number of difference makers are expected to hit the market, potentially up to six double-digit sack artists. Can the Bears afford Baltimore's Matt Judon, basically Za'Darius Smith lite? Perhaps a Markus Golden or Dante Fowler for slightly cheaper? It's tough to say without knowing their plans for two other premium positions, quarterback and left tackle.
Regardless, the Bears should strongly consider an edge rusher at Nos. 43 and/or 50 in the draft, where Florida's Jonathan Greenard and Tennessee's Darrell Taylor could be found.