One of the common sayings in the NFL is that it’s a young man’s game. Older players tend to fade quickly in such a physical and demanding sport. This is why when even great players hit that dreaded 30-year old barrier, people start talking about ways to trade them before their value begins to tank. It is just how fans have been trained to think these days. Hence, Chicago Bears faithful are already discussing ways the team might unload veteran pass rushers, Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn.
It makes sense from a business perspective. Both carry heft contracts that are tough on the team’s salary cap. The Bears don’t have a lot of resources to work with, and they badly need to retool the offense around Justin Fields. If they can get a decent package for either man, they should take it, right? Not based on how the new coaching staff seems to be thinking. Defensive coordinator Alan Williams understands the conversations about age in this league.
That doesn’t mean he agrees with them.
During his opening press conference, he was asked whether he had concerns about Mack and Quinn due to them being in their 30s. Williams shrugged the idea off. Not only did he sound excited to work with the two Pro Bowlers, but he also sounded like somebody who thinks they still have multiple years worth of solid production in them. Especially in this age of advanced athletic medicine.
“Well, first, I’d say you have no idea how exciting it is to be here and having those guys,” Williams said. “Second, I would say shame on you to say those guys are middle-aged when we’re in the age of our athletes taking care of their bodies, eating better, going, playing longer.
“I know we’re on defense, but Tom Brady just retired. So, when you go ‘middle-aged,’ I think you need to broaden that term. I’m not sure what middle-aged is. I keep looking at myself, and I’m 50-something, and I keep thinking, ‘You know what? I’m a young man. I’m not at the end.’ So, I would say to that, I’m going to open up my scope, I’m going to think outside the box. Then, I’ll wait for those guys to show me what they have.”
Moving #DaBears coach Sean Desai from Safeties to D-coord has paid dividends. Here, @MattBowen41 illustrates how Desai uses stunt/loop schemes to open lanes for Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn to hunt for opposing QB’s. They face the @Packers Sunday.#GoPackGo | #NFL | @GregCosell pic.twitter.com/9qrpCzCWJE
— NFL Matchup on ESPN (@NFLMatchup) October 15, 2021
It isn’t as crazy as it sounds.
Khalil Mack had six sacks in the seven games he played before his season-ending foot injury. Quinn set the Bears’ single-season record with 19 sacks. These two guys are still capable of playing at an elite level. Both are also under contract through 2024. If there is a possibility they can keep playing like this for another three seasons, the team would be remiss not to take advantage, especially in a style of defense that will allow them almost exclusively to hunt the quarterback.
Besides, with the salary cap expected to explode in 2023, those two won’t be as significant burdens on the payroll as they are now. Older pass rushers playing good football into their mid-30s isn’t anything new. Kevin Greene had 12 sacks at age 37. Julius Peppers had 11 at age 37. Michael Strahan had 11.5 at age 34. Chris Doleman had 15 at age 37. If Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn can stay healthy, there is no reason to think they can keep hunting quarterbacks in this defense.
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