Khalil Mack grateful for his Bears career: ‘It was a special time’

The trade to the Chargers signaled a new direction for the Bears under GM Ryan Poles — and a fresh start for Mack, who knows he has a lot to prove. “You turn on the the TV; you hear what they’re saying,” he said. “I’ll bet on myself any day.”

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Khalil Mack (52) had 36 sacks in 53 games over four seasons with the Bears.

Kamil Krzaczynski/AP Photos

Former Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack was watching the TV show “Bel-Air” with his fiancée and son last week when he got a call from agent Joel Segal telling him that he had been traded to the Chargers and would be heading to Los Angeles.

“Kind of a strange coincidence,” he said. “But it was weird to hear.”

Mack was surprised to be traded but not shocked. He knew the Bears’ landscape had changed when general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy were fired after the 2021 season. He had not talked to new GM Ryan Poles until after Segal broke the news that Mack had been traded to the Chargers for a 2022 second-round draft pick and a 2023 sixth-round pick.

“Different GM, not the GM that traded for me, so you never know what can happen in those situations,” Mack said Wednesday in a news conference with Los Angeles reporters. “I use common sense in certain situations, so I felt like maybe it was a chance. But who knows?”

Change was expected when Poles was hired to replace Pace. But the Mack trade was the clearest indication that the Bears under new management would be more of a renovation than a transition. Poles and new coach Matt Eberflus are putting their own stamp on the franchise, and it’s looking more and more like a repudiation of the Pace regime.

Players who could have been part of the transition — even from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defensive alignment — have been discarded.

Mack was traded. Defensive lineman Bilal Nichols signed with the Raiders. Nose tackle Eddie Goldman was released. Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks is on the market and a long shot to return.

On offense, guard James Daniels, who at 24 easily could have been a keeper, signed an affordable three-year, $26.5 million contract with the Steelers. Even Justin Fields — the most valuable asset Pace left Poles — has to prove he’s indeed the franchise quarterback the Bears are hoping for.

When Pace was hired in 2015, he kept Jay Cutler, tried to make 3-4 outside linebackers out of Jared Allen and Willie Young and found a spot for Shea McClellin. But early indications are that Poles and Eberflus are a little more strict about fitting round pegs into round holes.

The housecleaning continued Wednesday, when the Bears released inside linebacker Danny Trevathan — an anticipated move after Trevathan, 31, missed 12 games last season because of a knee injury.

The Bears also announced previously reported free-agent signings: former Bengals defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (three years, $40.5 million), former Packers center/guard Lucas Patrick (two years, $8 million) and former Raiders linebacker Nicholas Morrow (one year, $5 million).

As for Mack, he said his reunion with coach Brandon Staley, who was his position coach with the Bears, took some of the sting out of the trade. “I kind of went from bittersweet to kind of excited,” he said.

He also expressed gratitude for his time in Chicago, particularly a glorious first season in 2018 with Vic Fangio and Staley, when the Bears’ defense was the best in the NFL and Mack was runner-up to Aaron Donald for the Defensive Player of the Year Award.

“It’s real special to me,” Mack said, “especially that first year, having all the pieces and all the coaching staff together. Having the players — Kyle Fuller to Prince [Amukamara] to Eddie [Jackson] to [Adrian] Amos to Eddie Goldman to Leonard Floyd, Danny Trevathan, Roquan [Smith].

“I could go on and on. But just knowing what that felt like out there, playing with those guys, it was a special time, a special moment in my life. Those are four years [that] I’ll never forget. And I thank that organization for taking the chance on me.”

But while the trade signaled a new direction for the Bears under Poles, it’s also a fresh start for Mack, who knows his star diminished last season when he missed the last 10 games because of a foot injury. He indicated he is “100% good to go.”

“Understanding what the narrative is about me right know, I can’t wait,” Mack said. “You turn on the TV; you hear what they’re saying. It’s like, ‘OK, I’ll bet on myself any day.’ ’’

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