Bears’ George McCaskey after trade: ‘We need to match that excitement with wins’
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Bears chairman George McCaskey needed to tell his mom a secret.
He had a hard time getting her alone Friday, when the Bears’ 95-year-old matriarch went to Halas Hall to present an employee award named in her honor. After a staff meeting, McCaskey had to settle for the privacy of a one-flight elevator ride.
‘‘I said, ‘Mom, we’re thinking about trading for Khalil Mack of the Raiders,’ ’’ McCaskey told the Sun-Times in his first comments about the franchise-altering trade that sent draft picks to the Raiders. ‘‘ ‘It’s going to cost us two No. 1s.’
‘‘Her jaw drops. And then the doors open. That was the end of the conversation.’’
What more needed to be said? Even Virginia McCaskey was familiar with Mack’s dominant career, which included an NFL Defensive Player of the Year award and three Pro Bowl berths in his first four seasons.
McCaskey had a similar reaction when president/CEO Ted Phillips told him the Bears were pursuing Mack a day earlier.
‘‘Let’s go get him,’’ McCaskey said.
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After the staff meeting Friday, Phillips’ door was open. General manager Ryan Pace’s was closed. McCaskey paced back and forth between the two.
‘‘I thought the best approach at that point was patience,’’ he said.
McCaskey got in his car that afternoon, bound for his friend’s cottage in Michigan for the Labor Day weekend. Traffic was brutal, but he and his wife had plenty to discuss.
‘‘This offseason, Barb has been saying to me, ‘I’m tired of the talk; I want wins,’ and she used a word you can’t say on the radio and you can’t print in a family newspaper,’’ McCaskey said, smiling.
McCaskey kept looking at his phone while he still could.
‘‘I was just waiting for a call,’’ he said.
When the McCaskeys arrived at the cottage, he had spotty cellphone range. He walked from room to room, waiting to see whether it would get better. He knew Pace and the Bears’ front-office staff were negotiating a deal — first to trade for Mack, then to sign him.
It was worth the price, McCaskey said.
‘‘I thought Ryan put it very well: You get a premier player at a premier position in his prime,’’ McCaskey said. ‘‘Opportunities like that don’t come along very often.’’
The Bears traded their next two first-round picks, a third-rounder in 2020 and a sixth-rounder in 2019 for Mack, a second-rounder in 2020 and a conditional fifth-rounder in 2020.
‘‘Even after the deal with the Raiders was made, [negotiator] Joey [Laine] had to make a deal with Khalil’s agent,’’ McCaskey said. ‘‘That was another pins-and-needles situation.’’
On Saturday, the Bears signed Mack to the richest contract in NFL history for a defensive player, giving him $141 million over six years with $90 million guaranteed and $60 million due at signing.
McCaskey learned the deal was done in a voicemail message from Pace and coach Matt Nagy. His phone missed the call.
‘‘It’s a big deal,’’ McCaskey said. ‘‘High price, but he’s a premier player.’’
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McCaskey doesn’t make predictions, but he knows Super Bowl aspirations start with playing well in the NFC North. The Lions have a new coach and the Packers a new defensive staff. The Vikings gave quarterback Kirk Cousins three years of guaranteed money and are the co-favorites to win the NFC.
‘‘We’re improved, but the other three teams haven’t exactly been sitting on their keisters,’’ McCaskey said. ‘‘The other teams have darn good quarterbacks. One of the things that’s exciting to me about the acquisition of Khalil is that we have to get those quarterbacks on the ground in order to make hay in our division.’’
Nagy will help the Bears’ keep up with those offenses. McCaskey was impressed by Pace’s decisiveness throughout the hiring process that landed Nagy and by the way he has worked with Nagy since.
‘‘Their collaboration is very good, the communication is very good, their willingness to back each other up,’’ McCaskey said. ‘‘Each of them seems determined to work as hard as he can to make it as easy as he can for the other.’’
Deciding to hire a new coach is always difficult, he said.
‘‘Typically, a new coach comes in and reinvigorates things, but I would say Matt has amplified that,’’ McCaskey said. ‘‘His enthusiasm is contagious — and that’s putting it mildly.’’
McCaskey’s own enthusiasm couldn’t be contained at the Pro Football Hall of Fame last month. He won’t forget watching Brian Urlacher sprint to say hello to Virginia when she walked into his private party at 12:15 a.m. Her favorite moment was when Urlacher wore a Walter Payton jersey in the Hall of Fame parade.
‘‘Here’s a guy who could have taken the approach — and other inductees have done it — that it’s all about me,’’ he said. ‘‘All he did the entire long weekend was deflect praise, include others, remind people of the Bears’ great tradition of great players. Typical Brian.’’
McCaskey liked what his team did in the Hall of Fame Game, too, linking arms during the national anthem even as the league struggled — and still struggles — to codify what’s expected of its players.
‘‘I’m proud of our guys for their communication, for their strong desire to make a difference in the community and for the way they’ve come together on this anthem issue,’’ he said.
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Driving home from the cottage Sunday, the McCaskeys stopped to attend mass in Grand Haven, Michigan.
With the car stopped, McCaskey began to look more closely at the public reaction on Twitter on his phone. As they drove closer to Chicago, the excitement built.
‘‘There’s no question that Khalil makes us a better team,’’ he said. ‘‘But it’s going to take everybody. A lot can happen. A lot of uncertainties — injuries, luck, weather. There’s no question, though, that we’re a better team.’’
That’s a welcome change for a team that hasn’t had a winning record since 2012 or a playoff victory since 2010.
‘‘This has been a long, hard, difficult struggle for our fans, and we’ve tested their patience,’’ McCaskey said. ‘‘As Bears fans do, they’ve remained loyal. Now it’s on us to reward that loyalty. . . .
‘‘People are excited, and we need to match that excitement with wins.’’