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Bears got Virginia McCaskey’s OK to sign Ray McDonald

PHOENIX — George McCaskey’s initial reaction to adding Ray McDonald was an emphatic “no.”

He didn’t know much about the 49ers defensive end other than his legal troubles; McDonald was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence in August and investigated on suspicion of sexual assault in December, though he hasn’t been charged in either case. The other details were filled in by a dossier Bears security prepared that laid out what the Bears chairman detailed was a “pattern” and “frequency” of mistakes.

McCaskey told GM Ryan Pace not to pursue him.

Tuesday, the Bears signed McDonald to a one-year contract.

What happened in between convinced McCaskey to give approval: McDonald paid for his own flight to Halas Hall and had a two-hour conversation the chairman characterized as “difficult” and “very candid.”

When McDonald suggested McCaskey talk to Urban Meyer, his former college coach at Florida, the chairman said he’d call McDonald’s parents, too.

McCaskey wasn’t surprised by their endorsement — “What would you expect a parent to say about their adult child?” he said Tuesday at the NFL Annual Meeting — but was encouraged by the player’s support system.

McCaskey even received approval from his own mother, Virginia.

“In the end, she put her trust in me,” he said, “and I’m putting my trust in Ryan.”

George McCaskey had only intervened in a player personnel issue two previous times — when the Bears cut Sam Hurd in 2011 after his arrest on federal drug charges, when the Bears traded for Brandon Marshall in 2012.

The Bears “have a 96-year tradition of doing things a certain way,” he said, and maintaining that standard was “extremely important” to the team.

“I was impressed with how sincere he was and how motivated he is,” George McCaskey said of McDonald. “He understands, I think, that he could have well been facing the end of his football career.”

The 49ers released McDonald on Dec. 17 for a “pattern of poor decision making” after he was investigated on suspicion of sexual assault. The case remains open, but McDonald hasn’t been charged and is suing his accuser.

The 6-3, 290-pounder was arrested on suspicion of felony domestic violence Aug. 31 but the Santa Clara District Attorney’s office declined to file charges, citing insufficient evidence.

New Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and defensive backs coach Ed Donatell recommended McDonald, who they coached in San Francisco from 2011-14. That “helped me feel good about this,” Pace said Tuesday.

“I knew what he was as a player,” he said, “but I didn’t have that inner knowledge of what he was in the locker room, as a teammate or as a person. So that was huge.”
Pace said that, while sexual assault investigation is ongoing, “we wouldn’t be where we’re at right now if we didn’t feel comfortable with where that’s at.”

Asked about the possibility of a suspension, Pace said he did not feel obligated to sign extra players as insurance.

The “prove-it” deal, he said, protected the Bears financially.

On the field, the 30-year-old slots into a starting defensive end position in Fangio’s 3-4 base defense.

“He’s not only a 3-4 defensive end, but a 3-4 defensive end that’s played in Vic’s defense,” Pace said. “So we know exactly how he’ll fit in. I’ve scouted him a lot over the years. I just know what he’ll bring to the table in regards to, especially, run defense.

“He’s just a physical, tough player. High-motor player. I’ve heard great things about his work ethic. His passion and approach to the game.”

Off the field, the Bears will be watching.

“I told him that my assessment was ‘bad decision-making,’ allowing himself to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or not withdrawing from a situation at the appropriate time,” George McCaskey said. “And I told him, if he’s to remain a Bear, that has to improve.

“And he pledged to me that it would.”

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com

Twitter: @patrickfinley