‘This one kept turning in our direction’: How the Bears landed OLB Khalil Mack
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Khalil Mack’s welcoming committee — Bears general manager Ryan Pace, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and coach Matt Nagy and his four sons, two of whom are twins — met him at his hotel late Saturday.
The outside linebacker, whose father is a twin, bent down and introduced himself to the kids and called all four by name.
“That’s pretty cool, being able to be a part of that,” Nagy said. “But I told them, ‘Don’t brag too much. Just enjoy the moment.’
“They were bragging to all their friends. Well, you know. You can understand.”
Most of Chicago can.
Before the welcoming committee met, there were countless conversations, debates and phone calls that set up Saturday’s trade and subsequent signing that made Mack the highest-paid defender of all time.
Here’s how it went down:
‘Persistence over resistance’
Before the Bears reported to training camp, Pace heard rumors that the Raiders might consider trading Mack, who was set to hold out in hopes of getting a new contract. Pace called Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie.
“I touched base with the Raiders just to feel if that was real or not,” Pace said. “And, you know, maybe back then it didn’t seem like it could be realistic.”
He and Nagy agreed to remain aggressive and discussed what they’d be willing to trade and how he’d fit. Nagy used the same phrase over and over again in their discussions: “persistence over resistance.”
“Ryan and I have had a lot of talks,” Nagy said. “And this isn’t something that just happened overnight.”
McKenzie said half the league checked in about Mack’s availability. Pace didn’t have a sense of whom the Bears eventually bid against.
“But it was pretty safe to assume a player, this talented of a player, at this position, where he’s at in his career,” Pace said, “there’s going to be a lot of competition.”
Pace and Nagy discuss scenarios to improve the Bears all the time. Many never materialize.
“Sometimes they take different turns,” Pace said. “This one kept turning in our direction, and it culminated in this.”
Doing their homework
Throughout August, Pace consulted the scouting reports he kept on the Buffalo alum before the 2014 draft, when he was the Saints’ player personnel director.
“You have a lot of information on his personal background and football character,” Pace said. “And all those things lead right into what you hear now as you kind of ask around about him and the person that he is.
‘‘And when you make these kinds of commitments to players, you’d better be right on that end, too, and we are confident that we are.”
Nagy, who shared the AFC West with Mack for the last four years, said a vote for Mack was “an easy opinion” to have.
“The words that used to always come to mind for myself were: dominance in what he does,” Nagy said.
What’s the scouting report on Mack?
“Put, like, three guys on him,” Nagy said, smiling.
Mack is the first defensive player in 30 years to be traded for two first-round picks. That doesn’t bother Pace, who previously sent his 2019 second-rounder to the Patriots to draft rookie wide receiver Anthony Miller.
‘‘When we look at this next draft, right, our first-round pick is Khalil Mack,” Pace said. “And our next pick is Anthony Miller.”
Getting a second-round pick back from the Raiders — in 2020 — was crucial to the Bears agreeing to the deal.
Pace has been successful in the second round, finding Cody Whitehair and Eddie Goldman there.
The Bears won’t have a first-rounder the next two years but will have two second-round picks in 2020.
“I’ll take that,” Pace said. “We can do some damage there.”
Pace credited Bears chairman George McCaskey and president Ted Phillips with giving him the resources to be proactive. It’s easy to be aggressive at two positions, Pace said — quarterback and pass rusher.
“Matt and I have a similar mindset like that,” Pace said. “When a guy like this becomes available, let’s figure out a way to accomplish this. And that’s exactly what we did.”
The Bears could afford Mack’s new contract, worth $141 million over six years, with $90 million guaranteed and $60 million due at signing. It won’t prevent them from trying to extend fourth-year players — Goldman and safety Adrian Amos are prime targets — this week.
“It’s very easy in our league to play it safe and play it cautious,” Pace said. “And not that we’re going to be reckless, but we’re going to be aggressive.”
Sealing the deal
Talks heated up in the past week. When the Rams gave defensive tackle Aaron Donald $87 million in guarantees Friday, Mack’s Raiders tenure was all but over.
On Sunday, Mack was asked what he thought when he saw Donald’s deal.
“Can’t say it in front of my parents,” he said, looking at his mom and dad.
Pace kept clearing hurdle after hurdle in trade talks. Late Friday night, after talking to McKenzie, he felt like the deal would get done. Negotiator Joey Laine finalized Mack’s contract Saturday.
Pace didn’t sleep much either day.
“There’s a moment when there are windows to improve our team, and you’ve got to maximize those windows,’’ he said. “So sleep just becomes a non-factor.”
He was certainly riding on adrenaline Sunday. He joked with Nagy about how the rush felt different than what coaches must experience on game day.
“There’s ups and downs and moments where you’re staring at your phone and highs and lows, but it was fun going through this together and talking out every scenario together,” Pace said. “Along with George and Ted and Joey, who was great with the contract, and [player personnel director] Josh [Lucas], it was a collaborative process, and we’ll remember this for a long time.”