Khalil Mack: With max money comes outsized expectations for new Bears star
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Vic Fangio’s first NFL Defensive Player of the Year thinks outside linebacker Khalil Mack will be his next — and maybe much more.
The greatest pass rusher of all time, meanwhile, believes he’ll be worth the Bears’ sizable investment.
One month after Brian Urlacher was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Mack, whom the Bears acquired last week in a blockbuster trade with the Raiders, might be the favorite to be the next enshrined Bears defender.
That’s an outsized expectation, but not an unreasonable one, entering the Bears’ season opener Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Pat Swilling, who won the 1991 award with Fangio as his Saints position coach, got to the heart of why the Bears’ trade dropped the jaws of executives throughout the league — even matriarch Virginia McCaskey — this week.
Yes, Mack, 27, is just entering his prime. He plays a position, edge rusher, that ages well, as evidenced by the fact that six of the top 10 sack leaders last season were older than Mack is now. But perhaps most important, he’ll be paired with Fangio, the Bears’ defensive coordinator who doubles as one of the NFL’s most respected outside linebacker coaches of all time. Mack, a two-time first-team All-Pro, already is elite. His fit with the Bears is perfect.
“He’s had a Hall of Fame career so far,” said Swilling, whose 107½ career sacks rank 24th all time. “I don’t see anything that can stop what he’s done.”
Swilling, who played for the Raiders, was furious that his former franchise traded him to the Bears in a deal that netted Oakland two first-round picks. But he loves the match.
“Putting him in Vic Fangio’s system will only enhance his career,” he said. “Being a player, based on what Coach Fangio’s done, he’s very fortunate to have landed where he’s landed. . . .
“When it comes down to understanding pass rushers, there’s no one better than Vic Fangio.”
Lawrence Taylor, perhaps the greatest pass rusher of all time, said Mack should be worth the staggering price the Bears paid for him — a six-year contract worth $141 million overall and $90 million guaranteed, the highest salary ever for a defensive player. Great pass rushers, he said, keep offensive coordinators up at night and make their teammates better.
“Hey, if the guy handles his business — and is the guy that he has been — and continues to get better, then, yeah, he was well worth it,” said Taylor, who ranks 13th in NFL history with 132½ sacks, via email. “Listen, if Khalil does his thing, he makes every MFer on that defense better.”
Mack admitted that his contract brings pressure with it — and also a challenge.
“But just based on how hard I work and how hard I play, I want to be able to go out and show why,” he said. “And that’s just me. I’ve always thought of myself as the best defensive player in the league, and I want to play like the best defensive player in the league.
“I want to be the best at what I do, and that’s just me. That’s what comes with Mack.”
A motor is included, too. For all his physical skills, that’s what impresses Packers coach Mike McCarthy the most and fits the personality of the Bears’ defense.
“I think he’s an excellent fit for Chicago’s defense,” he said. “I think probably one of their strengths is their second and third action and the way they rally to the ball.”
The Bears will do that Sunday and, they hope, all year long. Mack, whose snaps will be monitored after missing the preseason during his Raiders holdout, will get better as he rounds into shape.
Days after the signing, his new teammates still can’t believe their fortune.
Running back Tarik Cohen couldn’t wait to see Mack with his own two eyes. When he did, Mack lived up to the hype.
“A Greek god,” Cohen said.
Running back Jordan Howard called him something else.
“He’s just a dominant player — he not only stops the pass, he can stop the run, too,” Howard said. ‘‘I definitely feel like he can be a Hall of Famer, for sure.
“If he keeps on the path he’s been on, he’s definitely going to be a Hall of Famer.”