One of the most intriguing panel discussions at last weekend’s Bears100 Celebration in Rosemont didn’t feature any current or former players.
Bears director of player personnel Josh Lucas, assistant director of player personnel Champ Kelly and director of college scouting Mark Sadowski offered behind-the-scenes information about the team’s player acquisition process.
The highlight of their discussion revolved around the blockbuster trade the Bears made with the Raiders last Sept. 1 to acquire All-Pro outside linebacker Khalil Mack. The Bears acquired Mack along with a 2020 second-round pick and a conditional 2020 fifth-round pick in exchange for their 2019 first-round pick, 2020 first-round pick, 2020 third-round pick and 2019 sixth-round pick.
“As soon as we got to Bourbonnais, we start loosely talking about it,” Lucas said. “I think we knew some stuff from a financial perspective that Oakland was going through, where it may be realistic they could trade this guy. But even at that point, this was late July, I think all of us were like, ‘What are we doing? They’re not going to trade this guy.’
“You’ve heard Ryan [Pace] and Matt [Nagy] say this, ‘Persistence over resistance.’ So Ryan would call Reggie [McKenzie], the GM in Oakland. Matt would call [Jon] Gruden. It was a topic all through camp. For the most part it was fun to talk about, but we need to focus on what we’ve got here.
“It all changed the Thursday night of our final preseason game versus Buffalo. We were home. Probably about an hour and a half to an hour before the game, we were in our operations box that we sit in for the game. So it’s Champ, myself, [director football administration] Joey Laine and Ryan Pace, and then Mark is in our box when Mark’s in town and not on the road.
“I am always the last to be anywhere. Last in the meeting … So I got up there about 50 minutes early to the kickoff and no one was in the box. I immediately was like, ‘Oh, something’s going down.’ I knew as soon as Ryan and Joey came up, you could tell, they were talking and talking and it was like, ‘Oh, this is going down.’
“What they were told that Thursday night was, ‘Prepare your best offer for Friday. We’re going to field offers from multiple teams that are interested and we’re going to come to a decision by Friday night.’
“You have to remember that Friday is final cuts, which is an extremely hectic, chaotic time as it is, because we’re scouring the 31 teams cutting 37 guys and that’s all we do is scour those lists to see if any of those guys can potentially improve our 53-man roster and can the potentially be guys that we want to sign to our practice squad.
“So Champ, myself, our pro department, we’re running around all day to get ready for everything that’s going to happen. Joey, Ryan and Matt never came out of Ryan’s office. Not once. We knew we were in it. I think we had an advantage because [the Raiders] wanted to get [Mack] out of the AFC, so I think being an NFC team, we got a pretty good chance. I don’t think the Raiders thought we were going to be any good last year, so they wanted our first-round pick. So I think they played a part of it.
“Probably about 6 or 7 p.m. Friday night, the Raiders agreed to trade him to us. We’ll send a fax to the organization saying we agree to the trade. We had 24 hours to get a deal done with Khalil. I would say three hours into it, probably about 10 p.m., Joey came in and said, ‘We got a deal done.’ So I think it ended up getting released via social media probably early Saturday morning, but we all knew 10 or 11 [Friday] night. Speaking only for myself, I knew I slept really well that night.”
Having worked with the Broncos, Kelly was familiar with Mack, who made three straight Pro Bowls and was named the 2016 NFL defensive player of the year with the Raiders.
Mack made an immediate impact with the Bears, not only in his first game—returning an interception for a touchdown and forcing and recovering a fumble with a strip-sack against the Packers—but in his initial practice.
“Any time you get a chance to get that caliber of talent, it’s extremely rare,” Kelly said. “And the fact that his character matches his ability. His first day of practice, he comes out, he wins the first one-on-one so impressively that people stopped to see what was going on. The next rep, Aaron Lynch goes, and he gets stopped. And he’s kind of jogging back and Khalil says, ‘No, you’ve got to run.’ Lynch runs. He’s that type of tone-setter. You add a guy like that and it adds to the collective belief that we are for real and we are going after championships. That’s the type of person and player he is.”
Mack was voted to his fourth straight Pro Bowl and named first-team All-pro after leading the Bears with 12.5 sacks, a career-high six forced fumbles and 18 quarterback hits. He also ranked second on the team with 10 tackles-for-loss.
“I haven’t stopped smiling since [the trade was made],” Sadowski said. “Because it’s one of those things where everybody says, ‘You gave up all this, all this, all this.’ From a college perspective, there are some really good college players that we could have gotten in the first round, but nobody as great as him. So to give up those picks, to me it was a no-brainer. I might have even given up one more.”