Message received: With Khalil Mack, Bears players know they're all in on 2018
The Bears, like every team in the NFL, are excited to begin the regular season. But unlike every other team in the NFL, the Bears added an All-Pro former defensive player of the year to their roster a week before beginning the season.
And so in the Bears’ locker room, the win-now message sent by the front office was not only received, it’s been embraced.
“We’re paying a guy $141 million, we’re trying to win now,” defensive end Akiem Hicks said. “You’re definitely behind a move like that. It’s exciting to see that although we’ve added so many pieces such as Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel — we’ve added all these guys, then we’ve got a present on the defense. It’s awesome.”
No team is trying to “not” win, ever, but as Hicks explained, there’s a different message sent when a team trades away two draft picks and signs one of the best defensive players in the game to a record contract.
“There’s certain moves that are power moves and certain moves that say we’re all in,” Hicks said. “And I think that’s one of those moves.”
That “all-in” message sent by Ryan Pace and the front office is buoyed by a team-wide belief that this is the right time and the right place to take such an aggressive stance. Yes, this franchise has gone 14-34 in the last three years and went 5-11 in 2017. But the offense has been overhauled around Mitch Trubisky, and a top-10 defense has kept almost all of its starters around and added a first-round pick inside linebacker in Roquan Smith and a bona fide superstar edge rusher in Mack.
“It really just shows that management, this organization, we’re going for it,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “They had a great offseason spending-wise and, yeah, it just shows that they’re going for it and you gotta appreciate the type of management and organization that are aggressive like this.”
It’s not just that the Bears are getting a guy with 40 1/2 sacks in his four-year career, or someone with a few trophies highlighting his individual accomplishments to date. Word travels fast around the league, and even after barely meeting the guy, players lauded Mack’s work ethic and attitude. An example of it: Coach Matt Nagy said while Mack was waiting to take off to fly to Chicago he asked to get a playbook so he could start his crash course in Vic Fangio’s defense.
“He’s a guy I know doesn’t take plays off, and he works his butt off,” offensive lineman Kyle Long said. “To have that work ethic coupled with his talent level, special things happen.”
The Bears are bringing Mack along cautiously given his eight-month layoff from participating in football activities. But Mack has never missed a game in his career, and even in Monday’s lighter “10-10-10” practice his physical abilities made a strong impression.
“Our right tackle (not Bobby Massie), his second play he turned around and gave me the eyes,” Nagy said, bulging his eyes a bit.
“I think he does that to everybody, yeah,” Hicks said. “Even the left tackle is probably (saying) ‘ooh, that sucks.’”
Mack has the potential to make the Sunday nights of David Bakhtiari and/or Brian Bulaga — the Packers’ left and right tackles — “suck,” too. The Bears know it, the Packers know it, the whole league knows it. And the Bears are feeling not only fortunate to have Mack wearing their helmet, but they’re energized by it, too.
“Most of us all know what he can do, and so it’s the anticipation of being able to see it and then the happiness of knowing that he’s doing it for your team,” Nagy said. :That’s a good thing. So we’ll see how it goes but when he’s out there, I can promise you this, when he’s going he’s going to give it everything he has. And we just have to figure out how much.”