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The Khalil Mack trade hovers over 49ers-Bears this weekend

He’s pretty good.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers have plenty of familiarity with Vic Fangio and the Chicago Bears defense, but this weekend’s matchup brings a particularly familiar name, edge rusher Khalil Mack.

At the end of training camp, the Bears swung a deal with the Oakland Raiders to acquire Mack. They sent over first-round picks in 2019 and 2020, a third-round pick in 2020, and a sixth-round pick in 2019 to acquire Mack, a 2020 second round pick, and a conditional fifth-round pick in 2020. Mack had been holding out for a new contract, and upon completing the trade, he signed a six-year, $141 million deal.

Since then, we’ve heard several times that the 49ers might have offered the same if not more than the Raiders. In November, general manager John Lynch said, “I continue to think we offered a better deal than Chicago.” On Wednesday, head coach Kyle Shanahan was asked to follow up on Lynch’s old comments. Shanahan said, “I think you’d have to ask the Raiders. But, it takes two teams to get it done and we went as hard as we could on it.”

Bears head coach Matt Nagy knew there were rumors flying around about who was interested, but as he put, “You never know 100 percent when you’re right in the middle of it because there’s so many different rumors that fly around. We were just concerned about what we could control, and making sure that we did everything we possibly could to get him.”

The Bears did everything they could and it was enough to add the game-changing pass rusher. The Bears defense had shown improvement in recent years, but adding a presence like Mack has put them over the top. They now have the best defense in football, and while they’ve added plenty of parts to it, Mack is the true difference-maker.

Earlier this week, I asked Windy City Gridiron writer Jeff Berckes for his thoughts on Mack. I asked him if there are any regrets based on the draft capital involved, what he’s meant to the defense, and if he has shown any areas of weakness the 49ers could explot.

Mack hurt his ankle early in the Dolphins game and while he toughed it out, he was ineffective for that week and against the Patriots. The Bears finally decided it was better to rest that ankle and he missed the next two games. So, we’ve had a total of 10 healthy Mack games to see what he brings. The counting stats are ridiculous – 12.5 sacks, 9 tackles for loss, 6 forced fumbles, 4 passes defended, 2 fumble recoveries, and an interception returned for a TD. If there are Bears fans out there that regret the trade, I would ask them to turn in their club card and choose another franchise to cheer for because this is what Bears football is all about. Fun fact, the Oakland Raiders have tallied up a grand total of… 12 sacks in their 14 contests. Great pass rushers are hard to find, right Jon?

From a draft capital standpoint, the 2019 pick is going to be late in the round as the Bears are slated to host a home playoff game on wildcard weekend at this point. The Bears will return the vast majority of their core next season and will likely field a competitive team again. Let’s say it averages out to be two first round picks in the mid-twenties to acquire Mack. It’s hard to imagine finding a player of his caliber with either of those picks. When you consider that the Raiders are sending back their 2020 second rounder as part of the deal, the draft capital becomes even more shrug-worthy. The Raiders appear to be in total rebuild and may be sniffing a top ten pick again next year. That pick differential will be fun to track for 2020 but my sense is not too many people think the Bears gave up too much in draft capital.

If we look at the contract, paying elite players elite money doesn’t bother me at all – particularly since the contract coincides well with Trubisky’s rookie contract. The Bears had a lot of cap room coming into 2018 and didn’t really have a player holding a max contract, so if there was an ideal landing spot from that standpoint, the Bears were it. With the cap continuing to go up at a decent clip every year, it’s not exactly hard to believe the contract will start to look like a bargain in the near future. He’s been a team leader, quick with praise for his teammates, and an instant fan favorite.

In addition to his individual impact, he’s really helped unlock this defense. Already a good unit in 2017, Mack has allowed Vic Fangio to do whatever he wants with this defense because of the amount of attention he demands. This helps open up one on one blocking for other good players like Akiem Hicks and Leonard Floyd, not to mention forcing QBs into bad throws to an opportunistic secondary. When it’s clicking, it’s truly terrifying. I don’t think Aaron Donald’s dominant season will be overlooked, and we were robbed of a full healthy season of Mack due to the ankle injury, but it would not surprise me if Mack finishes the year in 2nd place for Defensive Player of the Year and a 1st Team All-Pro award.

As for weaknesses – I haven’t seen it. He plays the run incredibly well and he’s disciplined. He’s blown up a number of screen plays because he senses the flow of the offensive line and cuts off his rush to move with it. He can rush with speed, sure, but his ability to convert speed to power is the best in the league. The difference between his 2017 and this year is that he actually has a good defense around him to take advantage of the extra attention he receives.