The NFL headlines kept churning on Thursday, with the Chargers agreeing to acquire star pass rusher Khalil Mack in a big-name trade with the Bears. Los Angeles was expected to pursue help up front this offseason, but few anticipated Mack, the former Defensive Player of the Year, being one of the team’s top targets. Already, the Chargers’ odds of a 2022 playoff run have jumped as a result of Mack’s arrival opposite Joey Bosa out west. But did L.A. overpay for its splashy move? And did the Bears get a fair return for one of the most accomplished defensive players in the league?
Here’s how we’d grade each side of the trade, which saw the Chargers get Mack in exchange for a 2022 second-round draft pick and 2023 sixth-rounder:
Bears grade: B-
OK, so first thing’s first: this one hurts if you’re a Bears fan, because no matter his price tag or recent injury, Mack is the kind of imposing force any team would love to have on its defense. Altogether, though, this is far from a bad bet. Chicago is essentially starting from the ground up with a new regime, and Mack is 31, coming off a season-ending injury, and due a whopping $84.9 million over the next three years. He might still be in Pro Bowl form by the time Justin Fields and Co. are (ideally) ready to contend, but instead, the Bears instantly save money while adding a solid Day Two pick for the rebuild.
The reason they don’t ace this deal is because it’s basically just for a second-rounder, months after the Rams gave up a second- and third-rounder for a half-season of 32-year-old Von Miller. (The 2023 sixth offers roughly the same value of a 2022 seventh, which is all but a throwaway pick.) Granted, Miller was much less expensive and wasn’t freshly injured, but Mack, when healthy, remains an elite starter. You have to wonder, if Mack returned to full speed to start 2022, how much the Bears could’ve gotten from another contender by selling him closer to the trade deadline instead.
Chargers grade: B+
Is it a steep price for an aging pass rusher who’s coming off a serious injury, especially in light of the fact they’ll be absorbing all of Mack’s remaining contract? Sure. There’s a decent chance, even if Mack returns to full health opposite Bosa, his days of Defensive Player of the Year-level dominance are behind him. You could make the argument the Chargers would’ve been just as well off committing big money (but not Mack-level big) to veteran free agents like Von Miller or Chandler Jones, or rather making a longer-term investment in someone like Emmanuel Ogbah.
But let’s be honest: this is exactly the kind of move you make if you believe you’re on the brink, and the Chargers, with an ascending franchise QB in Justin Herbert, rightfully do. Pairing Mack with Bosa and a defensive line that’s also sure to get some upgrades via the draft or free agency is a recipe for one of the scariest front sevens in the NFL, especially considering coach Brandon Staley has a history with Mack from their time in Chicago. Worst-case scenario, the gamble doesn’t pay off with a title in the next year or two, and L.A. can get out of Mack’s deal fairly easily; the veteran can be cut in 2023 to save $16.9M, or in 2024 to save $20.3M.