Los Angeles Chargers general manager Tom Telesco and head coach Brandon Staley have made a statement by acquiring star edge defender Khalil Mack from the Chicago Bears for a 2022 second-round and 2023 sixth-round pick.
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The Chargers are pushing their chips to the middle of the table and are all-in on taking advantage of quarterback Justin Herbert’s rookie contract, which is the way it should be.
The Chargers entered the offseason ranked top five among the 32 NFL teams in offseason assets between salary cap space and the 2022 NFL Draft. With a quarterback like Herbert — who is fresh off a top-five, elite season (90.1 overall grade) and is accounting for just over 3% of the cap on a rookie deal — this is a dream scenario. It’s a sign to be aggressive, and it’s clear the plan is already unfolding after wide receiver Mike Williams‘ extension and acquiring Mack.
Staley’s defense now has arguably the best edge tandem in the NFL with Joey Bosa and Mack. Bosa is on a run of three straight top-five seasons in pass-rush grade among edge defenders. Mack was the NFL’s highest-graded edge defender in 2020 before his injury-hindered 2021 campaign (just 315 snaps played). In that season with the Bears, Mack generated 0.79 PFF wins above replacement (WAR) — the most at the position. Mack has generated at least 0.39 WAR in every one of his seasons before last year’s injury. For reference, that’s more than any defensive player on the Chargers roster last season outside of Bosa. Needless to say, this is an extremely valuable addition, assuming Mack can return to form. And if he can’t bounce back, Los Angeles can easily get out after this season if it so chooses despite that Mack has two years left on the contract — they’ll be tied to no guaranteed money.
While Bosa wins constantly with his patented double swipe, Mack has his long arm bull-rush. The two rank first and ninth respectively among NFL edge defenders in pass-rush win rate dating back to 2016, and no other team has an active duo in even the top 20. In that same six-year timespan, Mack is the most valuable player at the position, according to PFF WAR, while Bosa is not too far behind at fourth.
Most valuable edge defenders since 2016, per @PFF WAR
1. Khalil Mack: 2.93
2. Cameron Jordan: 2.83
3. Von Miller: 2.66
4. Joey Bosa: 2.45
— Anthony Treash (@PFF_Anthony) March 10, 2022
The Chargers still rank inside the top 10 in free cap space ahead of the new league year — pending any more trades, which is possible — and own a first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. While they do take on all of Mack’s contract, the Bears still have to eat $24 million of it for the 2022 season — the largest dead cap charge in NFL history for a non-quarterback, according to Over The Cap.
For Bears fans, the immediate reaction is going to be “only a 2022 second-round pick and a 2023 sixth-round pick and there’s a $24 million hit for this season!?” But at the end of the day, this was a good deal that had to be made by new general manager Ryan Poles, as it sets the Bears up to aggressively attack 2023 and beyond coming off a hopeful Justin Fields breakout campaign. As Over The Cap‘s Jason Fitzgerald noted, eating the $24 million dead money now opens up $6.15 million in 2022, $28.5 million in 2023 and $26.25 million in 2024 for Chicago.
Opening up future space and acquiring draft picks is how a rebuild works, and sometimes tough decisions like this one have to be made. From here on out this offseason, the Bears are going to aim toward building for the future.
Trust the process, Chicago.