The Bears’ blockbuster trade to acquire Khalil Mack last year was one of more shocking and franchise-altering trades in NFL history. We know what happened — the Bears shipped a bunch of draft picks, including two first-rounders, to the Oakland Raiders for Mack, who transformed his new team’s defense into the best in the league last year.
But how it happened is a fascinating story, one told by Bears director of player personnel Josh Lucas at the “Building the Bears” panel discussion Sunday at the Bears100 Celebration at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont.
Below is how Lucas described, to the assembled crowd, the process from discussing trading for Mack to actually pulling the thing off:
“They’re not going to trade this guy.”
Josh Lucas: I would say, as soon as we got to (training camp in) Bourbonnais, we start loosely talking about it. I think we knew some stuff from a financial perspective that Oakland was going through where it may be realistic that they could trade this guy. But even at that point, this would’ve been late July, I think all of us were like, “What are we doing? They’re not going to trade this guy.”
And you’ve heard Ryan and Matt say this, persistence over resistance (Champ Kelly chimes in to say the same thing). So they kept calling — Ryan would call Reggie, the GM in Oakland, Matt would call Gruden and it just kept the dialogue open. Kept the dialogue open. And it just kind of — it was a topic all through camp.
But I think for the most part, we were, Okay, it’s fun to talk about but we really need to focus on what we got here right now.
A meaningful change before a relatively meaningless game
Josh Lucas: And then it all changed the Thursday night of our final preseason game versus Buffalo. We were home. You know, probably about an hour and a half to an hour before the start of the game, at that point, we’re in our operations box that we sit in for the game. So it’s Champ (Kelly, assistant director of player personnel, myself, (director of football administration) Joey Laine and (general manager) Ryan Pace, and Mark (Sadowski, director of college scouting) is in our box when Mark’s in town and not on the road. I’m always the last to be anywhere. I’m the last to the meeting, I’m the last —
Champ Kelly: True statement.
Josh Lucas: So I got up there about 50 minutes early to the kickoff, so it’s probably like 6:40, and no one was in the box. And I immediately, I was like oh, something’s going down. And I knew it as soon as Ryan and Joey came up, and they started — I could tell — they started talking and it was like oh, whoa, this is going down.
So basically what they were told that Thursday night is, prepare your best offer for Friday. We’re going to field offers from multiple teams who are interested and we’re going to come to a decision by Friday night. So you gotta remember, that Friday is final cuts. Which is an extremely hectic, chaotic time as it is because we’re scouring the —
Champ Kelly: We cut from 90 to 53. So a third of your workforce.
Josh Lucas: So 31 teams are cutting 37 guys, and that’s all we do is scour those those lists to see if any of those guys could potentially improve our 53-man roster and could any of these guys potentially be guys we can assign to our practice squad. So Champ, myself, our pro department, we’re running around all day that day getting ready for everything that’s about to happen.
And Joey and Ryan and Matt never came out of Ryan’s office. Not once. So we knew we were in it, it was all going to come down to who the Raiders selected, who the Raiders wanted to trade him to.
I think we had an advantage because they wanted him to get out of the AFC, so being an NFC team, I think we had 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 that played a part of it.
And probably about six or seven p.m. Friday night, the Raiders agreed to trade him to us.
A quick resolution
Josh Lucas: As soon as (we receive) that fax — they’ll send a fax to the organization saying we’ve agreed to a trade — we have 24 hours from the time we received that fax to get a deal done with Khalil. Because obviously this involved getting a contract done with him.
And I would say probably about three hours into it, it was probably about 10 p.m., Joey came in and said hey, we got a deal done. So I think it ended up getting released via social media early Saturday morning, when it really broke. But we all knew about 10, 11 o’clock that night.
Speaking for myself, I know I slept really well that night.
Also on the panel with Lucas were Kelly and Sadowski. Sadowski, as the Bears’ director of college scouting, is completely focused on finding amateur players for the team to consider drafting. But he was more than okay with losing those two first-round picks, as well as a third-round pick and a sixth-round pick, to get Mack (as well as a 2020 second-round pick from the Raiders).
“Everybody says oh, you gave up all this, all this,” Sadowski said. “From a college perspective, there’s some really good college players that we could’ve got in the first round, but nobody as great as him. So to give up those picks, to me, it’s a no brainer.
“I might’ve gave up one more.”