Upon meeting new Chicago Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack — along with his mom, Yolanda, and dad, Sandy — at Halas Hall on Sunday, it struck me that these might just be the three happiest people in the world.
My second thought was there were two more people in the room who appeared to be a very close second — Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy.
While it remained unspoken during the 30-minute news conference with Pace and Nagy that followed, it was hard to ignore the glow in their eyes and an aura about them that suggested that now the team’s general manager and head coach believe they’re ready to compete.
Before we get to the X’s and O’s and dollars and cents of what the Mack trade is all about, there is an analogy that has been rattling around in my mind ever since the deal was announced.
When Ron Wolf took over the Green Bay Packers in 1991, the club had spent the previous 23 seasons following the Vince Lombardi era in the NFL wasteland, managing just five winning seasons and two trips to the playoffs, including one in the strike-shortened 1982 campaign.
Following the 1991 season spent analyzing his new team, Wolf traded his second of two first-round picks (19th overall) to Atlanta for a little-known quarterback with a bum hip named Brett Favre whom the Falcons had selected in the second round (33rd) in the ’91 draft.
Following the 1992 season, in which Favre took over the starting quarterback job in Week 4, Wolf signed free-agent defensive end Reggie White. Beginning with that 1993 season, the Packers would go to the playoffs six consecutive years, winning four division titles, playing in three NFC title Games, winning two, culminating in their Super Bowl XXXI triumph.
There was plenty of talent around Favre and White, but they were the only two superstars and the heart and soul of those Packers teams.
Pace never mentioned the Packers on Sunday, but when asked why he is so aggressive when necessary, referring specifically to the trades for Mitch Trubisky and Mack, Pace explained, “I think when you talk about being aggressive, it’s easy when you’re talking two positions specifically — quarterback and pass rusher. We are going to emphasize those positions.
“So, when a guy like this becomes available in the prime of his career, and not just the physical talent — the person that he is, too — you’ve got to be willing to act.”
Nagy was forced to game plan for Mack twice a year as the offensive coordinator in Kansas City, leaving him uniquely qualified to understand what Pace meant by “a guy like this.”
“You talk about who the guys are that you need to game plan around,” Nagy said. “Obviously he’s one that you do. The word that used to always come to mind for myself was dominance in what he does physically, with just his strength, speed to power, the experience that he has.
“He shows it is by his actions, and you see that on tape, and because of that you create even more respect from the opponents on offense.”
Asked for the book on how to combat Mack, Nagy minced no words.
“Put like three guys on him,” he said. “He’s a (heck) of a player that plays fast, that you have to know where he’s at, you just do. He demands that from offenses.
“But I think you’ll see foremost offensive coordinators, play callers, players, they respect the heck out of him because they know he’s a good player.
“When you respect a guy like that, you try to have an answer for it, and sometimes that takes more than one person to do that.”
For all the glass-half-empty guys out there determined to obsess over how much Pace gave up to get Mack, I asked the GM if he believed that, based on all the other work he’d done in free agency this off-season, the picks he gave up were unlikely to be top-five or top-10 picks again, and if that made his decision easier.
“Yeah, we hope that,” Pace said. “That’s a good question. Yeah, that’s our optimism.
“Again, I want to stress the importance. Like, when we look at this next draft, our first-round pick is Khalil Mack and our second-round pick is Anthony Miller, and the next draft we have two 2s.
“I’ll take that. We can do some damage there. So, we still have quantity in our picks.
“You look at our roster right now, there’s a lot of depth around our team, and they are all young players, and that’s a good spot to be in as an organization.”
At the end of the day, it’s clear Pace and Nagy agree: When you draft a player in the first round, you’re getting a great college football player you hope can make a difference in the NFL.
With the two first-round picks they gave up for Mack, the Bears are getting a player one season removed from being the best defensive player in the National Football League.
It’s really not that hard to understand what they’re so over-the-moon-happy about.
• Hub Arkush, the executive editor of Pro Football Weekly, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.