Two players with hefty new contracts could be introduced to one another on Sunday as quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers host premier pass rusher Khalil Mack and the Chicago Bears on Sunday (8:20 p.m. ET) at Lambeau Field.
Rodgers became the highest-paid player in NFL history late last month when he signed a four-year contract extension worth $134 million, with guaranteed money pushing the deal upward of $176-180 million. The two-time NFL Most Valuable Player and six-time Pro Bowl selection’s new pact surpassed the five-year, $150 million deal recently signed by Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.
Mack left the Bay Area in Oakland to play in the Windy City, signing the richest contract for a defensive player in NFL history with a six-year, $141 million extension.
Chicago paid a steep price for Mack, parting ways with first-round draft picks in 2019 and 2020, a third-rounder in 2020 and a sixth-rounder in 2019. In return, the Bears received Mack and second- and fifth-round picks in 2020.
“He makes this defense just a little bit more ferocious,” Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks said. “It’s just, well, shoot, a lot bit more ferocious.
“He’s just that player, and I think he’s going to make us just that much more feared.”
First-year head coach Matt Nagy said the Bears will be “smart” in utilizing Mack as a pass rusher against Rodgers, who is returning after missing nine games during the 2017 season after breaking his collarbone.
Rodgers said his new contract isn’t going to keep him from pursuing his ultimate goal: another Super Bowl.
“Obviously, my financial commitment is such that I feel good about my place on the team in the next few years, but that’s not the type of player I am, to just rely on something like that,” he said. “I want to go out and prove that I’m still an elite payer in this league, and if I do that then I’ll feel good (that) I’ve got the opportunity to finish my career in Green Bay.”
Rodgers has flustered the Bears by winning 15 of his 19 career encounters, completing 409 of 604 passes for 4,596 yards with 42 touchdowns against just nine interceptions. More recently, Rodgers has 22 touchdown passes and only one interception in his last seven meetings with the Bears.
The 34-year-old Rodgers won’t have trusted target Jordy Nelson, who departed to Oakland in free agency.
Green Bay’s offense still features fellow wide receivers Davante Adams and Randall Cobb in addition to offseason acquisition Jimmy Graham, who left the Pacific Northwest to sign a three-year contract. Graham, who is listed at 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds, led all tight ends with 10 touchdown receptions last season with the Seattle Seahawks.
The Packers feature a running back-by-committee approach, with Jamaal Williams leading the way in 2017. Williams had 818 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns (four rushing, two receiving) during his rookie season. Versatile Ty Montgomery will be utilized in the passing game while Aaron Jones will sit out the first contest of his two-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on substance abuse.
A 7-9 season in 2017 forced changes for the Packers, who are looking to ignite an offense that ranked 26th in yardage and 21st in scoring last season. Those numbers were skewed due to the absence of Rodgers.
Joe Philbin was hired as Green Bay’s offensive coordinator in January while Mike Pettine was named the defensive coordinator after the club finished 22nd in the NFL in total defense.
Chicago quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is entering his second season with a bit more freedom after throwing for 2,193 yards and seven touchdowns in 12 starts.
Wideout Allen Robinson joined the Bears in free agency and is bidding to return from a torn ACL in his left knee that he sustained on the third play from scrimmage in last season’s opener with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Fellow wideout Taylor Gabriel joins tight end Trey Burton — of “Philly Special” fame in Super Bowl LII — as new weapons in Chicago’s offensive arsenal.
Running back Jordan Howard ran for 1,124 yards and tied for third in the NFL with nine rushing touchdowns. He will be paired with the shifty Tarik Cohen, an elusive player who can open up the offense and benefit from Nagy’s imagination.
“I mean, what’s not to like about this offense?” Trubisky said. “There’s a lot of options. We throw the ball around a lot and we’re going to balance it out with a great running game.”
Nagy replaced John Fox at the helm after the Bears finished in the cellar of the NFC North for the third consecutive season. Fox finished with a 14-34 mark during that time.