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With acquisition of Khalil Mack, Chargers defense starts to take Brandon Staley shape

Chicago Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack points at someone during a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in October.
The Chicago Bears have agreed to trade outside linebacker Khalil Mack to the Chargers in exchange for future draft picks.
(Jason Behnken / Associated Press)
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Since the end of the season, Brandon Staley has been open about the need to reshape the Chargers’ defensive personnel into something that more closely aligns with his desires.

The team and its second-year head coach took a significant step in that direction Friday, agreeing on a trade to acquire three-time All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack from Chicago.

The deal, contingent on Mack passing a physical, can’t be deemed official until the new league year begins at 1 p.m. PT Wednesday. The Chargers have agreed to send the Bears a second-round draft pick this year and a sixth-rounder in 2023.

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Staley was Mack’s position coach with the Bears in 2018, a season during which Mack finished with 12½ sacks and earned his most recent All-Pro recognition. He finished runner-up to the Rams’ Aaron Donald as the top defender in the league.

This reunion is a strong indication of Staley’s influence on the Chargers’ personnel decisions as the league moves toward the start of the free-agent negotiating period at 9 a.m. Monday.

It also marks a bold first strike for a franchise not content to wait for the opening of the free market to address its needs and a dramatic departure for general manager Tom Telesco.

Entering his 10th season, Telesco had almost no history of dealing draft picks for players. His most recent such trade came in July of 2017 when he sent a seventh-round selection to Buffalo for quarterback Cardale Jones.

Brandon Staley seems to have a good amount of influence on roster decisions, and the acquisition of Khalil Mack fits with Chargers coach’s vision for the defense.

March 10, 2022

Telesco’s oft-stated strategy has been to build through drafting and developing, while supplementing the roster with free agency and trades.

His desire to now complete a transition of this magnitude also points to the presence and impact of Staley. Telesco has talked repeatedly in recent weeks about the Chargers’ ability to be aggressive this offseason given their advantageous salary-cap position.

So, not quite a month after the Rams — the Chargers’ L.A. rivals — won Super Bowl LVI with a celebrated “all-in” approach, the Chargers launched their apparent rebuttal.

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Mack, who turned 31 last month, will team with Joey Bosa to give Staley a pair of accomplished pass rushers. Mack is a six-time Pro Bowler who missed only two games through his first seven NFL seasons.

But he was limited to seven games in 2021 because of a foot injury that eventually required surgery and ended his season in late October.

The Chargers struggled to consistently harass quarterbacks in their first year running Staley’s scheme. They finished 18th in the NFL in pressures (156) and tied for 20th in sacks (35).

Wide receiver Mike Williams credits the Chargers’ coaching staff for increasing his role and and his reward is a new contract with the team.

March 9, 2022

Problems stopping the run and holding opponents on third down torpedoed a season in which the Chargers still finished 9-8 and missed the playoffs because of a Las Vegas field goal on the final play of Week 18.

In the aftermath, Staley explained that defenses evolve on different timelines and noted that injuries led to many of the Chargers’ issues. Adding a player of Mack’s ability — and one who understands the system — should expedite that evolution.

Mack has three seasons remaining on a six-year extension he signed in September of 2018. His base salaries are $17.75 million in 2022, $22.9 million in ’23 and $23.25 million in ’24.

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By pairing Mack with Bosa, the Chargers also a reloading to face an AFC West now fat with notable starting quarterbacks. Along with Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Las Vegas’ Derek Carr, Denver is trading for Russell Wilson.

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