By JOE REEDY – AP sportswriter
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Since last season’s disappointing end, Los Angeles Chargers general manager Tom Telesco and coach Brandon Staley have spoken about improving a defense that hasn’t lived up to expectations.
The Bolts make that first move by adding another top-flight pass rusher, pairing with Joey Bosa.
The Chargers agreed to acquire Khalil Mack from the Chicago Bears in exchange for two draft picks, two people familiar with the negotiations confirmed to The Associated Press on Thursday. People spoke on condition of anonymity because the trade cannot become official before the new league year begins on Wednesday.
The Chargers are expected to send a second-round pick to the Bears this year and a sixth-round pick in 2023 for the three-time All-Pro defenseman.
Staley said during last week’s NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis that the defensive line and the secondary would be areas of focus during free agency and the draft.
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Los Angeles, 9-8 last season, started 4-1 but missed the playoffs for the third straight season, winning just one straight game past Week 5 and losing three of their last four games.
A big reason for the Chargers’ struggles on the track was their defense. Staley brought in an offensive 3-4 scheme that made the Rams the highest-ranked unit in 2020, but he didn’t match the results with the Chargers, who finished 23rd on total defense and third-worst against the run.
The Chargers allowed 269 points after the halftime, the most since 1991 with the 2015 New Orleans Saints. The 138.9 yards per game allowed on the ground was the worst by a Chargers defense since 2003.
Offensives converted 49.5% of their third-down opportunities, the third-highest rate since 1991.
Bosa had 10 1/2 sacks in the Pro Bowl for the fourth time in his six-year career. But Los Angeles finished in 20th place with 35 sacks and was mid-table in the league with 21 takeaways.
“I overestimated where we could be with that because I love the scheme, I love the system and I love the coaching staff. We have a lot to do,” Telesco said of the unit at the end of last season.
The move will reunite Staley with Mack. Staley was Mack’s linebacker coach when the Bears acquired Mack from the Raiders in the 2018 preseason.
When Staley was hired by the Chargers last January, he credited working with Mack as helping him tremendously in his development as a coach.
“I learned a lot more from Khalil Mack than he did from me,” Staley said at the time. “I gained a lot of confidence in being able to coach a guy like him, and I think that in that first season in Chicago and that first experience, I felt like I could do that one day.”
Mack, who turned 31 on February 22, is entering his ninth NFL season. He was the Raiders’ fifth overall pick of the 2014 draft and was The Associated Press’s 2016 Defensive Player of the Year. He was traded to the Bears in the 2018 preseason following a contract dispute.
The Bears decided to make big changes after losing 6-11 and missing the playoffs for the ninth time in 11 years. He fired general manager Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy and replaced them with Ryan Poles and Matt Eberflus.
Trading Mack for draft capital is the first major move by the new roster overhaul regime.
Pace’s acquisition of Mack in a blockbuster trade with Oakland just before the start of the 2018 season helped transform a solid defense into an elite unit and propelled the Bears to the NFC North championship in Nagy’s freshman year. Mack was an All-Pro with 12 1/2 sacks this season and helped Chicago make the playoffs for the first time since 2010, going 12-4. But the Bears lost a wild-card game at Soldier Field to Philadelphia.
Chicago has never won a playoff game with Mack. And his production declined after that season: He had 8 1/2 sacks in 2019 and nine the following year.
Mack got off to a good start last season with six sacks in seven games. But a foot injury in Week 3 against Cleveland resulted in him being placed on season-ending injured reserve and undergoing surgery in November.
Mack has three seasons left on his contract, which is valued at $63.9 million. Chicago will have a $24 million dead space on the salary cap in 2022 as prorated bonuses ramp up to this year’s cap.
After Mike Williams signed a three-year, $60 million contract earlier this week, the Chargers will have two of the top six wide receivers and two of the top three edge rushers on average annual pay.
AP sportswriter Andrew Seligman contributed.
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