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Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack: $177M and worth every (guaranteed) penny – Chicago Bears Blog

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The saga lasted 18 months, included two training camp holdouts and endless speculation whether Aaron Donald sought to be paid quarterback money. But at last, 10 days before the 2018 season opener, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year signed a six-year, $135 million contract extension with the Los Angeles Rams, including $87 million guaranteed, to become the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history.

That title lasted less than a day. Then Khalil Mack stole at least part of Donald’s thunder.

After a contentious holdout throughout the preseason, the Oakland Raiders traded Mack to the Chicago Bears in exchange for first-round picks in 2019 and 2020, a third-round pick in 2020 and a sixth-round pick in 2020. Then the Bears awarded Mack with a six-year, $141 million extension, with $90 million guaranteed, and made him the highest-paid defensive player in league history.

“I’m just happy that my situation got done and that I’m here playing football,” Donald said a day after Mack signed his deal, when asked about being the highest-paid defensive player for only a day. “That’s all that matters.”

Donald and Mack have proved to be worth every bit of their colossal deals, elevating the defenses for two of the NFC’s best teams and Super Bowl contenders. As they share a stage in a big Week 14 matchup on Sunday night, here’s a look at just how special each player has been this season.


Aaron Donald

Rams quarterback Jared Goff said Donald was “unlike anything” he’d ever seen. Receiver Brandin Cooks took his description a step further, calling Donald “a freak.” But no one put Donald’s worth in terms as simple as safety John Johnson III: “He should be in the MVP talk.”

Donald leads the NFL with 16.5 sacks, and his late-game dominance has proved to be the difference in several close games. Donald sacked Kirk Cousins to secure a win over the Vikings. He pressured Russell Wilson into a haphazard pass to end a Seattle Seahawks last-chance drive. He strip-sacked Patrick Mahomes twice in an epic Monday Night Football showdown. And on Sunday, Donald shed two blockers, then strip-sacked Matthew Stafford to put the Rams in control over the Lions on the way to securing a division title.

“He’s getting there at the most important times,” coach Sean McVay said. “And that’s what we talk about all the time, that competitive greatness. Being your best when your best is required. He’s kind of the epitome of that right now for our defense.”


Khalil Mack

Vic Fangio inherited one of the NFL’s worst defenses when he took over as the Bears’ defensive coordinator in 2015 under then-head coach John Fox. With the team adding talent and the veteran Fangio calling the shots, the defense improved under his watch, but it has taken a giant leap with the addition of Mack. That’s what a dominant pass-rusher can do for a defense.

And it’s not just Mack’s impact on the field that has been a difference-maker. “He’s the richest man in the NFL, and you’d think maybe he’d coast and still play good,” Bears defensive end Aaron Lynch told ESPN earlier this season. “But he’s still playing like he’s trying to get another $140 million contract. So that’s what’s cool for me, personally. Seeing how he still takes it so seriously.”


Donald’s Rams vs. Mack’s Bears

Donald is among the first players to deflect his success and credit the effort of the entire defense. There’s no doubt his production is aided in part by the presence of first-round picks Ndamukong Suh and Michael Brockers. But Donald is a one-man wrecking crew. He’s rarely left without a double-team, but even when he’s faced with two blockers, he’ll find a way to disrupt the passer. Donald has played in 89.4 percent of the defensive snaps this season, most of any player on the line. “Aaron’s special, he really is,” McVay said. “He’s done an excellent job.”

Mack doesn’t get the double-team attention as often as Donald because Mack is an edge rusher, where he has lined up 99 percent of the time. While Mack leads the Bears in QB pressures, he has more help than Donald. The Bears have seven players with 10-plus QB pressures, tied for second in the NFL behind the New York Jets (eight). The Rams are tied for the sixth fewest with five players. And while Donald has more QB pressures than Mack, the Bears feature a bit more balance than the Rams.


What’s being said about them

On Mack: “Khalil is great, one of the best, he understands what the job is, we get sacks, we have to make game-changing plays. No matter how many people chip you, double-teams, whatever, you have to get sacks no matter what. Khalil is strong, he’s got that power. [The offensive linemen] are bigger than you, big reach, you have to create that power sometimes to get an opening and he does that.” — Von Miller on Mack, who has attended the Broncos star’s pass-rush summit in the offseason.

On Donald: “You knew right from the start, beyond the physical things everyone sees, he was always going to work beyond anything most people do. He’d be on the phone as a rookie even, telling me, ‘just got done working out’ and he was planning on going back for more. You put that in an interior rusher with that kind of explosiveness, hands and power and you ain’t going to block him. He’s going to wreck what you’re doing. You don’t get a chance to be around many guys like that, I’ve been fortunate to have been, but he will always be on that list.” — Longtime NFL coach Dave McGinnis, who was a Rams assistant when they drafted Donald.

ESPN reporters Lindsey Thiry and Jeff Legwold contributed to this story.

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As season’s end nears, no surprise by league’s top rookie – NFL Nation

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We’re almost to the end of the regular season, with multiple teams jockeying for playoff position. Many of those teams will rely on rookies in major roles. That includes the Los Angeles Chargers and top rookie Derwin James.

From game analysis and discussions with personnel evaluators, here’s a look at the top 10 rookies so far this season.

Top 10 (stats are Weeks 1-15 combined)

Stats: 93 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 INTs

Previous ranking: 1

As the Chargers make a push for home-field advantage in the AFC — the team has won 10 of its past 11 games — James continues to be the most versatile option defensive coordinator Gus Bradley can move anywhere in the formation. Some opposing offensive coaches have tracked him at five different positions as they prepared to play the Chargers.

Stats: 146 tackles, 7 sacks, 1 INT

Previous ranking: 2

He was credited with 11 tackles, including one for loss, and knocked down passes in the Colts’ 23-0 win over the Dallas Cowboys — the first time the Cowboys had been shut out since 2003. The guy has sacked the quarterback once in every four times he has rushed, and he added a recovery of a blocked field goal to his résumé in the win over the Cowboys.

Stats: 51 tackles, 12 sacks, 2 FF

Previous ranking: 3

The Broncos have asked Chubb to hold the edge in the run game, and he has dropped into coverage from time to time as well. He has usually been assignment-sound in all he has been told to do, and he continues to impact things in the rush. He needs 2.5 sacks in the last two games to tie Jevon Kearse’s rookie record set in 1999.

4. QB Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns

Stats: 3,065 yards passing, 21 TDs, 11 INTs

Previous ranking: 4

The Browns are clinging to wafer-thin playoff chances with four wins in the past five games, including Saturday night, when the Broncos held Mayfield to 18-of-31 passing. But Mayfield went 4-of-4 for 39 yards and a touchdown on what turned out to be the game-winning drive early in the fourth quarter.

Stats: 1,155 yards rushing, 13 total TDs

Previous ranking: 5

Barkley was held to 31 yards rushing by the Titans this past Sunday — his second-lowest rushing total of the season — but his 170 yards rushing on just 14 carries in Week 14 were a season best.

Stats: 108 tackles, 4 sacks, 1 INT

Previous ranking: 9

Rare athleticism and savvy have been consistently on display in a Bears defense that locked down the Rams in Week 14 and is now among the league’s top four in scoring defense, total defense, sacks, forced fumbles and interceptions. Khalil Mack gets much of the attention, but Smith has had a huge role in Chicago’s run to the divisional title.

Stats: 117 tackles, 7 PD, 2 INTs

Previous ranking: 7

Vander Esch has already set the team’s record for tackles by a rookie, and the Cowboys will now try to work Sean Lee back into the lineup (Lee’s hamstring injury forced Vander Esch into a starting role). Lee played seven snaps against the Colts on Sunday — his first game since Nov. 5 — but Vander Esch has been key in the Cowboys’ push to win the NFC East.

Stats: 991 yards rushing, 10 total TDs

Previous ranking: 6

In back-to-back Broncos losses, Lindsay was held to 30 and 24 yards rushing, but the body of work remains top-shelf this season. He’s fifth in the league in rushing, and his 5.4 yards per carry average is second in the league among qualifying backs.

Stats: No sacks allowed in six games

Previous ranking: 10

Nelson continues to draw raves from personnel executives around the league for his ability to finish. He has had some flags — nine penalties this season — but his awareness in and out of double-teams to go with his power at the point of attack is a rare combination.

10. CB Denzel Ward, Cleveland Browns

Stats: 48 tackles, 4 TFL, 3 INTs

Previous ranking: 8

Ward missed the past two games and most of a third with a concussion. Browns interim coach Gregg Williams said Monday that Ward remains in the league’s concussion protocol.

Close but not quite (totals are for 15 weeks)

49ers RT Mike McGlinchey (no holding penalties in 14 starts); Bengals S Jessie Bates (98 tackles, 3 INTs); Browns RB Nick Chubb (860 yards rushing, 5.2 yards per carry, 10 total TDs); Panthers CB Donte Jackson (62 tackles, 4 INTs, 1 sack); Texans S Justin Reid (75 tackles, 3 INTs, 1 TD); Packers CB Jaire Alexander (62 tackles, 1 INT, 11 PD); Bills LB Tremaine Edmunds (98 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 FF); 49ers LB Fred Warner (105 tackles, 1 FF); Falcons WR Calvin Ridley (56 catches, 699 yards, 8 TDs); Steelers S Terrell Edmunds (68 tackles, 4 PD); Giants DT B.J. Hill (45 tackles, 5 sacks); Titans LB Rashaan Evans (44 tackles, 2 TFL); Dolphins S Minkah Fitzpatrick (73 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 TD); Ravens T Orlando Brown Jr. (just three penalties); Titans LB Harold Landry (37 tackles, 3 TFL, 2.5 sacks).

Kickers need love, too

Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson, who was waived by the Vikings after missing three kicks in Week 2, continues to make the most of his second act. Carlson missed his second field goal attempt with the Raiders — a 45-yard attempt that hit the right upright in a Week 9 loss to the San Francisco 49ers — but he hasn’t missed since. He was 3-of-3 this past Sunday.

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Devin Bush of Michigan Wolverines to miss Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, enter NFL draft

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Michigan linebacker Devin Bush announced Wednesday that he will miss the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl because of a hip injury and is forgoing his senior season to enter April’s NFL draft.

Bush is ranked as the No. 8 prospect available for the draft by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and the No. 10 prospect by Todd McShay.

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Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz had separate stress fracture in back found his freshman year

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PHILADELPHIA – Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz had a separate stress fracture in his back that was discovered his freshman year at North Dakota State, according to a league source.

The injury was from his adolescence and was completely healed by the time he was in college, and is unrelated to Wentz’s current injury, the source said.

Wentz’s medical report, given to teams at the NFL Scouting Combine prior to the 2016 NFL Draft, referred to a healed stress fracture in his back, the Philadelphia Daily News first reported. While it was discovered in college, a league source clarified that the stress fracture had occurred prior to his playing days at North Dakota State. Wentz was a redshirt freshman when the fracture was discovered and it did not impact him on the collegiate level.

It also did not affect his draft stock, as he was selected No. 2 overall by the Eagles.

The current stress fracture was discovered following a CT scan last Tuesday, according to Eagles coach Doug Pederson. Wentz sat out last week’s game at the Los Angeles Rams and it appears he’ll be sidelined again Sunday, as Pederson has named Nick Foles the starter for the Eagles’ upcoming game against the Houston Texans.

“He’ll be listed as week-to-week. We will not put him on [injured reserve],” Pederson said of Wentz. “Obviously when he’s healthy, he’s our quarterback and we’ll go from there.”

Wentz was first listed on the injury report with a back issue in late October. He was feeling better symptom-wise as the season progressed, evidence of a healing process already underway, a source said.

Pederson noted the recovery period could be about three months, though that is not set in stone. Optimism remains that Wentz, who is coming off multiligament knee surgery, will not be hampered by the back issue long-term.

“The fact that he doesn’t need surgery on this, I mean, is the best news that you could possibly have on anybody that has a stress fracture or a stress injury in this case,” Pederson said last week. “As long as we take the proper steps to make sure that all our players are 100 percent, then [there is no long-term concern].”

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