He was the reigning NFL defensive player of the year, newly signed by the Rams to a record-setting extension and part of a star-studded roster built for a Super Bowl run.
That did not stop team executives, before the 2018 season, from exploring the possibility of giving star tackle Aaron Donald another running mate to terrorize offenses.
Khalil Mack was at a contract impasse with the then-Oakland Raiders. The Rams made inquiries about trading for the outside linebacker, but any projected first-round draft picks they could offer in a potential deal were apparently deemed too low.
A day after Donald set the market with his $135-milion extension, the Raiders sent Mack to the Chicago Bears for two first-round picks, a third-round pick and a sixth-round pick. Mack then broke Donald’s record by signing a $141-million extension.
Donald and Mack are expected to showcase their talents in the same NFL game for the fourth time when the Rams play the Bears on “Monday Night Football” at SoFi Stadium.
Donald said Friday that he was acquainted with Mack.
“We talk a little bit here and there,” Donald said during a videoconference with reporters. “He seems like a cool guy. Laid-back guy.”
Donald has a league-leading 7½ sacks for a Rams team aiming to rebound from Sunday’s 24-16 defeat to the San Francisco 49ers. They neutralized Donald with an effective rushing attack and an emphasis on quick-release passes.
Mack has 4½ sacks for the Bears (5-1). He had one sack in Sunday’s 23-16 victory over the Carolina Panthers, but did not practice Friday because of a knee issue, according to the Bears injury report.
Donald, the 13th pick in the 2014 draft, has 79½ career sacks, including 20½ he amassed in 2018 when he won his second consecutive defensive player of the year award.
Mack, chosen fifth in 2014, was voted defensive player of the year in 2016. He has 66 sacks.
Rams coach Sean McVay said both Donald and Mack play with “a relentless motor” on every snap.
“You see a lot of these splash players, sometimes if you really watch them snap-in snap-out, you’re saying, ‘You know, are you really just digging deep when you’ve got a chance to accumulate some stats? Or are you playing dirty on some of the early downs as well?'
“And both these guys do that.”
In 2014, when the Rams played in St. Louis, Donald had a sack in a 52-0 victory over the Raiders.
Two years ago, Mack had a sack and forced a fumble in the Bears’ 15-6 victory over the Rams at Soldier Field.
Last season, Donald had two sacks in a 17-7 victory over the Bears at the Coliseum. Mack played 46 snaps but did not record a tackle during a game in which the Rams attempted only 18 passes.
Mack is part of a formidable pass rush that also includes end Akiem Hicks and outside linebacker Robert Quinn, among others. Hicks did not practice Thursday or Friday because of an illness.
Donald is looking forward to helping the Rams (4-2) bounce back from the loss to the 49ers. But the presence of Mack, or any other elite pass rusher on an opposing team, does not fuel him with extra excitement.
“You go into a game every week with the same mindset, no matter who you're playing against or who's on the opposite side,” he said. “Every week you want to show up and have a big day, regardless of who you are playing against.”
Receiver Robert Woods (groin), tight end Tyler Higbee (hand) and running back Darrell Henderson did not practice but are expected to play against the Bears. McVay said he was not overly concerned about Higbee and Woods missing practice because they are experienced pros. Henderson is in his second season. “Like to be able to have Darrell out there because I think he’s still in that mode of the accumulation of reps is important to him,” McVay said. McVay indicated that all would be available for Monday’s game. “That’s the anticipation, that they’ll be good to go,” he said. … Defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson practiced for a second time since he was taken off the non-football injury list. ... Veteran kicker Kai Forbath, who played at UCLA, is scheduled to arrive Sunday. Inside linebacker Kenny Young, also a former Bruin, joked that it will be good to have another Bruin on the team to offset chatter from position coach Joe Barry, who played and coached at USC. “I’m tired of hearing Joe B talk about the damn Trojans,” Young said, laughing.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.