Bears losing DE Willie Young changes the math on need at pass rusher


Bears losing DE Willie Young changes the math on need at pass rusher

INDIANAPOLIS – It might pass almost unnoticed amid other Bears news coming out of day one at the annual NFL Scouting Combine, things like the plan for scheduling the release quarterback Mike Glennon and the latest takes on the growing (hopefully) synergy between GM Ryan Pace and new coach Matt Nagy.

But the Bears parted ways with defensive end (“Don’t call me a linebacker!”) Willie Young on Wednesday after a source said the two sides couldn’t agree on a reduced contract for the lineman who’d led the Bears in sacks over the past four years (26) and had emerged as one of the emotional leaders of a team he believed was on the rise. He and defensive end Akiem Hicks had dinner together with Leonard Floyd every week, so perhaps it shouldn’t be a complete surprise that from that group came basically the core of the Bears’ pass rush.

The painful (literally) fact is that the Bears finished the 2018 season with three (Young, Floyd, Pernell McPhee) of their top four pass-rush linebackers on injured reserve and the fourth – Lamarr Houston – cut in preseason after finishing two of the previous three seasons on IR and only brought back in-season last year because of injuries to the others.

But losing Young suddenly establishes rush-linebacker as the No. 1 need this offseason, a position group that, pending further offseason roster trims and additions in free agency, has even less under contract (Floyd, who’s missed 10 games over his two seasons) than wide receiver (Cam Meredith, Kevin White) or cornerback (Marcus Cooper, Cre’Von LeBlanc). And in the scheme of importance, pass rusher trails only quarterback on a roster.

“As we go forward we're always going to be looking for pass rushers,” Pace said. “Outside linebacker is an important position for this defense and it's something we'll be mindful of as we go through this process.”

Young projected to be a situational pass rusher, but the Bears operate so much in sub packages that most of their front seven could be called “situational.” But losing Young took away a quality veteran influence as well as production, and in the process just turned up the pressure on Pace to staff the position that defines Vic Fangio’s 3-4 scheme.

While the defense struggles this offseason to fill a couple of gaping holes (edge rusher, cornerback), word is that the Bears are getting close on deals to cement in place two defensive cornerstones brought in under Pace’s first (2015) draft: safety Adrian Amos and nose tackle Eddie Goldman.

“Those are the things we’re talking about now behind the scenes, different extensions beyond the player acquisition period,” Pace confirmed.

The Bears have a lot – a LOT – of money available for free agents. As mentioned here before, however, so do a lot – a LOT – of other teams, meaning that prices could spiral up to stupid for elite positions like cornerback, or pass rusher. And here’s where having a budding core of young talent – not enough, obviously, from looking at all of 14 wins in three years – and as much money as possible really do matter.

Pace and the Bears have missed badly gambling on free agents with injury smudges on their records – McPhee, Eddie Royal, Quintin Demps (three 16-game seasons in a 10-year career), Markus Wheaton. Because of roster trims made and to come, and overall cap management, the Bears have the money to shop top-shelf and not scrounge for bargains.

Or overpay in guarantees to secure those talents. The Bears settled last offseason for Marcus Cooper, who’d had played all 16 games just once in his four previous seasons, because they didn’t have the coach-quarterback foundation that A.J. Bouye and Stephon Gilmore found in Jacksonville and New England, respectively, along with playoff checks.

“I think there’s always risk in free agency,” Pace said. “We talked about that. A lot of times guys become free agents for a reason and we’re mindful of that. And I think as we continue to build our roster more and more through the draft, maybe we won’t have to supplement as much in free agency.

“But we have to be mindful of that. It is risky. We’ve done a good job of structuring the contracts where we can get out of some of these. But it’s kind of treacherous waters and we have to be careful as we go through this. I think having familiarity with some of these players – we have coaches from multiple other teams. Even in the draft, we now have college coaches on our staff that have background with some of these players. I think that helps the process.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Who should the Bears sign, Allen Hurns or Cam Meredith?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Who should the Bears sign, Allen Hurns or Cam Meredith?

On this episode of SportsTalk Live, Patrick Finley (Chicago Sun-Times), Chris Emma (670 The Score) and Ben Finfer join Luke Stuckmeyer on the panel.

Allen Robinson’s former Jaguars teammate is a free agent. Would signing Allen Hurns make sense for the Bears?

Plus, Loyola has traffic problems on the Road to the Final Four and the guys debate the biggest need for the Blackhawks heading into a long offseason.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Kyle Fuller believes he's a Top 5 cornerback in the NFL

USA Today

Kyle Fuller believes he's a Top 5 cornerback in the NFL

Kyle Fuller caused a bit of a panic late Friday afternoon when a report dropped that he signed an offer sheet with the Green Bay Packers. For a few hours, the prospect — even if it was always unlikely — of the Bears losing their best cornerback to their arch rivals to the north loomed over Chicago. 

For Fuller, though, he said he barely had time to think about the possibility of cashing in on his breakout 2017 season with the Packers. The Bears quickly matched the offer sheet, officially announcing the four-year deal Tuesday that makes Fuller one of the highest-paid cornerbacks in the NFL. 

“It was crazy not really knowing what to expect,” Fuller said. “I would have never expected it. But when (the Packers’ offer sheet) came, it was definitely something to consider, just on the business side of it. At the end of the day, how it all played out, I’m definitely happy.”

Fuller sounded like someone who took a more passive role to his quasi-restricted free agency that was set about when the Bears placed the transition tag on him, allowing them to match any offer sheet that he were to sign. Fuller said he didn’t know all the details of what was going on with offer sheets coming in and negotiations with the Bears.

“I kinda was just getting the information from (my agents) and going with the flow of everything and knowing that at the end of the day it would end up working out,” Fuller said. 

The $14 million average annual value of Fuller’s contract ranks fifth among cornerbacks, behind only Washington’s Josh Norman ($15 million), New York’s Trumaine Johnson ($14.5 million) Minnesota’s Xavier Rhodes ($14.02 million) and Arizona’s Patrick Peterson ($14.01 million), according to Spotrac. 

Fuller said he considers himself a top-five cornerback in the league, and he played like someone who could wind up in that discussion in 2017. The 2014 first-round pick was one of four players to break up 20 or more passes last year, and he picked off two passes in December while providing excellent support against the run. 

“We could not be happier to have Kyle under contract for four more years,” general manager Ryan Pace said. “We feel he is an ascending player on our top 10 defense and we look forward to him having many more productive seasons here in Chicago.”