Even with Dontrelle Inman, are Bears adding right skill sets around Mitch Trubisky?

Even with Dontrelle Inman, are Bears adding right skill sets around Mitch Trubisky?

The Bears addressed their desperate need for talent at wide receiver in some measure on Wednesday, trading a conditional late-round draft choice to the Los Angeles Chargers for wideout Dontrelle Inman. The result is an instant upgrade to the quiver of options available to quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

But while Inman fills an immediate vacancy – a big (6-3) wideout with some credentials (93 receptions over the past two seasons) — something of a shadow still falls over the future of the position in general: specifically, what kind of wideout skill set should the Bears be prioritizing? Because the Bears, along with a sizeable portion of the NFL, may be too often shopping in the wrong aisle for that talent as they contemplate building around Trubisky.

The point is, what single trait, beyond the obvious of just being able to catch a football and basic production, is most critical. Is it the ability to win “50-50 balls,” the ability to go up and win contested passes? Inman at 6-3 trends in that direction.

Or is “separation,” the quick-twitch burst to create a window of opportunity for the quarterback and decrease the chances of a contested ball in the first place? Inman has a 40-yard-dash range of 4.47-4.53 sec., which is straight-ahead speed.

Both types theoretically work, and an easy answer is to conclude that offenses need both tall and short.

But with an accurate quarterback, which the Bears believe they have in Trubisky, the preference may be receivers who gain separation for a quarterback who can deliver the ball to them and let them run (see: Hill, Tyreek). Tom Brady, a standard for accuracy, reached Super Bowls with Deion Branch, Troy Brown, Julian Edelman, David Givens, David Patten, Wes Welker – none taller than 6 feet.

“Open” in the NFL can lie the vertical, as in tall, or horizontal, as in separation. Right now, Trubisky and the Bears would probably settle for either.

Fixated on size?

A premium has been placed on big/6-2-plus receivers when drafting or searching for talent. Alshon Jeffery (6-3). Brandon Marshall (6-4). Kevin White (6-3), Cameron Meredith (6-3). But eight of the top 11 wide receivers for catches this year are 6 feet or under, including three of the top four (Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown, Miami’s Jarvis Landry, Carolina’s Christian McCaffery). Six of the top 10 catch leaders last season were under six feet. None of those groups contain Bryant, who was suspended for 2016 besides being 6-4.

The record for most catches in the first three NFL seasons (288) is shared by former LSU teammates Odell Beckham Jr. and Landry – both 5-11.

The Bears arguably may have been trending toward smaller/quicker in their priority receiver additions of Markus Wheaton (5-11) and Kendall Wright (5-10). With Meredith and White and now Inman, plus a collection of redwoods at tight end (Dan Brown, Zach Miller, Dion Sims, Adam Shaheen, all at least 6-4)) already in place, the Bears already had checked the height box.

From another perspective, recalling a piece I did some time ago, consider: The career length for bigger NFL backs (225 pounds or heavier) has been shown to be demonstrably shorter than that of smaller, quicker backs. The chief reason cited by players and coaches then was obvious, that bigger backs are less elusive and, while they can deliver physical blows with their greater mass, they also absorb more high-impact hits.

Now apply that measure very loosely to wide receivers, where the Bears have seen White (6-3, 211) suffer through three straight truncated seasons because of broken bones, and lost Meredith (6-3, 207) to a torn ACL in preseason. Consider this an extremely unofficial connection, however: Beckham and Edelman are both on IR, as is ironman Brandon Marshall, although Edelman has average 12 games per year for his eight seasons, and Marshall never played fewer than 13 in his 11 seasons prior to this year.

But Inman comes with an injury bill of particulars that include issues with an ankle (Dec. 2016), sports hernia (offseason surgery), groin (Sept. 2017) and hamstring (Oct. 2017).

The overarching consideration will always come back to production. But for a young quarterback needing downfield weapons, the Bears still need to determine exactly which type of wide receiver offers Trubisky the best chance of them.

Do you realize just how many things have to break right for a Bears 2018 rebound?


Do you realize just how many things have to break right for a Bears 2018 rebound?

Not all that long ago, back in the seemingly promising Dave Wannstedt days, something of an annual narrative began around the Bears. All too frequently since then it has been the refrain of more offseasons than not, including last year’s. And if there is a cause for very, very sobering realism in the wake of the heady wave of free-agency signings in the first days of the new league year, it lies in what has so often transpired to put the lie to that optimism.

The mantra then, and now, has been various iterations of, “If these three (or four, or six, or 12) things work out, the Bears are gonna be good this year.” Because the reality is that all those what-ifs seldom, if ever, all come to pass, whether because of injury, mis-evaluated abilities or whatever.

Look no further than this time last offseason, just considering the offense:

If Kevin White can come back from (another) injury, if Markus Wheaton flashes his Pittsburgh speed, if Dion Sims takes that next step from a promising Miami stint, if Kyle Long is back from his lower-body issues, if Cameron Meredith comes close to those 66 catches again, if Mike Glennon has the upside that led the GM to guarantee him $18.5 million, and hey, Victor Cruz, too, if… and so on.

And exactly zero of those “if’s” came to pass, with the result that John Fox and Dowell Loggains became idiots.

The point is not to a picker of nit or sayer of nay. But the fact is that a lot of the offseason moves and player development ALL need to come down in the plus-column for the Bears to be even as good as they were back in, say, 2015, when the offense had Martellus Bennett at tight end, Alshon Jeffery at wide receiver, Eddie Royal coming in at slot receiver (with 37 catches in an injury-shortened season), Kyle Long at his Pro-Bowl best, and Jay Cutler about to have the best full season of his career. And a new (proven) head coach and defensive coordinator, and an offensive coordinator with head-coaching talent.

All those things “worked” for a team that would wobble to a 6-10 year.

Now consider 2018:

The current top two wide receivers are both – both – coming off season-ending ACL injuries;

The incoming slot receiver has never had a season as reception-productive as the one (Kendall Wright) he is replacing (59) or as many as Royal had in just nine 2015 games (37);

The new tight end has never been a starter and has fewer career catches (63) than Bennett averaged (69) in three supremely disappointing Bears seasons;

The best offensive lineman (Long) is coming off missing essentially half of each of the past two seasons with injuries, and the co-best (Sitton) is gone from an offensive line that was middle of the pack last year and has high hopes for two linemen (Hroniss Grasu, Eric Kush) who’ve been largely backups, and a third (Jordan Morgan) who missed his rookie season with an injury;

And the quarterback (Trubisky) upon whom the franchise rests, who needs to overcome any so-called sophomore jinx and improve from a rookie level (77.8 passer rating) that was barely better than Cutler’s worst NFL season (76.8).

All of which sounds negative, but it really isn’t, just a perspective. Offseasons are about hope, but realism isn’t all bad, either.

In moving forward with Dion Sims, the Bears will keep a mix of skillsets at tight end

USA Today

In moving forward with Dion Sims, the Bears will keep a mix of skillsets at tight end

When the Bears signed Trey Burton to a four-year contract worth a reported $32 million (with $18 million of it guaranteed), the natural thought was this: So long, Dion Sims. But the Bears are all but certainly going to hang on to the 27-year-old tight end after his $4 million roster bonus became fully guaranteed on Friday, barring a trade. 

“We like Dion Sims, a well-rounded tight end,” general manager Ryan Pace said on Thursday. “We’re excited we got him.”

Cynically — or, perhaps, fairly — Pace’s comments could’ve been interpreted as part of a play to trade Sims, who signed a three-year contract in 2017. The Bears saw Sims as a strong run blocker with pass-catching upside, but still gave themselves an out after one year that would’ve netted $5.666 million in cap savings. 

Sims didn’t show any of that receiving upside last year, though, catching 15 of 29 targets (51 percent) for 180 yards with one touchdown. Crucially, the Bears have the cap space to keep Sims, even with the flurry of signings they’ve announced this week -- and Kyle Fuller's reported four-year, $56 million extension -- and contract extensions looming for Eddie Goldman and possibly Adrian Amos, too. 

So hanging on to Sims means the Bears value his contributions as a run blocker and are willing to shoulder a $6.3 million cap hit for him to primarily be used in that role. The Bears expect Shaheen to be their primary in-line tight end, with Burton and Daniel Brown, who signed a one-year contract Friday, the more pass-catching-oriented “move” guys in Matt Nagy’s offense. But Sims will still have a role as the Bears look to maximize their production from the tight end position. 

“I think we can use all our tight ends,” Pace said. “I think the Super Bowl champions are a recent example of that, of using a lot of tight ends. They’re all valuable weapons. They’re all a little different. I think they all complement each other. It fits together nicely.”