How Baker Mayfield’s rising stock at the Senior Bowl presents some interesting scenarios for the Bears

USA Today

How Baker Mayfield’s rising stock at the Senior Bowl presents some interesting scenarios for the Bears

MOBILE, Ala. — The NFL Draft begins three months from today, so let’s stress this before we begin: We don’t know what is going to happen on April 26. That picture only barely began to come into focus this week in Alabama for the Senior Bowl.

But there are a few possible scenarios that began to develop during practice at Ladd-Peebles Stadium involving quarterbacks that could impact the Bears in April.

Consider this: Of the six teams picking ahead of the Bears in this year’s draft, four need quarterbacks. The Cleveland Browns (who have the Nos. 1 and 4 picks), New York Giants (No. 2), Denver Broncos and New York Jets all could be the market to draft a quarterback.

A year ago, there were four teams picking in the top 10 that also had a quarterback as a need: The Browns, San Francisco 49ers, Bears and Jets. The Bears were the only team of that group to draft a quarterback, and the Buffalo Bills traded out of the No. 10 pick to allow the Kansas City Chiefs to take Patrick Mahomes there. The Giants and Arizona Cardinals kicked their need for a quarterback a year down the road, while the Houston Texans traded up to No. 12 to draft DeShaun Watson.

This year’s group of teams that need a quarterback — which outside the top 10 could include Cincinnati, Washington, Arizona, the Los Angeles Chargers, Buffalo and New Orleans — won’t all necessarily take someone from the Sam Darnold/Josh Rosen/Josh Allen/Baker Mayfield/Mason Rudolph pool. But at the Senior Bowl this week, Mayfield’s boosted his stock, while Allen hasn’t been particularly impressive. But then there’s this:

Allen’s accuracy issues — he only completed 56.3 percent of his passing last year at Wyoming — were present during practice this week, but that arm strength could have some quarterback-driven coaches salivating. If Mayfield continues to impress outside of Mobile, he would force himself into being a top-10 pick alongside Darnold, Rosen and potentially Allen, too. 

Mayfield, of course, isn't in play for the Bears -- according to Sports Illustrated's Robert Klemko, he told them as much himself: "You guys just drafted Mitchell Trubisky," Klemko reported Mayfield told a Bears scout, "so what do you want with me?"

So here’s the scenario for the Bears: There are four quarterbacks who prove to be legit top-10 picks in the coming months. The extreme end of this is all four being off the board by the time the Bears pick at No. 8, which would put the Bears in an enviable position to have their pick of one of the following players: Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, North Carolina State edge rusher Bradley Chubb, Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson.

Not coincidentally, those five players comprise NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah’s top five prospects for the 2018 draft. The presence of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen may not make Barkley a realistic option, which could allow the Bears to trade down, but it’s also seems unlikely right now he’d fall to No. 8. Edmunds doesn’t necessarily fit the Bears’ need for an elite edge rusher, so No. 8 may be a stretch for him.

But if Chubb (the best edge rusher in this class, as of right now), Fitzpatrick (the best defensive back) or Nelson (the best offensive lineman) are available at No. 8, it’d be a coup for Ryan Pace to get one of them.

The more likely scenario is that a top quarterback is still on the board at No. 8, and the Bears swing a trade down in the draft to a team that needs a young quarterback (how about Washington if Kirk Cousins winds up somewhere else?). Adding a pick or two later on in the draft could help the Bears get a few more spins of the wheel at adding a productive wide receiver or cornerback.

There’s still plenty to play out between now and the combine in March, and the start of free agency shortly after, and then pro days later in March leading up to the draft in April. But as teams begin to leave Mobile, the quarterback scenarios — specifically, with Mayfield making a strong impression — that could impact the Bears are going to be fascinating to watch play out in the coming weeks and months.

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday. 

Bears cut ties with linebacker Jerrell Freeman

Bears cut ties with linebacker Jerrell Freeman

The Bears began their slew of offseason moves by releasing inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Freeman, 31, signed a three-year, $12 million deal with the Bears in 2016.

In his first year in Chicago he amassed 110 tackles in 12 games but was suspended four games for PED use. He played in just one game lsat season before suffering a pectoral injury that placed him on IR. He then tested positive again for a performance-enhancing drug, resulting in a 10-game suspension that bleeds over into 2018 for two more games, wherever he winds up.