Bears

Martavis Bryant wants a trade and the Bears need a receiver, but it's not as simple a match as that may seem

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USA Today

Martavis Bryant wants a trade and the Bears need a receiver, but it's not as simple a match as that may seem

Unless his role in the Steelers’ offense changes, Martavis Bryant wants out of Pittsburgh, according to ESPN’s Josina Anderson. No doubt ears perked up across Chicago — and perhaps too at Halas Hall — with these comments and Bryant’s various social media postings over the last 48 hours. 

The Bears need a wide receiver (or two), and Bryant ostensibly is doing whatever he can to make himself available before the NFL’s Oct. 31 trade deadline. But that doesn’t necessarily mean this is a match. A few thoughts here:

Why would Pittsburgh want to trade him?

NFL coaches hate drama and “distractions,” and Bryant has now seemingly caused both in Mike Tomlin’s locker room. But follow the money: Bryant isn’t a free agent until after the 2018 season and is making $615,000 this year and $705,000 next year, the final two seasons of the former fourth-rounder’s rookie contract. For perspective, his combined 2017-2018 salary of $1,320,000 is only slightly higher than the $1 million the Bears guaranteed to Kendall Wright this year; if Wright is active in all 16 games, he’ll make $2 million in 2017, according to Spotrac. Tre McBride’s salary in 2017 is $615,000, too, according to Spotrac. 

The point: Bryant is cheap, and it’s a lot easier to put up with a malcontent who isn’t being paid much than one who could be cut or traded for salary cap savings. Bryant’s representatives actually asked for him to be traded three weeks ago but the Steelers, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, have no plans to follow through on that request

While Bryant’s role has decreased with the emergence of second-round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster (26 targets, 17 receptions, 231 yards, three touchdowns), he’s still the third-most targeted player on the Steelers (36) behind Antonio Brown (84) and Le’Veon Bell (42), though that seems likely to change after Bryant was only targeted five times in his last two games. Pittsburgh is 5-2 and looks ticketed for the playoffs, so removing someone from their offense — even if that someone is disgruntled — who isn’t making much money and is under team control through 2018 doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. 

Why would the Bears want him?

The obvious answer to this question is the Bears need all the help they can get for a wide receiver unit that’s been targeted only five times (between two players — Wright and Tanner Gentry) on Mitchell Trubisky’s 23 throws in the last two weeks. Bryant is an explosive receiver who’s averaged 16.5 yards per reception and has 15 touchdowns since debuting with the Steelers in 2014. He’d certainly give opposing defenses pause in stacking the box with eight defenders against Jordan Howard. 

The upside here is making a win-now move to provide a jolt to the offense. It could be a low-risk move in a sense, maybe costing a seventh-rounder to get him, and then if he doesn’t work out, it wouldn’t hurt too much to cut him after the season. But there are downsides here.

First, if the Steelers are actually willing to trade Bryant — again, a cheap player who’s under team control for another year and a half — it could mean he’s *really* a problem in the locker room. And that’s a locker room full of veterans, led by Ben Roethlisberger (though offensive lineman Ramon Foster's comments may indicate a breaking point is near). 

Second, the Bears traded away two of their most productive offensive players — tight end Martellus Bennett and wide receiver Brandon Marshall — in recent years in the name of locker room harmony. John Fox is no different than most NFL coaches in not wanting drama in his locker room. Bryant was suspended by the NFL for the entire 2016 season for repeated drug violations, which raises a “character concerns” flag around the league. 

Third, if those concerns turn out not to be founded, and Bryant were to arrive in Lake Forest with a fresh outlook, another pressing question should be asked: Why did he lose his once-prominent role in the Steelers’ offense? 

We saw it first-hand in Chicago in Week 3, when Bryant burned Marcus Cooper downfield but had Roethlisberger’s deep heave glance of his fingertips. He’s only been targeted five times in Pittsburgh’s last two games, catching three passes for 30 yards. It’s worth questioning if Bryant’s year-long suspension has hurt his play in 2017. 

Bryant, too, has had success playing opposite Brown, one of the very best receivers (if not the best) in the NFL. How would he handle being the No. 1 focus of opposing cornerbacks and defenses? That’s a question better answered by scouting departments around the league, but if the Bears were to determine the answer to that question as “not well,” he might not help the receivers as much as it may seem. 

So there are a lot of layers here that would have to be dug through for anything with Bryant and the Bears to materialize. It’s possible that could happen, but it’s not as simple as saying "the Bears need a receiver, so they should try to get Martavis Bryant.” 

With Leonard Floyd going on injured reserve, will the Bears have a pressing need at outside linebacker in 2018?

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USA TODAY

With Leonard Floyd going on injured reserve, will the Bears have a pressing need at outside linebacker in 2018?

The Bears placed Leonard Floyd on injured reserve Thursday morning, ending the second-year outside linebacker’s season following a knee injury suffered Sunday against the Detroit Lions. Floyd suffered an MCL and PCL injury and will have surgery in the next week, coach John Fox said, and the Bears do not have a timetable for his recovery yet. But that Floyd didn't suffer damage to his ACL is potentially good news for Floyd's recovery timetable. 

Still, with Floyd on injured reserve and out for the season, the Bears’ current outside linebacker depth chart consists of two veterans (Pernell McPhee and Sam Acho) and two practice squad signees (Isaiah Irving and Howard Jones). These final six games of the 2017 season could serve as auditions for all four players for roles on the 2018 Bears. 

If every team needs at least three good pass rushers, the Bears can count on Akiem Hicks and Floyd for 2018, provided Floyd comes back healthy. But who’s the third?

The Bears could save about $7.5 million in cap space if they release McPhee in 2018; if they were to cut ties with Willie Young, who’s on injured reserve right now as well, it would provide $4.5 million in cap relief. McPhee will be 29 in December, while Young will turn 33 next September. 

The Bears won’t necessarily need the cap relief next year, and could certainly decide to keep both players, who’ve shown they’re still productive when healthy. But even if both players are back, the Bears may need to add another outside linebacker via free agency of the draft — remember, the team could’ve began the season with Floyd, Young, McPhee, Acho and Lamarr Houston as their outside linebackers; an injury Houston suffered in the fourth preseason game ended his time in Chicago. 

Needs at wide receiver and cornerback are pressing, but outside linebacker may need to be in that same conversation. If the Bears have a top-10 pick for the fourth consecutive year, plus some cap space, they perhaps could have the ability to address all three needs in March and April. 

That may be looking a little too far into the future, though. The best-case for the Bears is McPhee finishes the season strong and Irving and/or Jones shows something in the opportunities they receive in these final six games (Jones, for what it’s worth, had five sacks as a rookie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2015). But the worst-case — and perhaps the most realistic — is that the Bears go into the offseason needing to fill at least one pass-rushing spot. 

Under Center Podcast: Can Mitch Trubisky follow Carson Wentz’s path to stardom?

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Under Center Podcast: Can Mitch Trubisky follow Carson Wentz’s path to stardom?

JJ Stankevitz and John “Moon” Mullin are joined by NBC Sports Philadelphia Eagles reporter Dave Zangaro to offer an encouraging connection between Carson Wentz’s growth and that of Mitchell Trubisky.

Check out the entire podcast here: