Bears

New Bears coach will have to answer the Mitch Trubisky question

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USA TODAY

New Bears coach will have to answer the Mitch Trubisky question

GM Ryan Pace demurred from providing any hard information about the parameters or perimeters of the search for a new Bears head coach. Pace did make abundantly clear that the new coach will have authority to select his own offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

The coach won’t, however, have a lot of latitude in selecting his quarterback. And by virtue of the two-year contract extension Pace received the organization, the message is that senior management in the persons of Chairman George McCaskey and President Ted Phillips ratify Pace’s call on the staffing – Mitch Trubisky – of the most important single position in sports.

Whether Trubisky-in-place is an inducement or deterrent may lie in the eye of the beholder.

Pace and the organization envision a Goff-Wentz kind of leap for Trubisky from Year 1 to Year 2. Not entirely unreasonable; using a couple of stats for purposes of loose comparison, Trubisky’s starting points of passer rating (77.5) and interception percentage (2.1) were on par with or better than the rookie performances of Wentz (79.3/2.3) and Goff (63.6/3.4), both getting their teams from also-rans to playoff participants.

That’s the good news. On the other side of the ledger, Trubisky’s quarterback rating (QBR) of 29.1 was second-worst, ahead of only Denver’s Trevor Siemian and worse than DeShone Kizer. And it was significantly short of Wentz’s (52.8), although notches better than Goff’s (22.2). Notably perhaps, Trubisky had a better passer rating working from under center than he did from shotgun, impressive for a one-year college starter from a shotgun background.

“It’s a big jump from college football, and what you saw in training camp and we talked about starts with breaking an NFL huddle, taking snaps under center, changing things at the line of scrimmage, understanding NFL defenses, blitz packages, coverages,” Pace said. “And he just got better every step of the way. One trait he has is he rarely repeats the same mistake twice, starting with he doesn’t turn the ball over, and that’s an attractive trait.”

When Marc Trestman was hired, he took the job with the understanding from GM Phil Emery that Jay Cutler was his quarterback. That continued into the season, to the point that Trestman was overruled in wanting to stay with Josh McCown in 2013 even after Cutler had recovered from injury. The situation became toxic to the level that then-offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer vented the coaches’ frustration with Cutler to a national reporter.

Cutler was still ensconced as the quarterback when Fox came in with Adam Gase as his coordinator. Gase in fact was the voice in the room for staying the course with Cutler, based on a survey Gase did of former Cutler coaches. (Gase has gone 6-10 twice now with Cutler as his primary quarterback, in 2015 with the Bears and this year with the Miami Dolphins; not sure the pro-Cutler voice’ll be there again, but that’s another story).

What didn’t happen, and which looms as a potential question in the minds of Bears coaching candidates, could be: What if I don’t see in Trubisky what Pace does? If the shared Mitch vision isn’t there, the interview will likely be a short one.

But the quarterback question involves more than just Trubisky. It involves Pace and what the Bears GM is willing or capable of doing to give his coach the quarterback material necessary, because after Trubisky, there isn’t anything right now.

Pace erred in not stocking the quarterback pipeline in either of his first two drafts. He did trade up to ensure drafting Trubisky. But he also was unwilling to invest the draft capital to trade up from No. 7 to No. 2 for Marcus Mariota in 2015 (possibly because of Gase’s Cutler endorsement), or from 11 to 2 in 2016 for Wentz. Both moves would’ve involved a potential bidding war, which the Bears realistically weren’t in an overall personnel position to wage.

Would Trestman have been hired if he declined to give assurances that he would stay with Cutler? Probably not. Would Pace have hired Fox if the latter had not bought in on Cutler? Possibly, since McCaskey said publicly at the time of hiring that personnel decisions would not be dictated by money (i.e. Cutler’s guaranteed money).

One unknown is the degree to which Trubisky himself will be involved in the interview process. That sort of thing has veered into the bizarre in the past, as when Mike Martz made a trip to Nashville to meet with Cutler in 2010, a situation in which it’s reasonable to wonder exactly who was interviewing whom. The one making the trip came off as the supplicant there.

What if Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy, for instance, was of a mind that he was all in on Pat Mahomes but not on Trubisky last draft when the Chiefs moved up to take Mahomes? ESPN AM-1000’s David Kaplan reported that "Nagy loved Trubisky in the 2017 NFL Draft and the Chiefs loved him. Nagy has stayed close to him during this season. Nagy believes you can win big with Trubisky."

Best guess that Nagy needs to convince Pace, not the Kapman. In any case, that opinion likely gets Nagy at least in the room. What he and the Bears very, very much need to agree on is what Trubisky’s future looks to be, and how a transition to yet another Bears offensive coordinator (the seventh in the last 10 years) will work.

“A lot of the things that Mitch or that any quarterbacks learns as a rookie is just life in the NFL,” Pace said. “It’s NFL defenses. It’s the pace of the game. It’s the routine of being an NFL quarterback and I think he’s embraced that. As far as changing terminology and those things, Mitch is a highly intelligent player with a very strong work ethic so I am confident that he will adapt quickly to a new situation.

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.