The 2017 Bears season ended a couple months ago, and the 2018 “season” effectively began with the hiring of Matt Nagy and his staff. Personnel valuations by GM Ryan Pace in the wake of the season were done as a matter of routine, with second set of those undertaken looking at the roster through the prism of Nagy’s eyes. To that extent, there’s never really a dead period in the roster-repair shop at Halas Hall.
But the opening of the Scouting Combine in some respects signals the true start of the process, coming as it does just ahead of the March 12/14 start of free agency. With that in mind, one last look back at a couple of things that have played out since the end of the John Fox era:
Anyone else struck by some of the sentiments expressed by Fox, by guard Josh Sitton and by linebacker Pernell McPhee in their “exit” interviews?
One unmistakable thread in their comments was true disappointment at not being able to see through to conclusion what they were here to build. This was beyond the standard-issue thank-yous. McPhee told The Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs that he felt “disappointment in himself, “not finishing out my part.” Fox told me that it was “a bitter pill” that he couldn’t see it through, and his tone said so even more strongly.
Recall how Willie Young struggled with his emotions after he’d been given a contract extension before the 2016 season. It was about more than the money, which is why Young has been one of the most difficult keep-or-cut decisions up at Halas.
The point isn’t the verbiage so much as the theme, reflective of a pride in what they thought they could accomplish but didn’t. Contrast that with the deafening silence around exits by Martellus Bennett or Brandon Marshall. Even Matt Forte, whose first reaction was basically just mad and being treated like just a jersey number.
The point is the culture, something we’ve touched on here previously, but warrants mentioning again in the wake of and ahead of what’s coming. If it isn’t there, the whole will never become greater than the sum of the parts, which is some of why the Patriots accomplish what they do.
Fox will work again, on a sideline or a TV set. McPhee isn’t done. They were just saddened and cared that it didn’t happen in Chicago.
Inside “B-A-R-K-L-E-Y” is “B-E-A-R” – just sayin’
Saquon Barkley has been mock-drafted to Cleveland, the Giants, Indianapolis and Cleveland (again). But what if the Penn State running back, at this point one of the highest rated prospects in the 2018 draft irrespective of position, were on the board when the Bears’ turn came at No. 8?
Whether the organization is all-in on Jordan Howard as both the present and the future at the position is the issue. “All-in” can have different levels, as in “all-in – he’s our guy” or “all-in – he’s our guy unless we have a chance at huge upgrade.”
“He’s solid,” said one NFL executive, “but he’s no Todd Gurley.”
Would the Bears jump at what some regard as a generational talent and trade Howard? Probably not something that’ll present itself as a decision, but it’s pre-draft time, and GM Ryan Pace has revealed himself as nothing if not an aggressive round-1 trader. And the Bears in their first round are expected to target a playmaker who either scores touchdowns or has a lead role in preventing them.
In any case, consider: After a stretch of decidedly unspectacular draft picks at the running-back position, ostensibly struggling teams have turned themselves around with bold strikes at the one-time devalued position.
Jacksonville and Carolina selected running backs in last year’s top 10: Leonard Fournette to the Jaguars at No. 4, Christian McCaffery to the Panthers at No. 8. The Cowboys added Ezekiel Elliot at No. 4 of the 2016 draft. Gurley went 10th to the Rams in 2015.
All but the Rams from among those teams went from dismal to the playoffs in that back’s rookie year, and the Rams accomplished that in 2017, Gurley’s third season, when they finally got the quarterback position adjusted. Parenthetically, with Elliott out on a six-game suspension last season, the Cowboys missed the postseason.
What talent waits for the Bears in round 2?
Ryan Pace’s No. 1 picks rate an “Incomplete.” Kevin White has logged three injury-obliterated seasons; Leonard Floyd has missed 10 games in his two years; and Mitch Trubisky is a quarterback, by definition a spot needing time.
By comparison, Pace has struck some platinum in round 2’s – Eddie Goldman, a developing star nose-tackle; Cody Whitehair, already an anchor of the offensive line; and possibly Adam Shaheen, a small-college prospect who started slowly but still finished with 3 touchdowns and is in the spotlight going forward in the Matt Nagy/Mark Helfrich offense.
The lead public focus at the Combine will be on the talents projected for the top of the draft. The Bears will be tracking a lot more than that.