Putting a bow on 2017 as 2018 really begins; What if Saquon Barkley falls to No. 8?


Putting a bow on 2017 as 2018 really begins; What if Saquon Barkley falls to No. 8?

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.

After releasing him, Bears reportedly bringing back Marcus Cooper


After releasing him, Bears reportedly bringing back Marcus Cooper

Marcus Cooper's offseason has resembled a will they, won't they relationship.

The corner back signed a three-year deal with the Bears last offseason, but struggled last year and was released by the Bears after one year of that deal. However, Adam Caplan is reporting that Cooper could be back in a Bears uniform this season.

Cooper was officially released by the Bears on March 14 and visited the Arizona Cardinals earlier on Friday. Cooper started for the Cardinals in 2016.

Cooper began the year as a starter for the Bears, but finished with just four starts. He finished 2017 with 18 tackles and three passes deflected in 15 games.

His play with the Bears didn't exactly make him Mr. Popular with fans, as can be observed by looking at the savage replies to Caplan's report.

Cooper's original contract for the Bears with valued at $16 million over three years so the reported $2.5 million number is a significant pay cut and could mean he is being brought back for depth as opposed to last year when he was expected to start.

Plenty of possibilities loom ahead of Bears' draft pick

Plenty of possibilities loom ahead of Bears' draft pick

As the Bears begin to fill out their draft board in earnest, they’ll do so by evaluating the players they like and the players they think will be available when they pick eighth in April. And what players check both those boxes and go into their draft “clouds,” as Ryan Pace calls them, will depend largely on how many quarterbacks are taken ahead of the Bears’ pick. 

With about a month until the draft, it seems clear two teams will take a quarterback with a top-seven pick: the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets. The Browns own the Nos. 1 and 4 picks; the Jets traded up from No. 6 to No. 3, and teams rarely invest that kind of draft capital to not draft a quarterback. 

That leaves a few hinge points in how many quarterbacks are picked by the time the Bears are on the clock:

New York Giants (No. 2 overall)

The Giants still have an aging Eli Manning but could move to use the second pick to draft his long-term replacement. Or, alternatively, they could use this deep class of top-end quarterbacks as an avenue to trade down, add some picks and build out a young core that way. Either of these scenarios would be good news for the Bears, as we’ve seen Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, N.C. State defensive end Bradley Chubb and Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson connected to the Giants at No. 2 as well, if they were to stay there. The Buffalo Bills could be motivated to trade up to No. 2 to make sure they get the guy they want with quarterbacks almost assuredly going off the board at Nos. 1 and 3. 

Cleveland Browns (No. 4 overall)

If the Browns get their quarterback with the first pick — Sam Darnold? — they could be sitting in an ideal spot at No. 4. If the Giants draft a quarterback, Cleveland could play hardball and tell teams they’re fine keeping the fourth pick and drafting Barkley with it. That could create a bidding war between the Buffalo Bills (No. 12) and Denver Broncos (No. 5) to trade up and draft the last of the four clear-cut top quarterbacks in this class. In this scenario, Cleveland adds a bunch of picks to an already-sizable stash and accelerates their growth through the draft. 

If the Giants were to trade out of the No. 2 pick, let’s say to the Bills, it may lessen Cleveland’s desire to trade down from No. 4 unless a team in need of a quarterback like the Arizona Cardinals (No. 15) or Miami Dolphins (No. 11) starts lurking around. But as we saw last year with the Bears trading up one spot to draft Mitch Trubisky, teams don’t want to leave things to chance if they have conviction on the quarterback they want. So that brings us to the…

Denver Broncos (No. 5 overall)

The Broncos signed Case Keenum to a two-year deal and still have 2016 first-round pick Paxton Lynch on their roster, though he hasn’t shown much in only five games as a pro. Does Denver absolutely, positively have to draft a quarterback? No. They’re probably in the same boat as the Giants in that regard. But what if they really like Josh Allen and/or Baker Mayfield, both of whom their coaching staff worked with at the Senior Bowl, and one of them is still on the board when the Browns’ pick comes up at No. 4? Or what if Josh Rosen has been their guy all along? 

In that case, John Elway may make an aggressive move to guarantee he gets the quarterback he wants, and not risk losing that guy if a team were to cut the line by trading with the Browns. 

The other scenario is less positive for the Bears: Maybe the Broncos only have one or two quarterbacks out of this group they want, and they either can’t find a trade partner to move out of No. 5 or don’t want to. If three quarterbacks are drafted in the first seven picks, the Bears may not have the opportunity to draft one of Nelson, Chubb or Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds, for example, is a super-talented prospect — but we seem to be moving toward a consensus that Nelson, Fitzpatrick, Chubb and Barkley are the four best non-quarterback prospects in this draft. And in all likelihood, the Bears will only be able to draft one of them four quarterbacks are taken before they pick. 

The wild card here is Nelson, given his position (guard) is rarely seen as worthy of being a top-10 pick. But those who saw him up close in college believe he’s a future perennial Pro Bowler, possibly beginning as soon as his rookie year. The Bears’ fit is obvious, with Harry Hiestand coming to coach the offensive line from Notre Dame and the team — as of right now — still having a fairly clear need for another interior offensive lineman. Perhaps Nelson falls to the Bears even if there are only three quarterbacks off the board before they pick, but having four go off the board would make things a little less stressful at Halas Hall in late April. 

Indianapolis Colts (No. 6 overall) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 7 overall)

The Colts already traded down once, and likely did so with the confidence that Chubb would still be on the board at No. 6 to help their limp pass rush. Fitzpatrick seems to be a good fit with Tampa Bay, though a player of his caliber would be a good fit anywhere. Either of these teams still could be persuaded to trade down, especially if the Giants and/or Broncos pass on a quarterback.

Chicago Bears (No. 8 overall)

If four quarterbacks are off the board by the time the Bears pick, that’s ideal for Pace. If three are, he still could get someone from his No. 8 pick “cloud” and be content staying there. If only two are — and this doesn’t appear to be a likely scenario — that means the Bills haven’t found a trade partner and may want to leapfrog the Dolphins at No. 11 to get their guy. More likely, if the Bears are able to trade down from No. 8, it would be because a team like Arizona wants to make sure the quarterback they want isn’t snagged by an opportunistic team ahead of them. 

But Pace's draft history has seen him trade up far more frequently than trade down. If someone who's in his draft cloud is available when the Bears go on the clock, chances are he'll pick that guy and not trade down. 

Plenty can and will change between now and when the draft begins on April 26. But for right now, the landscape ahead of the Bears suggests only positive things setting up for their first-round pick.