Three and out: Pernell McPhee talks relationships, Kyle Long describes the Bears’ ‘beacon of hope’

USA Today

Three and out: Pernell McPhee talks relationships, Kyle Long describes the Bears’ ‘beacon of hope’

BALTIMORE — The Baltimore Ravens let Pernell McPhee hit free agency after the 2014 season, in which the former fifth-round pick recorded a career high 7 1/2 sacks. So Sunday will be an awkward homecoming of sorts for McPhee against the team that spurned him a few years ago. 

“If your girlfriend or your wife leaves you, that’ll hurt, right? Okay,” McPhee said, “that answers that question.” 

That’s one way to put it. Defensive end Akiem Hicks — who will face a former team of his, the New Orleans Saints, in the Bears’ next road game — expanded on that thought. 

“Any time you go against your former team you want to prove a point, correct?” Hicks said. “He hasn’t made too big a deal out of it and he hasn’t been hoo-rah’ing about it. But I’m sure as anybody else that’d be going into that situation you want to go out there and put on a show.”

A big game from McPhee and/or Leonard Floyd against an interception-prone Joe Flacco could, at least, help keep things close on Sunday, or at best swing momentum in the Bears’ favor and push Mitchell Trubisky to his first career win. 

“I mean, it just was a relationship, just like you’ve got a girlfriend. They leave you sometimes,” McPhee said. “It is what it is, but like I said, I’m just very thankful that (general manager) Ozzie Newsome and coach (John) Harbaugh gave me the chance to become a Raven and see how it was to be a Raven. That’s the best feeling I got out of it.” 

More flowing analogies

While McPhee described facing the Ravens in terms of relationships, offensive lineman Kyle Long offered an eloquent description of how badly Bears fans want Mitchell Trubisky to finally end the quarterback drought in Chicago. 

“Being here since 2013 I’ve definitely understood the obsession with the quarterback position in this town,” Long said. “I mean, Mitch is a young guy with a lot of talent and this is a town that’s hungry for success in their sports, especially football. And I think that they see a beacon of hope and light with Mitch Trubisky, and it’s my job and the guys around me, their job is to keep that beacon of light nice and shiny and keep him upright.”

Snap decisions

Cody Whitehair has had some rather odd issues snapping this year, with a handful of snaps going high to both Trubisky and Mike Glennon over the Bears’ first five games. The second-year center wasn’t making any excuses when asked about it on Friday, but it is worth noting the Bears moved Whitehair between center and guard due to injuries to Long, Josh Sitton, Tom Compton and Hroniss Grasu in training camp and through the first three weeks of the season. 

“Just get back in that muscle memory,” Whitehair said. “For whatever reason, I dunno why, they’ve been bad. That’s what I’ve been focused on this week.”

Whitehair, who was flagged for holding against Minnesota, summed up his season to date:  “I haven't been where I've wanted the last four games and I'll continue to work on that. I feel like I'm getting back into my groove and we'll see how the season goes.”

The Bears don’t have any long-term concerns about Whitehair, who was solid as a rookie last year and should continue to be an important piece of their offensive line. 

“Once we get that consistent, exactly where we want it, he’s moving guys off the ball,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “He’s a big part of the run game. He’s a really talented player.” 

Bears attitude adjustment already apparent in first wave of free agents

Bears attitude adjustment already apparent in first wave of free agents

The first thing you notice is some swagger, some chips on the shoulders of the newest Bears, and while that doesn’t win any games in-season, let alone in March, it’s something of a positive for a team that’d had a lot of its swagger pained out of it over the past two years in particular.

Receivers Taylor Gabriel and Allen Robinson, tight end Trey Burton, backup quarterback Chase Daniel and kicker Cody Parkey all said the requisite niceties and platitudes on Thursday, all about how much they like the coaches, the organization, all that stuff.

But I’ve seen free agents come and go since real free agency started in 1993. All levels of players coming through, and they all say right stuff. There was something else with this bunch, though, and it wasn’t always there in the past. (More on that in a second.)

So there was Gabriel mentioning how Mitch Trubisky had texted him after Gabriel had signed, and Gabriel first piping in with, “How’s your deep ball?” And Trubisky was right back at Gabriel, one of the fastest players in the NFL, with, “Are you still fast?”

Best guess — they’ll get along just fine.

Gabriel’s first comment on impressions of coach Matt Nagy? Not about his football knowledge, his enthusiasm. No, it was: “Smooth dude, man,” Gabriel said. “I like his swag a little bit.”

Robinson was described by former Jacksonville and current Bears teammate cornerback Prince Amukamara as “a nightmare” to play against because he let defensive guys, even his own, know when he’d had them for lunch. As far as now, a very high bar has been set: “I think for me as a player, it's not my job to make Mitch's job easier, it's to make his job easy.”

Two points on why this comes with a touch more relevance in the case of a Bears team coming off a fourth straight NFC North basement finish:

First, because of what developed on the other side of the football when the likes of Akiem Hicks, Pernell McPhee (describing his style of football as “violent”) and Danny Trevathan came in, even rookie safety Eddie Jackson last year. They brought in attitudes from not just winning organizations, but more important, championship organizations. And they were good enough to walk the walk, even as they struggled through injuries.

The result was that in less than three full seasons, the Bears were a Top 10 defense. Attitudes can be infectious, for good or bad, and the right attitude with the right players made the defense a force, even with its injuries.

What the Bears secured in their first wave of free agents was five players all involved in points production — two wide receivers, a tight end, a kicker and a backup quarterback, whose two mission statements consist of being ready to play winning football if he’s needed and also to be a foundation pillar for the starter, in this case Trubisky.

What makes this a speck more interesting is that Trubisky will be the biggest factor in formation of the 2018-and-beyond Bears, and it was Trubisky whom Leonard Floyd and his defensive mates dubbed “Pretty Boy Assassin” last year because of Trubisky’s give-some-smack attitude anytime he lit up the No. 1 defense just running scout-team plays.

The second observation is that this wasn’t the case last year with Markus Wheaton, Quintin Demps, Marcus Cooper, Dion Sims and certainly not Mike Glennon, last year’s main free agency additions. Some of that’s obviously personality; Glennon and those guys are simply not swagger-smack kinds of guys, and that’s OK, as long as they play with attitude.

Last year’s group, just to use them as a case in point, came from decent programs. But the current top Bears additions include Super Bowl winners (Burton, Daniel as Drew Brees’ backup), a Super Bowl loser (Gabriel, painfully in the Atlanta Falcons’ collapse vs. New England) and a top wideout who had his dream derailed by injury and missed out on his team’s drive to within 2 minutes 48 seconds of a Super Bowl (Robinson).

And while Nagy and the organization are probably wise to counsel patience in the Bears’ recovery climb, the players aren’t seeing it that way.

“You can never underestimate how important youth is and guys who are willing to learn and willing to get better, but then also you look at the city,” Burton said. “They want another championship. They want to win. They want to be winners. You look at the other sports, the Bulls, the Blackhawks, the Cubs, the Cubs just won a couple years ago.

“The city's ready for another championship and like I said, they have a great quarterback, young quarterback, and an unbelievable head coach. They're aggressive and they're ready to win right now.”

Report: Bears match Packers' offer for Kyle Fuller, ink CB to 4-year deal

USA Today

Report: Bears match Packers' offer for Kyle Fuller, ink CB to 4-year deal

UPDATE: The Bears will match the Packers’ offer sheet for Fuller, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport:

The move means this: The Bears aren’t messing around and wanted to show Fuller their confidence in him, most likely. They could’ve let the Packers twist in the wind a bit and wait the full five days to match, but quickly matching with Fuller shows a confidence in the cornerback that has been evident for months.


When Ryan Pace placed the transition tag on Kyle Fuller, he knew he was opening up the Bears’ best cornerback to overtures from 31 other teams. Only one of those teams could make an offer to Fuller that, if he signed it, would truly put Pace under the microscope.

That team is the Green Bay Packers, and according to the Chicago Tribune, they did just that on Friday, signing Fuller to an offer sheet, the terms of which the Bears have five days to match. If Pace declines to match it, Fuller will sign with the team’s longstanding archrival in a move that would come with brutal optics for the Bears’ general manager. 

Before total panic sets in, the Bears logically are unlikely to let Fuller go. This was the risk Pace took when he used the transition tag, and not the more expensive franchise tag, on Fuller earlier this month. Pace has certainly allocated money to signing him — the transition tag guarantees Fuller $12.971 million in 2018 — and has talked openly about wanting to move toward signing the 2014 first-round pick to a long-term contract. 

“Those are things that we talked about a lot kind of behind the scenes,” Pace said Thursday when asked about negotiations with Fuller. “When we get into the contracts and the details, those are kept behind the scenes. Obviously, you guys know how we feel about Kyle. We value Kyle. We like Kyle, and we just figured that was the best course of action.”

Green Bay could’ve structured its offer sheet to Fuller to include a ton of guaranteed money up front, which wouldn’t necessarily be palatable to the Bears. That’s the bigger deal here than how much the total contract is worth, or its annual average value. But again, when Pace decided on the transition tag, he had to know a front-loaded offer sheet was a possibility he may have to deal with. 

If Pace didn’t foresee an offer sheet coming Fuller’s way, he might've read the market wrong given the contracts signed by this year's two top free agent cornerbacks. Trumaine Johnson signed a five-year deal with $45 million of it guaranteed, and $34 million of that is guaranteed in the first two years, according to Spotrac. Malcolm Butler’s five-year deal with the Tennessee Titans includes $30 million in total guaranteed money. Fuller could be right behind, or in line, with those two cornerbacks in terms of the offer sheet he received. 

So Pace had to be prepared to give Fuller a market-value — or, potentially, higher than market-value — contract when he placed the transition tag on him. But the benefit to that move was letting the market set itself and then being able to match an offer sheet for a cornerback who broke up 20 passes, intercepted two more and proved to be a physical presence against the run in 2018. This seems like the most likely scenario. 

The added risk, of course, if the Bears were to lose Fuller is they would almost have to draft a cornerback with the No. 8 pick in April’s NFL Draft, given how the rest of the cornerbacks in this year’s free agent market are locked up. Unless the Bears were to jump on Bashaud Breeland, whose three-year, $24 million deal was voided after he failed his physical with the Carolina Panthers, there’s not a No. 1 cornerback available to pair with Prince Amukamara besides getting one via the draft. 

So this is an intense calculation for Pace, who has five days to match the Packers’ offer sheet for Fuller. Losing him to Green Bay would look terrible among a fanbase that’s not only seen four consecutive losing seasons, but is used to the Packers being the better team in the long-running rivalry (that is, unless the Bears are convinced Fuller is a one-year wonder; though in that case, why would they tag him at all?).

But the Bears haven't lost him yet. Until we get some clarity on this, let’s hold off on panicking about the thought of Fuller playing in green and gold next season.