Bears

Why NaVorro Bowman would and wouldn’t make sense for the Bears

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USA Today

Why NaVorro Bowman would and wouldn’t make sense for the Bears

A little after ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the San Francisco 49ers were putting linebacker NaVorro Bowman on the trading block, the 49ers released the four-time All-Pro inside linebacker. That begs the question: Would he make sense with the Bears?

The Bears need help at inside linebacker, with Jerrell Freeman out for the year, Nick Kwiatkoski still working his way back from a chest injury and John Timu out with an ankle/knee injury he suffered Monday night against Minnesota. Bowman, too, had some of his best years playing for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio with the San Francisco 49ers, with 2013 a high point (120 tackles, five sacks, two interceptions, six forced fumbles). 

Bowman is a big name, but his play hasn't matched his star power recently. The 29-year-old suffered two serious injuries over the last four years: An ACL and MCL tear in the 2014 NFC Championship, and a torn Achilles’ that limited him to just four games last year. That the 49ers couldn't find a trade partner, or didn't think they would before the NFL's Oct. 31 trade deadline, speaks to how much Bowman's stock has fallen. 

The money owed to Bowman may have been a deterrent in trade talks (he carries a cap hit of around $9.5 million in 2017 and a little under $12 million in 2018, according to Spotrac). If the Bears were to sign him, they wouldn't be on the hook for that much cash

But this doens't take into account two things, the first being how much the Bears like Kwiatkoski. Coaches felt confident he could seamlessly step in for Jerrell Freeman back in September before he suffered a pec injury of his own in Week 2. The 2016 fourth-round pick was limited in practice this week, and while he’s officially listed as questionable, that he’s worked with the scout team this week wouldn’t indicate he’ll play in Baltimore on Sunday.

But it does seem that Kwiatkoski is moving closer to a return, and when he does, the need for an aging, injury-prone former Pro Bowler would diminish at that position.

Then there's point No. 2: Why would Bowman want to sign with a team that's 1-4? Even if he still has a strong relationship with Fangio, he's nearing 30 and has played in three NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl. It's more likely he would push for a spot on a contender to chase a ring than go to a team lagging in last place in its division. 

Past is prologue? Matt Nagy, Ryan Pace bring similar histories to first draft as Bears tandem

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AP

Past is prologue? Matt Nagy, Ryan Pace bring similar histories to first draft as Bears tandem

At the outset of this year’s Combine, Bears general manager Ryan Pace was about two months removed from hiring Matt Nagy (who turns 40 on Tuesday). But Pace was very, very clear about what was critical in their relationship, and what is now of the absolute highest priority as the Bears swing onto final approach for Nagy and Pace’s first draft together.

“I think when mistakes are made in organizations, it's when the personnel department and the coaches are not on the same page,” Pace said. “That continuity is important; that chemistry is important. I think it's already naturally existing with us in the concept dialogue that we have, and I think you eliminate mistakes when you do that.

“If you share a vision for a player, then it helps eliminate some of those mistakes.”

But with the Bears on the clock at No. 8 next Thursday evening, will there be a true shared vision of the player whose name will be on a card carried up to the Commissioner?

Differences of opinion are inevitable, and desirable. If everyone in the room thinks alike, then at least half of them probably don’t need to be there.

The 2018 draft presents some intriguing decisions, but also contain a very solid positive: “There are some positions that align this year that are very deep in this draft that happen to be positions of need for us,” Pace said.

But the process of factoring that “need” in with player grades and position values has to arrive at agreement and consensus. Whether coaches in 2015 wanted edge rusher Vic Beasley but Pace and the draft board dictated Kevin White; or whether coaches wanted Deshaun Watson last year and Pace targeted Mitch Trubisky – those sorts of thing are difficult to establish conclusively in hindsight, and don’t really matter unless coaches are being handed players they deem less than optimal for their purposes. Only the results on the field ultimately matter.

Pace and staff will go into next weekend with a fully formed “cloud” of players graded as worth the No. 8 pick of the first round (and for the No. 7 pick of Round 2, and so on). Since that cluster of desirables will have been arrived at in concert with Nagy and his staff, some characteristics of their experiences are worth noting.

Studying Nagy, Pace draft “roots”

This may be Nagy’s first draft experience as a head coach. But between his time in Philadelphia and Kansas City, he has been around 10 drafts and learned from Andy Reid (in both places) what it takes to build a winning team. Of those 10 combined seasons, Nagy has been through exactly one losing year.

Pace was a member of the New Orleans front office from 2001-2014. During those 14 years he experienced only one season with fewer than seven wins.

What do the histories of the two centermost figures in Bears football operations have common on draft weekends, in particular with round one’s? And even more in particular, with selections of offensive linemen and front-seven defensive players, given the prominence of Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson, Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds and Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith?

O-line’ing for Nagy, Pace

During Nagy’s decade of observing Reid’s team-building under various general managers, only twice were No. 1 picks used on offensive linemen: guard Danny Watkins, the Eagles’ 2011 selection at No. 23 and a bust; and Eric Fisher, the first-overall pick of the 2013 draft, a tackle and solid performer, coincidentally the same draft in which Kansas City selected current Bears guard Eric Kush in the sixth round.

In Nagy’s 10 drafts, his bosses took only one offensive lineman (KC guard Mitch Morse, 2015 Round 2) higher than the fourth round. That includes two-time Pro Bowl center Jason Kelce, Philadelphia’s sixth-round pick in 2011.

Down in New Orleans, Pace and the Saints were going offensive line No. 1 just once in 14 years – tackle Jamaal Brown, 13th overall in 2005. The Saints did use No. 2's on the offensive line –  center LeCharles Bentley, tackle Jon Stinchcomb, tackle Charles Brown. But the Saints had their biggest scores later: guard Jahri Evans and tackle Jermon Bushrod in fourth rounds, guard Carl Nicks in a fifth – all three eventual Pro Bowlers and core elements of New Orleans’ Super Bowl champions. A key for the Saints was offensive line coach Aaron Kromer; the Bears believe they have that grade of O-line coaching firepower in Harry Hiestand.

Through his three Chicago drafts, Pace has not ignored the offensive line, addressing with at least one pick every year, in a fashion consistent with his New Orleans model: one offensive lineman in a second round (Cody Whitehair, 2016), one in a third (Hroniss Grasu, 2015), one in a fifth (Jordan Morgan, 2017) and one in a sixth (Tajo Fabuluje, 2015). Not a high success rate but fitting a pattern in line with his and with Nagy’s from KC and Philadelphia.

Conclusion: Using the No. 8 overall pick on a guard/Nelson would run contrary to what Nagy and Pace have seen as a successful construction philosophy in their previous draft experiences.

Priority “D”

Pace traded up in 2016 to ensure getting Georgia rush linebacker Leonard Floyd with his first-round pick. He also has staffed coordinator Vic Fangio’s front seven with a No. 2 (nose tackle Eddie Goldman), No. 3 (defensive end Jonathan Bullard) and No. 4 (linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski), plus five DB’s in Rounds 4-6.

Front-seven talent was a priority with the Eagles during the time of Reid/Nagy: Philadelphia drafted five defensive linemen or linebackers within Rounds 1-2 in the five drafts from 2008-12.

During Nagy’s five Kansas City years, the Chiefs had seven picks in Rounds 1-2. Three of the seven picks were invested in the defensive front seven. Additionally, the Chiefs used three third-round picks on cornerbacks. Meaning: Reid and Nagy may be rooted in offense, but they and their GM’s (John Dorsey 2013-16, Brett Veach 2017) fully grasped the import of reaching for an elite defense.

Conclusion: The 2018 draft contains talent at the top of Round 1. Both Nagy and Pace come from cultures that made quarterbacks and offense a priority (Trubisky, Drew Brees, Pat Mahomes, Donovan McNabb, Alex Smith). But the top need for the 2018 Bears is pass rush, that typically necessitates a top-10 pick, and Nagy and Pace come from organizations that have acted on that priority.

What should we make of Kevin White's minicamp?

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Associated Press

What should we make of Kevin White's minicamp?

The report on Kevin White from this week’s voluntary veteran minicamp was that Matt Nagy thought he looked “sharp,” played “fast” and, most importantly, was healthy. But that doesn’t mean the Bears will no longer have some difficult conversations with, and about, their 2015 first-round pick. 

The Bears have until May 3 to decide whether or not to pick up White’s fifth-year option, which would be worth $13.9 million, according to CBS Sports. If Ryan Pace wasn’t willing to commit $9.6 million over two years for Cameron Meredith over concerns about his 2017 knee injury, chances are he won’t be willing to commit more money than that for a guy in White who’s only played in five games over three pro seasons. The prudent thing for Pace to do would be to decline to pick up White’s option, setting him up for unrestricted free agency 11 months from now. 

Depending on what transpires in next week’s NFL Draft and then through OTAs and training camp, White still may have to earn his way on to the Bears’ 53-man roster, too. But that's looking too far into the future for a guy who’s suffered three serious injuries and has struggled to stack good practices when he's been healthy. 

“Sometimes you’re going to take a step backwards to go two steps forward — that’s kind of where he’s at,” Nagy said. “He’s a kid (whose) confidence hasn’t been where it needs to be. But what I can tell you is that from what I’ve seen so far, if I was somebody that was coming into this building and facility that didn’t know anything about him, you’d never in a million years know it from what we’ve seen recently.”

White made a handful of good plays during this week’s non-padded practices, for what it’s worth. The Bears need to see White continue to flash here and there on a regular basis, and then build up to having consistently solid practices throughout the offseason program and into the summer. The fresh start he’s afforded with a new coaching staff and new offense could benefit him, especially from a mental standpoint.

“His confidence is there,” linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, who’s been a teammate of White’s since their days at West Virginia, said. “He’s ready to get back on the field.”

This sort simmering positivity about White around Halas Hall is fine, but it’s only April, and nobody is — or should be — getting ahead of themselves. Yes, the prospect of a healthy and effective White is mouth-watering, and would be tantamount to the Bears having two first-round picks this year (running back Tarik Cohen said the offense could be “dominant” with White and Robinson as outside threats). 

But Nagy is taking a narrow view of White’s outlook, one that won’t expand to the bigger picture until — for better or for worse — sometime during training camp, most likely. This is going to be a long process for the Bears to get the most they can out of White, and then they’ll have to hope the 25-year-old doesn’t suffer another cruelly-unlucky injury. 

“If any of us were in that situation and you have a fresh start — forget about the whys of what happened, forget about that,” Nagy said. “That doesn’t matter. What matters is about right now. He’s young. He has a big ceiling. 

“Now, we can try to do it as much as we can as coaches and try to pull it out of him, but he’s got to work hard. He’s got to put time in the playbook. He’s got to put in the extra work after practice when he can. And then when the game comes, he’s got to make plays. When you do that, his confidence will slowly get better and better. 

“The physical tools, forget about it. He’s got all that. It’s just a matter of him mentally, right now, seeing it happen and stacking them play by play in each practice.”