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2015 NFL Mock Draft: Could Bears' Ryan Pace trade back from No. 7?

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2015 NFL Mock Draft: Could Bears' Ryan Pace trade back from No. 7?

The NFL Draft always provides surprises and 2015 will be no different.

The only first-round lock appears to be Jameis Winston going to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 1. After that it's a crapshoot. Will Marcus Mariota land in Tennessee or is he destined to reunite with Chip Kelly in Philadelphia? Will a running back finally be drafted in the first round? And how will Ryan Pace fare in his first foray into the draft as GM of the Bears?

[MORE NFL DRAFT: Check out our 200 player profiles]

With less than two days until the 2015 NFL Draft officially kicks off, CSNChicago.com's Scott Krinch tries mocking the first round.

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jameis Winston (QB), Florida State

Lovie Smith does not have the best poker face. Winston will be the pick here and he has been all along.

2. Tennessee Titans: Marcus Mariota (QB), Oregon

Does Mariota stay in Tennessee or get flipped on draft night? Regardless, expect the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner to come off the board at No. 2.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Williams (DL), USC

David Caldwell passes on in-state edge rusher Dante Fowler Jr. and elects to snag the draft's most complete defensive lineman in Leonard Williams.  

4. Oakland Raiders: Amari Cooper (WR), Alabama

If this was 10 years ago the Raiders choice would probably be the enigma that is Breshad Perriman, but Reggie McKenzie goes the safe route with Amari Cooper.

5. Washington Redskins: Dante Fowler Jr. (OLB), Florida

The Redskins are floored to see Fowler Jr. still on the board, who they hope becomes the next LaVar Arrington — minus the injuries.

6. New York Jets: Vic Beasley (OLB), Clemson

The rich get richer as Todd Bowles' defense adds arguably the best pass rusher in the 2015 NFL Draft. 

7. New Orleans Saints via trade with Chicago Bears: Bud Dupree (OLB), Kentucky

Ryan Pace swings a draft deal with his former club, who desperately need help on the defensive side of the ball. Chicago swaps No. 7 for New Orleans' Nos. 13 and 31 picks in the first round. 

8. Atlanta Falcons: Randy Gregory (OLB), Nebraska

Dan Quinn ignores Gregory's off-the-field issues, and gets his first major rebuilding piece for the Falcons defense. 

9. New York Giants: Brandon Scherff (OT), Iowa

The Giants take a page out of their NFC East counterpart Dallas Cowboys' book, and snatch up the most versatile offensive lineman in this year's draft. 

10. St. Louis Rams: Andrus Peat (OT), Stanford

Rams have to find a way to protect whoever is playing quarterback for them in 2015.  

11. Minnesota Vikings: DeVante Parker (WR), Louisville

Teddy Bridgewater gets his former Louisville running mate in Parker, who gives the Vikings a dangerous tandem in the NFC North for years to come. 

12. Cleveland Browns: Kevin White (WR), West Virginia

The slide finally ends for White here. The Browns have a glaring need at wide receiver and White gives Josh McCown/Johnny Manziel a bonafide No. 1 wideout.

13. Chicago Bears via trade with New Orleans Saints: Danny Shelton (DT), Washington

The Bears trade down, pick up an extra first rounder and get the guy they wanted all along. Shelton fills an immediate need and has a chance to be a dominant presence in the middle of Chicago's defense.

14. Miami Dolphins: Kevin Johnson (CB), Wake Forest

Johnson's stock is sky high and the Dolphins fill a major need at corner.

15. San Francisco 49ers: Arik Armstead (DT), Oregon

Armstead and the 49ers are a match made in heaven. The 49ers desperately need help on the defensive line as Armstead becomes San Francisco's heir apparent to Justin Smith. 

16. Houston Texans: Breshad Perriman (WR), Central Florida

Perriman was one of the most explosive players in college football last season and the Texans elect to fill the void at WR left by Andre Johnson.  

17. San Diego Chargers: La'el Collins (OT), LSU

Collins could step in and play either right tackle or right guard in Week 1. 

18. Kansas City Chiefs: Trae Waynes (CB), Michigan State

Wide receiver or secondary seem to be the route the Chiefs will go at No. 18. With an early run-on of receivers, Kansas City snags the next best corner on the board.

19. Cleveland Browns: Malcom Brown (DT), Texas

Brown fills a huge need on the D-line for Cleveland. Ray Farmer makes out like a bandit with both White and Brown in the fold.  

20. Philadelphia Eagles: Phillip Dorsett (WR), Miami

All the pre-draft talk of the Eagles moving up comes to a halt as Chip Kelly stays at No. 20 and finds a Jeremy Maclin replacement in the speedy Dorsett.  

21. Cincinnati Bengals: Ereck Flowers (OT), Miami

How do you make Andy Dalton better? Well, the Bengals have given him numerous weapons to work with at WR, RB and TE, so why not find him some O-line help this time around?

22. Pittsburgh Steelers: Marcus Peters (CB), Washington

Peters is probably the most talented corner in the draft, but his stock has plummeted due to off-the-field issues. Mike Tomlin and the Steelers go for the home run with the former Husky.

23. Detroit Lions: Jordan Phillips (DT), Oklahoma

The Lions would love a chance to grab either Danny Shelton or Malcom Brown to fill the hole left at defensive tackle after offseason departures of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, but Phillips is no slouch as a consolation prize. 

24. Arizona Cardinals: Todd Gurley (RB), Georgia

The Cardinals waste little time ending Gurley's slide and finally find a legitimate weapon at running back. The former Bulldog has Top 5 talent.

25. Carolina Panthers: T.J. Clemmings (OT), Pittsburgh

The Panthers need to find a way to protect Cam Newton and take the first step in doing so with the athletic Clemmings. 

26. Baltimore Ravens: Melvin Gordon (RB), Wisconsin

Gordon is a steal for the Ravens at No. 26. Matt Forte had two of his most productive years under Marc Trestman, who will have that same affect on Gordon in Baltimore.

27. Dallas Cowboys: Byron Jones (CB), Connecticut

What a tough break for the Cowboys after missing out on both Gurley and Gordon. Instead, Dallas goes with the high character corner in Jones. Not like they need some good character guys for the locker room or anything...

28. Denver Broncos: D.J. Humphries (OT), Florida

Humphries is snatched up by the Broncos and fills an immediate need on the right side of the offensive line.

29. Indianapolis Colts: Landon Collins (S), Alabama

The draft's first safety finally comes off the board. The Colts need a playmaker on the back end of their defense and Collins fits the bill.

30. Green Bay Packers: Eric Kendricks (ILB), UCLA

The instinctive Kendricks would be a tackling machine in Green Bay's 3-4 defense.  

31. Chicago Bears via trade with New Orleans Saints: Shane Ray (OLB), Missouri

Shane Ray finally hears his name called after a whirlwind week. Pace and the Bears use their additional first rounder to get a Top 10 talent, and hope Ray's character issues are a thing of the past.

32. New England Patriots: Jalen Collins (CB), LSU

No Darrelle Revis. No Brandon Browner. The Pats re-tool at corner with Collins. 

2017 Bears position grades: Outside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Outside Linebacker

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER

2017 grade: C-

Level of need: High

Decisions to be made on: Willie Young (contract), Pernell McPhee (contract), Sam Acho (free agent), Lamarr Houston (free agent)

Possible free agent targets: DeMarcus Lawrence, Ezekiel Ansah, Adrian Clayborn, Connor Barwin, Kony Ealy

 

Would you believe that no true outside linebacker in this year’s free agent class had more sacks than Lamarr Houston did last year? Houston and the Rams’ Connor Barwin each had five, underscoring how rare it is for an elite edge rusher to make it to free agency.

 

There are a few that, for now, are due to hit the open market. DeMarcus Lawrence racked up 14 ½ sacks with the Dallas Cowboys last year, but played as a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. The same goes for the Detroit Lions’ Ezekiel Ansah, who had a dozen sacks in 2017. But if either reaches free agency, it’d be a surprise -- again, pass-rushers with that kind of production rarely escape the franchise tag.

 

If Lawrence or Ansah do become available, the Bears would likely be a part of the feeding frenzy to sign either player. Whether they could convince either player that 1) Chicago is a desirable destination and 2) that they’d be just as, if not more, productive in a 3-4 base instead of a 4-3 is a different question.

 

The same goes for Atlanta’s Adrian Clayborn, who had 9 ½ sacks last year (including a ridiculous six-sack game) but played in a 4-3 and may not be looking to leave Atlanta. The Falcons, though, could be in a tricky salary cap situation with defensive lineman Dontari Poe and longtime kicker Matt Bryant both due to hit free agency.

 

Fangio’s scheme is malleable, though, and any of these players would be a fit in it one way or another. Spotrac estimates Lawrence would command an average annual salary of $14 million per year, while Ansah would be slightly lower at $13.2 million. Either way, either of those guys could command the biggest contract Pace has given a defensive player (although the Bears were prepared to give cornerback A.J. Bouye more than the $13.5 million average annual salary that he’s receiving with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

Both Willie Young and Pernell McPhee could be released this off-season, too, to free up cap room. Cutting Young would net $4.5 million in cap savings, while a release of McPhee would free up a little over $7 million, according to Spotrac. Of the two, Young may be the more likely guy to stick around, despite coming off a season-ending triceps injury. While he’ll be 33 next September, Young has 9 ½ sacks in the last two year while McPhee has eight (while playing in more games than Young). This may not be an either-or situation, though -- the Bears could very well cut both.

 

Houston is an interesting option to retain after he racked up four sacks in five games after returning to the Bears last December. He’s struggled to stay healthy in his career, though, and the Bears probably wouldn’t re-sign him and count on the 30-year-old to be a starter in 2018, especially considering the uncertain recovery status of Leonard Floyd. Sam Acho could be brought back as a solid depth option, too.

 

The success of this unit, though, will hinge more on Floyd than whatever the Bears are able to do in free agency or the draft. The Bears need their 2016 first-round pick to A) stay healthy and B) improve as an edge rusher after injuries have limited him to 22 games and 11 ½ sacks in his first two seasons. If every team needs three reliable pass-rushers, the Bears will need to pencil in Floyd next to Akiem Hicks (who, for what it’s worth, is more of a run-stuffer, but did total 8 ½ sacks in 2017) and then either a free agent or a draft pick.

 

The most likely route to land that third pass rusher, though, is probably through the draft unless a top talent like Lawrence, Ansah or Clayborn hits free agency -- and then matches with the Bears.

The Bears have options but no easy decisions on tagging Kyle Fuller

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USA Today

The Bears have options but no easy decisions on tagging Kyle Fuller

The Bears need long-term solutions at cornerback, and have one of the NFL’s most reliable players at that position in 2017 about to hit free agency. But that doesn’t mean Ryan Pace has an easy decision on his hands when it comes to applying the franchise tag on Kyle Fuller. 

Fuller was one of four players with at least 20 passes defended (breakups plus interceptions) in 2017, and also played well in run support. For a guy who not only had his fifth-year option declined last April, but had to play his way onto the Bears’ 53-man roster in training camp, it was an impressive year that should set Fuller up for a sizable payday. 

“(I’m) very proud of Kyle Fuller,” Pace said last month. “He went through some adversity the last couple of years and how he responded this year, his ball production was outstanding. A lot of PBUs. His preparation was outstanding. I think you can tell when a corner is prepared to play. And he can anticipate routes and things of that nature. Just a very professional approach. Very even-keeled approach. I think it started really with the way he attacked the offseason. And he had a good season because of that.”

That adversity Pace alluded to is another factor in the Fuller decision — was he a one-year wonder in 2017, and will the injuries and inconsistencies that plagued him from 2014-2016 return? 

The injuries are harder to predict, though it’s worth noting Fuller re-gained the trust of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio in 2017 after sitting out the entire 2016 season due to a knee issue. The inconsistencies, logically, shouldn’t return as long as Fuller remains as dedicated to film study and preparation in 2018 and beyond.

“(It was) definitely a different kind of season,” Fuller said on locker cleanout day in January. “Definitely feel good about what I was able to do. You always feel like you could do better.”

Fangio, importantly, consistently praised Fuller's play last season — and Fangio rarely entertains empty platitudes in his media sessions. 

"I think he’s come back with purpose," Fangio said in December. "He’s been very mature the whole year with his work ethic and habits and I think he had a mindset to go out and play better than he had in ’15 because you can’t compare it to ’16 and I think he’s achieved that. I just think he’s in a better frame of mind, more competitive. He knows what he wants and he’s got it narrowed down.”

If Fuller’s ceiling is higher than what he did in 2017 — he dropped a handful of interceptions, which stands as an easily-identifiable area of improvement - then perhaps he’d be a bargain with whatever contract he gets. 

But for now, we’re going to focus on the franchise tag. The Bears have the following options:

Place the non-exclusive franchise tag on Fuller. This would allow other teams to sign an offer sheet with another team, but the Bears would have the ability match the offer. If they didn’t, they’d be entitled to receiving two first-round draft picks from the team that signed Fuller. 

Place the exclusive franchise tag on Fuller. This would prohibit Fuller’s representation from seeking offers from other teams, and lock Fuller in to playing for the Bears in 2018 unless the tag were rescinded for some unexpected reason. 

Place the transition tag on Fuller. This would allow the Bears to match any offer sheet signed by Fuller, but they wouldn’t be entitled to compensation if they don’t match it. 

Decline to tag Fuller. This would mean he’d hit the open market once the league’s legal tampering period begins March 12 and free agency officially opens March 14. 

Let’s evaluate these options:

Non-exclusive franchise tag

The dance here would be if Fuller would quickly sign the one-year tag and begin negotiating a long-term deal — the two parties would have until July 16 to do so — or if he’d wait things out until the spring or summer to sign it. The Bears are in a healthy position salary cap-wise, so Fuller wouldn’t necessarily gain leverage by signing the one-year tender to guarantee him somewhere around $15 million (the NFL hasn’t released its official franchise tag figures yet, and won’t do so until sometime in early-to-mid-March. The Bears could afford to pay Fuller that one-year salary and still seek another top-level free agent, as well as other signings. 

It’s unlikely any team would be willing to part with a pair of first-round picks for Fuller, so effectively, this would be an exclusive tag. 

The calculation for Pace is this: Is Fuller really worth somewhere in the range of $15 million? That salary would make him the highest-paid player on the Bears, on an annual average salary basis, ahead of Akiem Hicks ($12 million annually), Kyle Long ($10 million), Charles Leno ($9.25 million), Pernell McPhee ($7.75 million, though he could be cut) and Mitchell Trubisky ($7.258 million — and this doesn’t include Mike Glennon, who all but certainly will be cut). 

In a multi-year deal, Fuller wouldn’t get an average annual value of $15 million — not when A.J. Bouye ($13.5 million) and Stephon Gilmore ($13 million) got less in free agency last year. Spotrac provided the following “market value” estimates for fellow 2018 free agent cornerbacks: $13 million annually for Malcolm Butler, $11 million for Trumaine Johnson, $9.3 million for E.J. Gaines and $6.9 million for Bashaud Breeland. How accurate those numbers are depends on your evaluation of each player — but for what it’s worth, Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 rankings have Fuller (No. 10 corner) as the highest-rated player of that bunch. 

If the Bears couldn’t work out a long-term deal with Fuller, he’d play out 2018 on the franchise tag, leading to Pace facing the same decision — albeit at a higher salary — at this time in 2019. 

Exclusive franchise tag

Fuller may be a good player, but he’s not *so* good that the Bears would want to place the exclusive tag on him. Some team may be willing to give up two first-round picks to sign Le’Veon Bell, but almost certainly not Fuller. 

Transition tag

If the Bears were to place this on Fuller, it would cost them less money in 2018 (it pays the average of the top 10 salaries at a position, instead of top five for the franchise tag) but wouldn’t entitle the Bears to compensation if they declined to match an offer sheet for Fuller. It seems unlikely the Bears would use this, given the defensive coaching staff and front office remain in place and have a strong and thorough evaluation of Fuller. Essentially: The Bears should know by March 6 at the latest if they're in or out on Fuller. If the Bears are going to risk losing Fuller to get him at a lower price, they’ll more likely…

Decline to place the tag

This would mean Fuller would be risked losing to the open market. Butler, Johnson, Gaines and Breeland comprise a solid crop of free agent corners, but that may not prevent Fuller from landing one of the three biggest contracts at his position. If the Bears went this route, they’d likely still try to re-sign Fuller while also putting forth competitive offers (as they did last year for Bouye and Gilmore) for Butler and/or Johnson. 

Letting Fuller hit unfettered free agency could mean the Bears are confident in their ability to sign at least one top cornerback, though that’s a dangerous game to play after Bouye turned down more money from them to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars a year ago. But perhaps Pace feels more confident this year in his team’s ability to lure top free agents, thanks to consistency in a well-respected defensive staff, a young and energetic head coach, a hopeful franchise quarterback in place and significant improvements to Halas Hall in the works. 

Pace has two weeks to make his call; expect him to use up most of that time to calculate the decision on Fuller. The Bears could opt to go a route that keeps Fuller in Chicago, then re-sign Prince Amukamara (who’s an unrestricted free agent) and Bryce Callahan (who’s a restricted free agent) and keep the top of their cornerback depth chart steady, and then draft a cornerback — either a top one, like Ohio State’s Denzel Ward, or a more developmental one in the middle rounds. Or the Bears could blow up the depth chart, letting Fuller and Amukamara walk and looking to sign and draft players to fill out the position. 

But the decision on Fuller is the first step. What it is will start to bring the Bears’ offseason into focus.