Bears

An Angelo strength: Backup QBs

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An Angelo strength: Backup QBs

With Josh McCown expected to be named this week as the Bears game-15 starting quarterback (I just want to be available if they do call my number, just be ready to go, McCown said), the Bears are hoping that he proves to be a surprise continuation of a Bears pattern under GM Jerry Angelo.

There is in fact one position that Angelo has been consistent in addressing very well in his tenure as Bears general manager: Back-up quarterback.

Angelo arguably has had better luck solving the No. 2 spot than the No. 1 job.

The carnage of the four Caleb Hanie starts has obscured the fact that in the last decade, Angelo has regularly put pieces in place at the linchpin second-level position that have produced not only wins, but occasional playoffs. Angelo has had suspect results in the draft, but he has regularly assembled a roster with a proven veteran backup quarterback.

One primary personnel change over the past two years may account for the current QB problems. More on that later.

Consider (by offensive coordinator):

The John Shoop Time

2001 Starter: Shane Matthews Backup: Jim Miller
Matthews is injured in the week-two game against Minnesota. Miller leads the Bears to a 13-3 finish.

2002 Starter: Jim Miller Backup: Chris Chandler
Injuries throughout the offense and defense derail the season. Chandler, with injuries of his own, finishes 2-5 as a relief starter with a passer rating of nearly 80.

2003 Starter: Kordell Stewart Backup: Chandler, rookie No. 1 Rex Grossman
Behind an offensive line with Steve Edwards and Aaron Gibson at tackles, nothing at QB goes real well in a 7-9 season, Dick Jaurons last.

The Terry Shea Interlude

2004 Starter: Grossman Backups: Chad Hutchinson, Craig Krenzel, Jonathan Quinn
Grossmans ruptured ACL in game three starts QB freefall. Quinn had played for Terry Shea. Krenzel a draft choice, Hutchinson never mind.

Enter: Ron Turner

2005 Starter: Grossman Backup: Kyle Orton
Grossman goes down early, rookie Orton operates down-sized offense of new coordinator Turner. Bears finish 11-5 and in the playoffs.

2006 Starter: Grossman Backups: Brian Griese, Orton
Even with Orton, Bears add Griese but Grossman stays healthy.

2007 Starter: Grossman Backups: Griese, Orton
Grossman starts three, gets hurt. Griese starts six, gets hurt. Grossman starts four, gets hurt. Orton goes 2-1 in final three.

2008 Starter: Orton Backup: Grossman
Orton starts 15, Grossman one. Orton tries to play through ankle injury, Bears come up a half-game short of playoffs.

2009 Starter: Jay Cutler Backup: Hanie
Turner and Cutler clash, QB struggles but stays healthy. Hanie mops up in Cincinnati, Baltimore blowouts.

The Martz Waltz

2010 Starter: Cutler Backups: Todd Collins, Hanie
Mike Martz lobbies through the offseason for a veteran backup, Bears bring Collins off the NFL shelf for 1 million, three relief nightmares. Hanie nearly salvages NFC Championship game.

2011 Starter: Cutler Backups: Hanie, McCown, Nathan Enderle
Martz OK with Hanie as No. 2, Cutler goes down vs. San Diego with Bears 7-3, assessment of Hanie turns out to be in error.

Trying a few things

McCown has been expected since Sunday to replace Hanie after the latters latest failure to get the offense into any sort of rhythm or state of momentum. Ironically, neither would be playing if Angelo had his way.

The Bears attempted to regain Orton after he was waived by the Denver Broncos; the Kansas City Chiefs claimed him first. A call had been made to former St. LouisBaltimore quarterback Marc Bulger, whod played for Martz but turned down the offer to come out of retirement.

The Bears also had looked at securing Matt Moore after he was let go by Carolina last year but Moore opted for the No. 2 job in Miami.

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday.