Bears

Bears cutdown to 53-man roster reveals Fox, Pace 'traits'

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Bears cutdown to 53-man roster reveals Fox, Pace 'traits'

Bears GM Ryan Pace and coach John Fox are still in the shakedown period of their Chicago tenures, the time when tendencies, preferences and other operating philosophies become apparent. With the first edition of “final” roster reductions (waivers, contracts terminated, suspension), from 75 to 53 players, one or two Fox/Pace traits suggested themselves.

For one, they are not ego-wedded to “their guys,” players with connections to them or their staffs from the past. Among the roster trims made official before Saturday’s mandated 3 p.m. deadline were a player signed by Pace this offseason projected to be a starting inside linebacker – Mason Foster – and a quarterback prospect – Zac Dysert – who played for Fox and coordinator Adam Gase in Denver.

And the Bears will not hesitate to roll dice on unproven undrafted rookies – linebacker John Timu – over presumably safer veterans (Foster).

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The exact level of draft quality remains to play out when games start to count, but for just the second time in the past 10 years – but the second in the last three years – the entire Bears class was incorporated into the 53-man roster.

Expect the 2015 Bears roster to remain fluid through Opening Day, the trading deadline and possibly beyond. Teams routinely are in constant search of upgrades and Pace has made it abundantly clear that the Bears would be aggressive once roster cutdowns made possible upgrades available from other teams’ castoffs.

In addition to defensive lineman Jeremiah Ratliff being placed on the reserve/suspended list, the following players were removed from the Bears’ final roster as of late Saturday:

LB Jonathan Anderson: Great showing vs. Cleveland should land him on practice squad, or with Browns.

LB David Bass: One of the many 4-3 speed rushers trying to make the switch to an edge player in the 3-4. Not enough impact moments at a position with better options (Sam Acho, Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Pernell McPhee, Willie Young).

QB Zac Dysert: The play of David Fales in the win over Cleveland made Fales arguably too valuable to cut with the hope of slipping him onto the practice squad. What Dysert’s brief stop in Chicago did, though, was give Bears a close-up look at a potential emergency quarterback.

LB Mason Foster: Signed by Pace and the Bears in March, Foster had moments as a backup inside ‘backer but did not flash enough for a fifth-year player. The impact plays of Timu in particular, with his value on special teams, made Foster expendable.

OL Michael, Ola: Ola started 12 games at four different positions in 2014, a versatility standard few players can match and teams covet. But Ola struggled throughout camp and was never even in the discussion for solving the problems at right tackle.

TE Dante Rosario: The late-preseason trade for Khari Lee, with Fox’s description of Lee as a good in-line blocker, portended Rosario’s exit, particularly after Rosario had a dropped pass and penalties on consecutive plays in the loss at Cincinnati.

NT Terry Williams: Swamp Monster had a creditable game in the shutout of the Cleveland Browns, and it would surprise no one if another 3-4 team (like the Browns) found space for him. The move by the Bears stands as a statement that they expect Eddie Goldman to be back from his concussion sooner rather than later. It also signals what coaches thought of how Will Sutton has performed at the spot, which also has Ego Ferguson available, and Jeremiah Ratliff should be back from his foot injury by the time his three-game suspension is served.

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Other cuts:

S Qumain Black

G Conor Boffeli

DE David Carter

WR A.J. Cruz

DL Brandon Dunn

CB Jacoby Glenn

S Anthony Jefferson

WR Rashad Lawrence

G Tyler Moore

TE Bear Pascoe

TE Gannon Sinclair

WR Ify Umodu

LB Matthew Wells

LB Kyle Woestmann

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.