Bears free-agency analysis: Ryan Pace overhauls secondary

Bears free-agency analysis: Ryan Pace overhauls secondary

This is the third in a series analyzing the Bears' decision-making during the 2017 free-agency period.

From 3/13: Bears free agency analysis: Alshon Jeffery non-deal left an understandable void

From 3/14: Bears free-agency analysis: Offseason OL pattern holds with Tom Compton

When the Bears opted out of the spiraling bidding for free agents at two of their critical-need positions — cornerback, safety — the obvious reason was that the prices for A.J. Bouye and Stephon Gilmore at corner and safety Tony Jefferson, the reason was simple: The "whoa" factor.
"I guess I should say nothing surprises me anymore," GM Ryan Pace said, then laughed, "but there's a handful of things that you're like, ‘Whoa!'" 
Amid the aftershocks of one of the most aggressive Bears starts in their history with free agency — six new players signed in the span of less than 48 hours — is the conclusion that the Bears correctly took passes on players on whom a knee-jerk market was overheating, even allowing for a higher salary cap, and simultaneously upgraded primary need positions.
The Bears wanted additions at cornerback. They were linked to Gilmore and Bouye, who were signed by the New England Patriots and Jacksonville Jaguars to five-year deals worth $65 million and $67.5 million, contracts for a one-time Pro Bowl alternate (Gilmore) from a pass defense ranked in the 20's (Buffalo, 2015-16), and for a one-year starter (Bouye) with 19 career starts. The guaranteed money for Gilmore reached $40 million, and $26 million for Bouye.

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The packages exceeded the ones for the likes of Janoris Jenkins and Aqib Talib and approach the ranges for Patrick Peterson, Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman.
Prince Amukamara has had health issues, but is on a prove-it deal at one-year, $7 million. Marcus Cooper projects as an upgrade over Kyle Fuller in the latter's current diminished state, and his three-year deal averages $5.3-million-per, for a starter with 4 interceptions and 11 pass breakups last season in 13 starts.
And Pace was clear that the draft always factors into free-agency.
Quintin Demps represents an upgrade at safety, with a player who netted 6 interceptions last season as a member of the Houston Texans secondary along with Bouye. At age 32 Demps might better be viewed as a veteran bridge in the deep middle that has been a black hole since the better days of Mike Brown.
With the No. 3 and 36 picks of the draft, the Bears are expected to address the secondary with players that their personnel evaluators view with greater upside than what the spiraling dollars of free agency could offer a team building for a future.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: How hot is John Fox's seat?

Seth Gruen (Bleacher Report/”Big Ten Unfiltered” podcast), Chris Emma ( and Matt Zahn (CBS 2) join Kap on the panel. If the Bears lose badly to the Lions, should Sunday be John Fox’s last game? 

Plus Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill joins the panel to talk Bulls as well as the Niko/Portis cold war.

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

Collecting some final thoughts on if Tarik Cohen isn't getting enough snaps for the Bears

John Fox on Friday sought to clarify some comments he made earlier in the week about Tarik Cohen that seemed to follow some spurious logic. Here’s what Fox said on Wednesday when asked if he’d like to see Cohen be more involved in the offensive game plan:

“You’re looking at one game,” Fox said, referencing Cohen only playing 13 of 60 snaps against the Green Bay Packers. “Sometimes the defense dictates who gets the ball. I think from a running standpoint it was a game where we didn’t run the ball very effectively. I think we only ran it 17 times. I believe Jordan Howard, being the fifth leading rusher in the league, probably commanded most of that. I think he had 15 carries. 

“It’s a situation where we’d like to get him more touches, but it just didn’t materialize that well on that day. But I’d remind people that he’s pretty high up there in both punt returns, he’s our leading receiver with 29 catches, so it’s not like we don’t know who he is.”

There were some clear holes to poke in that line of reasoning, since the question wasn’t about Cohen’s touches, but his snap count. Cohen creates matchup problems when he’s on the field for opposing defenses, who can be caught having to double-team him (thus leaving a player uncovered, i.e. Kendall Wright) or matching up a linebacker against him (a positive for the Bears). The ball doesn’t have to be thrown Cohen’s way for his impact to be made, especially if he’s on the field at the same time as Howard. 

“They don’t know who’s getting the ball, really, and they don’t know how to defend it properly,” Howard said. “… It definitely can dictate matchups.”

There are certain scenarios in which the Bears don’t feel comfortable having Cohen on the field, like in third-and-long and two-minute drills, where Benny Cunningham’s veteran experience and pass protection skills are valued. It may be harder to create a mismatch or draw a double team with Cohen against a nickel package. It's easier to justify leaving a 5-foot-6 running back on the sidelines in those situations. 

But if the Bears need Cohen to be their best playmaker, as offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said last month, they need to find a way for him to be on the field more than a shade over one in every five plays. As Fox explained it on Friday, though, it’s more about finding the right spots for Cohen, not allowing opposing defenses to dictate when he’s on the field. 

“We have Tarik Cohen out there, we're talking about touches, not play time, we're talking about touches so if they double or triple cover him odds are the ball is not going to him, in fact we'd probably prefer it didn’t,” Fox said. “So what I meant by dictating where the ball goes, that's more related to touches than it is play time. I just want to make sure I clarify that. So it's not so much that they dictate personnel to you. Now if it's in a nickel defense they have a certain package they run that may create a bad matchup for you, that might dictate what personnel group you have out there not just as it relates to Tarik Cohen but to your offense in general. You don't want to create a bad matchup for your own team. I hope that makes sense.”

There’s another wrinkle here, though, that should be addressed: Loggains said this week that defenses rarely stick to the tendencies they show on film when Cohen is on the field. That’s not only a problem for Cohen, but it’s a problem for Mitchell Trubisky, who hasn’t always had success against defensive looks he hasn’t seen on film before. And if the Bears are trying to minimize the curveballs Trubisky sees, not having Cohen on the field for a high volume of plays would be one way to solve that. 

This is also where the Bears’ lack of offensive weapons factors in. Darren Sproles, who Cohen will inexorably be linked to, didn’t play much as a rookie — but that was on a San Diego Chargers team that had LaDanian Tomlinson, Keenan McCardell and Antonio Gates putting up big numbers. There were other options on that team; the Bears have a productive Howard and a possibly-emerging Dontrelle Inman, but not much else. 

So as long as Cohen receives only a handful of snaps on a team with a paucity of playmakers, this will continue to be a topic of discussion. Though if you’re looking more at the future of the franchise instead of the short-term payoffs, that we’re having a discussion about a fourth-round pick not being used enough is a good thing.