Bears

Bears QB Draft Preview: Beyond Jay Cutler...?

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Bears QB Draft Preview: Beyond Jay Cutler...?

CSNChicago.com Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin goes position by position as the Bears approach the 2015 Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need and what draft day could have in store.

Bears pre-draft situation

Whether Jay Cutler is the franchise quarterback answer beyond 2015 is a matter for another time, presumably after offensive coordinator Adam Gase has an extended period of time with him. As in into the 2015 season.

Cutler could still exit Chicago in a trade. But the Bears weren’t actively shopping him and there were not serious queries relative to trading for him. The Bears did extensive checking with Cutler’s former coaches and were satisfied enough to put themselves on the hook for $15.5 million guaranteed this season and $10 million next.

Cutler has the highest career passer rating in franchise history, but consider that irrelevant. Coach John Fox has fashioned winning teams around better and worse, and after nine NFL seasons, the Cutler questions no longer involve vague allusions to “potential” or “talent.”

[SHOP: Get a Jay Cutler jersey here]

The real unknown is Jimmy Clausen, who stepped in when Cutler played himself onto the bench last season after 14 weeks. Clausen had a dismal rookie season with Fox in 2010 that cost both their jobs in Carolina.

Clausen did not win his one comeback start last season, but he played creditably against one of the elite NFL defenses (Detroit) after four years of no-play and coming in with a short practice week after the Monday night loss to New Orleans, further shortened by Marc Trestman cancelling the Wednesday practice before the Detroit game.

Fox, Gase and general manager Ryan Pace thought enough of Clausen to re-sign him while at the same time issuing zero ironclad statements about Cutler’s status as the starter.

“We’re a production-based business,” Fox said last month. “Like every position, how you practice usually leads to how you play and perform, and we’ll evaluate that at every position as we move forward.”

David Fales remains a prospect/project.

Bears draft priority: low

The Bears had both Marcus Mariota from Oregon and Florida State’s Jameis Winston in for visits. No real expectation exists that the Bears would take either with their No. 7 pick, nor sacrifice picks to trade up for one.

“At ‘7’ I think it’s highly unlikely one of the two quarterbacks is there,” said ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay via conference call.” And I don’t hear serious rumblings about them looking to move up for one of those two.”

Pace echoed a common GM refrain that he ideally would like to select or pick up a quarterback prospect every year. “You can take a swing every year at it and increase your odds," Pace said at the NFL owners meetings in March.

[MORE: Bears CB Draft Preview: Competition coming for Tim Jennings]

That said, the Saints didn’t do that while Pace was with New Orleans, but then again, that was a team with Drew Brees in place for most of the past decade.

The 2015 draft class is considered quarterback-lite, with only Mariota and Winston widely graded as first-rounders. History says that one from among Garrett Grayson (Colorado State), Brett Hundley (UCLA), Bryce Petty (Baylor), Sean Mannion (Oregon State) and a handful of others will emerge as a winning NFL quarterback. There are enough Joe Montanas, Tom Bradys and other success stories to make a pick from a seemingly pedestrian group more than a little intriguing.

Keep an eye on...

Shane Carden, East Carolina: Huge production, particularly high completion percentage, 86 TD passes vs. 30 INT’s.

Brandon Bridge, South Alabama: Excellent size (6-4, 225) and athleticism (4.72 sec. “40”) for a late-round pick.

Bo Wallace, Mississippi: MVP of two bowl games, 63 percent completion rate in SEC.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bears use Jags/Vikes as blueprints and build an elite defense over offense?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Bears use Jags/Vikes as blueprints and build an elite defense over offense?

On this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, David Schuster (670 The Score), Dan Cahill (Chicago Sun-Times) and Jordan Bernfield join David Kaplan on the panel.

The Bulls keep on winning. Should they try to make the playoffs? NBCSportsChicago.com’s Vincent Goodwill joins the guys to discuss.

Plus, with Bortles, Foles and Keenum starting in this weekend’s Championship Games should the Bears prioritize improving their defense this offseason?

Will Bears see instant improvement under Matt Nagy? Putting his first-year expectations in context

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USA TODAY

Will Bears see instant improvement under Matt Nagy? Putting his first-year expectations in context

Circling back around from the playoffs to the Bears, or at least to the Bears using the current postseason as a bit of a prism, magnifying glass, measuring stick, all of the above:

The ultimate question, obviously meaningfully unanswerable for perhaps another 10 or 11 months, revolves around expectations that were ushered in along with Matt Nagy and the rest of his coaching staff. One early guess is that there’ll be an inevitable positive bump in the record, the only true measuring stick. Depending on changes in practices, strength training, luck, whatever, Nagy might fare better than John Fox simply by virtue of having a presumably healthier roster — pick any three Bears who were injured during the 2017 season: Leonard Floyd, Cameron Meredith, Eric Kush, Kyle Long, Pernell McPhee, Mitch Unrein, Kevin White and Willie Young — and a broken-in Mitch Trubisky from the get-go.

This is far from a given, however. Far, far from a given for the Bears. Of the 10 coaches hired in the 50 years since George Halas stopped, only Fox, Dick Jauron and Dave Wannstedt improved on the winning percentage of their immediate predecessor. All dipped, save for Jack Pardee, who in 1975 equaled the 4-10 finish of Abe Gibron before him. And Pardee was getting Walter Payton in that year’s draft, so things started looking up in a hurry.

And maybe that should be the expectation for Nagy, who projects to get some or all of Fox’s wounded back, plus a draft class beginning with No. 8 overall.

Better Bears record in 2018? Maybe, but ...

The Bears are perhaps something of an anomaly (imagine that) in the near constant of incoming coaches failing to improve matters in their first years. One of the more memorable aspects of this writer’s first year on the Bears beat (1992) — besides the obvious pyrotechnics of Mike Ditka’s epic final season — was the startling turnarounds effected by first-year (and first-time) NFL coaches that year, with several teams on the Bears’ schedule that year, meaning there were chances to study those in depth.

Consider: Bill Cowher took the Steelers from 7-9 to 11-5, Dennis Green took the Vikings from 8-8 to 11-5, Mike Holmgren took the Packers from 4-12 to 11-5, Bobby Ross took the Chargers from 4-12 to 11-5, and Dave Shula took the Bengals from 3-13 to 5-11.

The Bears played all but the Chargers that year, losing twice to Green, once to Holmgren and defeating the Cowher and Shula teams. Holmgren’s Packers didn’t make the playoffs, but he had to make an in-season quarterback change, which worked out pretty well long-term (Brett Favre).

Bears coaching-change history notwithstanding, the Nagy bar should be well above the five wins of Fox’s 2017. Nagy is a first-time head coach, but none of Cowher, Green, Holmgren, Ross or Shula had ever been NFL head coaches previously, either. Green and Ross had been college head coaches, albeit Green with a losing record and Ross barely .500 in those tenures.

And those coaches were taking over in the last year before the advent of free agency, which began in 1993. The Bears “landed” Anthony Blaylock and Craig Heyward. The Vikings secured Jack Del Rio. The Packers, Reggie White.

Odd years coming

Expectations vs. results will be interesting to observe in quite a few places this season. In some spots, the situation wasn’t completely broken but they “fixed” it anyway, in the dubious tradition of the Bears axing Lovie Smith after consecutive seasons of 11-5, 8-8 and 10-6 — two more wins (29) than Fox and Marc Trestman had combined (27) over the next five years.

Sometimes that sort of thing can work out. Phil Jackson did get the Michael Jordan Bulls to the next level that Doug Collins hadn’t. And Joe Maddon got the Cubs over the Rick Renteria hump, though adding Kris Bryant, Dexter Fowler and Jon Lester probably helped, too. Fox got the Broncos into a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning, but Gary Kubiak won one with Manning. Fox’s Broncos went against the 2013 Seattle Seahawks, one of the top 10 defenses of all time, while Kubiak had the good fortune of instead having one of the all-time great defenses in 2015.

But back to current NFL case studies:

— The Lions fired Jim Caldwell after a 9-7 season, his third winning year out of four there, two of those going to the playoffs.

— The Titans concluded their playoff year with the exit of Mike Mularkey, his reward for a second straight 9-7 that reversed four straight losing years under others.

— Chuck Pagano had five .500-or-better seasons with the Colts, didn’t have Andrew Luck all year, and was fired two years after going 5-3 with Matt Hasselbeck filling in for Luck.

What the expectations are in those venues is their business, just as it was when Phil Emery launched Smith in a fashion similar to the Titans with Mularkey. Smith didn’t reach the 2012 playoffs but would have been fired for anything short of a Super Bowl appearance, as Mularkey was for only winning one playoff game with Marcus Mariota as his quarterback.

All of which makes the Nagy/Pace Era more than a little intriguing. Nagy takes over a team with a No. 2-overall quarterback, as Mularkey did with Mariota. Some of Mularkey’s undoing traced to failing to maximize Mariota with an offense suited to how his quarterback plays his best, and force-fitting a player into a scheme is high-risk at best.

That doesn’t really apply in the case of a conservatively wired Fox, who directed that the offense be kept under ball-security control with a rookie quarterback. Fox and Dowell Loggains arguably were as constrained by Trubisky as he was by them.

But Nick Foles flourished with the Eagles under Chip Kelly and Doug Pederson, struggling a bit under Jeff Fisher. Case Keenum, a teammate of Foles when the Rams played in St. Louis, was so-so under the defense-based Fisher with the Rams, yet went supernova this year under the defense-based Mike Zimmer with the Vikings, which speaks to the value of the right coordinator irrespective of the head coach’s offensive or defensive background.

In the end Nagy’s achievements will be player-based. They always are. What he can do with what he’s got and given, via draft, free agency or whatever, vs. the successes and non-successes of others in his situation, is the work in progress now.