Bears

GM candidates have solid draft history

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GM candidates have solid draft history

The interview process for Bears general manager candidates is ongoing this week, with Marc Ross from the New York Giants making it to Halas Hall Wednesday, after San Diegos Jimmy Raye and New Englands Jason Licht earlier. Tim Ruskell has his formal interview Thursday and Phil Emery from Kansas City will complete the first cycle.

Bears President Ted Phillips is the point man by his own account. And it is always difficult to get a complete fix on how good each individual has been to this point in their careers, because they have typically not been the top guy in their current organizations, as they will be in Chicago.

But it is interesting to pick a spot and compare apples and apples, more or less. So CSNChicago.com took the last five No. 1 picks for each candidates organization (with the exception of Ruskell) as a point of comparison (recognizing that Licht was not with the Patriots for all five). This was a problem area for the Jerry Angelo regime so how have others done:

Jimmy Raye: The Chargers have had decidedly mixed results with their top picks. They selected Craig Davis in 2007 and he was a bust, a wide receiver, a position of high need for the Bears. Antoine Cason (08) is a starting cornerback and Ryan Matthews (10) starts at running back. Corey Liuget (11) from Illinois was a starter at defensive end because Luis Castillo (05) was injured. Defensive end Larry English (09) has had injury problems.

Analysis: A solid record, with GM A.J. Smith the prime architect. But the Chargers have consistently secured talent that has stuck around. The focus in round one has been on defense in San Diego since Philip Rivers selection (04).

Phil Emery: The Chiefs over the past five years have twice selected wide receivers in the first round. Dwayne Bowe (07) was a major hit and is on the Bears radar this offseason in free agency. Jonathan Baldwin (11) had a serviceable first year primarily coming off the bench. Safety Eric Berry (10), defense end Tyson Jackson (09) and defensive tackle Glen Dorsey (08) have been starters, as has left tackle Brandon Albert (08).

Analysis: Again a solid record at core positions.

Jason Licht: The Patriots drafted very well in first rounds since Brandon Meriweather (07) and even he was a Pro Bowl safety, if not ultimately a fit with Bill Belichick. Jerod Mayo (08) was defensive rookie of the year and a Pro Bowl linebacker, and New England got quality at cornerback with Patrick Chung (09) and Devin McCourty (10). Nate Solder (11) is listed as a starter at tackle and was a pick for the future.
Analysis: Licht has been with the Patriots twice, returning in 2009 after stops in Philadelphia and Arizona. New England does personnel the right way.

Marc Ross: The Giants, like the Patriots, are still playing in January because of hits in the draft. Cornerback Prince Amukamara (11) isnt starting but thats mostly because Kenny Phillips (08) and Aaron Ross (07) are. Jason Pierre-Paul was a home run at defensive end (10), and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (09) is a major reason why New York is in the NFC Championship game.

Analysis: The Giants have had fits and starts but they have not had a losing season since 2004 and have been to the playoffs five of the last seven years, and missed in 2010 in a tiebreaker with the Packers after going 10-6.

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.