Bears

Goodell: Chicago 'earned' the right to host the 2016 NFL Draft

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Goodell: Chicago 'earned' the right to host the 2016 NFL Draft

SCHAUMBURG, Ill. — Chi-Town is once again Draft Town.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel held a joint press conference on Tuesday at the NFL owners meeting at the Hyatt Regency in Schaumburg, Ill., announcing that the NFL draft will return to Chicago next April.

"We're coming back to Chicago for the Draft in May of 2016," Goodell said. "We're thrilled. They have earned it. The success we had last year set a new bar for the Draft. It set a new opportunity for fans to interact with the NFL. It had a tremendous impact on this community. The Bears, the city and the fans did an absolute extraordinary job and we are thrilled to be coming back."

"I want to thank the NFL Draft and all the franchises for once again picking the city of Chicago," Mayor Emanuel added. "We've made the Second City the first choice again and the NFL Draft is a world class event and I'm proud they picked a world class city like the city of Chicago."

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Chicago will host the festivities from April 28-30, although a location for the event has yet to be determined.

"We're still determining," NFL Vice President Peter O'Reilly said. "Obviously, we had a great experience last year at the Auditorium Theatre, but we're using this time now that we're announcing more than two months in advance of when we announced last year to look at all the options. Certainly the new normal of the Draft now is the big fan festival and that will still be in Grant Park, but we're still using the time over the next couple of months to really nail down where the venues will be.

"Leaving New York after 51 years we were able, in Chicago, to take the Draft to a new level. Over 200,000 thousand people in Grant Park. We've set a new bar here in Chicago. This was our challenge to our partners here in Chicago: How do we continue to raise the bar in 2016? We have every confidence that we will raise that bar in 2016. Get even more fans in Grant Park for Draft Town. It is a new normal for the draft."

The city of Chicago hosted the the 2015 NFL Draft last April — after previously being held in New York for the last half-century — and many NFL officials praised the city for the event. According to a Sport Industry Research Center at Temple University that was instructed by the Chicago Sports Commission, the Draft generated a total economic impact of $81.6 million. That same research found that half of the attendees were from outside the city of Chicago and generated 31,000 hotel nights. NFL staff, sponsors and media generated another 5,600 hotel nights.

The NFL announced that the league will work with the Bears, Mayor Emanuel, Choose Chicago, the Chicago Sports Commission and the Chicago Park District on week-long Draft events, with the plan being to expand Draft Town and add youth clinics and community programs, similar to last year's festivities leading up the 2016 NFL Draft.

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There had been speculation that the city of Los Angeles would be granted the rights to host the 2016 event as a way to showcase the city for a possible relocation in 2017. Owners from all 32 NFL teams were in attendance on Tuesday at the owners meeting to discuss the future of a team possibly relocating to Los Angeles. The St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders all gave presentations.

However, the NFL announced that it will develop a selection process for determining landing spots for future Drafts with Chicago still being under consideration for 2017 and beyond.

"Fairly early on we realized the power of the Chicago experience and learned so much of the opportunity to raise it up next year, and really what we've set forth and what we're laying out from here forth is starting this fall that we're going to open up the process for bidding for the Draft," O'Reilly said. "We want all of our clubs to express interest and really as we look to 2017 and 2018 creating a more formal process around that and we'll provide more details on that as it starts to come to life. Chicago clearly will be a part of that process as well."

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Some of the NFL's demands to the city of Chicago in 2015 included the use of the 3,900 Auditorium Theatre at Roosevelt University, street closures for nearly three weeks, police escorts for draft selections, indoor and outdoor space for NFL Draft parties and sponsors, an estimated $4 million of promotional signage and materials, and an option to keep the draft in Chicago in 2016 — which the league has exhausted. O'Reilly hinted on Tuesday that some of those same contractual demands will still be in place for 2016.

2016 will mark the 10th different year Chicago has hosted the draft, as the Windy City hosted the event in 1938, 1942-1944, 1951, 1962-1964 and 2015.

And Mayor Emanuel couldn't be more pleased to see the Draft return to Chicago.

"We had a helicopter on Saturday afternoon take a shot of the crowd and we had a firm photo back on his [Goodell's] desk Monday morning and said, 'I want you to see what a great American event looks like in a great American city like the city of Chicago.'"

For Bears drafting at No. 8, the 'problem' with Notre Dame G Quenton Nelson is...

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USA TODAY

For Bears drafting at No. 8, the 'problem' with Notre Dame G Quenton Nelson is...

In the aptly-named mock drafts to this point, this reporter has posited the Bears selecting Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson. That’s not the complete story, however. There’s a “problem.”

The landscape: The Bears currently sit at No. 8 overall; Nelson is rated among the best prospects, regardless of position, in the 2018; Nelson is the consensus top offensive lineman in this draft; the Bears have an immediate need on the interior of their offensive line (at guard or center, depending upon where where the new coaching staff slots Cody Whitehair); and among the prime directives for GM Ryan Pace is the protection of franchise quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

And full disclosure: This reporter does see Nelson to the Bears, just not at No. 8, and presumably if the Bears do not address the post-Josh Sitton situation in free agency.

But there’s a problem. A couple, actually, and having nothing to do specifically with Nelson.

The “problem” centers (no pun intended) around his position: Guard.

Guards do not typically come off the board within the first 10 picks of drafts. Worse for guards, when they do, they don’t work out well. In the last five drafts, only two guards were selected within the first 10 picks, both in the 2013 draft, both (Jonathan Cooper, No. 7; Chance Warmack, No. 10) already undistinguished and both already on their second teams.

Great guards are indeed to be found in first rounds. But relevant NFL history says that they do not come early. Selectively, to wit:

Player Drafted Year
David DeCastro 24 2012
Alan Faneca* 26 1998
Steve Hutchinson* 17 2001
Kyle Long 20 2013
Zack Martin 16 2014

* 2017 Hall of Fame semifinalist

Meaning: Assuming the Bears do not spend starter money in free agency on the like of Andrew Norwell, Justin Pugh, Zach Fulton or (insert UFA name here). Parenthetically on the draft-value aspect of good guards, Norwell was undrafted, Pugh was the 2013 pick just ahead Long, as a tackle, and Fulton was a sixth-rounder.

Pace predilections: “stat” players

Pace is in desperate need of impact players in both the draft and free agency. A guard is simply not in the “impact” vein as Pace’s first three No. 1 draft picks, all top-10’ers and all with something in common that a guard does not bring: stats.

Stats themselves aren’t the point, and an elite offensive lineman contributes to the stats of everyone else on his unit. But 2015 No. 1 Kevin White is a wide receiver; they catch passes and score touchdowns. Pace’s 2016 No. 1 was a rush-linebacker who generates sacks; Leonard Floyd. And 2017 No. 1 was Mitch Trubisky. All players with the potential for producing major-impact, game-changing stat plays.

Conversely, Pace’s New Orleans touchstone was an offensive line that protected Drew Brees with mid-rounders Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks at guard, and no offensive lineman drafted higher than the second round (Jon Stinchcomb).

Best guess, too, is that new head coach Matt Nagy, who’ll obviously be an intimate part of the draft process, will not be pounding the table for a guard, or perhaps for any offensive lineman with that first first-round pick of his tenure. The Kansas City Chiefs got just a so-so starting tackle (Eric Fisher) with the No. 1-overall pick of the 2013 draft while Nagy was there. And the very good Philadelphia Eagles teams took exactly one offensive lineman higher than the fourth round during Nagy’s years there (2008-12) with Andy Reid – and that pick was a guard (Danny Watkins) picked at No. 23, and who was a bust.

Conclusion: If Nelson is far, far and away the highest-graded player on the Bears’ draft board, Pace will make that move – if, and only if, Pace cannot trade down and add the picks that every GM craves as part of franchise-building, which is where the Pace-Nagy administration stands.

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive backs

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive backs

2017 grade: B-

Level of need: High

Decisions to be made on: Kyle Fuller (free agent), Prince Amukamara (free agent), Marcus Cooper (contract), Sherrick McManis (free agent), Bryce Callahan (restricted free agent), Quintin Demps (contract)

Possible free agent targets: Trumaine Johnson, Malcolm Butler, Bashaud Breeland, E.J. Gaines, Rashaad Melvin, Robert McClain, Darrelle Revis

There’s a wide spectrum of scenarios for the Bears at cornerback, ranging from keeping the status quo to blowing the whole thing up, and everything in between. Safety is far more stable, with Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson proving to be a reliable pairing, so that’s set for 2018.

Let’s start with one end of that cornerback spectrum: The Bears keep the top of this unit intact. That means, No. 1, retaining Kyle Fuller via the franchise tag and/or a long-term contract. No. 2, it means bringing back Prince Amukamara, who didn’t record an interception and committed a few too many penalties, but otherwise was a fine enough cover corner. No. 3, it means keeping restricted free agent Bryce Callahan as the team’s No. 1 slot corner.

On paper, this doesn’t seem like an altogether bad option. The Bears weren’t spectacular at cornerback in 2017, but the position was a little better than average, which isn’t the worst place to be for a single unit. Couple with solid play from the safeties and the Bears’ defensive backs were overall a decent enough group. Outside of Marcus Cooper -- who is a candidate to be cut for cap savings -- the Bears may not need to make wholesale changes to this group.

That, though, is a rosier look at this unit. The Bears can certainly improve the personnel in it with a healthy amount of cap space and a strong crop of free agent cornerbacks about to hit the market. Keeping Fuller and then signing a top-tier player like Trumaine Johnson or Malcolm Butler would upgrade this group, as would bringing back Fuller and Amukamara but then using a high draft pick on a player like Ohio State’s Denzel Ward.

Unless the Bears sign two big-time cornerbacks -- i.e. Fuller and Johnson, or even a guy like Brashaud Breeland or E.J. Gaines -- it would seem reasonable for them to use a first or second-round pick on a cornerback in an effort to find a longer-term solution at the position. That doesn’t mean the Bears would absolutely have to go that route, especially with other needs at wide receiver, guard and outside linebacker.

But here’s another thought: It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Bears are able to sign a combination of two top cornerbacks in free agency. With plenty of cap space top-end free agents lacking at wide receiver and outside linebacker/edge rusher, could Pace allocate a good chunk of that money to, say, tagging Fuller and making runs at Johnson, Butler and/or Breeland? 2018 looks to be a good year to be aggressive in the free agent cornerback market, and that could play into the Bears’ strategy well.

Before we finish, we should carve out some space for Amos and Jackson. Pro Football Focus isn’t the only outlet that’s given Amos high marks -- Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 ranked him as the No. 1 free safety in the league, too. Jackson came in at No. 19 in B/R’s strong safety rankings, which is pretty solid for a fourth-round rookie.

But the larger point here isn’t exactly where Amos and Jackson are in outside evaluations -- it’s that, tangibly, the pair played well off each other on a consistent basis last year. Seeing as Amos didn’t enter the Bears’ starting lineup until Week 4 -- after Quintin Demps suffered a season-ending broken forearm against Pittsburgh -- how quickly and successfully he and Jackson meshed was one of the more impressive developments for the Bears’ 2017 defense. Amos needs to make more plays on the ball and Jackson has some things to clean up, but the Bears enter the 2018 league year not needing to address their safety position. That’s a good place to be for a team with other significant needs.