The Seattle Seahawks come to Chicago having wonfour out of their lastfive games.Granted two of those wins came against the lowly St. Louis Rams, but the Great Northwest seized on confidence sinceWeek 10by defeating the Baltimore Ravens 22-17.The Bears are the better team, but with continuing offensive issues along with added distractions, it will take a great deal of focus to get a victory this weekend.Normally the focus required to win occurs during the week of preparation. Unfortunately, the Bears lost that luxury when Sam Hurds alleged drug arrest unfolded mid-week. It is just another variable mentally and physically the Bears must deal with when facing the Seahawks.Releasing Hurd should have a positive impact in the locker room along with sending a message about the kind of character the Bears organization wants represented. Hurds special teams contributions will be lost but special teams coach Dave Toub will fill the void with another capable player. Open it upIve been preaching for MikeMartz to minimize Caleb Hanie's opportunities for mistakes. Martz did an incredible job in this department against Denver last week and the Bears still lost 13-10. Seattle is stouter defensively with their front seven than Denver and running the football will be a challenge for Chicago. Marion Barber should be motivated after being last weeks goat, but rushing for over 100 yards on 27 carries like against Denver will be difficult.The running game works against the Bears this week because being productive on first and second down was an issue last week. They cannot survive trying to convert as many3rd and 16situations like against Denver.Rushing attempts will be better served onthird down or second andsix yards or more situations when Seattle substitutes in their speed rushers.Thus, offensive production is going to be required fromHanie and the receivers onfirst andsecond down. I dont particularly like this matchup either for Chicago as Seattle cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are both over six feet tall with excellent running ability. They both have played very well the past few weeks.If wide receievers Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett, Devin Hester or Roy Williams do not get physical off the line of scrimmage throughout the entirety of their route, it will be a long day for the Bears again offensively. Play with your hair on fireI love that saying.It truly applies this week for the entire Bears roster in all three phases. Seattle presents an absolute must win game scenario for the Bears to keep their playoff hopes alive. Chicago has good matchups in the trenches on defense against Seattles offensive line which has been decimated by injuries.Seattle has backups upon backups starting at this point on their offensive line.The Bears defense is still number two in the NFC and eighth overall yielding only 19.6 points a game.But this is where the Bears biggest problem exists. Chicago only averages 11 pointsper game offensively since Hanie assumed the starting quarterback role for an injured Jay Cutler.
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.
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.