Bears

Star power: 5 Bears selected to Pro Bowl, most since 2006

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Star power: 5 Bears selected to Pro Bowl, most since 2006

The up-and-down season of the Bears was not enough to sour voters among players, coaches and fans entirely on a team that has lost five straight as five Bears have been voted to the Pro Bowl, the most since the Super Bowl season of 2006.

Linebacker Lance Briggs, running back Matt Forte, special teamer Corey Graham, cornerback Charles Tillman and linebacker Brian Urlacher will represent the Bears on the conference all-star team.

Of the group, only Graham, who leads the Bears with 20 special teams tackles, is a starter.

The 49ers led the NFC with eight selections, matching the total for the New England Patriots. Green Bay had seven and the Bears and Saints had five.

Briggs becomes just the fourth Bears linebacker to be selected to seven straight Pro Bowls, joining Dick Butkus (eight), Bill George (eight) and Mike Singletary (10) at that elite level. Clay Matthews from Green Bay and Dallas Demarcus Ware are the starting outside linebackers.

Forte, who was leading the NFL in total yardage prior to his injury and still ranks fifth with 1,487 yards despite missing the last two games, is the first offensive player drafted by GM Jerry Angelo to make the Pro Bowl. Philadelphia Eagles tailback LeSean McCoy is the starter, with Gore listed along with Forte as the reserves. Forte went on injured reserve Tuesday and will not make the trip.

Tillman has two interceptions on the season, matching his season-low since 2004, but he also forced his 27th fumble against San Diego, most by any defensive back since 2003. Tillman returned an interception of Detroits Matthew Stafford for a TD in Week 10 and also turned in an acrobatic INT against Tim Tebow in Denver in a nationally televised game.

Urlacher is returning to the Pro Bowl roster for the eighth time. Patrick Willis of NFC West champion San Francisco was selected as the starter.

With Leonard Floyd going on injured reserve, will the Bears have a pressing need at outside linebacker in 2018?

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USA TODAY

With Leonard Floyd going on injured reserve, will the Bears have a pressing need at outside linebacker in 2018?

The Bears placed Leonard Floyd on injured reserve Thursday morning, ending the second-year outside linebacker’s season following a knee injury suffered Sunday against the Detroit Lions. Floyd suffered an MCL and PCL injury and will have surgery in the next week, coach John Fox said, and the Bears do not have a timetable for his recovery yet. But that Floyd didn't suffer damage to his ACL is potentially good news for Floyd's recovery timetable. 

Still, with Floyd on injured reserve and out for the season, the Bears’ current outside linebacker depth chart consists of two veterans (Pernell McPhee and Sam Acho) and two practice squad signees (Isaiah Irving and Howard Jones). These final six games of the 2017 season could serve as auditions for all four players for roles on the 2018 Bears. 

If every team needs at least three good pass rushers, the Bears can count on Akiem Hicks and Floyd for 2018, provided Floyd comes back healthy. But who’s the third?

The Bears could save about $7.5 million in cap space if they release McPhee in 2018; if they were to cut ties with Willie Young, who’s on injured reserve right now as well, it would provide $4.5 million in cap relief. McPhee will be 29 in December, while Young will turn 33 next September. 

The Bears won’t necessarily need the cap relief next year, and could certainly decide to keep both players, who’ve shown they’re still productive when healthy. But even if both players are back, the Bears may need to add another outside linebacker via free agency of the draft — remember, the team could’ve began the season with Floyd, Young, McPhee, Acho and Lamarr Houston as their outside linebackers; an injury Houston suffered in the fourth preseason game ended his time in Chicago. 

Needs at wide receiver and cornerback are pressing, but outside linebacker may need to be in that same conversation. If the Bears have a top-10 pick for the fourth consecutive year, plus some cap space, they perhaps could have the ability to address all three needs in March and April. 

That may be looking a little too far into the future, though. The best-case for the Bears is McPhee finishes the season strong and Irving and/or Jones shows something in the opportunities they receive in these final six games (Jones, for what it’s worth, had five sacks as a rookie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2015). But the worst-case — and perhaps the most realistic — is that the Bears go into the offseason needing to fill at least one pass-rushing spot. 

Under Center Podcast: Can Mitch Trubisky follow Carson Wentz’s path to stardom?

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Under Center Podcast: Can Mitch Trubisky follow Carson Wentz’s path to stardom?

JJ Stankevitz and John “Moon” Mullin are joined by NBC Sports Philadelphia Eagles reporter Dave Zangaro to offer an encouraging connection between Carson Wentz’s growth and that of Mitchell Trubisky.

Check out the entire podcast here: