What’s My Line? (and Where’s My Line?) for Bears Rivals in Free Agency

What’s My Line? (and Where’s My Line?) for Bears Rivals in Free Agency

The Bears’ free agent priority was Mike Glennon, and it conveniently worked in their favor when either other teams cooled on him, or he made it clear to anyone else interested that the quarterback was most interested in coming here. That’s how Glennon himself made it sound during Friday’s introductory press conference. But now, we can only wait to see how good he is, and the impact he can make with the other acquired pieces so far in free agency, as well as next month’s draft.

Glennon was the “splash” signing, whether Bears fans want to splash along or not. Perhaps eventually we’ll see if a couple of the defensive backs (safety Quintin Demps and cornerback Marcus Cooper) they signed, who combined for ten interceptions last season make a greater level of immediate impact. But as Ryan Pace has invested in depth and competition that stays out of the bright free agency lights, there was some interesting maneuvering going on amongst the three teams the Bears are chasing in the NFC North. And wouldn’t you know it within the old “Black and Blue” division, the star movers and shakers were….offensive linemen. The Vikings and Lions desperately needed help, and the Packers now need some as the movement in the trenches has made for an interesting watch.

Green Bay: Last year’s rare, and much-needed, investment in free agency seemed to pay off when Jared Cook’s incredible catch on Aaron Rodgers’ incredible pass in Dallas set up a dramatic, game-winning field goal that punched the Pack’s ticket to the NFC title game. But just when it seemed the tight end earned a new deal at a position Green Bay had been searching to fill for a few years, GM Ted Thompson doubled-down. Former Bear Martellus Bennett popped up in a Packers hat on social media late Friday afternoon and tweeted out cheese emojis after agreeing to a three-year, $21 million deal.

It’s flexible enough for the team to escape in 2018 if Marty’s outside interests are too much in Titletown after winning a title in New England. Then, Thompson added depth there by signing Rams tight end Lance Kendricks on Saturday.

But while Julius Peppers and defensive back Micah Hyde hit the road Thursday (to Carolina and Buffalo, respectively), Rodgers’ protection took a hit. They wanted Pro Bowl guard T.J. Lang back, but he signed a three-year deal with Detroit Sunday. That came after center JC Tretter bolted for Cleveland, in the wake of releasing current Bear Josh Sitton in the final cutdown last September for fear of what he’d be asking in free agency. Tretter and Corey Linsley had spent the last couple of seasons not being able to clearly step up to seize that job by the throat. That, now, apparently belongs to Linsley by default. Lane Taylor held down Sitton’s old job last year, and it’s a stronger draft for guards than tackles. The Packers jumped ahead of the Bears to select Indiana tackle Jason Spriggs in the draft’s second round last year, but it’s unlikely he’ll be asked to move inside despite helping out there in an emergency last season. Current tackles Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari signed contract extensions within the past two years. And while Mike McCarthy’s spoken of a running back tandem of Ty Montgomery and Eddie Lacy, the latter paid a visit to the Vikings this weekend.

Minnesota: Speaking of the Vikes, they needed to open the wallet at offensive tackle after getting ravaged by injury last season, and with the position being so weak in the draft. One of those injured was ex-first-round pick Matt Kalil, who needed a bounceback season after his play was on a steady decline since a Pro Bowl rookie campaign. But they allowed him to join his brother in Carolina and instead raided the Panthers for starter Mike Remmers. And just as Minnesota had tired of Kalil, the Lions felt the same about Riley Reiff. The Vikings viewed him as an upgrade and brought him aboard (this is getting to sound a bit incestuous, isn’t it?).

Those have been the Vikes’ only additions, while seeing if Adrian Peterson will accept returning at much cheaper rate as he continues visiting suitors. Returner/receiver Cordarrelle Patterson visited the Bears over the weekend and also has interest from the Colts. 

In the meantime, the People in Purple have lost some depth. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn (Carolina), and linebackers Audie Cole (Jacksonville) and Chad Greenway (retirement) are gone from the defensive side. Wideout Charles Johnson (Carolina) and tight end Rhett Ellison (New York Giants) have departed on the other side, while punter Jeff Locke went to Indy.

Detroit: If, indeed, the Bears were interested in Ravens right tackle Ricky Wagner, they lost out to the Lions.  He’ll become a nice bookend with last year’s first round pick, Taylor Decker, to keep Matthew Stafford protected. They allowed former third-round guard Larry Warford to sign with the Saints. With Lang now aboard as well, 2015 first-rounder Laken Tomlinson will try to earn his draft value in a battle for the other guard spot with  third-rounder Graham Glasgow (like Tomlinson, a Chicago-area guy), who moved into a starter’s role as a rookie last season. Now, all the Lions need to get a semblance of a running game going (28th or lower the last three years) is having Ameer Abdullah stay healthy.

The Lions also tired of waiting for former tackling machine DeAndre Levy to get healthy after two injury-wasted seasons and let him go, replacing him with Paul Worrilow. The former Falcon fell behind the youth and speed movement in Atlanta, but went from undrafted rookie in 2013 to fifth in the league in tackles a year later. The other four Motown additions into Sunday night were former Illini Akeem Spence, who’ll look to start along the defensive line, former Bears D-lineman Cornelius Washington, ex-Raiders first-round corner D.J. Hayden and tight end David Fells, a blocker to use opposite Eric Ebron.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Cornette (The U/ESPN 1000) join Kap on the panel. Justin Turner hits a walk-off 3-run HR off of John Lackey to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the NLCS. So why was Lackey even in the game? How much blame should Joe Maddon get for the loss?

The Bears run the ball over and over and over again to beat the Ravens in overtime, but should they have let Mitch Trubisky throw the ball more?

Two reasons why the Bears could finally start stacking wins

Two reasons why the Bears could finally start stacking wins

The Bears winning a road game against a perennial playoff contender, one with a winning record coming in – that’s great.

Winning in Baltimore with a rookie quarterback in only his second NFL appearance – that’s terrific.

Generating more takeaways than giveaways and netting points from them – that’s just outstanding.

And now what?

Because too often under John Fox the Bears have posted a victory and failed to have it mean much of anything because of what followed a week later – a largely self-inflicted loss. The Bears have not posted consecutive wins since midway through the 2015 season, and even then proceeded to unravel on by squandering opportunities sitting squarely within their grasp.

Why should this time be any different? Because if it’s not, and the Bears again fail to stack even one win on top of another, then a dominating performance against the Baltimore Ravens (leaving out special teams, which surrendered in two plays more points than the defense did in 14 entire Baltimore possessions) becomes another meaningless afternoon in the overall for a team determined to reinvent itself.

Coaches typically divide seasons mentally into quarters, and clearly in Fox’s mind, Sunday was part of a different quarter from the 1-3 first quarter. “Really it takes almost four games, it’s almost like the preseason anymore, where you kind of get it figured out,” Fox said. “So just developing that confidence, usually good things have to happen to gain that confidence. And we did some good things.”

But the Bears have done “some good things” in games past and it becomes much ado about nothing, sound and fury signifying less than nothing. So again: Why should this time be any different?

Two reasons, actually. Neither absolute, but neither very complicated, either.

Reason No. 1: Trubisky

Without making too much out of one individual player, the chief reason arguably lies in the person of Mitchell Trubisky, a quarterback who already has palpably changed the psyche of a previously languishing team.

“The team didn’t make nearly as many mental errors this week because of his patience,” said wide receiver Kendall Wright, who supported Trubisky with a leaping catch of 18 yards to set up the game-winning field goal.

Unlike Mike Glennon, Matt Barkley, Brian Hoyer and 2016 Jay Cutler, each of whom won one game and one game only over the past 22, Trubisky delivered the ball security of Hoyer with added impact that none of his predecessors did manage, or arguably even could have managed.

Put simply, the Bears do in fact have a quarterback who even at this point appears able not only to make plays as drawn up, but also to create something out of nothing or at least avert catastrophe.

“Mitch made some great plays,” Fox said. “I mean, if you look at the snap over his head in the end zone, there’s probably only five or six or seven quarterbacks in this league that could get out of that. I go back to the touchdown pass to Dion [Sims, tight end]. He flushed [from the pocket], we adjusted and he dropped a dime in the end zone for a touchdown. And the play obviously at the end where more than likely if we don’t get that, we’re probably punting, the play he made to Kendall. I think Mitch played outstanding… .

“Those are really good decisions. It beats six interceptions, for sure. There’s a 3rd-and-3 play in the red area, low red, sprint out to our left. It wasn’t all perfect but he did the next best thing and that’s throw it away. So those are really, really good decisions that I think sometimes the casual or un-casual fan does not see.”

The noteworthy element in Trubisky’s game was the impact achieved by a Bears quarterback who completed all of eight passes. The reality is that Trubisky doesn’t need to attempt more than 20 passes a game (including the four sacks his protection allowed, which absolutely needs to be fixed).

For perspective purposes: Ben Roethlisberger in his first two seasons averaged 17.4 and 15.9 passes per game. The Pittsburgh Steelers reached the AFC Championship game and won the Super Bowl in those two seasons, running an offense that was just short of 60 percent runs.

Reason No. 2: Mistake reduction

A mistaken notion as to how improvement happens is the belief that it comes from just getting better and better, skill sets rising to the loftiest heights.

Not necessarily. Anyone who has had the good fortune of working their golf handicap down knows that the stroke reductions come less from suddenly adding 30 yards to drives or developing a draw on a 200-yard three-iron, than from eliminating the fluffed pitch shots, the approach shots pushed into traps, the drives into the woods. Cut down the mistakes and good things happen.

So it is with the Bears, who effectively lost the Minnesota game by allowing a 58-yard TD run by Jerick McKinnon, and sealed it with a poor Trubisky pass on a possession with a chance to tie or win. They lost the Atlanta game simply by dropping passes. They aren’t as good as the Green Bay Packers – at least not until Trubisky reaches full extension and proves to be a challenge to Aaron Rodgers.

But only in the Atlanta near-miss did they self-destruct with fewer penalties (four) than they did at Baltimore (five). Sunday was the first time since Atlanta that they threw zero interceptions. And the defense limited the Ravens to three third-down conversions out of 18, one indicator of fewer breakdowns on the most important down.

“As long as we eliminate those mistakes that we’ve been making,” Fox said, “we’re gonna be right there going into the end of the game.”

The Bears have had positive spikes in the past and then collapsed; even after winning three of four in late 2015, the inept home losses to San Francisco and Washington were arguably a tipping point in the Fox era.

The point next Sunday against Carolina is to determine if the Bears are through with their one-and-done ways.