Green Bay Packers

Matt Nagy can make a statement with Bears opening 2018 season in Green Bay

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Matt Nagy can make a statement with Bears opening 2018 season in Green Bay

The Matt Nagy era will begin with a primetime Sunday night game at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers, according to multiple reports. And while it’s true that the Bears’ last four coaches — John Fox, Marc Trestman, Lovie Smith and Dick Jauron — all won their first trips to Lambeau Field, none of them had to make their Bears coaching debuts in Wisconsin. 

Fox’s was on Thanksgiving, Trestman and Jauron’s were in early November and Smith’s was Week 2.  Fox’s first game as Bears coach came against the Packers at Soldier Field — a game which the Bears lost. The last time a Bears coach lost his first game at Lambeau Field was on Oct. 31, 1993, when Dave Wannstedt watched his team lose, 17-3, to the Packers. 

So beating the Packers in a coach’s maiden voyage to Green Bay with the Bears isn’t an indicator of future success. But for Nagy, opening the season with primetime win over the Bears’ longtime rival that’s been far more successful in the last few decades would be about as good a beginning as could be imagined. 

The rest of the Bears’ schedule:

Week 1: At Green Bay (Sunday Night Football)—7:20 p.m.
Week 2: Seattle (Monday Night Football)— 7:15 p.m.
Week 3: At Arizona— 3:25 p.m.
Week 4: Tampa Bay— Noon
Week 5: Bye
Week 6: At Miami— Noon
Week 7: New England— Noon
Week 8: New York Jets— Noon
Week 9: At Buffalo— Noon
Week 10: Detroit— Noon
Week 11: Minnesota— Noon
Week 12: At Detroit (Thanksgiving)— 11:30 a.m.
Week 13: At New York Giants— Noon
Week 14: Los Angeles Rams— Noon
Week 15: Green Bay— Noon
Week 16: At San Francisco— 3:05 p.m.
Week 17: At Minnesota— Noon

There’s not much use in evaluating where these games fall in the schedule, given last year the Bears’ “difficult” stretch of the schedule turned out better — with three wins in the first eight games — than the “easier” part of it — two wins in the final eight games. 

If the Bears are a good team, they’ll be able to navigate ostensibly difficult stretches, like the season’s final four games. 

Remember last year, when the Bears’ had a “difficult” first half of the season and won three games? Then, in the “easier” portion of the schedule, only won twice? What matters more than the order of opponents is the quality of the team playing them. If the Bears aren’t a bad team, it won’t matter when any of these games are played — they’ll be a bad team. 

Kyle Fuller believes he's a Top 5 cornerback in the NFL

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USA Today

Kyle Fuller believes he's a Top 5 cornerback in the NFL

Kyle Fuller caused a bit of a panic late Friday afternoon when a report dropped that he signed an offer sheet with the Green Bay Packers. For a few hours, the prospect — even if it was always unlikely — of the Bears losing their best cornerback to their arch rivals to the north loomed over Chicago. 

For Fuller, though, he said he barely had time to think about the possibility of cashing in on his breakout 2017 season with the Packers. The Bears quickly matched the offer sheet, officially announcing the four-year deal Tuesday that makes Fuller one of the highest-paid cornerbacks in the NFL. 

“It was crazy not really knowing what to expect,” Fuller said. “I would have never expected it. But when (the Packers’ offer sheet) came, it was definitely something to consider, just on the business side of it. At the end of the day, how it all played out, I’m definitely happy.”

Fuller sounded like someone who took a more passive role to his quasi-restricted free agency that was set about when the Bears placed the transition tag on him, allowing them to match any offer sheet that he were to sign. Fuller said he didn’t know all the details of what was going on with offer sheets coming in and negotiations with the Bears.

“I kinda was just getting the information from (my agents) and going with the flow of everything and knowing that at the end of the day it would end up working out,” Fuller said. 

The $14 million average annual value of Fuller’s contract ranks fifth among cornerbacks, behind only Washington’s Josh Norman ($15 million), New York’s Trumaine Johnson ($14.5 million) Minnesota’s Xavier Rhodes ($14.02 million) and Arizona’s Patrick Peterson ($14.01 million), according to Spotrac. 

Fuller said he considers himself a top-five cornerback in the league, and he played like someone who could wind up in that discussion in 2017. The 2014 first-round pick was one of four players to break up 20 or more passes last year, and he picked off two passes in December while providing excellent support against the run. 

“We could not be happier to have Kyle under contract for four more years,” general manager Ryan Pace said. “We feel he is an ascending player on our top 10 defense and we look forward to him having many more productive seasons here in Chicago.”

Report: Bears match Packers' offer for Kyle Fuller, ink CB to 4-year deal

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USA Today

Report: Bears match Packers' offer for Kyle Fuller, ink CB to 4-year deal

UPDATE: The Bears will match the Packers’ offer sheet for Fuller, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport:

The move means this: The Bears aren’t messing around and wanted to show Fuller their confidence in him, most likely. They could’ve let the Packers twist in the wind a bit and wait the full five days to match, but quickly matching with Fuller shows a confidence in the cornerback that has been evident for months.

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When Ryan Pace placed the transition tag on Kyle Fuller, he knew he was opening up the Bears’ best cornerback to overtures from 31 other teams. Only one of those teams could make an offer to Fuller that, if he signed it, would truly put Pace under the microscope.

That team is the Green Bay Packers, and according to the Chicago Tribune, they did just that on Friday, signing Fuller to an offer sheet, the terms of which the Bears have five days to match. If Pace declines to match it, Fuller will sign with the team’s longstanding archrival in a move that would come with brutal optics for the Bears’ general manager. 

Before total panic sets in, the Bears logically are unlikely to let Fuller go. This was the risk Pace took when he used the transition tag, and not the more expensive franchise tag, on Fuller earlier this month. Pace has certainly allocated money to signing him — the transition tag guarantees Fuller $12.971 million in 2018 — and has talked openly about wanting to move toward signing the 2014 first-round pick to a long-term contract. 

“Those are things that we talked about a lot kind of behind the scenes,” Pace said Thursday when asked about negotiations with Fuller. “When we get into the contracts and the details, those are kept behind the scenes. Obviously, you guys know how we feel about Kyle. We value Kyle. We like Kyle, and we just figured that was the best course of action.”

Green Bay could’ve structured its offer sheet to Fuller to include a ton of guaranteed money up front, which wouldn’t necessarily be palatable to the Bears. That’s the bigger deal here than how much the total contract is worth, or its annual average value. But again, when Pace decided on the transition tag, he had to know a front-loaded offer sheet was a possibility he may have to deal with. 

If Pace didn’t foresee an offer sheet coming Fuller’s way, he might've read the market wrong given the contracts signed by this year's two top free agent cornerbacks. Trumaine Johnson signed a five-year deal with $45 million of it guaranteed, and $34 million of that is guaranteed in the first two years, according to Spotrac. Malcolm Butler’s five-year deal with the Tennessee Titans includes $30 million in total guaranteed money. Fuller could be right behind, or in line, with those two cornerbacks in terms of the offer sheet he received. 

So Pace had to be prepared to give Fuller a market-value — or, potentially, higher than market-value — contract when he placed the transition tag on him. But the benefit to that move was letting the market set itself and then being able to match an offer sheet for a cornerback who broke up 20 passes, intercepted two more and proved to be a physical presence against the run in 2018. This seems like the most likely scenario. 

The added risk, of course, if the Bears were to lose Fuller is they would almost have to draft a cornerback with the No. 8 pick in April’s NFL Draft, given how the rest of the cornerbacks in this year’s free agent market are locked up. Unless the Bears were to jump on Bashaud Breeland, whose three-year, $24 million deal was voided after he failed his physical with the Carolina Panthers, there’s not a No. 1 cornerback available to pair with Prince Amukamara besides getting one via the draft. 

So this is an intense calculation for Pace, who has five days to match the Packers’ offer sheet for Fuller. Losing him to Green Bay would look terrible among a fanbase that’s not only seen four consecutive losing seasons, but is used to the Packers being the better team in the long-running rivalry (that is, unless the Bears are convinced Fuller is a one-year wonder; though in that case, why would they tag him at all?).

But the Bears haven't lost him yet. Until we get some clarity on this, let’s hold off on panicking about the thought of Fuller playing in green and gold next season.