Bears

Austin Hooper dubbed Bears' ideal free-agent target

Austin Hooper dubbed Bears' ideal free-agent target

The Bears are expected to be extremely busy in their effort to upgrade at tight end this offseason. In fact, they've already made their first move with the signing of veteran Demetrius Harris, but it's unlikely he'll be the only new player added at the position over the next few months.

The most appealing free-agent tight end who's likely to hit the open market is Falcons pass-catcher Austin Hooper, who was recently dubbed the ideal target for Bears GM Ryan Pace once the spending frenzy gets started.

Hooper is exactly the type of performer the Bears currently lack. He can provide a reliable outlet to make life easier on quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.

Granted, the 25-year-old tight end shouldn't be viewed as a Travis Kelce-like difference-maker in head coach Matt Nagy's scheme, but he's the best option in thin free-agent and weak draft classes.

Hooper would be the dream acquisition for Chicago, but the dollars are unlikely to make sense. According to Spotrac, Hooper's market value will command a five-year, $49.9 million deal, or $9.9 million per season. If the Bears inked Hooper to a contract like that, they'd have nearly $19 million tied up in tight ends in 2020 (Trey Burton's contract counts as $8.5 million against the cap next season).

As much as Bears fans want more production at tight end, that's just too steep a price to pay regardless of how important the position is for Nagy's offense.

The better route for Pace to pursue is the 2020 NFL Draft, where Chicago could be the first team to draft a tight end in April. This year's class of tight end prospects is without a clear first-rounder and with the Bears' first pick coming at No. 43 overall, there's a good chance they could have their pick of the litter.

Prospects like Notre Dame's Cole Kmet, Purdue's Brycen Hopkins, and Washington's Hunter Bryant will all be given strong consideration in the first half of the second round.

It'll be another strike against Pace's work in free agency if he's forced out of the Hooper market because of the contract he gave Burton in 2018. But maybe it's for the best. He hasn't been very good at identifying tight ends since taking over as Chicago's GM in 2015 -- Khari Lee, Dion Sims, Adam Shaheen, Burton -- and probably shouldn't be trusted with the checkbook while searching for another one this offseason.

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Here's what the 2020 NFL draft TV broadcast could look like

Here's what the 2020 NFL draft TV broadcast could look like

The 2020 NFL draft will take place as scheduled on April 23-25 despite the nationwide social distancing campaign enacted to combat the outbreak of COVID-19. 

The NFL canceled the three-day party in Las Vegas and the league won't hold any public events to celebrate the players or the teams, but the show will go on in a much different way.

NBC Sports' Peter King outlined how this year's draft will likely be broadcast, which will be a familiar sight for anyone who's working from home or paying attention to how television has adapted to these challenging times:

If you’ve done Zoom video conferencing, or you’ve watched recent nightly newscasts, maybe you’ve seen eight or 10 people on the laptop screen or the TV all ready to be called on by a host. Imagine the same thing on draft night. The NFL will send out about 50 portable camera kits with microphones to top prospects and college coaches, with better-than-FaceTime quality, so NFL draft coverage will be able to bring in, say, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow from the family home outside Athens, Ohio, when/if he’s the first pick of the Bengals. Then Burrow will be able to do his media availability with the Cincinnati press, and whatever other one-on-ones he chooses to do.

It'll be a stark contrast to how the NFL draft is traditionally conducted. From the days of Radio City Music Hall in New York City to the traveling roadshow it's become in recent years, the league has done a remarkable job turning its biggest offseason event into arguably the biggest event in the sport aside from the Super Bowl.

Diehard fans of the draft will enjoy the broadcast regardless of whatever form it takes. Whether it's a red-carpet event or a zoom-style meeting, the teams will still pick their players and fans will celebrate (or loathe) the selections. The casual observer may not be as impressed, however. The emotions of draft day, especially when players realize their life-long dream by walking across the stage and bearhugging Goodell, will be lost. At least, there will be less of it.

Sure, watching prospects celebrate with their families in the comfort of their own home will be fun, but the cloud of what really matters -- the coronavirus and the devastation its causing across the globe -- will be unavoidable. The setting of this year's draft will be a constant reminder of it, too.

But the show must go on (apparently). And if the NFL has proven anything over the years, it's that the league knows how to take advantage of every opportunity it has to captivate an audience. 

Maybe, just maybe, the best thing the draft has to offer fans this year is a much-needed distraction from the stress and anxiety of the real world. Don't bet against the NFL accomplishing that goal. 

Bears hold pre-draft meeting with SIU safety Jeremy Chinn

Bears hold pre-draft meeting with SIU safety Jeremy Chinn

The Bears have a need at safety alongside Eddie Jackson, and while Deon Bush was re-signed to a one-year deal to presumably replace Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the starting lineup, GM Ryan Pace may decide the 2020 NFL draft offers a better option.

One safety who fits the profile as a physical in-the-box defender is Southern Illinois' Jeremy Chinn. The 6-foot-3, 221-pounder wowed at the NFL Combine when he ran a 4.45 40-yard dash and lept 41 inches in the vertical jump, testing scores that confirmed the elite athleticism he displays on tape.

The Bears took notice and their interest in the small-school standout is real. Chicago held a pre-draft meeting with Chinn, albeit via Facetime, in an effort to learn more about the local prospect, a source told NBC Sports Chicago.

Chinn finished 2019 with 71 tackles, 2.5 for loss,  four interceptions and three pass breakups. He was a do-it-all defender who's been comp'd as a discount version of Clemson's Isaiah Simmons.

Unlike Simmons, there's a chance Chinn will be available when the Bears are on the clock at No. 43 overall. If he is, expect Pace, who has an affinity for small-school players, to pull the trigger.