Bears

Bears ’18 offseason dramatically different from ’17 but with difficult money-management issues looming

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USA TODAY

Bears ’18 offseason dramatically different from ’17 but with difficult money-management issues looming

About this time a year ago the Bears were setting up for the annual NFL beauty pageant in Indianapolis, sitting with the No. 3 pick in the 2017 draft and with myriad roster decisions to address with both that draft and free agency. Because of the Bears’ lofty draft position, even more scrutiny and attention swirled around the college prospects (Deshaun Watson, Jamal Adams, Solomon Thomas, not enough on Mitch Trubisky as it turned out, a testimonial to GM Ryan Pace’s ability to keep a secret).

But what was developing in free agency was arguably of even greater significance in what was then the short term, at least for John Fox, as it turned out. And the changed landscape this year bodes considerably better for Pace and the Bears. At least in one important respect.

First, a perspective from last year’s pre-Combine period...

Because of the unsettled quarterback situation – the Bears were working toward Mike Glennon and cutting Jay Cutler two weeks later – and concerns about a possible lame-duck situation for Fox, free agents and their agents were willing to look at the Bears but only if the Bears would pony up excessive guaranteed dollars. The worry any time a coach is heading into a tipping-point year is that if things go badly, the coach and staff are gone, and the resulting changes will alter the job situation of that particular veteran player.

So the likes of cornerbacks A.J. Bouye or Stephon Gilmore opted for less total money from Jacksonville and New England, respectively, because the Bears weren’t offering higher guarantees to compensate for the uncertainty.

(One of the reasons then-President/CEO Michael McCaskey stated to this reporter for firing Mike Ditka after the 1992 season was a concern over the negative pall Ditka cast over playing for the Bears as the NFL prepared for the 1993 start of free agency. A quarter-century later, Pace didn’t fire Fox because of free agents’ aversion to Fox, but the overall wasn’t making Pace’s job any easier.)

Would Alshon Jeffery have stayed if...

On a slightly different tack: Would Alshon Jeffery have given the Bears a more receptive look had the quarterback position been addressed sooner in the Fox/Pace tenure? Jeffery took less from the Eagles in a one-year prove-it deal, not because Philadelphia was so much warmer than Chicago, but in large part because of where the offensive arrow was pointing in Chicago with Fox, Dowell Loggains and an unsettled quarterback situation.

Not insignificantly in the Jeffery case: Jeffery had four choices – Bears, Indianapolis, Minnesota, Philadelphia. The Colts weren’t sure about Andrew Luck, coming off shoulder surgery and ultimately missing all of ’17. The Vikings were resting then on brittle Sam Bradford, whose knee broke down early, and Case Keenum wasn’t CASE KEENUM at that point. The Bears with Loggains and Glennon? Jeffery didn’t go with Philadelphia, Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz only for the money, which did come anyway.

The Bears have “fixed” all of those issues in the year that’s played out since Jeffery signed with the Eagles almost concurrent with the Bears moving on from Cutler. None of that matters now in the least with Jeffery, Bouye, Gilmore or any other options that demanded too much guaranteed money or spurned the Bears back then, but it does matter going into the run-up to free agency over the next couple weeks.

Why this in fact matters more than the draft is that, while sound organizations are grounded in quality drafting, the reality is that in virtually every offseason, more starters for that season are acquired via free agency than the draft. Last year’s draft centerpiece was Trubisky, though he wasn’t supposed to start last season. But free agents Glennon, Prince Amukamara, Marcus Cooper, Quintin Demps and Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright were.

The money pit

Longtime Bears and NFL personnel chief Bill Tobin once remarked back in the beginning of free agency, “Just because you pay a guy $2 million doesn’t make him a $2-million player.” That still applies, adjusted for inflation. And that could make this free agency dicey for the Bears.

Because price isn’t always determined solely on quality; it’s a matter of supply and demand. And while the Bears are among those with the greatest estimated space under the projected cap of $178 million, the others way up on the list include Cleveland, Indianapolis, the Jets, Houston and Tampa Bay – all teams with five or fewer wins in ’17 and expected to be the most aggressive in using free agency to fix gaping holes. The Bears have a lot of money to spend, but so do a whole lot of others.

Meaning: A lot of dollars will be chasing a select few players, which will make some of them overpaid, not unlike Glennon was last offseason (how many apparently better options were there?) or a couple of others, who will be paid like $2 million players even if they aren’t, adjusted for inflation.

The result is another offseason of brinksmanship for Pace, this time in need of better results than his first three free agencies if the outcome for his second head coach is to be better than it was for his first.

First and Final Thoughts: Bears in good position to go 2-1

First and Final Thoughts: Bears in good position to go 2-1

Welcome into First and Final Thoughts, one of our weekly columns with a title that's a little too on the nose. Here we'll have Insider J.J Stankevitz, Producer Cam Ellis, and a rotating cast of NBC Sports Chicago's Bears team give some insight into what's on their minds between games.

Final Thought on Week 2

J.J. StankevitzWhat we saw Monday night is probably a blueprint for how the Bears can be successful in 2018: A developing quarterback makes some mistakes but leads a couple of scoring drives, which provides enough points to support an elite defense. The Bears' defense proved that, really, all it needed was to put forth four quarters of effort to solve the issues it seemed to create in that Week 1 loss to Green Bay. The offense is larger question, and it was at least a little concerning that Seattle's defense felt like it was best to sell out to stop the run -- the preferred strategy of defenses against the Bears' 2017 offense. The Bears needed more help from their offensive line and Jordan Howard, yes, but more than anything they needed -- and will need -- Mitch Trubisky to be better going forward to make sure teams can't drop safeties down and stack the box to stop the run. 

Cam Ellis: Of the three big offensive additions (Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Trey Burton) that the Bears made this year, Robinson's looked the best so far. He's clearly Trubisky's go-to guy; he only has one less target (21) than Gabriel and Burton combined (22). He hasn't found the end zone yet, but his current 66.7 Catch% would be the highest of his career by a significant margain. He was even Pro Football Focus' highest-rated Bears offensive player in Week 2. Frustratingly enough, he's only averaging 10.3 yards per reception, which wasn't exactly the idea when they brought him in. It's hard to blame him for tha, however, when the Bears rank 30th in the NFL in yards per pass attempt (4.9). 

First Thought on Week 3

J.J. Stankevitz: Goodness, Arizona is bad. In two games, they've managed only 19 first downs, 350 total yards of offense and four third down conversions in 20 attempts. Sam Bradford is averaging four yards per attempt. Meanwhile, the Cardinals' defense is allowing 6.1 yards per play, including an average of 8.8 yards per passing attempt. But here's maybe the most wild stat about the Cardinals: They haven't attempted a field goal -- not even a PAT -- in two games. Just about every team in the NFL matches up well against Arizona (well, maybe besides the Bills), so the Bears will head to the desert with an excellent opportunity to move to 2-1. But then again, last year, the Bears were 0-2 and coming off a horrible Week 2 loss...and then beat a playoff team in the Pittsburgh Steelers behind Mike Glennon (who's now Arizona's backup). Anything can happen in the NFL.

Cam Ellis: If the Bears want to compete for an NFC North title, they should be able to go out and win games like these, presumably comfortably. (Though Arizona getting 6 points at home seems a bit dramatic) The Cardinals are very not good, and like J.J. said, NFL games can be coin flips. The Bears went 2-6 away from Soldier Field last year, and that obviously won't cut it with this year's roster. The Bears' last quarter of the season features the Rams and Packers at home before road games at San Fransisco and Minnesota, so taking care of favorable matchups like this week (and Nov. 4's in Buffalo) are critical. 

Bears are nearly touchdown favorites over Cardinals for Week 3

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USA TODAY

Bears are nearly touchdown favorites over Cardinals for Week 3

After facing a pair of elite quarterbacks to start the season, the Bears get a little bit of an easier matchup with the Arizona Cardinals in Week 3.

Sam Bradford has struggled under center so far this season, and fans have been clamoring for rookie quarterback Josh Rosen to get the start. The team could possible turn to Mike Glennon too.

The 0-2 Cardinals are among the worst teams in the NFL thus far, and so Las Vegas sportsbooks see the Bears earning win No. 2 on Sunday.

Chicago favored by six points against Arizona, according to Vegas Insider, and that might even be selling them short.

The Cardinals have scored six points total in two games this season, with their one touchdown coming in Week 1 against Washington. They were shutout last week against the Los Angeles Rams.

Las Vegas is expecting a low-scoring game regardless, with the lowest over/under (38 points) set for any game this week.

If Bradford can right the ship, the Arizona can give the Bears a run for their money this week, but if not, a QB change could be in store for the Cardinals.