Bears deliver final inept performance as focus shifts to fate of John Fox


Bears deliver final inept performance as focus shifts to fate of John Fox

Players typically make coaches’ decisions for them with their levels of play, and if any doubt remained about what management would decide on John Fox’s future, the Bears turned in one final bumbling 2017 performance — a 23-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings — that presumably opened the trap door under Fox, whose firing is expected sooner rather than later.

From a 3-5 point at midseason, Fox’s team plummeted in a 2-6 freefall in which, after defeating Pittsburgh, Carolina and Baltimore in the first half of the season, the only victories came over bottom-feeders Cincinnati and Cleveland. For all of the close games that hinted at progress (Atlanta, New Orleans, Detroit), five losses in the 5-11 year were by double digits, only one fewer than in last season’s abyss.

“The league makes me be here,” was the gist of Fox’s message postgame, a statement that he was not going to talk at all about his job situation, only about this game, and not surprisingly there were no questions from the media about this game.

And there really wasn’t much to talk about, other than possibly how representative this game was of the Bears over the second half of 2017.

The offense running eight plays from inside the Vikings' 10-yard line, four of them from the two, and zero points from quarterback Mitch Trubisky and the offense that converted only one of 12 third downs. Offense, defense and special teams authoring 10 penalty walk-offs that cost 116 yards in a game that saw the Bears rush for all of 30 yards. That the Vikings were tagged with 12 penalties is irrelevant when Bears special teams (seven points) outscored the offense (three).

Fox finished this 5-11 season winless in the NFC North and with a 14-34 mark in his three seasons coaching a team that too often found ways to lose games that were there for the winning.

Midway through the fourth quarter, FOX put up a graphic listing the 10 projected Bears starters on injured reserve, from Kyle Long to Zach Miller to Kevin White to Cam Meredith to Pernell McPhee to Leonard Floyd and on and on and on. It won’t be enough of a reason to excuse the third straight double-digit-loss season under Fox, but it does go a long way toward explaining it.

NFC North shakeup?

The coaching turmoil that’ll ratchet all the way up in the next day or two will likely affect the Bears in more than just their own coaching situation. Minnesota offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur fits the in-vogue template for head coaches — young, offensive background, quarterback successes — and if he leaves, chances are that Case Keenum goes with him. The team that hires Shurmur will by definition be bad (which is why teams change head coaches in the first place) and probably not blessed with a strong quarterback situation.

That portends a possible shakeup at the top of the NFC North, because the Vikings are not the runaway leader in the division without Keenum and Shurmur, whose nine wins in two seasons coaching the Cleveland Browns suddenly look pretty impressive.

What's Pace's future?

A massive X-factor in the Bears' football operation is the fate of general manager Ryan Pace, though team ownership under chairman George McCaskey going to a fourth general manager in seven years (Jerry Angelo, Phil Emery, Pace and the hypothetical successor) would be shocking. Pace shares the dismal record of the past three years and gets demerits for too many major misses in free agency (Mike Glennon, Marcus Cooper, Markus Wheaton, Jerrell Freeman, Connor Barth, etc.), surprising if only because Pace comes from a background in pro personnel with New Orleans. Pace’s drafts have produced more core players (Trubisky, Cody Whitehair, Leonard Floyd, Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen) than his efforts in free agency (Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan).

But the phrase “rookie mistakes” can be applied to more than just players, and a long view on Pace is that he will improve with age. Ownership would be well served to stay a course with Pace; he hires his own clean pick for head coach and the clock really starts then on what the Bears planned to be an emerging star in the personnel world.

5 free agents who fit with Bears, from Devonta Freeman to Damon Harrison

5 free agents who fit with Bears, from Devonta Freeman to Damon Harrison

The conventional wisdom with the Bears is Ryan Pace needs to improve depth at running back and defensive tackle ahead of training camp practices starting – finally – next week.

But reality played out a little different this week. The Bears reportedly signed defensive back Marqui Christian Tuesday, adding depth at safety and on special teams. He, essentially, replaces Jordan Lucas – who opted out of the 2020 season – on the Bears’ roster, even though kicker Ramiz Ahmed was cut to make room for him.

It makes sense. The Bears are tantalizingly close to actually seeing their 80-man roster in action, and displacing someone with a big-ish-name free agent might run counter to their plans. Once the Bears can get a look at some of those guys on their roster – like running back Artavis Pierce and defensive tackle John Jenkins – maybe they’ll look to make a move.

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Also: The Bears have about $17 million in cap space right now that can roll over to 2021, which would help offset what could be a $23 million drop in next year’s cap. It might not be a bad idea to save money now and avoid difficult cost-saving cuts later.

But if the Bears do try to pick off some of the more recognizable names available in free agency, these five players could make sense:

DT Damon “Snacks” Harrison

Eddie Goldman’s decision to opt out immediately led a lot of folks (myself included) to Google “Snacks Harrison free agency” to make sure he was still available. The good news: He is! The bad news: He’s reportedly contemplated retirement in the past, and the 32-year-old is thinking about getting into the podcast game…

… which is something someone might do when they’re expecting to have a lot of time on their hands, right?

Harrison had a down 2019 with the Detroit Lions and may not even want to get back into football amid the COVID-19 pandemic. If he does, though, the Bears should certainly consider signing him as a rotational veteran to help soften the blow of Goldman’s opt out.

DT Marcell Dareus

The 30-year-old Dareus only played in six games last year before a core injury ended his season. Listed at 6-foot-3, 331 pounds, Dareus might be the best fit to replace Goldman as an anchor of the Bears’ defensive line – so long as he’s healthy.

Dareus – the third player selected in 2011’s draft – did see his play drop off a bit in 2019 before his injury. Still, he’s an experienced and adept run-stuffer, the kind of guy who could help the Bears’ defense in base and sub packages next to Akiem Hicks.

RB Devonta Freeman

It feels weird that Freeman is still available in mid-August, but he’s an unfortunately perfect example of the short shelf life of running backs. He was a Pro Bowler in 2015 and 2016, ripping off consecutive 1,000-yard rushing years while amassing over 1,000 receiving yards and 27 total touchdowns.

His play tailed off in 2017, then was hit by injuries in 2018 and averaged just 3.6 yards per carry in 14 games last year. Freeman fired his agent this offseason and signed with Drew Rosenhaus, who said in July he was hoping to get him signed by the end of the month ( You have to wonder if Freeman is asking for more money than teams would be willing to give him. Or, a possibility that would be smarter: Maybe he’s waiting to see if a team needs a No. 1 running back due to a training camp injury or positive COVID-19 test.

Either way, Freeman makes sense for the Bears in that he’d provide a veteran backup to David Montgomery. But do the Bears make sense to Freeman if he’s squarely behind Montgomery on the depth chart? Maybe not.

RB Spencer Ware

A more realistic option at running back, if the Bears want to add to that room, would be a guy in Ware with ties to Matt Nagy. The former Kansas City Chiefs running back had 921 rushing yards and 447 receiving yards in 2016, the first year Nagy was Andy Reid’s offensive coordinator.

MORE: Five things we've learned about Bears' rookies 

A brutal knee injury suffered in 2017’s preseason derailed Ware’s career, and he only played in three games last year after the Chiefs brought him back off the free agent scrap heap. The 28-year-old, though, has familiarity with Nagy’s scheme and could at least provide some much-needed veteran competition for Pierce and former undrafted free agent Ryan Nall.

PK Graham Gano

The Bears dumped Ahmed to make room for Christian, leaving Eddy Pineiro as the only kicker on the roster. Pace’s preference is to find a kicker for cheap after the Cody Parkey disaster, hence last year’s competition and a long leash with Pineiro.

But if Pineiro falters at all during camp, the Bears should probably find room on their 80-man roster for a kicker to compete with him. Gano might cost a little more, and the 33-year-old missed all of 2019 with an injury, but his strong leg and decade of experience would certainly push Pineiro – if not replace him.



Bears waive kicker Ramiz Ahmed, ending kicker battle before it began

Bears waive kicker Ramiz Ahmed, ending kicker battle before it began

For now, Eddy Piñeiro can breath easy: 

You'll remember, the Bears brought Ahmed into the building back in mid-April. The kicker, who played his college ball at Nevada, went 15/20 on field goal attempts in his 2018 senior season. Ryan Pace and co. signed him to push Piñeiro, who had an up-and-down first season in Chicago. As JJ Stankevitz points out, the move likely has to do with the team's reported signing of a defensive back on Tuesday: 

As it stands now, Piñeiro's job is once again safe. For whatever it's worth, it sounds like Piñeiro, who struggled with distance last year, has put on some muscle this offseason. In a recent interview with media, Bears' special team's coordinator Chris Tabor had this to say: 

"I'm going to be honest with you, first day we went out and kicked -- and I hadn't seen him kick since the Minnesota game -- you're looking at a bigger, stronger Eddy Pineiro," he said. "I was very impressed. You could tell that he matured, he's really more comfortable." 

So good news, Bears fans: there will be no summer kicking battle this year. You can put the aspirin away.