Bears

Bears expected to make major strikes early at multiple positions when free agency opens next week

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USA TODAY

Bears expected to make major strikes early at multiple positions when free agency opens next week

This is the time of NFL year when every rumor is true, and every rumor is absurd BS, with the “truth” only becoming set when signings or draft selections are announced.

Still, beginning with Kansas City general manager Brett Veach reminding listeners at the NFL Scouting Combine that new Bears coach and former KC offensive coordinator Matt Nagy had a working knowledge of Chiefs wide receiver Albert Wilson, connections have been made. Those will continue, if only because general managers like Ryan Pace do their due diligence and evaluations of multiple options on the market. The Bears may ultimately be all-in on perhaps two wide receivers, for instance, but they will have made inquiries and explored numbers on quite a few more than two.

With that in mind, and with the beginning next Monday of the period for negotiating contracts with other teams’ pending free agents, a number of Bears scenarios are in play. And Pace’s history points to the Bears striking early and very, very hard sooner in free agency rather than later.

Cornerback

Applying the transition tag to Kyle Fuller is only one part of the Bears’ efforts to (again) shore up a tipping-point position in their defense. The Bears were expected to be in the mix for Richard Sherman, but he agreed to terms with the San Francisco 49ers quickly after the Seahawks released him, so Ryan Pace will have to look elsewhere to enhance a secondary also featuring young safeties Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson.

The Bears have been exploring a contract extension for Amos, who like Fuller delivered a breakout season in 2017.

Wide receiver

The given is that the Bears will make a preemptive strike at wideout. The questions are how many (one or two?) and exactly for whom?

Wilson is considered to be bordering on a fait accompli. Wilson was a central figure in the offense that Nagy directed in Kansas City and was a likely Bears suspect even before Veach’s Combine comments.

Assuming Wilson has been targeted by Pace in response to what Nagy and offensive assistant Brad Childress, also from Kansas City, are insisting upon, the “other shoe” becomes intriguing. Wilson at 5-foot-9 was effective both in the slot and on the outside. The Bears are desperate for production at wide receiver irrespective of who lines up where, which has them linked them to Jacksonville’s Allen Robinson, the latter coming off a torn ACL. Injuries at wide receiver may be a deal-killer after the injury issues that came in with Markus Wheaton from Pittsburgh last offseason, and which the Bears already have in place with Cameron Meredith and Kevin White.

Signing guys is easy, though. Signing “right” guys is a whole ‘nother matter altogether.

Pace appeared to have given his roster both depth and talent last offseason, only to see it devolve into one of the NFL’s worst. Consider that before last training camp, Pace signed Victor Cruz, Reuben Randle, Deonte Thompson, Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright. And that’s with Meredith and White in place.

Wright proved to be worth the effort, but decisions were to stay with Wheaton over Thompson, who was released by the Bears on Oct. 11, after which he went to the Buffalo Bills and caught 27 passes for an average of nearly 16 yards per reception — more catches than any Bears wideout other than Wright and for an average gain greater than any Bear other than Wheaton and Tre McBride, total non-factors in the season.

The 2018 offseason needs to be exponentially more productive for the Bears. It’s not so simple.

Keeping their own

Just about every NFL team genuflects in the direction of building through the draft, with some pretty noteworthy exceptions — maybe the 1970s George Allen Washington Redskins, or the 2006 Bears, with most of the offense coming via free agency: Ruben Brown, Dez Clark, Roberto Garcia, Thomas Jones, Muhsin Muhammad, Fred Miller, John Tait. But those teams lost in their Super Bowls, so ... 

Still, even with the usual spate of aftershocks from the Scouting Combine, the true focus of the NFL is on the real-life game of fantasy football playing out now and over the next couple weeks. The draft simply cannot fill more than a small handful of needs; indeed, a draft that produces more than three starters was an anomaly before the Ryan Pace tenure, which has produced Amos and Eddie Goldman in 2015; Leonard Floyd, Cody Whitehair, Jonathan Bullard, Nick Kwiatkowski and Jordan Howard in 2016; and Mitch Trubisky, Eddie Jackson and Tarik Cohen last year.

Too infrequently the Bears have had no real reason to fashion a second contract for one of their own. Matt Forte and Kyle Long stand out as draft-hit exceptions worth new paper; Akiem Hicks and Willie Young were re-upped but were somebody else’s draft choices.

Information continues to bubble to the surface that the Bears are close on a multi-year extension for Goldman, who has emerged as one of the NFL’s best young defensive tackles.

Bears takeaways from NFL’s week 3 – end of “Fitzmagic?” Leading NFCN without a leading QB, and Dowell Loggains

Bears takeaways from NFL’s week 3 – end of “Fitzmagic?” Leading NFCN without a leading QB, and Dowell Loggains

After he threw three interceptions in the first half of the Tampa Bay-Pittsburgh game on MNF, Ryan Fitzmagic has reverted to just plain Ryan Fitzpatrick. The result is that the Bears likely should expect to see Jameis Winston at quarterback when the Buccaneers show up in Soldier Field next Sunday.
 
This would not necessarily be good news for the Bears, even with Winston starting this season with a three-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal-conduct policy.
 
Last-place finishes in the standings by the Bears and Bucs have had Winston facing the Bears each of his three NFL seasons, all three in Raymond James Stadium. After the Bears escaped with a victory in Winston’s rookie (2015) season, the Buccaneers outscored the Bears by a combined 65-17 in Winston’s last two meetings with them.
 
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Needing deeper thoughts
 
No surprise really, but the Bears are leading the NFC North with the lowest-rated quarterback in the division:
 
No.   Player                         Rating
 
8       Aaron Rodgers         104.5
12     Kirk Cousins             98.8
23     Matthew Stafford      83.4
25     Mitch Trubisky          77.8
 
Trubisky does rank ahead of rookies Josh Allen of Buffalo and the Jets’ Sam Darnold but he does stand 26th in yards per attempt at a very underwhelming 5.68
 
But Trubisky and the offense produced produced only six plays of 12 yards or longer at Green Bay and six against Seattle. Against the Cardinals, the Bears had nine, but those included three on runs, by Tarik Cohen (21 and 17 yards) and Jordan Howard (17), plus four short completions with yards after catches.
 
The irony is that the offense is getting a completion rate from Trubisky – 69.2 – that is axiomatic for success with West Coast offenses. But his overall accuracy continues to inconsistent: His completion percentage is its lowest (51.16) in the red zone, and he has established zero deep threat based on accuracy on throws longer than 10 yards.
 
“Those are important to have and we need to start connecting on those,” said coach Matt Nagy. “It's great to take the opportunity of going deep, those are great, but they're way better and they mean a lot more when you connect on them… .
 
“I thought that there were some good ones and I thought there were some he could get better at. That's where we're at. He'll be the first to tell you that. We'll do everything we possibly can each week to make sure we limit those inaccuracies.”
 
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Remember him?
 
Funky stats and factoids aren’t all that difficult to find in the NFL; all the teams that could’ve drafted Tom Brady or Joe Montana, that sort of thing.
 
So isn’t there something at least lightly amusing about the Miami Dolphins, the Bears’ opponent on Oct. 14 coming out of the off week, sitting at 3-0 and sharing the No. 1 spot in the AFC with the Kansas City Chiefs?
 
Behind quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the NFL’s No. 3 passer (121.8 rating)?
 
Under offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains?

Eddie Jackson, Akiem Hicks make Pro Football Focus Team of the Week

Eddie Jackson, Akiem Hicks make Pro Football Focus Team of the Week

The Bears defense did the heavy lifting in their Week 3 win over the Arizona Cardinals, generating a turnover and forcing a quarterback change to keep Mitchell Trubisky and company in the game.

Khalil Mack was a major key to the victory, but the rest of the defense really stepped up too. It was actually Eddie Jackson and Akiem Hicks who were the Bears’ highest-graded starters in the game by Pro Football Focus.

They both made PFF’s Week 3 Team of the Week for their performances.

Technically, Sherrick McManis was PFF’s highest-graded player for Chicago, recording a sack and an interception on only five snaps played.

Mack was right behind Jackson and Hicks to lead the defense, while Jordan Howard was the Bears’ highest-graded offensive player.

On the other end of the spectrum, Mitchell Trubisky was the lowest-graded player on the team. He was the fourth-lowest graded QB in Week 3, ahead of only Tyrod Taylor and both Cardinals quarterbacks.

Matt Nagy will need better from his quarterback down the line, but for now, the Bears have found a way to ride their defense to the top of the NFC North standings.