Bears

Bears eye position changes in search for improved depth on offense

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USA Today

Bears eye position changes in search for improved depth on offense

The Bears will try to address one of their more glaring weaknesses — tight end depth — by giving longtime offensive tackle Bradley Sowell some work at tight end in the coming weeks of practice at Halas Hall. 

Sowell, a reliable backup swing tackle the last two seasons with the Bears, was targeted twice as a receiver in 2018 — first, on a nearly-intercepted Mitch Trubisky pass against the New England Patriots, and second on the famous “Santa’s Sleigh” touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams. He also got some work as a fullback in the Bears’ Week 17 thumping of the Minnesota Vikings. 

“We felt like at the ‘Y’ position we could use some more depth,” coach Matt Nagy said. “It’s something we talked about at the end of the season. We discussed it and now we’re giving him a chance.”

Nagy’s assessment of the Bears’ “Y” (in-line) depth is accurate, if not even undersold. The athletic 6-foot-7, 312 pound Sowell will have a chance to be a backup to Adam Shaheen, who has missed 13 games in his first two years due to a string of injuries. Reserve tight end Ben Braunecker can play both the “Y” and “U” positions, and the Bears have a handful of undrafted free agents (led by Utah State's Dax Raymond) competing to catch the eye of the coaching staff in the coming weeks. 

The Bears’ offense struggled with two tight ends on the field last year, especially in Shaheen’s absence as Dion Sims played himself out of the league. It’s far too early to tell if adding Sowell to the tight end mix will help, but at this point, the Bears think it’s worth a shot. 

“He’s shown it repetitively in practice that he has the athletic ability, the hands, he’s very smart, he knows how to block and all that stuff,” Nagy said. “So let’s test it out and see. When I tell you he’s all-in, he’s all-in.”

Center of Attention

As expected, the Bears indeed will flip James Daniels and Cody Whitehair on the offensive line, with Daniels sliding to center and Whitehair to left guard. 

“We feel comfortable with it, so again, this is the time to test it out and see,” Nagy said. “It’s hard right now because we don’t have pads. So, we’ll get into training camp and see how that goes. But I feel pretty good about it.”

Daniels exclusively played left guard during last year’s regular season, with the Bears opting to hold steady with Whitehair at center for the third consecutive season. Whitehair, though, was drafted as a guard back in 2016 and only moved to center after the last-minute signing of Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton. Daniels, too, starred as a center at Iowa and did get a smattering of preseason snaps there before fully committing to playing guard his rookie year. 

The change is the only planned one on Harry Hiestand’s offensive line, which returns every primary starter from 2018 (Daniels, Whitehair, Charles Leno, Bobby Massie, Kyle Long). Perhaps the most significant change for this group, then, will be losing Sowell as its backup tackle. 

Windy City: Smoke Out?

Taquan Mizzell will work as a wide receiver during OTAs, with the now-former running back trading in No. 33 for No. 11 but facing an uphill battle to make the Bears’ roster. 

Mizzell does have a decent track record as a pass-catcher dating back to his college days at Virginia, but it’ll take a massive effort for the third-year player to crack into a crowded receiver room that already has a competitive battle brewing between Javon Wims, Marvin Hall and a group of undrafted free agents. 

While it’s too early to grant rookie running back Kerrith Whyte Jr. a roster spot, shifting Mizzell out of the picture does appear to create a clearer path for the seventh-round pick to stick with the Bears this fall. 

Tom Brady to meet with other teams in 2020 free agency

Tom Brady to meet with other teams in 2020 free agency

Let the games begin! After spending his entire NFL career at Gillette Stadium with the New England Patriots, Tom Brady is entering free agency. Per CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora, Brady is open to talks with other teams for what is to be his last contract of his playing career. Brady has been a staple of the Patriots franchise for 19 years. There are young New England fans who haven’t ever been alive during a time without Brady under center. The Patriots are certain to undergo changes in the future, with many wondering how much longer Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick will be at the helm of the organization, so it is understandable to see Brady ready to explore his options.

At 42-years-old, Brady has been telling those close to him that, unless he is sidelined by injury, he anticipates playing until age 45. Brady is also excited at the prospect of mentoring a young quarterback so that whatever organization he plays with during his final NFL stint, it is set for success after he retires. The question for Bears fans is, could that young quarterback be Mitch Trubisky?

After an uninspiring season, there is much talk about creating some competition at QB for the three-year Bears starter. Some healthy competition could drive Trubisky to play like the draft pick that Ryan Pace hoped he would be. The Bears are currently in the bottom-five of salary cap space in the NFL, meaning they would have to do some serious budgeting to be able to afford Brady, but fans will have to wait and see what Pace intends to do this off-season after a disappointing 2019 campaign.

La Canfora reports that it would “extremely surprising” if Brady were to agree to a new deal with the Patriots before free agency begins in March. There have been other reports of the Brady family moving to Connecticut (still technically in New England, but a move nonetheless) and a deep clean of Giselle Bündchen’s suite at Gillette Stadium, indicating that Brady is indeed ready to move on. We will all just have to wait and see where Brady will end up in 2020. 

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Which of these 2 Titans free agents should the Bears consider signing?

Which of these 2 Titans free agents should the Bears consider signing?

The Tennessee Titans' 2019 campaign should provide Bears fans with hope that Chicago's underachieving year can quickly turn around in one season, assuming GM Ryan Pace makes calculated decisions to protect the team from another regression.

Tennessee's trade for quarterback Ryan Tannehill was the kind of chess move that allowed the Titans to give Marcus Mariota one more season to prove he's the franchise quarterback so many draft experts predicted he'd be, while also making sure the team could still compete if he failed. Mariota didn't take advantage of that opportunity, and he was out of the lineup for good by Week 7.

But Tannehill doesn't deserve all the credit for the Titans' breakout on offense. Two other players, both of whom will be unrestricted free agents in March, deserve some attention and potentially an offer from the Bears in free agency: Running back Derrick Henry and offensive tackle Jack Conklin.

RELATED: Top 30 Free Agents of the 2020 NFL Offseason

Henry ran for a league-leading 1,540 yards and 16 touchdowns in 15 games and would probably be the 2019 NFL MVP if it wasn't such a quarterback-tilted award. In fact, an argument can be made that Henry is the engine behind Tannehill's success. With so much attention paid to stopping the 250-pound workhorse, play-action and downfield opportunities were easier to complete. Tannehill did, after all, complete over 70% of his passes in 2019.

Imagine if Mitch Trubisky had the luxury of handing the ball to a player like Henry 25 times per game. His job would become, well, easy. And this isn't to suggest running back David Montgomery can't be an effective bell-cow back who can rumble for 1,250 yards. But Henry is an elite player who will remain at or near the top of the league's running backs for the next few seasons.

Will Ryan Pace pay nearly $14 million per season for a running back? It seems highly unlikely considering the limited salary-cap space the Bears have and the pressing need to add a Tannehill of their own. If Henry's asking price drops a bit, then who knows. But assuming a team with a lot of money to spend is willing to pay up, the Bears would be better served looking elsewhere.

So what about Conklin? Chicago needs an upgrade along the offensive line and while Charles Leno, Jr. and Bobby Massie have proven to be adequate starters during their careers, Conklin was at one time considered one of the NFL's top young tackles before injuring his knee in the 2017 playoffs.

He returned to form in 2019 and was graded as the 15th-best tackle in the league by Pro Football Focus. Compare that to Leno, Jr. and Massie, who graded 86th and 65th respectively.

According to Spotrac, Conklin's projected market value is $15 million per season, which is a little bit higher than Henry but is also for a position that is much harder to fill. 

The Titans declined Conklin's fifth-year option last May and as a result, he's going to cash-in on the open market. Tennessee may end up using the franchise tag to keep him, which would all but eliminate him from consideration for the Bears.

If, however, both Conklin and Henry are allowed to flirt with new teams, it seems pretty clear that Conklin would be the better use of funds. Sure, Henry would be a lot of fun to watch pound opposing defenses into submission, but Montgomery has the potential to be the same kind of fan-favorite. Conklin, on the other hand, is a clear upgrade over Leno, Jr. and Massie, and would provide more long-term returns for the money, too. 

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