Bears

Bears free agency rumor tracker: Wednesday

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USA Today

Bears free agency rumor tracker: Wednesday

Teams can finalize contracts with free agents at 3 p.m. today, but the Bears have almost all their shopping done already. On Tuesday, wide receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, tight end Trey Burton, linebacker Sam Acho, cornerback Prince Amukamara and kicker Cody Parkey reportedly agreed to sign with the Bears, but there still are some open spots on the roster for Ryan Pace to fill...

5:40 p.m. update

QB Mike Glennon, WR Markus Wheaton, CB Marcus Cooper

The news: The Bears released all three players

As expected, the Bears parted ways with 2017's three biggest free agent swings and misses, and saved about $21 million in cap space in the process. Glennon quickly found a landing spot, signing a two-year, $8 million deal with the Arizona Cardinals:


5:30 p.m. update

DE Mitch Unrein

The news: Will sign a three-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Unrein was a favorite of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and defensive line coach Jay Rodgers for his assignment-smart football that helped allow Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman to play fast. Losing him to Tampa Bay means the Bears could turn to Jonathan Bullard as the other defensive end opposite Hicks in Fangio's 3-4 base. 

3:10 p.m. update

PK Cody Parkey

The news: He'll receive $15 million, with $9 million guaranteed, in his four-year contract

That's a considerable investment in the kicking position, which has been inconsistent for the Bears since they released Robbie Gould prior to the 2016 season. Parkey connected on 21 of 23 field goal in 2017 for the Miami Dolphins. 

2:40 p.m. update

P Kevin Huber

The news: Will re-sign with the Cincinnati Bengals

The Bears reportedly kicked the tires on Huber, but he's not going anywhere. We'll see if this means Pat O'Donnell will be back after all. 

2:10 p.m. update

LB Trent Murphy

The news: Will sign a three-year, $21 million deal with the Buffalo Bills

The Bears' biggest need is at outside linebacker going forward, and finding impact guys to pair with Leonard Floyd there in free agency will be difficult. Most likely, the Bears will have to take a flier on someone like Alex Okafor, who tore his Achilles' in November, or Aaron Lynch, who hasn't improved off a promising start to his career back in 2014 and 2015. Murphy fit that bill, having missed the 2017 season with a torn ACL but netting nine sacks in 2016. 

WR Taylor Gabriel

The news: His deal is worth $26 million over four years, with $14 million guaranteed

Best guess here is most of that guaranteed money is paid out in the first two years of Gabriel's deal. The average annual value of $6.5 million is less than what Albert Wilson will get ($8 million/year over three years), for what it's worth.

TE Trey Burton

The news: More info on his contract

What's interesting here is the Bears signing Burton and Gabriel to four-year contracts that don't include clear outs after one season. That was how Ryan Pace structured three-year contracts given to Dion Sims, Marcus Cooper and Mike Glennon, as well as the two-year contract signed by Markus Wheaton, a year ago. Pace is betting on the upside of Burton and Gabriel, as these guys aren't signed to low-risk deals. 

9:55 a.m. update

OL Zach Fulton

The news: Will sign with the Houston Texans

So Fulton indeed goes to the Texans on a deal that'll pay him, on average, only about $500,000 less than Josh Sitton was due to be owed in 2018 had the Bears picked up his option. Josh Kline, who will re-sign with the Tennessee Titans, will average $6.5 million per season in his four-year deal. If the Bears go cheaper than Fulton and Kline at guard, they could still keep the door open to draft Notre Dame's Quenton Nelson with the eighth overall pick. Or the Bears could slot in Eric Kush, who's coming off a torn ACL suffered last training camp, at one of their starting guard spots and then draft another guard in April. 2017 fifth-round pick Jordan Morgan could be in the mix as well. 

9:05 a.m. update

OL Josh Kline

The news: Will re-sign with the Tennessee Titans

The Bears still need to find an interior lineman to replace Josh Sitton, and Kline seemingly could've been an option before opting to stick in Tennessee. The terms of his deal are worth noting here if the Bears dip into his tier of guards to sign someome -- that's probably too much money to spend to then draft Quenton Nelson with the eighth overall pick. If the Bears go for a cheaper option, it could keep the door open for Nelson to come to Chicago. 

P Kevin Huber

The report: The Bears have interest

Pat O'Donnell is a free agent, so kicking the tires on another punter isn't out of the blue for the Bears. 

7:25 a.m. update

QB Chase Daniel

The news: Will sign with the Bears

Daniel has connections to Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy, having spent 2010-2012 with the New Orleans Saints and 2013-2015 with the Kansas City Chiefs, so the Bears' interest in him makes a lot of sense. While Daniel has only thrown three passes since the end of the 2014 season, he's highly regarded for his football intelligence and fits as a mentor of sorts for Mitch Trubisky. 

LB Sam Acho

The news: Will sign a two-year, $7.5 million deal with the Bears

Acho's older brother scooped all the big names on this one. Bringing back Acho retains another steady piece of Vic Fangio's defense, and rewards a guy who appeared in all 16 games and played 60.4 percent of the Bears' defensive snaps. Acho notched three sacks and forced a fumble in 2017. 

 

Tight ends and all things “timing” will change in Matt Nagy Bears West Coast offense

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USA TODAY

Tight ends and all things “timing” will change in Matt Nagy Bears West Coast offense

Second of two parts

Looking ahead to training camp and what everyone will be looking at – it will help to have even a cursory idea of the offensive elements that coach Matt Nagy is incorporating, particularly in the passing game -- because the when, where and how the Bears will be throwing the football is changing. NBC Sports Chicago focuses on a selection of specifics and their origins within that part of the offense that fans will notice, first in Bourbonnais and then in the 2018 season.

Bill Walsh wrote and always insisted that the tight end was the least understood central pillar in his offense. He viewed and used the tight end as a receiver rather than simply an extra offensive lineman, and used the position to exploit matchup problems and open areas of the field created by design.

In a bit of fortuitous timing, the Bears signed and drafted tight ends (Adam Shaheen, Dion Sims) a year in advance of Matt Nagy’s arrival. But how those tight ends project to be used will be substantially changed from their functions last year. The best indication came this offseason when yet another tight end was brought in, one that signaled a critical direction change coming to the Chicago offense.

The Bears invested heavily to land smallish ex-Philadelphia tight end Trey Burton this offseason. He fits a Nagy template.

“He understands this offense and what to do, so there’s not a lot of mistakes,” Nagy said. “When guys see that you’re a player that has experience in this offense and does things the right way, they really gravitate towards that style of leadership. It’s been everything and more with what we thought with Trey.”

In eight of the last nine years Nagy was with Reid, the tight end (Brent Celek in Philadelphia, Travis Kelce in Kansas City) was either the leading or second-leading receiver on the roster.

In the last 37 years, since Emery Moorehead (No. 2, 1985), the Bears have been led in receptions by a tight end just once (Greg Olsen, 2009) or had a tight end No. 2 in catches just three other times (Olsen, 2008, Martellus Bennett 2014-15).

Receiver additions Taylor Gabriel and Allen Robinson notwithstanding, the role of the tight end in a Bears offense is about to change. Dramatically. And it started literally before Nagy even arrived in Chicago.

“Our first conversation when [Nagy and Pace] were on the plane heading to Chicago the day that I was hired, we discussed that ‘U’ position, the position that we know in Kansas City and we use in Kansas City as kind of the wide receiver/tight end,” Nagy said. “And you play the slot position you can move around, do different things — it’s what we did with Kelce.”

New meaning for “timing” in pass game

Trubisky’s mobility creates a greater threat in action passes and within run-pass options, if only because Trubisky can and will take off with purpose, even as Nagy, Helfrich and QB coach Dave Ragone drill one phrase into the quarterback’s brain: “Get down!”

“We don’t do that all the time but that’s kind of your ‘ball control,’” Nagy said. “There is a mentality that might be a little different in how we’re trying to be aggressive, too. In the classic West Coast there were still times where they were looking to be aggressive and we want that mindset.”

More than that, however, is the threat that play-calling versatility posed by Nagy’s offense. What jumps out is the play-calling balance on first downs:

 

2017 first downs

 

Run/pass ratio (%)

Bears        Chiefs

59/41        51.1/48.9 

 

Yards per carry

Bears        Chiefs

4.1             4.6

 

Completion %

Bears        Chiefs

59.3          68.2

 

The Chiefs had the advantage of a more accurate quarterback (Alex Smith) than the Bears (Trubisky). Coaches are stressing accuracy along with ball security, and improving Trubisky’s accuracy is axiomatic for success in Nagy’s scheme, which is based on the West Coast foundation of high completion percentage and minimizing risk of negative plays in the passing game.

Notably, in true West Coast tradition, with the Reid/Nagy offenses forcing defenses to spread horizontally the Chiefs rushed for a half-yard more than the Bears on first downs.

More notably perhaps, the Chiefs exploited those higher-percentage positive first-down plays, which meant shorter yardage needs on second downs, with more passing, not less. And when the Chiefs did run, they were just as successful per carry.

 

2017 second downs

 

Run/pass ratio (%)

Bears        Chiefs

48/52        40.8/59.2 

 

Yards per carry

Bears        Chiefs

4.0             4.6

 

Completion %

Bears        Chiefs

62.6          72.7

 

West Coast systems typically operate with more drag routes, quick slants and square-in’s, requiring receivers to run precise routes and have the ability to create separation quickly as Trubisky sets up quickly and looks to throw on time.

The “on time” component is critical, because it the timing of breaks and routes are connected to footwork – Trubisky’s – in that the ball is expected to be coming out when he hits the third or fifth step of his drop. The quarterback is not going to sit waiting for a receiver to come open, as in some other programs.

“It's a wide open attack and it's a great offense because there are so many options within it,” Trubisky said. “We know our job and it all comes down to execution for us. There are so many options I can't even begin to say where it starts but Coach Nagy has brought in a great plan.

“I think the system fits the players we have. In particular I feel like it really fits my skill set with the RPO's, the quick game, stretching the ball down the field and then with the running backs we have just pounding it inside and continuously trying to establish the run game each and every game. I just feel like we've got a lot of options, can be really dynamic and on top of that how we understand it and how the coaches have taught it to us since day one is just going to allow us to play faster and execute the plays at a higher rate.”

Bears among 50 most valuable sports teams in the world

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USA Today

Bears among 50 most valuable sports teams in the world

The Chicago Bears haven't enjoyed many wins over the last several years, but that hasn't done anything to hurt the franchise's bottom line.

According to a recent report by Forbes, the Bears rank 17th among the 50 most valuable sports teams in the world for 2018. The franchise is valued at $2.85 billion.

17. Chicago Bears

Value: $2.85 billion

1-year change: 6%

Operating income: $114 million

Owner: McCaskey family

Chicago is seventh among NFL teams in the top-17, with Dallas, New England, New York (Giants), Washingon, San Francisco and Los Angeles (Rams) all having higher valuations.

It's no surprise the Bears are this valuable, even without a winning product. They play in one of the greatest sports cities on the planet. And just imagine what will happen to the club's price tag if Mitch Trubisky and the new-look roster actually start winning games.