Bears

Bears Free Agent Focus: Vonn Bell

Bears Free Agent Focus: Vonn Bell

The Bears are facing an uncertain offseason at safety, even with Eddie Jackson signing the most lucrative contract extension ever given to a player at his position. It's the status of his running mate, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, that makes this such a volatile situation. 

Clinton-Dix is scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency in March and there's been no indication that the Bears intend to re-sign him before the spending frenzy kicks off. If that's the case, there's a good chance a team with more cap flexibility will inflate Clinton-Dix's market value and make him too cost-prohibitive to bring back.

RELATED: Top 30 free agents of 2020 NFL offseason

Chicago can't afford to pay two safeties top-of-the-market salaries. As a result, Bears general manager Ryan Pace will be forced to look into the second tier of available third-level defenders.

One option who could make a lot of sense for the Bears is Saints' free agent, Vonn Bell. The former second-round pick from Ohio State has emerged as a quality starter whose 90.3 run defense grade from Pro Football Focus was the highest among all safeties in 2019. He has the kind of in-the-box skill set that makes him an appealing fit for Chicago. Bell's physicality will allow Jackson to revert to the elite ball-hawking center fielder that he was in 2018.

Bell started 13 games in 2019 and finished the season with 86 tackles, 1.5 sacks and one interception.

It's hard to predict how much Bell will command on the open market. A player with similar skills, Las Vegas' Karl Joseph, has a projected market value of $6.1 million per season, according to Spotrac. The higher-end free-agent safeties like Minnesota's Anthony Harris are at or over $14 million per year. Pace will likely be in the hunt for a player on the cheaper side of the pay scale, which means Bell could (and should) be in that mix.

Safety is rarely discussed among the Bears' most pressing needs this free agency but it could quickly become the team's biggest weakness on defense if they don't find a capable replacement for Clinton-Dix.

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Sports Talk Live Podcast: Bears' QB competition confirmed by Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Bears' QB competition confirmed by Matt Nagy and Ryan Pace

It's a Friday edition of SportsTalk Live. Host David Kaplan is joined by David Haugh, Patrick Finley, and KC Johnson.

Bears general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy confirm that there will be an open competition for starting quarterback between Nick Foles and Mitch Trubisky. The guys wonder how open it will actually be. Meanwhile, Nagy says he can sense Trubisky is a fierce competitor. The panel wonders if competition will elevate his play and make him better.

The Bulls have officially begun their search for the new executive to lead their basketball operations. Bulls Insider KC goes through the potential candidates. Haugh and Finley wonder how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect their search and ability to land a big name. And what about Jim Boylen's future? KC says it will ultimately be up to the new person in charge but reminds everyone how much Boylen is liked by the current front office.

Later, former NFL coach Dave Wannstedt joins Kap on the show from Florida. Wanny dissects the Bears quarterback competition and explains why the pressure will always be high on Mitch no matter what. They also talk about new tight end Jimmy Graham's impact on the offense and pass rusher Robert Quinn's impact on the defense. And what's Wanny up to during quarantine? He tells Kap the shows he's binge-watching and gives his review of "Tiger King". 

0:00- There will be an open competition for the Bears starting quarterback job. Does either QB have an advantage? Will competition make Mitch a better quarterback? Also, how much better does Robert Quinn make the defense?

8:00- The Bulls have begun their search for the new head of their basketball operations. KC goes through some of the candidates. Plus, the panel discusses what this means for Jim Boylen's future, John Paxson's role in the search and his future role in the organization.

16:00- Dave Wannstedt joins Kap on the show. He talks about Mitch's chances to win the QB competition and his chances to keep the job throughout next season. Plus, they talk about Jimmy Graham's role in the offense, Robert Quinn's impact on the defense and Wanny gives his honest review of "Tiger King".

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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Why Nick Foles is the clear favorite for Bears' starting quarterback Week 1

Why Nick Foles is the clear favorite for Bears' starting quarterback Week 1

Calling a quarterback battle an “open competition,” as Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy did Friday, leaves that comment open to interpretation. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that Nick Foles is going to emerge from that competition as the Bears’ starting quarterback. 

The Bears are not going to hand Foles their QB1 job — he’s not even going to take the first snaps of the competition. Those will go to Mitch Trubisky, the incumbent here. Foles will have to win the job, and there’s a chance he won’t. I’m not ready to call the Bears’ quarterback competition for Foles before a single practice is held. 

But for Trubisky to win the job, and not Foles, the Bears will have to not only see the 2017 No. 2 overall pick out-play his challenger during training camp. They’ll have to convince themselves it’s not a mirage, and that the last three years of inconsistent-at-best tape aren’t a mitigating factor against a guy who threw for 373 yards as the MVP of a Super Bowl. 

“I think when we say open competition, this is a open competition, they’ve both been told that and I think it’s the best way to do it,” Pace said. “I think the good thing is honesty and transparency with both players as we go through it. We want what’s best for the Chicago Bears. It’s as simple as that.”

The quote that really stands out to me, though, after Friday’s hour-plus of teleconferences with Pace, Matt Nagy, Nick Foles and Robert Quinn is an old one from February. It’s Nagy talking at the NFL Combine in February about wanting Trubisky to know the offense better than he does. It felt like a challenge to Trubisky at the time; it felt like an even greater challenge when Foles — who has experience running versions of the Bears’ offense in Kansas City and Philadelphia — was brought in. 

Essentially, the Bears told Trubisky through their words and actions: If you don’t know the offense to the level we want, we have a guy in place who does, and he'll take your job. 

Foles has a working knowledge of the Bears’ offense, one Nagy figured could get him through a game right now if need be. But there are plenty of different things the Bears do on offense compared to the Chiefs and Eagles (insert your own joke here about those offenses, most importantly, being better). There will be a learning curve for Foles to know Nagy’s offense better than Nagy, especially with the expectation of no OTAs or spring minicamps.

But Foles did an excellent job of explaining why a quarterback needs to know the offense better than its playcaller, one which resonates after watching so many Bears games spiral offensively in 2019. 

“I think if I can (know) this offense just as good, if not better, than the coaches,” Foles said, “when you step in the huddle, then you're able to face adversity better because there's gonna be times when Nagy calls the play and it's a different defense than it should be and it's up to the quarterback to change it.”

The Bears can try to simulate that adversity in practice, but also have a couple years’ worth of information that Trubisky can’t pull out of it. If everything is equal on the practice field, wouldn’t the Bears choose the guy who they hope can fix things in the middle of a game, rather than the guy who’s shown he can’t?

“This is a kid (Foles) who’s been through a lot of different situations,” Nagy said. “He’s been a Super Bowl MVP, he’s been in pressure moments and he understands a lot of the things that we’re looking for.”

Again, the Bears have not named Foles their starter. He carries a lower cap hit in 2020 than Trubisky, meaning the Bears will be okay financially with him being a backup. Trubisky could be sparked by the mere presence of Foles into being some version of the guy Pace hoped he was getting three years ago. 

If that’s the case, Foles may never play a down for the Bears in 2020. That’s actually the team’s best-case scenario. It’s what the Bears — and Bears fans — should be hoping for. 

But realistically, the odds are in Foles’ favor to be QB1 in Week 1. This franchise knows what Trubisky can do. A lot of Nagy’s coaches, including Nagy himself, know what Foles can do from past experiences working with him. And that gives an advantage to Foles. 

So if, in the absence of actual sports to gamble on right now, you’re looking for a safe bet: Take Nick Foles to be the Bears’ starting quarterback in Week 1 of the 2020 season. 

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