Bears RB Tarik Cohen's NFL future hinges on 2020 contract year

Bears RB Tarik Cohen's NFL future hinges on 2020 contract year

It’s a weird time to be in a contract year. 

If the NFL’s 2020 season is played in front of empty stadiums, the league’s salary cap very well may decrease in 2021. And that feels like the best-case scenario; the alternative is a shortened season or no season at all amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Money-wise, these are short-term concerns for the league. New TV contracts are expected to generate a windfall of cash for the league in 2022. But immediate financial uncertainty might be why Allen Robinson’s widely-expected contract extension hasn’t happened yet, as colleague Adam Hoge wrote earlier this month

MORE: How coronavirus will impact NFL's 2020 season (if there is a season)

This all puts Tarik Cohen in a tough spot as he enters the final year of his rookie contract. Being a running back — even one who does so much more — doesn’t help either. 

Nor does the fact Cohen is coming off his worst season as a pro. 

“It’s definitely a motivating factor being that this is the year,” Cohen said of his upcoming contract year. “I feel like I can’t put any pressure on nobody else. It’s all on me. That’s how I like to go about it. 

“I just take it upon myself, anything else like, I want to win as a team. I feel like if we win as a team that is good for everybody’s individual success.”

It’s a good answer. But money for running backs is hard to come by, and might be even harder to come by for Cohen if he can’t prove 2019 was a blip, and not the start of a trend. That's independent of what kind of offense the Bears have. 

Cohen averaged 4.7 yards per touch last year — 3.3 yards per rushing attempt and 5.8 yards per reception — down over two yards from his 2018 average. Cohen actually had eight more receptions in 2019 than he had in 2018, yet he had 269 fewer receiving yards. 

Cohen admitted he wore down more in 2019, especially toward the end of the season, than he had in years past. He recognizes he needs to better take care of his body — especially without a veteran like Benny Cunningham around to push him. 

Also: Cohen had six drops last year, per Pro Football Focus, after having just four total in his first two seasons as a pro. 

But not all of Cohen’s 2019 downturn was on him. Matt Nagy struggled to scheme him into favorable matchups — Cohen said he felt like when he was in the slot, he was across from a defensive back; when he stayed in the backfield, “it was pretty much linebackers.” 

And when Cohen did get the ball, he didn’t always have an opportunity to run after the catch — although he perhaps could’ve turned upfield more instead of bolting toward the sidelines on some plays. 

Either way, Cohen needs to help himself out, but he also needs his coaches and quarterback(s) to help him, too. 

MORE: Why the Bears have been blown away by Khalil Mack's offseason

Right now, Cohen is saying all the right things. But contract years can become volatile. If Cohen doesn’t feel like he’s getting the help he needs around him, he could become frustrated — and would have every right to feel that way. 

“We’re putting last year behind us and we’re just going to move forward,” running backs coach Charles London said. “He knows that I’ve got his back and we’re going to do whatever we think’s best for Tarik as far as in the offense and whatever that may entail. I don’t think that’s going to be an issue with him at all. He’s also very motivated to get out there and return to his 2018 form.”

That’s the goal, to get Cohen back to who he was in 2018. That version of Cohen should have no problem landing a multi-year, eight-figure contract — even in the midst of a pandemic. 

That’s also the version of Cohen the Bears need to revive their offense. 

“I feel like we’ll probably go back to the things we were doing in 2018,” Cohen said. “I feel like we’re just going to simplify things. I feel like at times we just made things too hard on ourselves and we didn’t have people guessing. I feel like we were kinda just showing our cards a little bit. 

“I feel like this year, with a new OC, coach (Bill) Lazor — (I’m) already seeing the things he has planned for us. It’s going to be hard to tell who’s getting the ball and when or how they’re getting the ball, too.

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Matt Nagy, Bears may be facing ironic end to 2020 preseason plans

Matt Nagy, Bears may be facing ironic end to 2020 preseason plans

Just when Matt Nagy actually wants to play his starters in preseason games, there might not be a preseason. 

Ironic, right?  

On Wednesday, Pro Football Talk reported what’s been anticipated for weeks: The NFL will cut its preseason schedule from four to two games. But, per NFL Network, the NFLPA hasn’t signed off on that reduction just yet – potentially because they’re hoping to not play any preseason games at all in 2020. 

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And why would the players want those games? All it’d be is another opportunity for team-to-team transmission of the novel coronavirus that’s still raging across the United States. And the NFL has very little monetary incentive to play these games, too, which would happen in front of empty stadiums and presumably don’t bring in much TV revenue anyway. 

So if playing these games would risk COVID-19 exposure – which is way more important than the next words you’re about to read – and wouldn’t negatively affect anyone’s bottom line, why play them?

Some coaches will argue they’re critical for getting players ready for the regular season. Nagy, up until this year, wasn’t among those coaches. Remember these tweets from last August?

“My biggest thing is I’m trying to do what’s best for the Chicago Bears, and every team is different, and that’s okay,” Nagy said last summer. “… We love where we’re at right now in regards to our starters. We feel really good about it.”

All the NFLPA has to do to argue against preseason games is point to how Nagy – as well as Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay – viewed the importance of those in the past. If teams felt prepared for the regular season without playing their starters in the preseason, why should that change in the midst of a pandemic? 

Nagy has since switched his thinking – this after a truly awful start on offense to the 2019 season – and committed to playing his starters during 2020’s preseason. Not only does Nagy need as many preseason games as possible to evaluate Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles, but he needs it for the rest of his offense to find an identity and rhythm quicker than they did last year (if they ever found one at all). 

So that means having Anthony Miller catch passes from both Trubisky and Foles in preseason games. That means getting the interior of the offensive line – whether it includes Germain Ifedi or Rashaad Coward at right guard – reps together in live action. That means getting Cole Kmet’s feet wet before throwing him into the deep end of the “Y” tight end position in September. 

“As we talk, that's one of the things that I look back at from last year that I'm not happy about that I made a decision to do in the preseason," Nagy said on the Waddle & Silvy Show in May. "Number one, I think it's good for them to have it, but number two it sets the mentality. 

“So that's not going to happen this year."

Except it might not happen. And probably shouldn’t. 



Bears' Allen Robinson included in Big 10's All-Decade team

Bears' Allen Robinson included in Big 10's All-Decade team

Here's some fun news for your holiday weekend. 

Bears WR Allen Robinson has been named to the Big 10 All-Decade team: 

A two-time Big 10 receiver of the year, Robinson finished his three-year career at Penn State with 177 catches for 2479 yards and 17 touchdowns. Seven years after he went into the NFL, Robinson's name is still all over the Penn State record board. Currently, he's: 

- 3rd all time in receptions
- 1st in single season receptions (97 in '13)
- 3rd in single game receptions (12)
- 4th in receiving yards
- 1st in single season receiving yards (1432, '13)
- 2nd in single season TD's (11, '12) 

He's also one of two receivers in Nittany Lion history to catch three touchdowns in multiple games. Allen Robinson: underrated in the NFL, but now properly rated by the NCAA.