Bears

Boomer Esiason says Bears would be perfect fit for Andy Dalton

Boomer Esiason says Bears would be perfect fit for Andy Dalton

The Cincinnati Bengals are going to draft LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with the first overall pick in April's 2020 NFL Draft. There's no debate about that. Instead, the drama surrounding Cincinnati's quarterback situation is about what will happen to the team's incumbent starter, Andy Dalton.

The veteran of nine seasons and 133 starts has one year remaining on his contract and won't have much say (more or less) in where he's playing next fall. It's just as possible Cincinnati will hold onto him as a veteran mentor for Burrow as it is they'll trade him to a quarterback-needy team, and according to former Bengals quarterback and current media personality Boomer Esiason, the perfect trade partner is the Bears.

"The thing going for the Bengals is they can trade him to a team like Chicago," Esiason told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. "I see that as the perfect fit for Andy Dalton. Maybe not as the starter, but as a (Ryan) Tannehill and push the guy they hope can be the starter, but eventually if it works out for him he would have an opportunity to take that job and earn that job and have a No. 1 defense. But it's a very difficult division. Unless Andy wants to go somewhere else."

Dalton is a popular name mentioned whenever the Bears' offseason quarterback search is mentioned. It doesn't hurt that their new offensive coordinator, Bill Lazor, served as Dalton's QB coach and offensive coordinator from 2016-18, leading to even more speculation that it's a perfect marriage.

RELATED: 2020 NFL Mock Draft - Which QBs go in Round 1?

Dalton would be the ideal veteran for the Bears to add. He doesn't have a resume overflowing with success; sure, he's won more than he's lost (70-61-2 as a starter), but he doesn't have a Super Bowl ring or a league-MVP on his ledger. He wouldn't appear as an immediate threat to Mitch Trubisky, but in reality, he could end Trubisky's tenure as the Bears' starter.

Dalton is a pro's pro. He can make all the throws, he's a reliable and consistent passer, and with a great defense and good enough skill players around him, there's no reason to think he wouldn't be an upgrade from what the Bears received at the quarterback position in 2019.

Dalton's contract calls for a $17.7 million salary in 2020, which by current league standards is a bargain for a starting quarterback. The Bengals can release him with no cap penalty, but if Dalton ranks atop the Bears' quarterback wish list, it'd be wiser to trade for him than get into a bidding war on the open market. It's highly unlikely a trade will cost them more than a Day-3 pick.

Familiarity with the coaching staff, a history of success and a skill set proven to be productive in the NFL are major boxes that Dalton would check for the Bears. It just makes too much sense.

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Bears defense ranked among NFL's best despite disappointing 2019 season

Bears defense ranked among NFL's best despite disappointing 2019 season

The strength of the Chicago Bears over the last few seasons has been their defense, led by Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks and Eddie Jackson. And while the 2019 season wasn't as dominant of a performance by the defense that 2018 was, there are still high expectations for the group entering 2020.

In a recent ranking of all 32 teams' defenses entering this season, the Bears checked-in among the best once again:

7. Chicago Bears

With a change in management from Vic Fangio to Chuck Pagano, the Bears’ defense remained consistently above-average even with a down year from Khalil Mack, and an offense led by Mitchell Trubisky that seemed destined to put that defensive in difficult situations more often than not. Then again, given the Bears’ history of quarterbacks, it’s something the franchise is used to. One thing that will help in 2020 and beyond is the fact that Chicago absolutely stole Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson with the 50th overall pick in the second round — Johnson carried first-round talent with him throughout his collegiate career. If Mack is able to once again become the dominant force he has been, there’s enough dangerous talent on this defensive roster — defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, linebacker Roquan Smith, and safety Eddie Jackson primary among them — to make this defense a top-five unit and almost make up for the quarterback shenanigans.

There's one glaring omission from this analysis, and he's the player who could elevate Chicago's defense from really good to downright nasty: Robert Quinn.

The Bears signed Quinn to a five-year, $70 million contract in free agency with the hope that he'll provide Mack with the kind of pass-rushing sidekick that he so desperately needs. Former first-round pick and current Los Angeles Ram, Leonard Floyd, never became that guy and it really cost Chicago. Now, with Quinn in the fold, the Bears' pass rush should be almost unstoppable.

This ranking feels fair considering everything that went wrong for the Bears in 2019. It also has the potential to be way too low with the abundance of high-end talent Chicago has on defense. It's reasonable to think this unit can be a top-3 squad by season's end, and if they are, the Bears will be back in the playoffs.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.

Illinois football coach Lovie Smith's fantastic beard has disappeared

Illinois football coach Lovie Smith's fantastic beard has disappeared

Look at this tremendous man: 

Such grace, such elegance. We could all learn something from that beard. But times are different; Illinois football's days as being the laughing stock of the B1G are over. They played in the 2019 RedBox Bowl, you'll remember. Did they win? Up for debate, but they were there. It counted. 

The winds of change are blowing through Champaign, and Lovie Smith knows this. It explains this picture, tweeted from the Illinois Football account on Wednesday night: 

It's a new (old?) normal, and one we'll all have to get used to. But Illinois football is BACK.