Bears

Browns, Giants firings mirror critical Bears need: accountability

george_mccaskey.jpg
AP

Browns, Giants firings mirror critical Bears need: accountability

The actions of This Week in the NFL – the New York Giants firing GM Jerry Reese and coach Ben McAdoo on Monday, the Cleveland Browns firing EVP Sashi Brown on Thursday (but not coach Hue Jackson) – were noteworthy as much for their timing as for their result, that of pushing out high-level individuals in their respective organizations.

The word for it is “accountability,” and the question that it all immediately calls to mind is: What is the accountability plan of Chairman George McCaskey for the Bears, short-term and longer-term?

The short term accountability passed this week when no changes were made in aftermath of a four-game nadir since the off-week (the one-score loss at New Orleans before the break was at least respectable, with 300-plus yards, three scoring drives of 65 yards or longer, against a very good team). One scenario might have been a dramatic statement stroke to make clear exactly how unacceptable the last four games have been. But the Bears stayed their traditional franchise course of no in-season coaching changes, which is of course not to say that something precipitous couldn’t happen if there are embarrassments at Cincinnati or vs. Cleveland.

The longer Bears accountability term will be determined by the results of the next four games, collectively or individually. No one admits to dealing in hypotheticals, but no one at the coach, GM, president or chairman levels DOESN’T deal in hypotheticals in the form of planning if-then scenarios. Mock drafts are hypotheticals; does anyone think those are the only ones?

The Bears obviously won’t make a cataclysmic move just because the Browns and Giants did. But it’s a small NFL football universe, and “copycat league” doesn’t refer just to offensive or defensive schemes. And GM Ryan Pace and coach John Fox have dramatically poorer results over three years than McCaskey’s two previous GM’s had before they were fired.

Whether McCaskey is inclined – again – to move to unwind his most two biggest football hires is simply speculation around the NFL at this point. But McCaskey was installed as chairman in May 2011 and changed out general managers in January 2012. Interestingly perhaps, with what the Giants did this week, in the course of firing Angelo, McCaskey said, “look at the Giants. They had confidence in their people, their coach, their plan, and it bore fruit."

Erratic “accountability”

The Bears have imposed accountability on their football operations. But it is a history with sometimes erratic applications of “accountability,” sometimes to the point of “it-ain’t-necessarily-broke-but-we-fixed-it-anyway.” It is a history marked – marred? – by inconsistency, which in this sport is perhaps the cardinal sin and harbinger of failure.

If the past is any sort of prologue, precipitous firings have occurred with considerably less on-field miseries than the current three-year run under Pace and Fox.

McCaskey fired Angelo after a .500 season in 2011, one year after the Bears coming within a touchdown in the NFC Championship game of upending eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay. The Angelo firing came after a season in which the Bears were 7-3 when they lost quarterback Jay Cutler for the season and fell to 8-8 under primarily Caleb Hanie. The Cutler injury did not temper McCaskey’s dissatisfaction.

McCaskey OK’d the hiring of Phil Emery to succeed Angelo and signed off on firing Lovie Smith after a 10-win 2012 season. Emery and coach Marc Trestman were jettisoned after an embarrasciubg  collapse in 2014, one year after an 8-8 mark in 2013 and starting out 2-1 and 3-3 in 2014.

Looking back further organizationally, Mike Ditka was fired after one bad season (5-11 in 1992) that had been preceded by two playoff seasons, one (1990) that included a postseason win.

The Bears played near-toxic hardball with Dick Jauron after Jauron taking the 2001 team to 13-3 and the postseason. Angelo had been hired to replace Mark Hatley in 2001 and inherited Jauron coming off six- and five-win seasons. Angelo expected to be allowed to replace Jauron, but an unexpectedly trip to the postseason complicated matters. After some extremely acrimonious negotiations, Angelo and the Bears were stuck with Jauron for two more losing seasons.

Cleveland, New York templates

What the Browns did – firing the personnel boss but keeping the coach – goes against the notion that the incoming GM will want to hire his own head coach. But in fact, looked at another way, that new football boss will have a year to assess Jackson and presumably have the juice to go another direction after 2018 if he doesn’t want Jackson for performance or any other reason. Not ideal, but it does some form of twisted internal logic.

Unless of course Jackson leads a turnaround/up-surge, which actually wouldn’t be all that difficult from where the Browns are. Then the new GM might want to consult and commiserate with Angelo.

The Cleveland and New York firings do allow them to begin executive searches openly, without offending incumbents. Look for lines to form for Philadelphia’s Joe Douglas, who came out of the Baltimore with a personnel pedigree from the Ozzie Newsome tree, spent a year as college scouting director with the Bears before going to the Eagles as VP of player personnel.

Best guess is that no decision has been reached at Halas Hall, with four games remaining. A finishing kick could reflect the kind of progress McCaskey laid out as his requirement of staff for 2017. A finishing tailspin confronts him with the need to impose accountability.

5 free agents who fit with Bears, from Devonta Freeman to Damon Harrison

5 free agents who fit with Bears, from Devonta Freeman to Damon Harrison

The conventional wisdom with the Bears is Ryan Pace needs to improve depth at running back and defensive tackle ahead of training camp practices starting – finally – next week.

But reality played out a little different this week. The Bears reportedly signed defensive back Marqui Christian Tuesday, adding depth at safety and on special teams. He, essentially, replaces Jordan Lucas – who opted out of the 2020 season – on the Bears’ roster, even though kicker Ramiz Ahmed was cut to make room for him.

It makes sense. The Bears are tantalizingly close to actually seeing their 80-man roster in action, and displacing someone with a big-ish-name free agent might run counter to their plans. Once the Bears can get a look at some of those guys on their roster – like running back Artavis Pierce and defensive tackle John Jenkins – maybe they’ll look to make a move.

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Also: The Bears have about $17 million in cap space right now that can roll over to 2021, which would help offset what could be a $23 million drop in next year’s cap. It might not be a bad idea to save money now and avoid difficult cost-saving cuts later.

But if the Bears do try to pick off some of the more recognizable names available in free agency, these five players could make sense:

DT Damon “Snacks” Harrison

Eddie Goldman’s decision to opt out immediately led a lot of folks (myself included) to Google “Snacks Harrison free agency” to make sure he was still available. The good news: He is! The bad news: He’s reportedly contemplated retirement in the past, and the 32-year-old is thinking about getting into the podcast game…

… which is something someone might do when they’re expecting to have a lot of time on their hands, right?

Harrison had a down 2019 with the Detroit Lions and may not even want to get back into football amid the COVID-19 pandemic. If he does, though, the Bears should certainly consider signing him as a rotational veteran to help soften the blow of Goldman’s opt out.

DT Marcell Dareus

The 30-year-old Dareus only played in six games last year before a core injury ended his season. Listed at 6-foot-3, 331 pounds, Dareus might be the best fit to replace Goldman as an anchor of the Bears’ defensive line – so long as he’s healthy.

Dareus – the third player selected in 2011’s draft – did see his play drop off a bit in 2019 before his injury. Still, he’s an experienced and adept run-stuffer, the kind of guy who could help the Bears’ defense in base and sub packages next to Akiem Hicks.

RB Devonta Freeman

It feels weird that Freeman is still available in mid-August, but he’s an unfortunately perfect example of the short shelf life of running backs. He was a Pro Bowler in 2015 and 2016, ripping off consecutive 1,000-yard rushing years while amassing over 1,000 receiving yards and 27 total touchdowns.

His play tailed off in 2017, then was hit by injuries in 2018 and averaged just 3.6 yards per carry in 14 games last year. Freeman fired his agent this offseason and signed with Drew Rosenhaus, who said in July he was hoping to get him signed by the end of the month (https://twitter.com/AdamSchefter/status/1285726771816673287). You have to wonder if Freeman is asking for more money than teams would be willing to give him. Or, a possibility that would be smarter: Maybe he’s waiting to see if a team needs a No. 1 running back due to a training camp injury or positive COVID-19 test.

Either way, Freeman makes sense for the Bears in that he’d provide a veteran backup to David Montgomery. But do the Bears make sense to Freeman if he’s squarely behind Montgomery on the depth chart? Maybe not.

RB Spencer Ware

A more realistic option at running back, if the Bears want to add to that room, would be a guy in Ware with ties to Matt Nagy. The former Kansas City Chiefs running back had 921 rushing yards and 447 receiving yards in 2016, the first year Nagy was Andy Reid’s offensive coordinator.

MORE: Five things we've learned about Bears' rookies 

A brutal knee injury suffered in 2017’s preseason derailed Ware’s career, and he only played in three games last year after the Chiefs brought him back off the free agent scrap heap. The 28-year-old, though, has familiarity with Nagy’s scheme and could at least provide some much-needed veteran competition for Pierce and former undrafted free agent Ryan Nall.

PK Graham Gano

The Bears dumped Ahmed to make room for Christian, leaving Eddy Pineiro as the only kicker on the roster. Pace’s preference is to find a kicker for cheap after the Cody Parkey disaster, hence last year’s competition and a long leash with Pineiro.

But if Pineiro falters at all during camp, the Bears should probably find room on their 80-man roster for a kicker to compete with him. Gano might cost a little more, and the 33-year-old missed all of 2019 with an injury, but his strong leg and decade of experience would certainly push Pineiro – if not replace him.

 

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Bears waive kicker Ramiz Ahmed, ending kicker battle before it began

Bears waive kicker Ramiz Ahmed, ending kicker battle before it began

For now, Eddy Piñeiro can breath easy: 

You'll remember, the Bears brought Ahmed into the building back in mid-April. The kicker, who played his college ball at Nevada, went 15/20 on field goal attempts in his 2018 senior season. Ryan Pace and co. signed him to push Piñeiro, who had an up-and-down first season in Chicago. As JJ Stankevitz points out, the move likely has to do with the team's reported signing of a defensive back on Tuesday: 

As it stands now, Piñeiro's job is once again safe. For whatever it's worth, it sounds like Piñeiro, who struggled with distance last year, has put on some muscle this offseason. In a recent interview with media, Bears' special team's coordinator Chris Tabor had this to say: 

"I'm going to be honest with you, first day we went out and kicked -- and I hadn't seen him kick since the Minnesota game -- you're looking at a bigger, stronger Eddy Pineiro," he said. "I was very impressed. You could tell that he matured, he's really more comfortable." 

So good news, Bears fans: there will be no summer kicking battle this year. You can put the aspirin away.