Bears resume building around Mitch Trubisky, draft Iowa center James Daniels with second-round pick

Bears resume building around Mitch Trubisky, draft Iowa center James Daniels with second-round pick

A day after adding a big-time playmaker to their defense, the Bears went back to building around Mitch Trubisky and drafted Iowa interior offensive lineman James Daniels with the 39th overall pick. 

Daniels played center at Iowa, which could mean Cody Whitehair moves back to guard — the position at which the Bears drafted him in the second round two years ago. Either way, this move strengthens the interior of the Bears’ offensive line and will work to keep defenders out of Trubisky’s face. It also should help the Bears’ inside zone running game with Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen.

Almost every big move made by Ryan Pace from January 1 until Thursday night was aimed at building a better structure for the development of Trubisky. Pace needed to add a playmaker to Vic Fangio’s defense, and did so by drafting Roquan Smith with the eighth overall pick. But addressing the interior of their offensive line was a major need, too — after everything Pace did in hiring Matt Nagy and signing a bunch of weapons for Trubisky, it makes sense that he’d work to protect the most important player for the Bears’ success in 2018. 

The 6-foot-3, 306 pound Daniels still has to refine his game, but he’ll work under Harry Hiestand in Chicago — and Hiestand, after all, developed two of the first nine picks in this year’s NFL Draft while at Notre Dame. Daniels won’t turn 21 until Sept. 13, so he’s still a young prospect. 

Daniels’ father, LeShun Sr., played guard at Ohio State and appeared in one game for the Minnesota Vikings in 1997. And Daniels’ brother, LeShun Jr., appeared in four games as a running back for Washington as a rookie in 2017. 

Daniels said at the NFL Combine he’s studied Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce, which probably was music to Nagy’s ears given the Bears’ offense will be cut from the same Andy Reid cloth as Doug Pederson’s in Philadelphia. 

Here's the hot new gossip surrounding Tom Brady's impending free agency

Here's the hot new gossip surrounding Tom Brady's impending free agency

Ohhhhhhhh baby do I have some hot Tom Brady gossip for you all. 

Did Tom Brady announce his free agency decision himself? he did not Not technically.

Oh okay, so, the team announced they were signing Tom Brady? no, not that either I mean, no, but. 

Does this news actually have anything to do with the Bears? nope It could! 

Is this just another ad for Hulu? Probably! Probably! 

While we we're all waiting on those made-for-primetime combine drills to start, tidbits surrounding Tom Brady's camp's thoughts on free agency found their way onto Twitter, universally considered the safest place for reliable news: 

Jeff Darlington feels that way. Do other people? 

It's not looking good! Tell that to people in Los Angeles or Indianapolis or Miami or Tennessee or Las Vegas. The exciting part is that there's *more* speculation. We're not even done! 

Maybe it's posturing or maybe Tom wants to go play somewhere warm -- or under a roof, at least -- for the last couple years of his career. We'll find out in *checks calendar* ... three weeks. For now, all we can do is keep dreaming of Tom Brady's RESTORE billboards. 

Here's how the Bears can fix their tight end problem in NFL free agency, draft

Here's how the Bears can fix their tight end problem in NFL free agency, draft

The Bears have to get better at tight end.

Last year, their guys at the spot combined for 46 catches, 422 yards and two touchdowns — worse production than 12 individual tight ends had around the league in 2019 (yikes).

So, how should Ryan Pace go about fixing the most glaring weakness on his roster?

Presenting a three-part plan to beef up Clancy Barone's tight end room: 

1. Hang in with Mr. Hooper

The Falcons' Austin Hooper is the best fit for what the Bears need. He’s a highly productive receiver (146 catches, 1,447 yards, 10 TDs the last two years) who has the flexibility to play both the “U” (slot) and “Y” (in-line) tight end positions in Nagy’s offense. He’s never graded as a top-end blocker but the Bears like what Demetrius Harris, who they signed earlier this month, can do in that space. 

Because of those qualities, and that he’s only 25, Hooper is going to get paid on the open market. Spotrac estimates a five-year contract worth about $50 million. It wouldn’t be surprising if he gets more. Either way, expect Hooper to be the NFL’s top-paid tight end some time in mid-March. 

The Bears could make the money work on Hooper, so long as they don’t enter some sort of ludicrous bidding war. A four or five-year deal could be a bit backloaded to soften the cap hit in 2020, especially with Trey Burton still on the roster (more on that shortly). 

If Hooper’s price gets driven to the point where he’s not worth the money (like more than $12 million per year, perhaps), the Bears should train their focus on a guy willing to sign a shorter-term deal. Eric Ebron makes sense, even if he’s known for dropping too many passes. He’s more of a “U” who could be good Burton insurance, while someone like the 34-year-old Darren Fells could be a cheap option at the “Y.” 

This does not mean targeting someone like Hunter Henry or Tyler Eifert, players with varying levels of upside but significant durability concerns. 

The benefit of a free agent on a shorter contract is that the Bears would improve their tight end room in 2020 and won’t need a draft pick to immediately contribute. But Hooper is still the best option here as long as the price is right. 

2. Don’t count on Trey Burton but don’t count him out. 

Burton’s contract is built to keep him in Chicago in 2020. The Bears would have to eat $7.5 million in dead cap while only saving a little over $1 million if they were to release him. That’s not worth it right now, even if Burton was truly awful last season.

“Our hope is that we finally kinda solved the issue and that there’s an upward trajectory now with him,” Pace said of Burton’s offseason hip surgery. “That’s our hope.”

The Bears, though, should view whatever they get out of Burton as a bonus. He caught 54 passes for 569 yards and six touchdowns in 2018; even half of that would be valuable in 2020. 

Training camp should essentially be a tryout for Burton. If he’s still not himself a year and a half after this injury stuff started, then the Bears could cut him. But that’s a move to be made in late August, not late February. 

And if Burton is healthy and looks like himself again? That’s great and it wouldn’t be a problem to fit him with Hooper, Ebron, Harris, draft picks, etc. 

RELATED: A sense of urgency could lead Bears to change quarterbacks

3. Draft a tight end but don’t view him as *the* solution.

Expecting Cole Kmet, Brycen Hopkins or Adam Trautman to make an immediate, significant impact would be a foolish bet for a team that can’t afford to whiff on this position again in 2020. 

This is less a commentary on their NFL potential and more an argument based on history. Tight end is a hard position to play in Year 1, as it requires a load of responsibilities and physical play that rookies often struggle to carry.  

Over the last decade, there have been 29 tight ends picked in the first two rounds of an NFL draft. Their numbers, on average, in their rookie years: 44 targets, 27 catches, 306 yards and three touchdowns. 

So, Adam Shaheen’s rookie year (12 catches, 127 yards, three touchdowns) is far closer to the norm than Rob Gronkowski’s (42 catches, 546 yards, 10 touchdowns). 

That does not mean Pace shouldn’t draft a tight end. But it can’t be his only solution. 

The depth chart

At the Y:

1. Austin Hooper
2. Demetrius Harris
3. Ben Braunecker/JP Holtz

At the U:

1. Trey Burton
2. TBD draft pick
3. Ben Braunecker/Jesper Horsted

This means releasing Shaheen, which would save a little over $1 million in cap space, and letting Braunecker, Holtz and Horsted battle for one spot on the roster (Braunecker could also be released to free up some cap space). 

The Bears can win with that depth chart. It’ll require Pace to pour money and draft capital into a position that he’s, well, already poured money (with Burton) and draft capital (with Shaheen) into. But a fix here would be a massive boon to Nagy's offense and whoever winds up playing quarterback in 2020.

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