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Ranking the Bears' draft needs, from No. 13 to No. 1

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Ranking the Bears' draft needs, from No. 13 to No. 1

For all the positive vibes around Halas Hall during the dawn of the Matt Nagy era, the Bears still have plenty of needs as Ryan Pace enters his fourth draft as the team's general manager. And those needs provide a rough outline of what Pace's draft strategy from round one through round seven this week. 

Just because a position is a need doesn't mean Pace will use a high draft pick on it, given his larger strategy of taking the best player available. But the top needs on this list should be addressed by the time the draft wraps up on Saturday. 

13. Placekicker

Current depth: Cody Parkey

The Bears guaranteed $9 million to Parkey in his four-year, $15 million contract and don’t realistically have an out for him until 2020, according to Spotrac. He’s their kicker, and we won’t see any realistic competition for him come training camp. 

12. Tight end

Current depth: Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, Dion Sims, Daniel Brown, Ben Braunecker, Colin Thompson

Given the investment in this position — a second-round pick in Shaheen and about $12 million against the cap for Burton and Sims — there’s not much room for another tight end near the top of the depth chart. The Bears value Brown and Braunecker’s contributions on special teams, too, so this depth chart looks relatively set in stone. 

11. Running back

Current depth: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham, Taquan Mizzell, Michael Burton

The big question here is what the Bears would do if Saquon Barkley were still on the board at No. 8. But no team is spending less money on running backs than the Bears are in 2018 ($1.96 million), and that’s with a 1,000-yard rusher in Howard and an explosive weapon in Cohen on the depth chart. Cunningham’s leadership and special teams skills are valued by those in the organization, from the front office to the locker room. 

To tie it back to Barkley: While Howard may not be a “complete” running back in the way Barkley could be, he has plenty of NFL tape and should benefit from running the ball in a less predictable offense this year. The guess is the Bears are fine with their running back depth chart, and would pass on Barkley unless there’s a consensus in their draft room that he’s a Hall of Famer. 

10. Quarterback

Current depth: Mitch Trubisky, Chase Daniel, Tyler Bray

Nagy likes having Daniel and Bray in place to work with Trubisky, given both those backups know the intricacies and language of his offense well from their time in Kansas City. The Bears could opt to draft a developmental quarterback with one of their final picks, or could target an undrafted free agent. Either way, the Bears will probably look to bring in at least one more quarterback, though we’re talking about a battle to be a third-stringer/practice squad guy at this point. 

9. Punter

Current depth: Pat O’Donnell

The Bears re-signed O’Donnell to a one-year deal with only $500,000 guaranteed, so they could look to bring in a punter — either via the draft or the undrafted free agent pool — to compete with him over the next few months. 

8. Defensive line

Current depth: Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Jonathan Bullard, Roy Robertson-Harris, John Jenkins, Nick Williams

Bullard is entering his third year in Vic Fangio’s defense, and showed flashes in 2017 of growing into the player the Bears hoped he’d be when they invested a third-round pick into him in 2016. Not re-signing Mitch Unrein — who was highly valued by Fangio and defensive line coach Jay Rodgers — could be taken as a sign that the Bears are ready to give Bullard a bigger role. But even if that’s the case, Bullard will have to earn it, and drafting some competition for him (and Robertson-Harris) could be part of the Bears’ draft plans. 

7. Cornerback

Current depth: Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Bryce Callahan, Marcus Cooper, Cre’von LeBlanc, Jonathan Mincy, Sherrick McManis, Doran Grant

The Bears invested quite a bit of money into keeping Fuller and Amukamara, and given the structures of their contracts are all but locked into that pairing until at least 2020, per Spotrac. Unless the Bears absolutely love someone like Ohio State’s Denzel Ward or Iowa’s Josh Jackson, the No. 8 pick won’t be used on a cornerback. But while there are plenty of bodies at this position, the Bears could use better depth here and could find that in the middle-to-late rounds of the draft. 

6. Safety

Current depth: Adrian Amos, Eddie Jackson, Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson, Deiondre' Hall

The solidity of the Amos-Jackson pairing means the Bears don’t have a pressing need at safety, but Amos is entering the final year of his rookie contract and is probably second in line behind Eddie Goldman to be signed to an extension, if he gets one at all. Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick and Florida State’s Derwin James both profile as big-time playmakers, which this defense still lacks. Pace has drafted a safety in the fourth round (Jackson, Bush) or fifth round (Amos) in every one of his drafts, and doing the same in 2018 would make some sense either to add depth or try to find an eventual replacement for Amos. 

5. Offensive tackle

Current depth: Charles Leno, Bobby Massie, Bradley Sowell, Brandon Greene, Travis Averill

Massie is entering the final year of his contract, and while he’s still on the roster now the Bears could still release him before, during or after training camp for a palatable cap hit of $1.5 million, per Spotrac. The No. 8 pick may be a little too rich for any of the tackles in this draft class, unless Harry Hiestand is pounding the table for Mike McGlinchey, his former Notre Dame left tackle. But a tackle could be in play in a trade-down scenario or as early as the second round to compete with Massie, who — it should be noted — was solid enough in 2017. 

4. Wide receiver

Current depth: Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Kevin White, Josh Bellamy, Bennie Fowler, Tanner Gentry, Demarcus Ayers

Do the Bears need at least one more wide receiver? Absolutely. Is it the most pressing need on the team? No. Think of it this way: The Bears signed their Nos. 1 and 2 receivers in Robinson (X) and Gabriel (Zebra), and Burton will spend plenty of time lined up in the slot. If that’s how the Bears were thinking, it would fit with the decision to let Cameron Meredith sign for $9.6 million with the New Orleans Saints over medical concerns (in short: That might’ve been too much money to commit to a No. 3/No. 4 target with knee issues). Whether or not that’s the right thinking is another question, but it could be a signal that the Bears don’t view wide receiver as a desperate, significant need. 

That being said, the Bears have invested so much into building the best structure possible around Trubisky that finding a “Z” receiver who can play both in the slot and outside is important in the draft. A second-round pick isn’t out of the question if the Bears identify someone worthy of that pick (like, perhaps, Memphis’ Anthony Miller). 

3. Inside linebacker

Current depth: Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski, John Timu, Jonathan Anderson

Fangio likes Kwiatkoski and Trevathan is one of the most important players on the Bears’ defense. But that pair combined to miss nine games in 2017, and with Christian Jones signing with the Detroit Lions there’s a baseline need for more depth at this position. But Georgia’s Roquan Smith and Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds both would represent upgrades here and could fit Pace’s best-player-available strategy. 

2. Interior offensive line

Current depth: Cody Whitehair, Kyle Long, Eric Kush, Earl Watford, Hroniss Grasu, Jordan Morgan, Cameron Lee

The Bears like Kush and Watford, but both players have spent their respective four seasons in the NFL largely as backups. They’re both good pieces to have, especially with Long missing 14 games in the last two years, but may be better served as backups. Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson would very much be in play if he’s on the board at No. 8, especially as the league may be moving away from devaluing interior positions in favor of valuing quality offensive line play no matter the position, which is becoming harder and harder to find. 

If not Nelson at No. 8, the pool of guards and centers who could still be available with the 38th pick is deep. The Bears unearthed Whitehair in the second round of the 2016 draft, and given the prominence in Nagy’s offense of inside zone runs — which go off the outside hip of a guard — could opt to use a top-40 pick to solidify the interior of their offensive line. 

1. Outside linebacker

Current depth: Leonard Floyd, Sam Acho, Aaron Lynch, Isaiah Irving, Howard Jones

As if the Bears needed a wakeup call here, Aaron Lynch’s ankle injury during Wednesday’s minicamp practice brought about this scenario: What if he and Floyd, who’ve combined to miss 28 games in the last two seasons, are out at the same time? Right now, that would put Acho and either Irving or Jones in starting roles, and it’s unlikely that pairing would result in much of a consistent pass rush. 

The gulf between the need for outside linebackers and interior offensive linemen is significant. This is a position that needs to be successfully addressed in the draft, otherwise there’s the potential that the Bears’ outside linebacker depth resembles last year’s wide receiver depth. 

Could Pace be aggressive for the third straight year and trade up to draft North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb? Would Boston College’s Harold Landry or UTSA’s Marcus Davenport be “overdrafted” at No. 8? Could Edmunds actually be an outside linebacker? Those are all significant questions for the Bears in the first round, but identifying and drafting other edge rushers is a must throughout the rest of the draft. 

Is Mitch Trubisky's hip injury legit? Bears' explanations offer clues into how and why he was benched vs. Rams

Is Mitch Trubisky's hip injury legit? Bears' explanations offer clues into how and why he was benched vs. Rams

LOS ANGELES — Wearing a gray t-shirt, athletic shorts and a camo-green hat pulled down over his eyes, Mitch Trubisky left his most dour press conference as a member of the Chicago Bears and somewhat gingerly ambled up the tunnel connecting the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to the outside world. 

The Bears’ quarterback was greeted with a hug from his mother at the top of the long incline, and spent the next 15 or so minutes chatting with his family. At one point, Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff popped over to say hi and give Trubisky a high five and a hug. Eventually, Trubisky departed for the team bus and a redeye flight back to Chicago, where a debate had already been raging for hours: 

Is his hip injury legit?

That was the reason the Bears gave for Trubisky’s removal from Sunday’s game three minutes after Chase Daniel entered their 17-7 loss to the Rams. For a few minutes, it looked as if Matt Nagy pulled the ripcord on the Bears’ season about 100 feet from smashing into the ground, replacing the 2017 No. 2 overall pick with a journeyman career backup in a last-ditch effort to save his plummeting team. 

Unless you were on Twitter during the game, though, you wouldn’t have seen the Bears’ explanation for taking Trubisky out of the game, which came three minutes after Daniel took his first snap in the fourth quarter. Neither Al Michaels nor Cris Collinsworth mentioned the hip injury explanation on NBC’s television broadcast of “Sunday Night Football,” saying they had received “no word” from Bears PR of the reason for Trubisky's benching a few plays after Daniel entered the game. 

That environment led to plenty of skepticism and speculation from those who either didn’t see the Bears’ tweet, or from those who thought the Bears were using the injury as a cover for benching Trubisky due to performance reasons. The Bears gained just 30 yards on 14 plays on the four drives preceding Trubisky's benching. 

Here’s what the Bears said about the timeline of Trubisky’s injury:

— Trubisky initially injured his right hip on the last drive of the second quarter, though he misspoke multiple times in saying it happened at the end of the second half (he was not flip-flopping or changing his story, it did appear to be a genuine instance of misspeaking). Trubisky said he was evaluated at halftime, but kept quiet about how he felt and tried to fight through the growing discomfort. 

— Nagy said Trubisky hurt his hip when he landed on it. With 30 seconds left in the second quarter, Trubisky scrambled outside the pocket on third and eight and was sacked, though he landed on his left hip, not his right hip. 

— Nagy, though, admitted he was short on specific information regarding the injury: “I gotta find out more because I didn’t find out the details yet from him, the play that it happened,” Nagy said, adding he hadn't yet talked to Trubisky after the game. 

— Trubisky said he “really wasn’t telling anyone,” about his injury, given he hoped he could fight through it. 

— Nagy said quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone mentioned to him that “we gotta keep an eye on him” one or two series before Trubisky was pulled from the game. 

— Nagy noticed Trubisky was having some issues getting torque on his throws, and that he was throwing with mostly his arm and not his lower body. He said those were especially noticeable when he was throwing to his left and trying to open up his hip. 

— At no point did the Bears take Trubisky into the blue medical tent on their sideline to evaluate him. 

— Nagy talked with Trubisky during a TV timeout after the Rams took a 17-7 lead, and said he told Trubisky he needed to be honest with him about his hip. Nagy said Trubisky told him how he was feeling, and then Nagy made the decision to remove him from the game. 

“I’m not doing the team any favors if I’m not able to run around or throw the ball with accuracy because I’m throwing with all arm,” Trubisky said. “You just gotta be smart with that factor but I’m going to fight as long as I can and try to be out there with my guys.”

Still, because Trubisky didn’t go into the medical tent, there was no reason for anyone to believe he was injured until the Bears dropped that explanation on social media. And that he was standing on the sideline in a baseball cap, not being tended to by trainers, only fueled speculation that the 2017 No. 2 overall pick was not actually injured. 

That Nagy called for Trubisky to run an option on third and one in the third quarter — on which Trubisky pitched the ball too quickly — looked similarly head-scratching. If Trubisky had been evaluated at halftime and Nagy knew about it, why would he call that play? Or, if Nagy didn’t know about it — why didn’t he know about it?

Nagy, though, said he didn’t believe Trubisky’s injury impacted him on that play. 

But accusing a team or player of faking an injury is a heavy accusation. It also doesn’t make much sense in this instance — if the Bears were trying to protect Trubisky’s already-low confidence, why would publicly saying he was benched due to an injury matter? He’d know why he was benched, and it’s not like there hasn’t been an onslaught of outside criticism of him recently anyway. Would the public reasoning for benching him really matter if internally Nagy, Trubisky and the team knew why?

Digesting this whole situation, it feels like the most likely scenario is that Trubisky tried to fight through the injury and didn’t want his coaches finding out about it until it became obvious to Ragone and Nagy that it was affecting his play. That fits with his competitive nature and would explain some of the discrepancies in the timelines provided by Nagy and Trubisky. 

It also fits with Daniel not looking like someone who knew he was coming into the game while Nagy and Trubisky were talking on the sideline. 

The long-term effects of Trubisky’s benching, though, are yet known. 

And unless this is an injury that will require a lengthy absence, the Trubisky era is not yet over in Chicago. 

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The Bears may not trust Eddy Piñeiro as much anymore, but they're not giving up on him quite yet

The Bears may not trust Eddy Piñeiro as much anymore, but they're not giving up on him quite yet

LOS ANGELES – Eddy Piñeiro didn’t have much to say. 

When asked about the first of his two missed field goals on Sunday night – a 48-yarder from the right hash – the Bears’ kicker offered a brief, three word explanation: 

“Just missed it,” he said. 

And the second? What went wrong on the 47-yard miss, in the same direction, a little over 10 minutes later? 

“Just missed it.” 

Piñeiro fielded questions for 80 more seconds before asking a Bears PR representative if the media session was over. He didn’t wait for a response before abruptly walking away.

It’s admittedly easy to understand his temperament after an 0-2 performance that has many wondering whether his job is safe when the Bears return to Chicago tonight. 

“You want to see field goals made,” Matt Nagy said. “You’re in a game like this, a defensive battle – points are at a premium. You want to be able to make those kicks.” 

The Bears’ troubles on opening drives have been well-documented, and both Piñeiro and Nagy lamented about how the early misses threw the Bears out of the rhythm that early turnovers from Roquan Smith and Eddie Jackson provided. Piñeiro’s field was clearly shortened after the second miss, as evident from Nagy’s decision to go for it on 4th-and-9 from the Rams’ 31 yard line only seven plays later. Later in the second quarter he also chose to punt from the Rams’ 39 yard line instead of giving Piñeiro a shot from 49. His longest kick on the year is from 52, and in similar conditions.

“I have no control over what Nagy does, because he’s the head coach,” he said. “I have no control.” 

Going into the bye week, Piñeiro was 8-10 on field goal attempts, perfect on extra points, and already had a road game-winner to his name. He’s only hitting at a 50% rate since then and hasn’t made a field goal since a 3-5 performance against the Chargers that included a missed game-winner. He said after the game that he still feels confident in his pregame routine, and that the ball doesn’t feel any different coming off his foot. 

Nagy threw water on the idea that Pineiro’s job is in jeopardy, only saying that “Eddy knows he’s got to make those.” 

With playoff chances all but mathematically gone, Nagy, Chris Tabor and company now have two months to figure out if someone who started the season looking like the kicker of the future will even end it on the team. 

“I’m not worried about anything right now,” Piñeiro said. “I’ve just go to keep making kicks in practice, go back and see what I did wrong, and just try to make kicks.”