Bears still have options at running back after agreeing to terms with Mike Davis 

Bears still have options at running back after agreeing to terms with Mike Davis 

The Bears don’t need Mike Davis to be the solution to their inconsistent running game. A part of the solution? Sure. But teams generally don’t count on offensive or defensive players signed for two years and $7 million to be the primary solution to a problem. 

For comparison’s sake, that two-year deal worth a maximum of $7 million is the same one to which the New York Jets will reportedly sign Josh Bellamy, who previously was a core special teamer and fourth receiver for the Bears. 

Davis’ reported deal — which can’t become official until Wednesday at 3 p.m. — carries with it a few key implications for the Bears’ running game in 2019. Some thoughts: 

1. The Bears don’t absolutely have to trade or release Jordan Howard. 

Signing a higher-priced running back, like Le’Veon Bell or Tevin Coleman or even Mark Ingram, all but assuredly would’ve been a precursor to the end of Howard’s tenure in Chicago. Howard carries a cap hit of a little over $2 million in 2019; if he, Davis, Tarik Cohen and a fourth running back/draft pick combine for between $6.5-$7 million in cap space, that’s a palatable amount. As things stand now — before any of the big-name running backs sign — that figure would rank somewhere near the middle of running back spending. 

Even bringing back Benny Cunningham (mostly as a special teamer) for, say, another $1 million wouldn’t tip the scales to over-spending at running back. So the Bears could feasibly keep Howard on their roster as a reliable goal-line option — he scored nine touchdowns last year, after all — and as a decent insurance option if Davis and/or a draft pick falters. 

Still, if the Bears use a draft pick on a running back — especially with a third or fourth-round pick — that could make keeping Howard less tenable. Davis/Cohen/Howard/pick would make up a crowded depth chart; Howard certainly would be the most likely to go of that group. 

2. Davis has some intriguing traits. 

Granted, reading into one play can be a bit of a stretch, but this 20-yard touchdown run surely made it to the desks of Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy as they were evaluating tape of available running backs:

Consider what Nagy said he’s looking for in a running back at the NFL Combine last month:

“In this offense, you want to be able to have a guy that has really good vision that can make guys miss,” Nagy said. “And at the same time, there's that balance of being a hybrid being able to make things happen in the pass game too, but yet to where you're not one-dimensional. That's not easy.”

Taking a flier on Davis to be that guy seems sensible given the price. He’ll be 26 this season and doesn’t come with the wear and tear of a higher-priced guy like Ingram or Bell; he only has 234 rushing attempts in four-year his career, which is 16 fewer than Howard had in 2018’s regular season. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry in 2018 and caught 34 of 42 targets for 214 yards. 

Of course, Davis’ lack of a track record means projecting his future is more difficult. But what Davis put on tape is more important than his previous stats with the Seattle Seahawks (2017-2018) and San Francisco 49ers (2015-2016). Given how quickly the Bears moved to sign Davis, he likely checked off boxes of being 1) a good scheme fit and 2) inexpensive. 

3. The Bears can still draft a running back. 

Davis’ signing fits with Pace’s year-to-year roster building philosophy, which ends with a “best player available” approach in the draft. Just because he’s signs a free agent doesn’t mean he won’t draft a player at that same position — in 2017, the Bears signed Quintin Demps and drafted Eddie Jackson; more famously, they signed Mike Glennon and drafted Mitch Trubisky. 

Given Pace’s best-available draft strategy, the Bears were never guaranteed to take a running back with their third-round pick in April. Chances are, they’ll take someone over the course of the final day of the draft, and signing Davis will not preclude them from doing so. 

What’s clear, though, is the Bears weren’t comfortable standing pat with their running back depth chart before April’s draft, but perhaps also weren’t comfortable spending more to lure a bigger name like Ingram/Coleman/Bell. We’ll see what contracts that trio receives in the coming hours, and if any of them might make the Davis deal look better — or worse. 

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is the Robbie Gould Bears reunion realistic?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Is the Robbie Gould Bears reunion realistic?

David Haugh, Ben Finfer and JJ Stankevitz join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- Robbie Gould wants the 49ers to trade him. Will the dream of Bears fans come true? David Haugh thinks his departure three years ago might make a reunion difficult.

12:30- Tony Andracki joins Kap from Wrigley to preview the Cubs-Dodgers series opener. They discuss Jose Quintana's recent success, the need to keep Jason Heyward in the every day lineup and talk about Kris Bryant's struggles.

17:30- The panel discusses the Cubs' lineup for Game 1 with the Dodgers and if Pedro Strop is one of the three greatest relievers in Cubs history.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Sports Talk Live Podcast


As NFL Draft looms, anything is possible for Ryan Pace and the Bears

As NFL Draft looms, anything is possible for Ryan Pace and the Bears

Ryan Pace’s pre-draft press conference began with the Bears’ general manager dryly referring to it as “always fun,” which elicited a round of chuckles from the assembled media at Halas Hall. Two days before the NFL Draft commences in Nashville, there’s no chance Pace is going to publicly tip his hand for what he’s planning to do later in the week. Fun, right?

Pace did tip one thing, though: When the 24th pick comes around — the first of the two first-round picks the Bears shipped to the Raiders last Labor Day weekend — he’ll pull up highlights of Khalil Mack in Halas Hall’s high-tech new draft room. Consider it a welcome reminder of why Pace doesn't have a first-round pick and might as well hook a Nintendo 64 up to the digital draft board and challenge anyone in the building to MarioKart on Thursday night (if this is possible, Toad on Koopa Troopa Beach is always a winner). 

While the Bears won’t be on the clock until pick No. 87 in the third round (last year’s trade to move back into the second round to draft Anthony Miller is also why), Pace said the pressure on him remains the same as it was the last four years, when he made four selections in the first nine picks of those drafts. So that’s one aspect of this year’s draft that won’t change. 

Another: The Bears aren’t going to switch their philosophy to drafting for the few needs a 12-4 team coming off a division title has. For Pace, the reasoning is twofold: First, he’s always been a best-player-available guy; second, he doesn’t see any truly glaring needs on his roster. 

“We feel fortunate with our roster right now,” Pace said. “This press conference feels a little different in that there's no pressing, huge needs. We can honestly select the best players. That's a great spot to be in.”

That’s not to say the Bears don’t have any needs. Another running back, a reserve receiver, a backup tight end, cornerbacks and safeties for the future — those are all needs. Teams can never have too many offensive linemen, defensive linemen and edge rushers. 

Of those, though, the only position with a path to a starting/prominent role on offense or defense may be running back. Even then, Pace said Mike Davis — who the Bears signed in March — is “built to handle a lot of carries,” so if a running back is drafted the expectation will be for him to be part of a rotation, not necessarily a true No. 1 starter-type. 

“Right now, I know running back's been talked about a lot, but we feel good about that position,” Pace said. “We feel good about Tarik (Cohen), we feel really good about Mike Davis, we feel good about Ryan Nall and we feel good about Cordarrelle Patterson and the things he can do out of the backfield.

“… I think there's probably always a storyline with every draft. I understand why it's that way, but I don't feel like we go into this draft saying, 'Man, we have to take this position or we're in trouble.' We're in good shape.”

So consider this another intentionally-murky statement by Pace in this pre-draft press conference. The Bears probably need to take a running back, but he’s not going to say that and tip his hand or paint himself into a corner three days before he actually gets to make a pick. 

(That Pace mentioned Nall, a 2018 undrafted free agent who spent last year on the practice squad, by name was at least interest-piquing.)

So as Pace took questions on Tuesday, most of the answers were some variation of “sure, it’s possible.” Trading down? Sure, it’s possible. Trading up? Sure, it’s possible — though not into the first round. Drafting a quarterback? Sure, it’s possible. A kicker? Sure, it’s possible. Not drafting a running back? Sure, it’s possible. 

We’ll have a complete picture of what Pace was actually thinking come Saturday evening. But while he didn’t reveal much on Tuesday, and doesn’t have much draft capital with which to work, this draft is important. The Bears can find players for the present and future — when their roster will be more expensive — starting on Friday night. And hitting on a few of these picks will be critical for keeping the Bears’ window to win open as long as possible. 

“If we take a player where we happen to have a lot of depth right now, but it’s a good player, that’s okay,” Pace said. “I think it’s short-sighted to say, ‘well, this guy might be able to play a little bit quicker so let’s take him.’ Let’s just take the best player. If that means it takes a little bit longer for him to play, let’s just make sure we take the best guy.”