Bears

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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Under Center Podcast: Saying bye to Elliott Fry

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: Saying bye to Elliott Fry

On this episode of the Under Center Podcast, J.J. Stankevitz is joined by John "Moon" Mullin. To start, Moon takes a moment to remember Cedric Benson, who died in a motorcycle accident on Saturday night (00:30). Then, the guys discuss the Bears' surprise announcement that they released Elliott Fry, leaving Eddy Pineiro as the only kicker on the roster (05:40).

The guys toss to highlights from Matt Nagy's press conference on Sunday morning where he explains why the Bears decided to cut Fry now, how they think the move will help Pineiro and whether the competition is officially closed (07:55).

Finally, J.J. explains why the end of the kicking competition was just like the end of the Bachelorette (12:10), and which kickers on other teams the Bears may still have their eyes on in the upcoming preseason games (16:40).

Listen to the entire episode here or in the embedded player below.

Under Center Podcast

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Death of former Bears RB Cedric Benson a blow – and a reminder

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AP Images

Death of former Bears RB Cedric Benson a blow – and a reminder

Getting the news that Cedric Benson had died last night in a motorcycle accident was a blow on Sunday. The former Bears running back and a passenger were killed when the bike they were riding collided with a minivan in Austin, Tex. As former Bears defensive end and Benson teammate Adewale Ogunleye tweeted Sunday, “What the hell is going on? The Bad news wont stop.”

Personally, this sort of thing hits hard. The passing of receivers coach Darryl Drake last week, former 1994 first-rounder John Thierry dying last November – of a heart attack at age 46 – Rashaan Salaam committing suicide in December 2016, and now Ced. That’s too many good dying young.

And yet even as the Benson news was sinking in, Bears beat colleague Rich Campbell over at the Tribune was celebrating the birth of his daughter. Not sure why that seems so striking, maybe just something about the circle of life, or just how there’s a spot of sunshine somewhere. 

As in so many of these things, the Ced death sparks memories, and in this case, good ones. Which may seem a bit unlikely, since Ced was one of the least popular Bears during his three (2005-2007) years after the organization made him the fourth-overall pick of that 2005 draft.

But things are not always as they seem.

Benson went through a 36-day holdout before reporting to the team, missing just about all of the 2005 training camp and preseason. When he arrived, the locker room seemed pretty set against him, for various reasons:

He was drafted as the replacement for Thomas Jones, the very popular tailback who’d been signed in the 2004 offseason but who failed to impress in the first year of a four-year, $10 million contract. He and Jones did not get along, coming to blows in one practice, and teammates were clearly Jones supporters.

But Jones had zero 1,000-yard years over his first five seasons; beginning with ’05 and the arrival of Benson, he went on a run of five straight seasons of no fewer than 1,100 yards, two with the Bears followed by three with the New York Jets after he engineered a trade to get out of Chicago.

And Ced was just…different. But to this reporter, different in good ways. He was very thoughtful; more than a few times, he’d have a question posed to him, then take an unusually long time before answering. But he was simply a thoughtful guy.

Case in point: I did a lunchtime sit-down with Ced outside the Olivet Nazarene mess hall during the 2006 training camp in Bourbonnais. To one of my questions, Ced said, “Hmm, that’s an interesting question. Let me get back to you about that one.”

Much later that afternoon, after a brutal, full-pad practice, I was walking away from the fields. Ced came running over, still in pads. “Hey,” he said. “I was thinking about what what we were talking about… .” And he had. And he also was honest about getting back to me. Yeah, I liked the guy.

The Bears let him go after a disappointing 2007 season and he caught on with the Cincinnati Bengals the next year. In 2009 the Bears went to Cincinnati and were annihilated 45-10, putting 215 rushing yards on a very good Bears defense and Benson accounting for 189 of those yards.

Afterwards I was able catch Ced before he left, and I was stunned to see how good he looked physically. He laughed at my surprise, then talked a long time about how he’d discovered a severe gluten intolerance. With that fixed, his complexion cleared up and he wasn’t dealing with the intestinal issues that any gluten-challenged fan out there knows too well. Anyhow, it was great to see a young man moving on to some sort of career, which included that year and the next two with more than 1,000 yards.

That it didn’t happen for him in Chicago was always a little puzzling. He was a phenomenal athlete, good enough to be drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers as an outfielder and play in their summer league.

He was a very, very emotional guy; at Halas Hall Sunday it was recalled how he’d cried during his conference call with the media following his drafting by the Bears. And he had his problem situations off the field, and he was waived in the 2008 offseason after a couple of arrests involving suspected alcohol abuse.

Those are probably the things too many people will remember about Ced. Too bad. There was much more to the young man. And as was said before, things — and people — are not always everything they seem to be. Under that heading I’d include Thomas Jones’ tweet on Sunday. From a supposed “enemy:”

“Woke up to the horrible news of Cedric Benson's passing,” Jones said. “My heart aches for him and his family. Sending love, peace and blessings their way. Gone way too soon my brother. Rest well young King. You will truly be missed…. “