Chicago Football Madness Rd. of 32: Linebackers Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith face off in 2018 region

Chicago Football Madness Rd. of 32: Linebackers Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith face off in 2018 region

Excitement for the Bears are at an all-time high, so while March Madness and the NCAA Tournament begin, we still have Bears on the mind. So we've created Chicago Bears Football Madness, pitting players from the three best Bears teams and legends head-to-head. This is the 2018 region.

1.   Khalil Mack
8.   Roquan Smith

Mack: Good players are hard to find in the NFL. Great players are even tougher. Elite players? Those guys rarely become available. So when the Oakland Raiders were willing to trade an elite player, Ryan Pace did what he had to do, surrendering two-first round picks and a boatload of cap space in the process. Mack immediately transformed the Bears’ defense from a good unit to a great one, with his mere presence scrambling opposing quarterbacks and coordinators. No player had a bigger impact on the Bears’ 12-4 season from not only a production standpoint, but from a mental one, too. Mack was worth every bit of draft capital and cap space the Bears parted with to acquire him in 2018. 

 -JJ Stankevitz

Smith: There may have been a touch of disappointment among Bears fans when Bradley Chubb and Quenton Nelson didn’t fall to number eight in the 2018 NFL Draft. And while both had great rookie campaigns, their ultimate pick - Roquan Smith - had one of the best rookie seasons in Bears franchise history. No training camp? No problem. Despite waiting until mid-August to finally sign, Smith racked up a team-leading 121 tackles, falling just a few shy of Brian Urlacher’s rookie record. He only started 14 of the Bears’ 16 games, but Smith logged six games of 10+ tackles, ranked third on the team with 5.0 sacks, and picked off a pass too. 

- Slavko Bekovic

2.    Matt Nagy
7.   Tarik Cohen

Tarik Cohen: The other half of Ryan Pace’s prized 2017 4th-round draft, Cohen was arguably the most valuable member of the Bears’ offense last season. Whether it was his 444 rushing yards, 725 receiving yards, or eight total touchdowns, Cohen improved across the board in his sophomore campaign. He also led the league in punt return yards, went to the Pro Bowl, and was named the NFL’s All-Pro punt returner. It’s not a coincidence that the Bears’ double-doink loss also saw Cohen only touch the ball four times. Right now, at least, Matt Nagy’s offense flows through him. 

- Cam Ellis

Nagy: From the moment Nagy first addressed his team in early April of last year, his message resonated. It wasn’t just the offense quickly buying into him — it was the defense, too, appreciating his genuine personality and swagger. “Club Dub” became a massive hit, as did him yelling “Boom!” after wins later in the season. Innovative plays like “Willy Wonka” and “Santa’s Sleigh” became almost an expectation near the goal line. Not only did Nagy make the Bears good again, he made them fun, too. 

- JJ Stankevitz

3.   Akiem Hicks
6.   Kyle Fuller  

Akiem Hicks: Ryan Pace's biggest hit in free agency. Hicks is your #3 seed in a bracket that some might consider the favorite to come out of the region. While he might not have the flare of a Mack or a Nagy ahead of him, his hard nosed and nasty presence anchored arguably the NFL's top defense to the tune of 7.5 sacks, 41 tackles, and 3 forced fumbles. Freezer Left made him the most beloved Bears DL since the Fridge. 

- Matt Rooney

Fuller: All Fuller did to prove he was worth the Bears matching Green Bay’s 4-year $56M offer in free agency last year was to tie for the NFL lead in interceptions (7) while leading the Bears ball-hawking defense. Crazy to think that at this time two years ago, it was looking like his future was all but assured to be in some place other than Chicago. He is more than capable of snatching a few wins from unsuspecting opponents…as long as he doesn’t let a sure game-winner slip thru his hands. 

- Paul Aspan

4.   Eddie Jackson
5.   Mitch Trubisky

Jackson: The undisputed breakout start of the 2018 Bears, Eddie Jackson is extremely the real deal. PFF had him as their top safety in football all year, and the NFL seemed to agree when he was named All-Pro. He has a knack for finding the end zone, and at one (late) point this last season had as many touchdowns as a BUNCH of Pro Bowl receivers. 8 interceptions, 3 touchdowns, and 94 solo tackles over 30 games is incredible, and Jackson’s set to be a staple of the Bears’ defense for years to come. And you think Landon Collins got paid … 

-Cam Ellis

Trubisky: Were there head-scratching moments for Trubisky in 2018? Of course. Does he need to be better in 2019? Definitely. But we saw the upside of just how good he can be in wins at Soldier Field over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions, and he showed an ability to dial back some of his more aggressive/ill-advised throws over the final few games of the season. Also, his running ability was a sneaky weapon for Matt Nagy’s offense (421 yards, 6.2 yards/attempt). Trubisky took command of the Bears in 2018, and going forward, they’ll go as far as he’ll take them. 

-JJ Stankevitz  

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.

Former CFL star Tre Roberson has chance to emerge in Bears' secondary

Former CFL star Tre Roberson has chance to emerge in Bears' secondary

The Chicago Bears' decision to release veteran cornerback Prince Amukamara has created a void in the starting lineup on defense, one that recent CFL free-agent signee Tre Roberson will be given a chance fill. The Bears are expected to add more candidates for the job over the next couple of months, but Roberson (who was courted by nine teams this offseason) will have his shot.

“I just feel real comfortable there,” Roberson told Bears All Access about why he chose Chicago. “When I came on my visit to the Bears, my workout just felt like I was at home. They made sure I was real comfortable in every aspect of the trip. I just feel like a great place to be is close to home. I’m from Indianapolis, so it’s not too far away.

"We’ve been to Calgary, so it’s a long way from home. So I just feel like it was the best place for me, and I feel like I can help the organization get to the next level, which is winning the Super Bowl.”

Roberson's two-year, $1.235 million deal is a low-risk, high-reward transaction for GM Ryan Pace. At worst, Roberson turns into a contributor on special teams and a solid depth cornerback. But if the Bears catch lightning in a bottle and Roberson emerges as a legitimate and reliable starting cornerback, his contract will turn into one of the biggest bargains in the league.

Roberson had 10 interceptions during his two seasons in Canada, including seven in 2019. He was considered the top CFL free agent making the jump to the NFL this offseason and was rewarded with the most lucrative contract a Canadian League star has received since Cam Wake.

Kyle Fuller and Buster Skrine (slot) have two of the three cornerback gigs locked up, and Kevin Toliver will likely get the first crack at replacing Amukamara (assuming the Bears don't add a veteran free agent this March). Even if they select a rookie early in the 2020 NFL draft, Toliver should have the first opportunity to prove he belongs in the starting lineup. He logged 175 snaps in 2019 and looked like an ascending talent.

By the time the regular season rolls around, however, it could be Roberson who goes from starting in Calgary to lining up as a starter in Chicago.

Taylor Gabriel says goodbye to Chicago in two-part Twitter post

Taylor Gabriel says goodbye to Chicago in two-part Twitter post

The Bears parted ways with wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, releasing him and cornerback Prince Amukamara on Friday.

Gabriel, who played two seasons with the Bears, took to Twitter to thank the fans and the city of Chicago as a whole for his time with the squad. His kind message came attached to video clips of two of Gabriel's six receiving touchdowns as a Bear.

Over his two years and 25 games with the Bears, Gabriel racked up 96 receptions, 1,041 yards, and 6 touchdowns.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.