Bears

Four players Ryan Pace should target to fix the Bears

Four players Ryan Pace should target to fix the Bears

The Chicago Bears have a 1 percent chance to make the playoffs in 2019 after falling to 4-6 following Sunday night's 17-7 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. As a result, it's time to start looking ahead to 2020 and the necessary moves GM Ryan Pace must make in order to take advantage of the Bears' already championship-worthy defense.

Pace will face some obvious challenges in the offseason, most notably the salary cap where the Bears won't have much flexibility. According to Spotrac, Chicago will be in the bottom-five teams in the league in cap space which will make shopping in free agency a limited endeavor. 

But as we've seen many times in the NFL, creative general managers can move money around in ways to free up the dollars for new contracts to make sense, and it's on Pace to make sure he does that in order to land at least two big-ticket free agents to fix two of this team's most pressing needs.

The NFL draft will also provide Pace with a great opportunity to add young, starting-quality talent in the second round. The Bears will end up with two of this year's top-60(ish) players and they have to make those picks count.

Here are four players Pace should target in order to turn the 2020 Bears into the contender they were supposed to be this season.

Sign QB Teddy Bridgewater (Saints)

Bridgewater would be the perfect target for Pace and the Bears in free agency to bring stability and reliability to the quarterback position. The former first-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings has resurrected his career after a devastating knee injury in 2016. Now three seasons removed, Bridgewater proved he's ready to take on a starting job after playing five games in relief of Drew Brees after the future Hall-of-Famer suffered a hand injury.

Bridgewater won all five starts and completed nearly 68 percent of his passes along the way. He racked up 281 yards and two touchdowns in Week 7 against the Bears and displayed the kind of accuracy and decision-making that Matt Nagy's offense calls for.

The Bears won't be the only suitors for Bridgewater's services, but the appeal of starting in Chicago with a defense that's proven it can win games on its own will at least be enticing for the former Lousiville star.

Sign TE Austin Hooper (Falcons)

Hooper will command a contract similar to what Chicago paid Trey Burton in 2018 (four years, $32 million), so it will be hard to justify tying up that much money in the tight end position. But as 2019 has proven, there's no way for Nagy's offense to reach its potential without a weapon at tight end in the passing game.

Hooper missed Week 11 with an MCL injury and could be on the shelf for a few more weeks, but he's been one of the league's better playmakers at tight end this season. He has 56 catches for 608 yards and six touchdowns and has shown steady improvement over each year of his career. He had 71 catches for 660 yards and four scores in 2018.

Draft OT Prince Tega Wanogho (Auburn) in 2nd round

It'll take a little bit of luck for 'Prince' to fall to the Bears' first of two second-round picks, which right now sits at No. 46 overall. But the Bears have to be aggressive in upgrading the offensive line this offseason. While Charles Leno, Jr. and Bobby Massie are serviceable offensive tackles, a player like Tega Wanogho has the kind of traits that could eventually develop into a top-tier starter on either side of the offensive line.

The Bears could decide to prioritize the interior of the offensive line in the draft, and that's fine. But the best (and cheapest) way to land a high-end offensive tackle is through the draft, and Pace has to swing for the fences on a pick like this in 2020.

Draft EDGE Yetur Gross Matos (Penn State) in 2nd round

Pass rushers like Gross Matos are often pushed up the draft board because of the premium placed on the position, but with several teams expected to take a quarterback in the first round and with the number of ridiculously talented wide receivers in the 2020 class, a player like Gross Matos could suffer a bit of a fall.

Gross Matos has six sacks so far this season, which is a respectable total but has fallen a tad short of expectations entering the year. He had eight sacks in 2018 and was a popular pick to explode as a sack artist this fall. Still, he has the athletic profile Pace loves in his pass rushers and would be an instant upgrade over Leonard Floyd, who's failed to live up to his first-round billing since joining the Bears in 2016.

Bears tap into Utah's defense in latest 3-round NFL mock draft

Bears tap into Utah's defense in latest 3-round NFL mock draft

The 2019 college football regular season is over, which means the 2020 NFL draft season is right around the corner. Underclassmen are declaring by the day, all-star rosters are filling out and, of course, mock drafts are being published.

The really unique thing about the Bears in 2019 is how fluid their likely NFL draft needs have been. A few weeks ago, quarterback would've topped the list. Now? Not so much. Tight end, a position that's been non-existent in Chicago's offense all year, suddenly has two players (J.P. Holtz and Jesper Horsted) who've garnered some excitement.

Seasons like this year make trying to pinpoint which direction GM Ryan Pace will go in April's draft extremely challenging. According to the Draft Wire's latest three-round mock draft, the Bears will grab help for the secondary and offensive line in Round 2.

Their first selection (as of the start of Week 15) comes at No. 45 overall from the Raiders. Chicago uses that pick on Utah cornerback, Jaylon Johnson.

It's hard to argue this projection. The Bears may have a bigger need at cornerback by the time the draft rolls around than they do right now if they decide it's time to part ways with veteran starter Prince Amukamara. Chicago needs to make some difficult salary-cap decisions this offseason, and moving on from Amukamara would free up roughly $9 million in cap space. 

Johnson (6-0, 190) will be part of the second wave of cornerbacks to get drafted this year. He isn't a first-round talent, and barring an elite showing at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, he should be available in the middle portion of the second round.

The Bears land offensive line help at No. 50 overall in this mock draft via Tennessee's Trey Smith.

A former five-star recruit, Smith's talent is undeniable. It's first-round worthy. His medicals, however, are not.

After dealing with blood clots in his lungs in 2018, Smith returned to action this season and was once again a dominant force. He projects as an interior player in the NFL and would be an ideal target for a Bears team that needs to add more talent at guard in their effort to replace longtime starter, Kyle Long.

Smith's medical history is likely to push him into Day 3, however, at which point he'll qualify as one of this year's best value selections.

Sunday is Matt Nagy's chance to prove the Bears' changes are for real

Sunday is Matt Nagy's chance to prove the Bears' changes are for real

Matt Nagy thinks about the Packers a lot. 

He thinks about his first career game as an NFL head coach, at Lambeau Field, and how he’ll “never forget that day, that game, for so many different reasons.” 

He thinks about his first NFC North title, which was clinched when Eddie Jackson intercepted Aaron Rodgers in the end zone, avenging the season’s earlier loss.

And he thinks about Week 1 of this season, when millions of eyes tuned in on Opening Night to watch a supposed Super Bowl contender score three points, at home, in a loss to the Packers. 

“I try not to remember too much of that,” he said. “That was a rough one.”  

It just so happens that, this week, everyone else is thinking about the Packers too. On the surface level, it’s the 200th meeting in one the league’s most storied rivalries, and a pivotal game in this year’s race for the second Wild Card spot. There’s Aaron Rodgers, who Nagy called, “competitive as hell.” There’s a talented-and-maybe-underperforming defense, with Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith on the edges creating matchup nightmares for an offensive line that’s undergone more change than anyone. 

“We knew what kind of players they were,” he added. “They’re not unknown anymore.” 

If you wanted to get esoteric, there’s a great redemption narrative to Sunday’s game too. The Packers came into Chicago and exposed the Bears’ starters – who, you’ll remember, sat out the preseason. Things would get worse – so much worse – but the book was out on Nagy’s Bears, and it took them three months to recover. 

“I just feel like we’re kind of in a rhythm now,” Mitch Trubisky said. “We’re a different team. There were some things that we had to go through in the first game and the beginning of the season that just didn’t go our way, and there’s things we definitely learned from as an offense. I just feel like we have a new-found identity of what we want to do and everybody is really locked into what they have to do within their job description on the offense.” 

Things have been different than Week 1, even if you couldn’t say that until Week 12. Nagy has admittedly found a better rhythm as a play-caller, and many of the issues that plagued the Bears in Week 1 haven’t been an issue lately. The tight end room is producing, they’re shifting through personnel groupings less, and the run game has stabilized – all vital components of the offense that best suits the 2019 Bears. It’s not what Nagy envisioned, but 202 ended up being formative in ways he never expected. 

“I feel like a better coach going through this for the players, for my coaches and just the way we communicate,” he said. “The honesty, the belief in one another; going through this is important and it'll help me in the long run, to be able to handle these type of situations when they arise again.”

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