Free agent focus: A few names Bears should consider to fill out their pass rush

Free agent focus: A few names Bears should consider to fill out their pass rush

While the Bears have pressing needs at wide receiver and cornerback, perhaps no unit needs more work than outside linebacker/edge rusher. The Bears cut veterans Pernell McPhee and Willie Young in February and Leonard Floyd is coming off a season-ending knee injury, making for plenty of question marks for this group heading into the 2018 league year. 

If every good defense needs three guys who can disrupt the quarterback, the Bears have one in Akiem Hicks, who had 8 1/2 sacks and 19 hurries last year. But what do the Bears have in Floyd?

That’s the biggest question for this group to answer in 2018. Floyd has missed 10 games over his two years with the Bears, and when he’s been on the field, he’s averaged about one sack every two games. That’s good production, but as Vic Fangio said in January, the Bears’ defense needs its good players to be great. 

Getting Floyd’s knee healthy is step one, and Pace said at the NFL Combine that he expects the 2016 first-round pick to be ready for the Bears’ offseason program this spring. 

“He's added strength,” Pace said. “He's added size which I think is going to help as he matures as an NFL player. His rehab couldn't be going better, just the way he's attacking that. We feel really good about the progress he's making.”

If healthy, Floyd has the talent to put together a double-digit-sack season. And that’s the Bears’ best shot at having an elite, or at least good, pass rusher in 2018 to pair with an effective Hicks. This year’s free agent class of edge rushers isn’t particularly strong, which isn’t exactly surprising -- teams rarely are willing to risk losing guys who can disrupt the quarterback. 

There still are a few names out there the Bears will have to consider to fill out their pass rush:

Adrian Clayborn, Atlanta Falcons

Clayborn had 9 1/2 sacks last year (six -- six! -- of which came in one game) but he’s played every one of his 81 games in the NFL as a 4-3 defensive end. At 6-foot-3, 281 pounds, he’s big enough to play as a defensive end in Fangio’s 3-4 base, but the guy he’d be replacing there -- Mitch Unrein -- only played about 40 percent of the Bears’ defensive snaps last year. He could slim down a touch and play outside linebacker, and Fangio’s defense is flexible enough to fit him, but convincing Clayborn to leave the scheme he knows for one he doesn’t may be difficult. 

Aaron Lynch, San Francisco 49ers

Lynch is only 25 and has four seasons of NFL experience under his belt, but missed 18 games and totaled just three sacks the last two years. When healthy, Lynch was effective, and he had six sacks his rookie year in Fangio’s San Francisco 49ers defense. Signing him would require some projection on health, and he’d be best-used as a rotational piece, but his age and experience with Fangio do make him an intriguing name to watch. 

Connor Barwin, Los Angeles Rams

Barwin is four years removed from racking up 14 1/2 sacks and turns 32 in October, but he’s still able to handle about 70-90 percent of a team’s defensive snaps and totaled five sacks last year with the Los Angeles Rams. He’s a scheme fit and would replace some of the veteran experience lost with the releases of McPhee and Young. Pairing a veteran like him with a higher-upside guy like Lynch could be the Bears’ best bet to address this position in free agency. 

Junior Galette, Washington Redskins

Galette racked up 22 sacks between 2013 and 2014 with the New Orleans Saints, but derailed his career after he was accused of domestic violence and appeared to hit a woman with a belt on a 2013 video of a brawl on South Beach. He was a poor locker room presence with the Saints too, and after New Orleans jettisonned him four months after signing him to a four-year, $41.25 million extension, he suffered a number of injuries that kept him off the field until last year. Galette played in all 16 games for Washington last year but only totaled three sacks. Pace overlapping with him in New Orleans could work against him being a buy-low option for the Bears. 

Lamarr Houston, Chicago Bears

The Bears released Houston after he suffered an injury in their fourth preseason game, but brought him back for the final month of the 2017 season after the Houston Texans waived him. Houston took advantage of his opportunity and totaling four sacks in five games. 

“He’s been able to retain a lot of the stuff that we do from when he left here after training camp, so that’s been good,” Fangio said in December. “He’s been playing about like we would expect.”

The Bears could opt to retain Houston as a veteran rotational guy, but he’s missed 28 games in the last four seasons and turns 31 in June, so he’d likely be one of the less expensive options here.

Reddit story once again proves that Prince Amukamara is a pretty good dude

USA Today

Reddit story once again proves that Prince Amukamara is a pretty good dude

Prince Amukamara seems like a pretty good dude. 

Yesterday, someone took to reddit to briefly give the cornerback props for giving his best friend's brother a signed jersey:

Rams fan here w/ a dope story: One of my best friends' brother, who has special needs, met Prince at his work. Got a picture with him, and at some point asked him if he could get a jersey. Next day, in comes Prince with a signed authentic. Amazing guy. Can pick off Goff all he wants now.

It's a great story, and a testament to the kind of impact these players can have on the everyday lives of fans. Plus now apparently he can pick off Goff all he wants! 

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Packers

Three keys and prediction: Bears vs. Packers

1. Keep Aaron Jones in check. Aaron Rodgers is going to get his yards through the air, most likely. Stopping him would, of course, be great — but this is a guy who’s only thrown one interception in 495 attempts this year. The better way to key defensive success is to stop running back Aaron Jones, who’s averaging 5.6 yards per attempt in 11 games this year. Drilling deeper: Jones is averaging 6.5 yards per carry in the five four wins in which he’s played; in seven losses, he’s still averaging 5.0 yards per carry. 

Perhaps, then, the best way to look at this is holding Jones to below 4.5 yards per carry, which the Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals each did during Green Bay’s three-game losing streak. Also worth noting: The Bears have lost two of three games when an opposing running back averages over 4.5 yards per carry with at least 10 attempts (losses to Miami and New York, win over Detroit). And this defense just held Todd Gurley to 26 yards on 11 attempts, so it’s certainly up for the challenge. 

2. Efficient play from Mitch Trubisky. Trubisky was frustrated with his play against the Los Angeles Rams last weekend, which statistically was the worst game of his career. The Bears’ defense might be good enough to repeat its performance this weekend, but that’s a tall task with Rodgers on the opposite sideline. So the point here being: Trubisky will have to play significantly better than he did against the Rams for the Bears to be in a position to win. That means keeping his footwork sound and not overthrowing open receivers, and making smart decisions as he goes through his progressions. 

The good news: Those are two points Trubisky brought up during his media session this week, and in the four games before he injured his shoulder he had a 98.9 passer rating. More likely than not, Trubisky’s game against the Rams was an aberration, but he still has to prove it was on Sunday. 

3. Get the lead, and don’t give Rodgers a chance. The Bears have steadily improved when it comes to finishing games in the fourth quarter since blowing a 20-point lead in that Week 1 loss, to the point where the Rams were entirely ineffective in the final 15 minutes of last weekend’s 15-6 win. But Rodgers remains a bogeyman of sorts — the Bears’ defense is mentally strong, but still has something to prove if it gets a fourth quarter lead and has to keep Rodgers from leading a comeback. 

The same goes for Matt Nagy and the offense: While Rodgers led that comeback, the Bears’ offense sputtered behind conservative playcalling and poor play by Trubisky. If given the chance on Sunday, that can’t happen again.  

Prediction: Bears 24, Packers 20. The Bears are a better team than the Packers, plain and simple. But until this franchise proves it can reliably beat Rodgers, who’s won 16 of his 20 regular season meetings with the Bears, these rivalry games shouldn’t be met with overconfidence. We'll say Rodgers keeps it close, but the Bears this time make enough plays down the stretch to win, clinching the NFC North and effectively eliminating the Packers from playoff contention.