Bears

George McCaskey addresses National Anthem issue: ‘We think players should stand’

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George McCaskey addresses National Anthem issue: ‘We think players should stand’

Bears Chairman George McCaskey toed a fine line during a press conference Thursday while addressing the National Anthem controversy that likely won’t fade into the background any time soon. 

In McCaskey’s first public remarks on the subject since a carefully-worded press release last September, he said “we think players should stand” for the playing of the National Anthem prior to games, but also disputed that players who have chosen to and will choose to protest during the Anthem are not patriotic. 

“The first players to take a knee during the national anthem did so to bring attention to two issues — police misconduct and social inequality,” McCaskey said. “There are legitimate issues that deserve discussion and action. As a country, we can do better. It’s part of the founding fathers’ charge to us to form a more perfect union.  Commissioner Goodell said it very well, and it bears repeating — it was unfortunate that on-field protests created a false perception among many that thousands of NFL players were unpatriotic. This is not and was never the case. 

“The players’ actions were characterized by some and perceived by some as disrespectful to the flag, our country and our military, and what should be a unifying moment for our communities and our country has become in some instances another source of divisiveness.”

McCaskey said the Bears supported the NFL’s resolution on the Anthem enacted last month, which gives players and team personnel the option to remain in the locker room during the playing of the Anthem but gives teams the ability to fine those who openly protest on the field during it. McCaskey said he’s spoken with team president Ted Phillips and NFLPA union rep and outside linebacker Sam Acho (who’s been vocal on the subject) about potential discipline, but has not come to a formal decision on whether or not to fine players and team personnel for protesting during the Anthem. 

“There is no easy answer to the anthem issue,” McCaskey said. “No one is entirely right, nor entirely wrong. The policy change enacted a couple of weeks ago by NFL teams, including the Bears, isn’t perfect. But we think it will return the anthem to what it should be — a unifying force — while providing an option to those players and other team personnel who choose not to stand.”

With regards to President Donald Trump, who sparked another Anthem firestorm when he dis-invited the Philadelphia Eagles — who were planning on bringing a smaller contingent of players and personnel for various reasons — from a White House visit, McCaskey said the NFL’s policy was not enacted in response to anything President Trump has said or tweeted about the issue. 

“What the President was doing or not doing, or thinking or not thinking, or saying and not thinking didn't really impact our support of this,” McCaskey said. 

McCaskey talked about how his relationship with Acho — who’s been the most outspoken player on the Bears about social justice issues and the Anthem — has grown since the issue of protesting during the National Anthem hit a flashpoint last September, when President Trump said NFL teams with players who kneel during the Anthem should “get that son of a bitch off the field.” A day after, the Pittsburgh Steelers remained in the locker room at Soldier Field for the playing of the Anthem, while the Bears locked arms on the sidelines. 

“George and I spoke after the ruling was made,” Acho said on Tuesday. “I think it was a productive conversation. A lot of what we talked about was understanding … I mean, it’s tough as a player, like, why are you trying to infringe on my rights or my beliefs or my desire to make an impact? What I said last week was, no matter what people do we are going to try to make an impact one way or another.”

McCaskey said he wants to have more discussions with other players, and hopes other team owners around the league can start and/or continue dialogues with their players in an effort to re-build some of the trust that’s eroded between the two parties. 

“I think we continue the dialogue,” McCaskey said, “and listen to each other.” 

5 free agents who fit with Bears, from Devonta Freeman to Damon Harrison

5 free agents who fit with Bears, from Devonta Freeman to Damon Harrison

The conventional wisdom with the Bears is Ryan Pace needs to improve depth at running back and defensive tackle ahead of training camp practices starting – finally – next week.

But reality played out a little different this week. The Bears reportedly signed defensive back Marqui Christian Tuesday, adding depth at safety and on special teams. He, essentially, replaces Jordan Lucas – who opted out of the 2020 season – on the Bears’ roster, even though kicker Ramiz Ahmed was cut to make room for him.

It makes sense. The Bears are tantalizingly close to actually seeing their 80-man roster in action, and displacing someone with a big-ish-name free agent might run counter to their plans. Once the Bears can get a look at some of those guys on their roster – like running back Artavis Pierce and defensive tackle John Jenkins – maybe they’ll look to make a move.

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Also: The Bears have about $17 million in cap space right now that can roll over to 2021, which would help offset what could be a $23 million drop in next year’s cap. It might not be a bad idea to save money now and avoid difficult cost-saving cuts later.

But if the Bears do try to pick off some of the more recognizable names available in free agency, these five players could make sense:

DT Damon “Snacks” Harrison

Eddie Goldman’s decision to opt out immediately led a lot of folks (myself included) to Google “Snacks Harrison free agency” to make sure he was still available. The good news: He is! The bad news: He’s reportedly contemplated retirement in the past, and the 32-year-old is thinking about getting into the podcast game…

… which is something someone might do when they’re expecting to have a lot of time on their hands, right?

Harrison had a down 2019 with the Detroit Lions and may not even want to get back into football amid the COVID-19 pandemic. If he does, though, the Bears should certainly consider signing him as a rotational veteran to help soften the blow of Goldman’s opt out.

DT Marcell Dareus

The 30-year-old Dareus only played in six games last year before a core injury ended his season. Listed at 6-foot-3, 331 pounds, Dareus might be the best fit to replace Goldman as an anchor of the Bears’ defensive line – so long as he’s healthy.

Dareus – the third player selected in 2011’s draft – did see his play drop off a bit in 2019 before his injury. Still, he’s an experienced and adept run-stuffer, the kind of guy who could help the Bears’ defense in base and sub packages next to Akiem Hicks.

RB Devonta Freeman

It feels weird that Freeman is still available in mid-August, but he’s an unfortunately perfect example of the short shelf life of running backs. He was a Pro Bowler in 2015 and 2016, ripping off consecutive 1,000-yard rushing years while amassing over 1,000 receiving yards and 27 total touchdowns.

His play tailed off in 2017, then was hit by injuries in 2018 and averaged just 3.6 yards per carry in 14 games last year. Freeman fired his agent this offseason and signed with Drew Rosenhaus, who said in July he was hoping to get him signed by the end of the month (https://twitter.com/AdamSchefter/status/1285726771816673287). You have to wonder if Freeman is asking for more money than teams would be willing to give him. Or, a possibility that would be smarter: Maybe he’s waiting to see if a team needs a No. 1 running back due to a training camp injury or positive COVID-19 test.

Either way, Freeman makes sense for the Bears in that he’d provide a veteran backup to David Montgomery. But do the Bears make sense to Freeman if he’s squarely behind Montgomery on the depth chart? Maybe not.

RB Spencer Ware

A more realistic option at running back, if the Bears want to add to that room, would be a guy in Ware with ties to Matt Nagy. The former Kansas City Chiefs running back had 921 rushing yards and 447 receiving yards in 2016, the first year Nagy was Andy Reid’s offensive coordinator.

MORE: Five things we've learned about Bears' rookies 

A brutal knee injury suffered in 2017’s preseason derailed Ware’s career, and he only played in three games last year after the Chiefs brought him back off the free agent scrap heap. The 28-year-old, though, has familiarity with Nagy’s scheme and could at least provide some much-needed veteran competition for Pierce and former undrafted free agent Ryan Nall.

PK Graham Gano

The Bears dumped Ahmed to make room for Christian, leaving Eddy Pineiro as the only kicker on the roster. Pace’s preference is to find a kicker for cheap after the Cody Parkey disaster, hence last year’s competition and a long leash with Pineiro.

But if Pineiro falters at all during camp, the Bears should probably find room on their 80-man roster for a kicker to compete with him. Gano might cost a little more, and the 33-year-old missed all of 2019 with an injury, but his strong leg and decade of experience would certainly push Pineiro – if not replace him.

 

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Bears waive kicker Ramiz Ahmed, ending kicker battle before it began

Bears waive kicker Ramiz Ahmed, ending kicker battle before it began

For now, Eddy Piñeiro can breath easy: 

You'll remember, the Bears brought Ahmed into the building back in mid-April. The kicker, who played his college ball at Nevada, went 15/20 on field goal attempts in his 2018 senior season. Ryan Pace and co. signed him to push Piñeiro, who had an up-and-down first season in Chicago. As JJ Stankevitz points out, the move likely has to do with the team's reported signing of a defensive back on Tuesday: 

As it stands now, Piñeiro's job is once again safe. For whatever it's worth, it sounds like Piñeiro, who struggled with distance last year, has put on some muscle this offseason. In a recent interview with media, Bears' special team's coordinator Chris Tabor had this to say: 

"I'm going to be honest with you, first day we went out and kicked -- and I hadn't seen him kick since the Minnesota game -- you're looking at a bigger, stronger Eddy Pineiro," he said. "I was very impressed. You could tell that he matured, he's really more comfortable." 

So good news, Bears fans: there will be no summer kicking battle this year. You can put the aspirin away.