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Hoge’s 10 Bears Things: Why Matt Nagy is still here

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It’s another Monday and Matt Nagy is still the head coach of the Chicago Bears, despite a new rule that would have allowed the Bears to start interviewing head coaching candidates this week.

And that’s where we’ll kick off this week’s 10 Bears Things:

1. It looks like Matt Nagy will finish out the season

It’s easy to sit here and say the Bears should have already fired Matt Nagy and begun to interview head coaching candidates. Technically, by not doing so, they’re falling behind the Raiders and Jaguars, who are already jostling for their next head coach.

But I’m not surprised the Bears are letting Nagy finish the season. While I’m not going to claim there is still unanimous love for the head coach in the Bears’ locker room, I still believe the majority of players feel the same way running back David Montgomery feels.

“Coach Nagy’s an amazing coach and an even better person,” Montgomery said Sunday in Seattle. “I feel like everybody kind of gets this weird, bad depiction of who he is, but he’s actually a great guy and a great coach.”

While winning these final two games means nothing in the standings, it’s still important to see development and good football from key players on the roster. And in order to see that, you need the players invested and playing at full speed. We saw that Sunday in Seattle, and it matters. You want players like Montgomery, Roquan Smith, Larry Borom Jr. and many others to carry momentum into the offseason by finishing the season strong. Shaking up the coaching staff with two games to go could be counterproductive.

 

More practically, as I detailed earlier this month, there’s a limit to what teams can actually do during this two-week interview window. The interviews must be virtual and they are limited to two hours. You’re not going to make a hiring under such conditions, so the interviews over the next two weeks would mostly be preliminary work anyway.

Plus, could you imagine interviewing a head coaching candidate without a clear direction as an organization? Who’s the general manager? What’s his contract status? Are there going to be more changes at the top of the organization? Who’s even on this Zoom call?

Anyone interviewing for the Bears’ head coaching job is going to have these questions and the organization risks turning off potential candidates without presenting a clear, detailed plan. Remember, even with Justin Fields on the roster, they need to sell the job to potential candidates too.

Please don’t read this as a defense of what the Bears are currently doing. Had they moved on from Nagy on Monday, no one would have blinked. I just think there are some practical matters that cloud the situation a little bit and I do think the Bears could do harm by rushing into interviews right now without a clear direction. 

At some point, George McCaskey and Ted Phillips are going to have to come out of hiding and present that direction to their fans as well.

2. In the meantime…

It is smart to keep tabs on what the Raiders and Jaguars do over the next two weeks. While I’m not convinced they are gaining a big advantage by conducting a few virtual interviews, they can bring in candidates who are not employed by other clubs right now. That means potentially getting first dibs at someone like former Eagles head coach Doug Pederson, who sat out the 2021 season.

Pederson might be a controversial candidate for the Bears job because of his ties to Nagy and the connection to the same offensive system that has failed for the last four seasons, but he also has a Super Bowl ring and would minimize the amount of offensive transition that Fields would have to deal with under a new head coach. Pederson visited Halas Hall for a couple days during training camp and was involved in practice and meetings during that time, so he already has some intel on what he would be dealing with in Chicago.  

At this point, I don’t have any knowledge that the Bears would be interested in Pederson, and, given his friendship with Nagy, he might not even be interested in the Bears. But this is just one example of a candidate to keep an eye on over the next two weeks as the Bears opt to play out the rest of the regular season.

 

3. Why Dalton again?

When the Bears spent $10 million on Andy Dalton back in March, one of my earliest criticisms was that it was a redundant signing with Nick Foles already on the roster. For a team that was cap-strapped and restructuring deals left and right just to field a competitive team in 2021, it didn’t seem like Dalton provided much of an upgrade over Foles — and certainly not $10 million worth of an upgrade.

So Sunday, when Foles led the Bears to a comeback win in Seattle, I couldn’t help but think about how that $10 million could have been better spent elsewhere on the roster. And no, this is revisionist history. When the Bears signed Dalton, Justin Fields wasn’t drafted yet, and the Bears were desperate to find an upgrade over Foles. But again, Dalton for $10 million was the answer? And once Fields was drafted, it just created an awkward situation with Dalton and immediately made Foles the best No. 3 quarterback in the NFL. A room with just Foles and Fields would have been fine and, hey, maybe that’s what the Bears will have next year…

4. Foles wouldn’t be a bad backup in 2022

Depending on what happens with the head coach, a Foles return can’t be ruled out. As you saw Sunday, he’s still a good backup NFL quarterback and for $8 million in 2022, you can certainly do a lot worse. 

Will Foles want to return? It might depend on who is hired. He had opportunities to play elsewhere this season, but was picky about trade destinations, in part because he didn’t want to learn an entirely new system in the middle of the season. 

Foles is due a guaranteed $4 million roster bonus on the fifth day of the new league year in March, so that’s a date to keep an eye on in the offseason. By then, we’ll have a clearer picture of the situation the Bears want to put Fields in next season.

5. It would be nice to get Fields a win before the end of the season

The Bears’ last two wins came with Dalton and Foles under center. Fields hasn’t won a game since Oct. 10 and this is by far the most losing he’s had to deal with in his entire life.

Nagy said Monday that they most likely won’t shut Fields (ankle) down for the rest of the season, and if he’s healthy, they shouldn’t. The Bears still have two winnable games left on the schedule, especially Sunday against the Giants, who could be starting Mike Glennon at quarterback.

As I alluded to earlier, individual players at the NFL level always have something to play for, and for Fields, there’s still development that can happen in these final two weeks. But as much as the reps are valuable, a win or two would probably be even better.

 

6. Just ask Robert Quinn

Asked Sunday about what’s left to play for in these final two games, Bears pass rusher Robert Quinn took exception to the idea that these games are meaningless. 

“If you do what I do, these two games aren’t meaningless,” Quinn said. “If you don't show up and play well, I might not be on the team next year. So regardless of records and games, it's the players because we've got to prove to everyone else why we should be here. We've still got to prove to everyone else we are supposed to be in this league.”

Well said.

7. Good experience for Thomas Graham Jr.

Russell Wilson wasn’t the only one who noticed DK Metcalf matched up one-on-one with rookie cornerback Thomas Graham Jr. I noticed it from the press box too and immediately thought: “Well, this will be interesting.”

41 yards later, Metcalf was in the end zone. Graham was beat off the release and never really had a chance after that. Welcome to the NFL, rookie.

“Yeah, that's the life of a corner,” Bears secondary coach Deshea Townsend told reporters over Zoom on Monday. “Only after he gave up a touchdown pass, he made a big pass breakup on a slant later in the game. Those things -- the ebbs and flows of the game and not being too low when something happens to you that everybody can see, being able to bounce back and make a play.”

Overall, Graham’s first two games have been a net positive, despite getting beat by one of the more impressive receivers in the NFL for a big score. It was interesting to see Graham rotating with Artie Burns, and you have to wonder if he’ll see even fewer reps this week with Jaylon Johnson returning from the reserve/COVID-19 list. I’d argue he should continue to play, but regardless, the Bears have an interesting piece to work with on defense in the offseason.

8. The Eddie Goldman problem

It’s safe to say the last two years have been a big setback in the career of Eddie Goldman, who was one of the best nose tackles in football before opting out of the 2020 season. His return in 2021 has been “a slow year,” as defensive line coach Chris Rumph put it Monday. Goldman dealt with COVID-19 almost immediately after his return to the team in training camp and has also been slowed by injuries. 

“It's going to be a very important offseason for him to get his body right, his mind right and come back and ready to be the dominant guy he's capable of being,” Rumph said.

Goldman actually had a brief run in the middle of the season when he was starting to look like himself again, but that tailed off. Eventually, seventh-round rookie Khyiris Tonga started taking more of his reps. 

 

Goldman still has two years remaining on his contract, but the Bears can save $6.6 million against the cap by releasing him in the offseason, and even more if he’s designated as a post-June 1 cut. Given how the last two years have gone and Tonga playing the way he has as a rookie, it would not be surprising to see Goldman on a different team in 2022.

9. Teven Jenkins’ rough rookie season continues

Somewhat lost in the shuffle Sunday was that rookie left tackle Teven Jenkins suffered another injury — this time a shoulder. The good news is that Borom came off the bench and played pretty well on the left side, but the bad news is that Jenkins missed valuable reps.

After a rough debut in Green Bay, Jenkins played much better against the Vikings and you would have liked to see him build on that in Seattle. Nagy did not have any information on the severity of the injury on Monday, but it would be disappointing if his rookie season ends up being limited to essentially two full games.

10. Final word

Ever since Foles arrived in Chicago, I’ve respected his ability to be straightforward in interviews, so I appreciated his answer Sunday when he was asked about getting caught on camera saying the offense wasn’t working back in Week 3 against the Browns. 

"Yeah the offense was not working that day. I love this question because everyone was thinking it at the time,” Foles said.

The reason he was asked about it after Sunday’s game is because Foles had not been made available to the media since the preseason. Clearly he was ready for the question and he had a great answer.

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