Bears

How much Bears TE Jimmy Graham has left: 'I’m going to get back to being me'

How much Bears TE Jimmy Graham has left: 'I’m going to get back to being me'

Jimmy Graham was effectively fired for the first time in his life earlier this year. The pink slip came when the Green Bay Packers decided against keeping the 33-year-old tight end for the final year of his contract. 

“It’s lit a fire,” Graham said. “I know what player I am, and I know what I can do.”

Much of the analysis of Graham’s two-year, $16 million contract with the Bears — which was made official Thursday — has been about what Graham used to do. He’s tied for 36th on the NFL’s all-time receiving touchdowns list with 74, yet 69 of those came before 2018. He’s a five-time Pro Bowler who’s been both a dominant red zone threat and an explosive down-the-field weapon. 

He’s also 33 and showed signs of decline in 2019 with the Packers, catching 38 of 60 targets for 447 yards — the lowest totals of his career since his rookie year. But the Bears still guaranteed him $9 million in an effort to fix their disconcertingly broken tight end room. 

So how much does Graham have left in the tank? 

He’ll tell you his answer: Plenty. 

“This is the best that I’ve ran, this is the fastest I’ve been in the last four or five years,” Graham said, explaining that his knees feel the best they have in a while, too. “So for me, I know when coaches turn on the film, I mean, I know during the season, everybody, pregame or after the game, was always hitting me up telling me how good I looked, how fast I look. For me, that’s everything, my ability to still separate from people and run down seams. 

“I know I still have that ability. I showed a little bit of that in the playoffs. But I’m excited. I’m going to get back to being me. I’m going to get back to making big plays and scoring touchdowns because I think I’m somewhere in the top of scoring touchdowns, and I want to continue that. I want to continue climbing that list and get to where I’m supposed to be.”

RELATED: 'Business as usual' is anything but for Graham, Bears

Graham caught seven passes for 108 yards in Green Bay’s two playoff games, good for an average of 15.4 yards per reception — just like the old Graham, right? 

That’s who the Bears hope they’re getting. Not the guy who was targeted fewer than three times in five of the Packers’ 16 games last year. The Bears didn’t make Graham a priority in the spring only to have him be a non-factor in the fall.  

But this is the bet the Bears are making at tight end — that Graham still as fast and as explosive as he says he is. The Bears don’t need 2013 Jimmy Graham, catching 16 touchdowns and being a first-team All-Pro. Even 2018 Graham would be fine — 55 catches, 636 yards, though maybe more than two touchdowns. 

Can the Bears count on Graham to be that guy as he marches into his mid-30s? We’ll see. Maybe playing in a different sort of tight end-friendly system — which Graham alluded to in mentioning the Chiefs' offense — will rejuvenate his career. Maybe he’ll struggle when he doesn’t have one of three future Hall of Famers (Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers) throwing to him. 

But Graham is willing to bet on his arrow pointing more toward “F” than “E.” It seems the Bears are too. 

“If I didn’t think I had the ability to dominate this league, then I wouldn’t play anymore,” Graham said. “But I still believe that I have that ability, and I’m going to take each and every day, and take each and every game to prove myself worthy of being on this team, and I’m going to give them everything I got.”

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The Match: Peyton Manning uses new Bears QB Nick Foles to troll Tom Brady

The Match: Peyton Manning uses new Bears QB Nick Foles to troll Tom Brady

America got a taste of live sports on Sunday via The Match, a charity golf outing pitting Tiger Woods and Peyton Manning against Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady. The competition raised $10 million for coronavirus relief.

It also offered Manning the chance to take a friendly jab at Brady, long his competitor on the gridiron, using new Bears quarterback Nick Foles.

In a mid-match interview, Manning noted how it's difficult to get to Brady's head on the field. The former Colts and Broncos quarterback then named two potential caddies he could have brought to disrupt Brady's focus: his brother, Eli Manning, and Foles.

"Do you bring Eli? Could do that," Manning said. "Do you bring Nick Foles? Maybe."

"Cheap shot," Brady said in response, grinning.

The Philadelphia Eagles beat Brady and the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII two years ago, with Foles, a backup turned starter, leading the charge. Based on Brady's comment, Manning may have struck a nerve with the six-time Super Bowl champion.

Foles got in on the fun on Twitter:

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2020 Bears Schedule: Will Gardner Minshew mania grip Jacksonville again?

2020 Bears Schedule: Will Gardner Minshew mania grip Jacksonville again?

The game

The Bears will make a late-season visit to Jacksonville on Dec. 27. The last time the Bears faced the Jaguars, Jacksonville prevailed 17-16 on Oct. 16, 2016, thanks to a late TD pass from Blake Bortles to former Fighting Illini wide receiver Arrelious Benn. Rest assured, there will be some extra motivation on the sideline this time around, as former Jaguars Nick Foles and Allen Robinson face their ex-teammates.

Player to watch

The Bears will be facing the man who replaced Foles as Jaguars starting QB last season, Gardner Minshew. In 14 games, he threw for nearly 3,300 yards with 21 TD and 6 INT, but Jacksonville ranked just 26th in the league in total scoring and limped to a 6-10 record. Entering his first full season as the unquestioned starter, Minshew will have DJ Chark as a top target after the wideout exploded onto the scene last season.

RELATED: Bears 2020 schedule: Game-by-game predictions

Additions and subtractions

One defensive standout to keep an eye on is Yannick Ngakoue, Jacksonville’s best pass-rusher who had the franchise tag placed on him but has repeatedly demanded a trade. Whether or not a trade partner is found will be the biggest issue facing the team as they head toward training camp, whenever that may be. Jacksonville also added talented but injury-plagued tight end Tyler Eifert in free agency.

Key storyline

Since their tough loss in the 2018 AFC Championship game to the Patriots, the Jaguars have torn their roster to shreds as they move into the next era of their franchise. Standout players sent packing over the last year or so include Calais Campbell, Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Marcell Dareus, and of course, Nick Foles.

New GM David Caldwell is nearly done purging the roster, and that means this Jacksonville team will be playing the long game and likely setting themselves up for a top pick in next year’s draft.

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