How the NFL's uncertain offseason will impact the Bears in 2020

How the NFL's uncertain offseason will impact the Bears in 2020

As the NFL tries to make its 2020 season work amid the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing does look clear (if there is a season): The lead-up to it will be significantly shortened. 

That means no offseason program and, potentially, a truncated training camp and preseason. In other words: Fewer practices. Much fewer.

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank floated a bit of speculation to Peter King in this week’s Football Morning In America:

“On whether he believes there will be a 16-game regular season, Blank said: “If I had to speculate now, and I use the word speculate because that’s really all it is, I would say yes. Only because it’s so far away from where we are today. I could easily see camps being shorter, players being tested on a daily basis, things of that nature. No fan attendance. Things like that. We may have fewer preseason games, which probably wouldn’t be the end of the world. But I think by September, my hope is by the time the regular season starts, that we’ll be able to bring people together in some form or fashion in a safe manner and play.”

It feels like what Blank is saying is almost a best-case scenario, since it involves a full season being played — even if the circumstances around it (short camp, no fans in the stands) aren’t ideal. Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio drilled down further on Blank’s comments, but let’s take them into account from a Bears perspective (while keeping in mind that this, in the grand scheme of the COVID-19 pandemic, matters very little).

The Bears are in an okay situation relative to the lack of an offseason program, seeing as Matt Nagy won’t need to spend that time installing a brand new offense with a bunch of new players. Their biggest offseason additions — Jimmy Graham and Nick Foles — are seasoned veterans. Foles knows the offense from his time with Nagy in Kansas City and then with the Eagles. And Graham was a second-year player with the Saints during the 2011 lockout, which wiped out that year’s offseason program and shortened training camp. 

“There was no offseason program,” Graham said. “There was nothing. I basically showed up at training camp and then that year I put up 1,300 yards. 

“… I’m going to obviously get the playbook. I’ve already asked for every tight end target over the last two years just to see where they’re trying to hit the tight end and what they’re looking for down the field and what they’re looking for in the red zone and on third down and where I can help and how I can implement what I’m good at. So for me, it’s really continuing to do the things that I’ve done on those offseasons that have not had me basically being able to practice with the team.”

The Foles vs. Mitch Trubisky quarterback competition wasn’t going to be decided in the offseason program anyway, too. Fewer training camp practices, though, would mean the Bears have to make a decision quickly — and that probably works against Trubisky in this case. If Foles is sort of a steady hand here, it’ll be easier for the Bears to make him QB1 rather than trying to wait out Trubisky’s potential, as they maybe could’ve over the course of a month-long preseason. 

Foles already could’ve been viewed as the favorite to win the job in a normal year, but if the Bears prioritize “safe” options given the relative lack of preseason practices, he’ll have the inside track to be their Week 1 starter. 

A drawback for Foles, though, is he won't have the opportunity to work with any of the Bears' pass-catchers before an abbreviated training camp -- one in which he won't get all the first-team reps if there's a true competition between him and Trubisky. He'll have to develop a rapport with guys like Allen Robinson, Tarik Cohen and Graham quickly, though his experience with a number of different teams could help him with that. 

And as for quarterbacks — it didn’t make much sense for the Bears to draft a quarterback with one of their two second-round picks under normal circumstances. Now? That quarterback — be it Jake Fromm or Jalen Hurts or whoever — couldn’t be reasonably expected to learn the Bears’ offense in Year 1 without rookie minicamp and OTAs, as well as a full training camp. If the Bears were to draft a quarterback, don't expect that guy to play in 2020. 

Speaking of rookies, it’s going to be harder for anyone the Bears draft to contribute right away this fall. Not impossible — but harder. Talent always shines through, but the Bears don’t go on the clock until pick No. 43. The super-talented top 10 picks like Ohio State's Chase Young and Jeff Okudah, will be fine. But it'll take great scouting and even greater coaching for the Bears' two second-round picks to yield impact guys this year. 

As King wrote: "The best scouts in the NFL will be the MVPs of the draft this year."

But while there will be a draft in April, let's just hope there will be a season starting in the fall.

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.

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