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.