Bears

Kevin White dubbed Bears' most overpaid player

Kevin White dubbed Bears' most overpaid player

It's hard not to feel bad for Chicago Bears WR Kevin White. The former West Virginia star joined the club as the seventh overall pick and came to Chicago with expectations of producing like Dez Bryant or even Larry Fitzgerald. Now entering his fourth season, White's appeared in only five games and has yet to score an NFL touchdown.

It's not all his fault. He hasn't had a chance to actually play. Injuries have turned his once limitless upside into a hope-for-the-best projection heading into 2018. White had no rookie season. He played only four games in 2016. And last year, his season lasted less than one full game.

At some point, however, a player has to prove they're capable of withstanding the punishment that naturally comes with playing professional football. This is the do-or-die year for White to establish himself as an NFL receiver.

From a production and payroll standpoint, it's easy to call White a bust. He hasn't produced and he's getting paid a lot of money. According to Bleacher Report's Doug Farrar, White is the most overpaid player on the roster.

For those five games, the Bears have paid White nearly $14 million of the $16.6 million deal he signed after he was drafted, and they'll be on the hook for the full amount. This season, Chicago has a cap responsibility of $5.3 for their oft-injured receiver, and unless he's able to somehow turn his unfortunate injury history around, his deal can only be seen as sunk cost.

Yes, the Bears have not received a return on investment with White, but his $5.3 million cost this season isn't exactly a back-breaker. Both Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel -- both of whom are coming off questionable seasons themselves -- will make more than White, ranking him third on the receiver payroll. That may be where he is in the pecking order of the passing game, too, assuming he can hold off rookie Anthony Miller. 

White needs a year like Kyle Fuller had last season to justify a contract extension in Chicago. His NFL play has to match his college scouting report. It's hard imagining a scenario this season in which it will.

With all the money GM Ryan Pace dumped into the position this offseason with Robinson and Gabriel and the draft-day investment on Anthony Miller, all signs point toward 2018 being White's audition year for 31 other teams.

The Bears have to deliver a knockout blow to the Packers on Sunday

The Bears have to deliver a knockout blow to the Packers on Sunday

The Bears will clinch their first NFC North title in eight years with a win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, which would be a remarkable achievement for a team that hasn’t even contended for its own division over the last few seasons.

But winning on Sunday would not only officially guarantee the Bears a spot in the playoffs. It would effectively eliminate Aaron Rodgers and the Packers from playoff contention — and, likely, a wild card round date with the Bears at Soldier Field next month.

The Bears this week downplayed the importance of delivering a knockout blow to the Packers’ wobbly playoff hopes. The mantra around Halas Hall is all about controlling what you can control when it comes to winning the division or not paying attention to the recent history of this rivalry, in which Green Bay has won 15 of the last 18 meetings.

“Control what you can control and whatever else happens with every other team in the league, we can’t control that,” coach Matt Nagy said. “But we can control whether we win or lose and that’s all we want our guys to focus on.”

But that’s just the thing: The Bears actually have some control over who they’ll play in the first round of the playoffs. And would this team really want to play a Packers team that they’ve beat three times in the last eight years and, if it were to reach the postseason, would be on a four-game winning streak after firing its coach?

Or, maybe more succinctly: Would you really want to face Rodgers in the playoffs?

“We know that’s at stake, but as far as in their team and in this locker room, again it’s another opponent that we gotta beat,” wide receiver Allen Robinson said. “So we’re going to treat it like any other Sunday, try to go out there and get the W.”

Even if the 5-7-1 Packers were to beat the Bears, then win their final two games against the New York Jets and Detroit Lions, they’d need a few things to break their way to reach the playoffs. Football Outsiders gives Green Bay a 6.6 percent chance of reaching the postseason; for comparison, the same formula gives the Bears’ a 10 percent chance of earning a first-round bye.

The best the Packers can do is 8-7-1, and the Minnesota Vikings have the head-to-head tiebreaker over them. So for Green Bay to play into January, it would need to win out and have the following teams have these records or worse:

Minnesota (6-6-1, 54 percent chance of making playoffs): 1-2
Carolina (6-7, 14 percent): 2-1
Philadelphia (6-7, 11 percent): 2-1
Washington (6-7, 8.1 percent): 2-1

But looking at that list — is that really all that farfetched a scenario to play out? Carolina is on a five-game losing streak and still has to play the New Orleans Saints twice. The Eagles will be without Carson Wentz against the Los Angeles Rams this weekend, and may not have him the rest of the season. Washington is an unmitigated disaster.

So that leaves the Vikings, who have the Miami Dolphins (at home), the Lions (in Detroit) and the Bears (at home) to end the season. If Minnesota doesn’t get a new-OC bump (if that’s a thing) and loses to the AFC wild card-contending Miami Dolphins on Sunday, the door will crack further open for the Packers.

This all goes back to the Bears controlling what they can control. And while it may not be at the front of their collective minds this weekend, they can control this: Not playing the Packers in playoffs come January. The last Bears playoff team had a chance to ensure at the end of the 2010 season, but lost, 10-3, to the Packers…then lost again to Green Bay three weeks later in the NFC Championship.

“Really, we’re just trying to get our place, find our fit, find our mold,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “That’s just the bonus on top of it, a little icing on it. But we have to take care of our business. We’re not looking to just mess up something, we’re looking to get to where we want to do. We want to keep building and stacking on top of our stuff.”

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Better for it? The Bears’ Week 1 loss to Green Bay proved two critical things about 2018

Better for it? The Bears’ Week 1 loss to Green Bay proved two critical things about 2018

Going back and reading some of the quotes said by Bears players and Matt Nagy in the immediate aftermath of their gutting season-opening loss to the Green Bay Packers is enlightening, now that we’re three months and 12 games removed from it. 

Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd said “we have a bunch of guys that want to win.” Offensive lineman Kyle Long said “I thought the coaches did a great job.” Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said “We played together, we played as a team.” 

And coach Matt Nagy said his team did not, and would not, point any fingers in the aftermath of blowing a 20-point lead in front of a national audience. 

The point here being: This was a team that had an idea of how good it could be, even if it didn’t collectively show it over the final 15 minutes of a 24-23 loss at Lambeau Field. The Bears aren’t out for revenge with the Packers coming to Soldier Field on Sunday — yes, that Week 1 loss has stuck with them, but moreso as part of this team’s push to finish out games. Perhaps the best payback is where the two teams are in the standings: The Bears cannot be passed by the Packers in the NFC North, and with a win on Sunday would not only clinch the division but effectively eliminate Green Bay from the playoffs. 

“We’ve been watching the cut-ups, and it’s like 20-0 in the third and I’m just thinking, like, man, how did we lose this game?” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “But yeah, … I don’t think we see most of this game as a redemption game, but we definitely do remember it and we know what’s at stake and are just trying to get to win No. 10.”

Still, that Week 1 loss proved two things to the Bears that have been critical factors in their success in 2018:

1. An eye-opening experience

Khalil Mack had been with the Bears for all of one week before he debuted for his new team at Lambeau Field. Players knew how good he was from the highlights he made with the Oakland Raiders, and he made an immediate impression from the first practice rep he took. 

But there was something different about actually going out and playing with him in Green Bay. Mack was a terror, coming up with a sack-strip-fumble recovery all in one play and getting a pick-six while consistently pressuring Aaron Rodgers and DeShone Kizer in the first half. 

“The man came in, he absolutely changed the whole face of that game and our defense, we carried that momentum,” inside linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “Like, we got some dogs now, let’s go. 

“… Just to be out there, you got a different sense of it. Like, it’s really real when you’re out there. Bullets flying, you get to see what type of player you really have and I know we had a great player.”

The addition of Mack has been the biggest single factor in the Bears’ jump from being a top-10 defense in 2017 to being the NFL’s best defense in 2018 (anyone who wants to challenge that statement — go watch the tape from the Rams game). This was a defense bursting with confidence before the acquisition of Mack, but his pass-rushing presence has had a massive impact on the rest of this team. 

Opposing quarterbacks frequently are out of rhythm because of the threat of Mack getting to them, allowing guys like Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson to feel emboldened to be more aggressive. The Bears don’t have the best ballhawking secondary in the league solely because of Mack, but he’s been a significant help in this team having 25 interceptions after three consecutive years with only eight. 

“I don’t want to say he put us on the map because our defense was already there, but he just brought a whole new dynamic to our team,” Amukamara said. “Another (guy with) playmaking ability, and bringing that momentum and that adrenaline was something we could build off of.”

The Bears believed they could have a great defense in 2018, but the addition of Mack has taken it a step further: Vic Fangio’s group is building toward one of the best defensive seasons ever. And Mack proved that lofty of a goal would be possible with what he showed in Green Bay. 

2. Belief in their coach

Players grew to believe in and trust Nagy from their first team meeting in early April until their last practice before the regular season, so there was already a foundation in place when that 20-point advantage dissipated in the face of a sluggish offense and a classic Rodgers comeback. 

But how Nagy approached such a brutal defeat in the visiting locker room at Lambeau Field only furthered his players’ belief and trust in him. 

“Coach Nagy was very optimistic and he was saying, like, hey this one’s going to hurt but he was proud that we fought and he liked how we started and that we just needed to finish,” Amukamara said. “That’s huge. As a player after you let one slip by you, you don’t want to get beat down even more, so the fact that he was encouraged, I think that really lifted our spirits up and we got to see how he reacted after a game like that.”

That his message resonated so positively with players on both sides of the ball is remarkable given the circumstances: A first-time head coach with an offensive background blowing a 20-point lead to a historic rival, on the road, in primetime, when this franchise hasn’t had any success against said historic rival in a long time. 

But Nagy emerged from those circumstances with an even stronger reputation in the Bears’ locker room. Three months, nine “Club Dubs” and several postgame “booms” later, the Bears’ respect of Nagy is abundantly clear. 

“He’s our identity,” Trevathan said. “Whatever he says is our identity — we feel that way, but he says it. When he says it, it’s like dang, he really feels the same way we feel, he’s really on our side, that’s our coach, man. 

“… That’s just the type of coach Nagy is. He’s a different type of coach. It’s his first year, but it doesn’t look like it. It feels like he’s been with the team for a (while). He’s out there with his identity, he’s taking care of us and the team is just playing toward his attitude.”