Bears

Love 'em or hate 'em, the Patriots are the best thing that could be happening to the NFL right now

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USA TODAY

Love 'em or hate 'em, the Patriots are the best thing that could be happening to the NFL right now

The New England Patriots, Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and all that comes with them are the best thing the NFL has going for it right now. The best. And the worst, which also feeds into them being the best thing for a league and its fans.

The best, on two accounts. To satisfy a couple of core cravings, football at once needs the Patriots to be great, and needs them to lose. With its ratings, concussion, disciplinings, anthem protests and other smudges on the shield, the NFL didn’t need a Jacksonville-Atlanta Super Bowl (insert conspiracy theory here). The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference, and the rising foe of the NFL is indifference.

The one obvious role that the Patriots fill is that of the Dark Side of the Force, the team that the general population likes to hate. High-concept drama demands an antagonist, a villain, a worthy adversary, a Darth Vader for an Obi-Wan — or in this case a team that arguably draws a segment of viewership comprised of folks who’ve pegged the Patriots as cheaters and harbor the fervent hope of seeing them lose and brought low.

Think old New York Yankees dynasty, without juiced (or under-inflated) baseballs. Think Oakland Raiders/Black Hole, just with a better wardrobe, nothing with spiked shoulders, and no Jack Tatum. And the more arrogant, the better: “America’s Team” Dallas Cowboys. Alabama and Nick Saban. Duke and Mike Krzyzewski.

A bunch of USA college kids winning Olympic hockey gold in ’80 over Finland was great, terrific. But it needed the defeat of the Mighty Rooskies to accord it “Miracle” status for all time.

Maybe it’s all about us as Americans. We’re a nation of underdogs (the Redcoats were 6-to-1 favorites in the Revolution, which was an upset rivaling Appalachian State over Michigan). We root for and relate to underdogs. And you can’t have a longshot underdog unless there’s a villainous heavy on the other side. Without Goliath, David is just a bratty kid good with a slingshot. The Patriots are the greatest Goliath in NFL history from the sustained angle of longevity and conquests.

Ideal for counter-rooting purposes, New England fuels the antagonism with tales of cheating. That runs against our American cultural grain. We’re OK if you whip us on the up’n’up, but cheating makes you icky. And admit it: You did feel a little bit pleased at the story of supposed antipathy among Belichick, Brady and Bob Kraft, didn’t you?

Wanted: One Snow White

But what makes the Patriots intriguing is that they also fill a void rooted in NFL parity, an NFL with plenty of dwarfs but in desperate need of a Snow White.

There lives in the sports soul a desire to know that there is greatness, not just one team or player. Put another way, there is a need for excellence, some context for what we are witnessing, some standard. The Patriots are that, just as the Green Bay Packers were in the 1960s, the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s, the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s, the Dallas Cowboys through the early 1990s. You might not have liked them, but they provided a standard against which your team and others could be measured.

Flashes of "very good" aren’t good enough. The Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos fielded historically good defenses in their winning Super Bowls. But only one each. Outside of the ’85 Bears, one year does not earn a spot in any “greatest” discussion.

Players so often talk about wanting to go against the best. They do want to win, but it does mean more when it’s against established greatness. Intercepting Tom Brady means more than intercepting Mike Glennon.

It just does.

Top 30 free agents of the 2020 NFL offseason

Top 30 free agents of the 2020 NFL offseason

The first phase of the 2020 NFL offseason will kick off on March 18 when the signing period for free agency officially begins. Teams can negotiate with free agents beginning on March 16, and the Bears are expected to be among the cluster of clubs searching for upgrades at several key positions.

GM Ryan Pace is likely to focus his free-agent budget on a veteran quarterback, help along the offensive line, and the secondary where players like Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Prince Amukamara face uncertain futures. There's also the tight end problem, which Pace can use free agency to land a quick fix.

This year's free-agent class his headlined by high-upside yet risky players. Many of the top names are coming off of breakout seasons but have resumes of underwhelming production.

Here's a look at the top 30 free agents scheduled to hit the open market.

Top 30 free agents of the 2020 NFL offseason

Kyle Long looking forward to 'seeing what another set of eyes from a coaching perspective can give Mitch'

Kyle Long looking forward to 'seeing what another set of eyes from a coaching perspective can give Mitch'

Former Bears offensive linemen Kyle Long appeared on The Rap Sheet and Friends podcast hosted by NFL insider Ian Rapoport and he didn't shy away from questions about Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Long, while stating that he understood the questioning and criticism that Trubisky faces, still believes in him.

"The Bears have won with Mitchell Trubisky."

Indeed Mitch was the starter for 14 games of the Bears 12-4 season before this year's 8-8 disappointment. The issue was Trubisky's play was of course, as he didn't show any noticeable improvement in 2019 after tossing 24 touchdowns in 2018. "We all regressed this year, but unfortunately heavy lies the head that wears the crown, and Mitch is the captain," Long said. 

"Mitch is the quarterback. He’s also suited to take the stuff that he’s gotta deal with, and that’s what I love about Mitch. He can deal with the noise, and he’s young. He’s so young."

Long seems excited by the idea of Chicago's hires, saying that new faces could have quite the positive effect on Trubisky’s game "I’m looking forward to seeing what another set of eyes from a coaching perspective can give Mitch. It’ll be cool to see.”

This offseason the Bears have brought in a new offensive coordinator (Bill Lazor), quarterbacks coach (John DeFilippo), and promoted former quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone to passing game coordinator. Bears head coach Matt Nagy, similar to Long, has faith in Trubisky developing, especially in regard to Ragone. In December Nagy said, “I think I know Mitch better than anybody in this building, except maybe Dave Ragone.”

Long certainly seems to miss his teammates though he clearly has no regrets about his decision. He and Trubisky definitely share a bond that will last long beyond their playing days. “I love the kid, he’s a great friend obviously, a teammate, but I’m looking forward to seeing him develop.”

Similar to the message delivered by the Bears’ front office, Long was in full support of Trubisky throughout the entire interview.

"Mitch is the quarterback. He’s also suited to take the stuff that he’s gotta deal with, and that’s what I love about Mitch. He can deal with the noise...”

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