Martavis Bryant wants a trade and the Bears need a receiver, but it's not as simple a match as that may seem

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Martavis Bryant wants a trade and the Bears need a receiver, but it's not as simple a match as that may seem

Unless his role in the Steelers’ offense changes, Martavis Bryant wants out of Pittsburgh, according to ESPN’s Josina Anderson. No doubt ears perked up across Chicago — and perhaps too at Halas Hall — with these comments and Bryant’s various social media postings over the last 48 hours. 

The Bears need a wide receiver (or two), and Bryant ostensibly is doing whatever he can to make himself available before the NFL’s Oct. 31 trade deadline. But that doesn’t necessarily mean this is a match. A few thoughts here:

Why would Pittsburgh want to trade him?

NFL coaches hate drama and “distractions,” and Bryant has now seemingly caused both in Mike Tomlin’s locker room. But follow the money: Bryant isn’t a free agent until after the 2018 season and is making $615,000 this year and $705,000 next year, the final two seasons of the former fourth-rounder’s rookie contract. For perspective, his combined 2017-2018 salary of $1,320,000 is only slightly higher than the $1 million the Bears guaranteed to Kendall Wright this year; if Wright is active in all 16 games, he’ll make $2 million in 2017, according to Spotrac. Tre McBride’s salary in 2017 is $615,000, too, according to Spotrac. 

The point: Bryant is cheap, and it’s a lot easier to put up with a malcontent who isn’t being paid much than one who could be cut or traded for salary cap savings. Bryant’s representatives actually asked for him to be traded three weeks ago but the Steelers, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, have no plans to follow through on that request

While Bryant’s role has decreased with the emergence of second-round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster (26 targets, 17 receptions, 231 yards, three touchdowns), he’s still the third-most targeted player on the Steelers (36) behind Antonio Brown (84) and Le’Veon Bell (42), though that seems likely to change after Bryant was only targeted five times in his last two games. Pittsburgh is 5-2 and looks ticketed for the playoffs, so removing someone from their offense — even if that someone is disgruntled — who isn’t making much money and is under team control through 2018 doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. 

Why would the Bears want him?

The obvious answer to this question is the Bears need all the help they can get for a wide receiver unit that’s been targeted only five times (between two players — Wright and Tanner Gentry) on Mitchell Trubisky’s 23 throws in the last two weeks. Bryant is an explosive receiver who’s averaged 16.5 yards per reception and has 15 touchdowns since debuting with the Steelers in 2014. He’d certainly give opposing defenses pause in stacking the box with eight defenders against Jordan Howard. 

The upside here is making a win-now move to provide a jolt to the offense. It could be a low-risk move in a sense, maybe costing a seventh-rounder to get him, and then if he doesn’t work out, it wouldn’t hurt too much to cut him after the season. But there are downsides here.

First, if the Steelers are actually willing to trade Bryant — again, a cheap player who’s under team control for another year and a half — it could mean he’s *really* a problem in the locker room. And that’s a locker room full of veterans, led by Ben Roethlisberger (though offensive lineman Ramon Foster's comments may indicate a breaking point is near). 

Second, the Bears traded away two of their most productive offensive players — tight end Martellus Bennett and wide receiver Brandon Marshall — in recent years in the name of locker room harmony. John Fox is no different than most NFL coaches in not wanting drama in his locker room. Bryant was suspended by the NFL for the entire 2016 season for repeated drug violations, which raises a “character concerns” flag around the league. 

Third, if those concerns turn out not to be founded, and Bryant were to arrive in Lake Forest with a fresh outlook, another pressing question should be asked: Why did he lose his once-prominent role in the Steelers’ offense? 

We saw it first-hand in Chicago in Week 3, when Bryant burned Marcus Cooper downfield but had Roethlisberger’s deep heave glance of his fingertips. He’s only been targeted five times in Pittsburgh’s last two games, catching three passes for 30 yards. It’s worth questioning if Bryant’s year-long suspension has hurt his play in 2017. 

Bryant, too, has had success playing opposite Brown, one of the very best receivers (if not the best) in the NFL. How would he handle being the No. 1 focus of opposing cornerbacks and defenses? That’s a question better answered by scouting departments around the league, but if the Bears were to determine the answer to that question as “not well,” he might not help the receivers as much as it may seem. 

So there are a lot of layers here that would have to be dug through for anything with Bryant and the Bears to materialize. It’s possible that could happen, but it’s not as simple as saying "the Bears need a receiver, so they should try to get Martavis Bryant.” 

Is Jordan Howard underrated in fantasy football?

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Is Jordan Howard underrated in fantasy football?

Jordan Howard has accomplished some pretty amazing things to start his career. Most notably, he's the only running back in Chicago Bears franchise history to finish his first two seasons with more than 1,000 rushing yards, including 1,313 yards as a rookie, good for a team rookie record.

Still, Howard has been the target of criticism this offseason because of his questionable set of hands. He was plagued by a case of the drops last season and he's been labeled as a guy who can't catch the ball heading into 2018. Combine that with the player nipping at his heels -- Tarik Cohen -- and the overwhelming theory advanced by analysts is that he'll give way to Cohen on passing downs.

This presumption has made its way into the world of fantasy football, too. Howard is rarely if ever mentioned as one of the first running backs that should be drafted this summer and in a recent player vs. player showdown on Pro Football Focus, 49ers starter Jerick McKinnon was selected as a more appealing fantasy starter in 2018.

It’s close, but I give the nod to Jerick McKinnon. Howard’s troubles in the passing game are very real and it’s clear the Bears want to focus on that more this year. Meanwhile, McKinnon was handed a fat contract and has little competition when it comes to carries.

McKinnon, a career backup, was signed by San Franciso to be Kyle Shanahan's feature running back. He has a real chance to be a stud in fantasy circles, but should he be valued over a guy like Howard who's proven to be a contender for the NFL's rushing crown?

All of this offseason chatter will serve as great motivation for Howard who has to prove, first and foremost, that he can be a three-down back for coach Matt Nagy in the Bears' new offense. If he has a consistent training camp as a receiver and carries that momentum into the preseason and regular season, those fantasy players who draft McKinnon or another less-proven player over Howard will long for a redo.

15 Most Important Bears of 2018: No. 8 - Eddie Goldman

15 Most Important Bears of 2018: No. 8 - Eddie Goldman

Eddie Goldman is entering the final year of his contract this season and in order to cash in on a big payday, he'll need to stay healthy and make good on his top-tier potential. 

If he does, he'll become a very wealthy man and the Bears defense will have an even better year than its top-10 finish a season ago.

Goldman, 24, came to Chicago via the second round of the 2015 NFL draft and quickly became a household name among Bears fans. He started 12 games that season and finished with a surprising 4 1/2 sacks, a total that was more productive than his college scouting report predicted. He was pegged as a breakout star for 2016, but injuries ultimately derailed his second season. He played only six games that year (started five) but still flashed a surprisingly productive set of pass-rush traits; he finished 2016 with 2 1/2 sacks.

This past season represented something of a mixed bag for Goldman. He started 15 games and quieted some of the injury concerns that started bubbling around him, but his production dipped. He managed only 1 1/2 sacks. That said, he set a career-high with 27 tackles, nearly doubling his output as a rookie.

Still, Goldman wasn't a dominant force in 2017. He finished the year ranked 69th among interior defenders with a 76.3 grade from Pro Football Focus. Despite being healthy and available, it was the lowest season grade of his career from PFF.

Nose tackle is arguably the most critical position for any defense running a 3-4 scheme. It's no exception in Chicago. Goldman will set the table for linebackers Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith and the more bodies he can consume or attention he can draw from offensive lines, the more room second-level defenders will have to work. It's not just about filling up the stat sheet for Goldman. If he clogs running lanes and collapses the pocket consistently, he'll be worth every penny of a big contract extension despite lacking numbers.

The Bears need Goldman to bring his A-game in 2018, especially as a pass rusher. Chicago resides in arguably the most talented quarterback division in the NFL and for the defense to make those quarterbacks uncomfortable, Goldman has to apply pressure up the middle. He's proven he can do it, as evidenced by his rookie year production. But he's been on a steady decline in this area of his game since then and there's no room for more regression in 2018.

Players entering contract years tend to bring extra motivation to the field and there's no reason to expect anything less from Goldman. If he can combine his rookie year production with last season's availability, he could end up with the most well-rounded year of his career en route to leading the Bears' defensive line on a late-season playoff push.