Bears

Maybe Bill Lazor can help the Bears, but it's still Matt Nagy's offense to fix

Maybe Bill Lazor can help the Bears, but it's still Matt Nagy's offense to fix

The Bears have their next offensive coordinator, and his name is Bill Lazor. Really! It wasn’t Pat Shurmur, who’s with Vic Fangio in Denver now, or Mike Kafka, who was maybe a “longshot” candidate the way Dave Ragone was a “longshot” candidate in Tennessee last year. They hired Bill Lazor, who wasn’t coaching in the NFL last year but has an impressive resume. He’s coached under Joe Gibbs, Mike Holmgren, and Marvin Lewis; the list of QBs he’s worked with is somewhat less illustrious. 

If nothing else, it’s notable that the Bears hired someone with no connection to Nagy, especially after the rumored candidates all had a history with the head coach – not to mention the fact that their new offensive line and tight end coaches do too. In his first gig as a QB coach, Lazor was on a Washington team that benched 36-year old Mark Brunell after nine games in favor of Jason Campbell, their first round pick from the season before. He coached Charlie Frye, Matt Hasselbeck, and Seneca Wallace in Seattle during his time there in 2008-2009. Things didn’t go well. 

Then in 2013, Lazor was the QB coach in Philadelphia when Nick Foles threw for over 2,000 yards with 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions in 10 games, setting career-bests in basically every category. He went to Miami next, only to see Dolphins’ QB Ryan Fitzpatrick set a career-high in touchdowns (27) and have the second-best season, in terms of passing yards  (4045), of his career. Because being an assistant coach in the NFL is hell, Lazor was fired after that season, but landed in Cincinnati one year later. There, he coached Andy Dalton before becoming offensive coordinator, eventually being let go when Marvin Lewis stepped down in January of 2019. (And you’ll be SHOCKED to learn that at least two of those three QBs have already been connected to the Bears.)  

There’s more value in looking at Lazor’s work with quarterbacks than there is at his overall resume because he’s not coming to Chicago to fix the offense. It’s Matt Nagy’s brainchild, he’s calling the plays, etc. When George McCaskey was asked to assess what went wrong with the 2019 season, he rightfully pointed at several different factors – it just so happened that none of them involved the head coach (or GM). 

The consensus opinion on Lazor seems to be that he’s a smart guy who specializes in the kind of West Coast, RPO-ish offense that the Bears would run in their wildest dreams.

Lazor's offenses have never had a particularly effective run game, which is a fair cause for concern. Still, Mark Helfrich’s gone, and Chase Daniel’s probably not coming back either. Even if Trubisky wins the job next camp, it's not unlikely that QB2, at some point in Bourbonnais, was trying to be QB1 – as opposed to Chase Daniel, a lifelong backup who understood his role on the team. The Bears' brass have given every indication that they’re all-in on Nagy and still have faith in Trubisky, so it shouldn't be surprising when their hires reflect that. Nagy gets a guy with good QB success without the real threat of having his play-calling usurped, and Trubisky gets a new man in his corner during a critical offseason. Maybe it’s not the inspiring hire, but given all the facts, it’s not a surprising one either.

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Is Marcus Mariota the most logical QB target for the Bears?

Is Marcus Mariota the most logical QB target for the Bears?

Chicago Bears fans are sick and tired of the quarterback conversation surrounding this team as we enter the most important two month stretch of the offseason. My Twitter timeline (and vicious replies) are evidence of that. 

Duly noted.

That said, it's an unavoidable truth that GM Ryan Pace has no choice but to do something at quarterback in free agency or the NFL Draft. The most diehard Mitch Trubisky fan has to admit that. The former second overall pick hasn't developed into a franchise player through three seasons under center, and while the optimist would argue there's still time for him to become that guy, the realist is who must prevail when it comes to roster construction.

Marcus Mariota may be the perfect compromise. He doesn't have a resume that will immediately threaten Trubisky in 2020, but his sneaky upside combined with his youth and overall skill set is an ideal combination that could make him a long-term answer if Trubisky fails in the short-term.

According to Sports Illustrated, Chicago -- and coach Matt Nagy -- would be an ideal destination for Mariota, even if there's an inherent conflict of interest because both Mariota and Trubisky are represented by the same agent.

There are coaches out there—cough, Chicago, cough—who could slide him in easily under the guise that Mariota is a high-quality backup and develop him into a weapon under center who could take over when the starter falters.

Mariota, like Trubisky, hasn't lived up to the hype that he entered the NFL with back in 2015 when he was the second overall pick of the Titans. He's logged 61 starts and a career record of 29-32. He's completed just under 63% of his 1,110 career pass attempts and has 76 touchdown passes to 44 interceptions.

His stat sheet isn't impressive. His on-field play, at times, hasn't been, either. But he'd be an ideal reclamation project that the Bears can sell as the perfect backup even if the hope is for him to emerge as a starter.

There’s an advantage for QB-needy teams here who don’t want to deal with the public courting of Tom Brady, who don’t want to sacrifice mobility by signing Philip Rivers, who don’t want to roll the dice on every snap by signing Jameis Winston, and who don’t have the trade capital or cap space to go after someone like Nick Foles or Derek Carr.

Chicago won't be able to get into a bidding war for the bigger names like Tom Brady or even Teddy Bridgewater because of their limited cap space. Mariota won't command nearly as much to sign, and he's likely to get nothing more than a one-year commitment from a team hoping he can be like the guy who replaced him, Ryan Tannehill.

Of all the quarterbacks who've been pegged as a possible option for the Bears, Mariota feels like the most logical and, more importantly, cheaper targets who realistically could be lining up as the Chicago's starter by Week 4 of the 2020 season.

Bears should pay close attention to TE Cole Kmet at NFL Combine

Bears should pay close attention to TE Cole Kmet at NFL Combine

The 2020 NFL Combine kicks off on February 23, and the Bears will be one of 32 teams in attendance poking and prodding the 337 prospects who will try to run, jump and lift their way to a higher NFL draft grade.

General manager Ryan Pace will do his due diligence on all the players participating, but the Bears are without a first-round pick (again) and as a result, Pace's focus will be tailored to the cluster of prospects who are most likely to slide into Day 2. Chicago has two second-rounders and can upgrade the roster with two potential starters.

One player who should be at or near the top of the Bears' wish list is Notre Dame tight end Cole Kmet. According to former NFL general manager Charley Casserly, Kmet would be a perfect fit for Chicago in the second round and the prospect they should pay the closest attention to at the combine.

The Bears' biggest need on offense is tight end. There are several guys who would fit well in Matt Nagy's scheme, including Purdue's Brycen Hopkins, but why not aim for the best TE in his class in Kmet?

Kmet certainly checks most of the boxes for an NFL starting tight end. He ended 2019 with 43 receptions for 515 yards and six touchdowns, numbers that aren't a true reflection of his upside as a receiver in the pros. He'll be a classic case of a player who has a more productive NFL career than he had in college.  He's a good athlete who has upside as an inline blocker, too, even though he needs to get stronger to be a truly reliable player in the run game.

Even with some of the deficiencies in Kmet's game, he'd be a massive upgrade over the tight ends currently on the Bears roster like Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen and Jesper Horsted. He's a virtual lock to come off the board in the second round, so if Pace wants him in Chicago next season, he won't be able to wait long to draft him. In fact, it could require using the Bears' first pick -- No. 43 overall -- to lock him up.