Nick Kwiatkoski is primed to cash in as a free agent

Nick Kwiatkoski is primed to cash in as a free agent

This week Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated included Bears linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski in his ‘Free Agents Ready to Cash In’ section of his Monday Morning Quarterback (MMQB) column.

He describes the 26-year-old 2016 fourth-round pick as someone ready to cash in at the right time as he enter free agency.

Here’s the guy who’d never really gotten the chance to be a full-time starter, then did… at just the right time. The fourth-year former fourth-round pick started Chicago’s final seven games and showed that he can play the middle for someone, and he could get paid after guys like Cory Littleton and Joe Schobert come off the board. And maybe that someone will be his old coordinator, Vic Fangio in Denver.

The right time he is referring to is when Kwiatkoski started the final seven games of the Bears’ disappointing 2019 season while Danny Trevathan was injured. During those starts, he averaged seven tackles per game.

Breer isn’t the only analyst noticing Kwiatkoski after his solid stretch to close out 2019. After Week 10’s matchup against the Lions, Kwiatkoski earned Pro Football Focus’ highest grade for linebackers with a score of 92.4. In that game, he racked up eight tackles, one sack and one interception against Detroit, helping to bring home the W for the Bears on Thanksgiving.

The West Virginia alum and four-year NFL veteran proved how well he could play the middle, with Breer speculating he may be picked up by his old defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, now with the Broncos.  Entering free agency this offseason, Ryan Pace is stuck in the position of having to chose between Kwiatkoski and Trevathan, whose contract is also expiring and spent the better part of the season out with a shoulder injury. The Bears can’t afford them both after Kwiatkoski’s value surely skyrocketed this season. It has yet to be seen where he or Trevathan will land. 

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Is Kyle Fuller the Bears' best 1st-round pick since 2010?

Is Kyle Fuller the Bears' best 1st-round pick since 2010?

The 2020 NFL draft is quickly approaching, and unfortunately for Bears fans, it'll mark the second year in a row that Chicago will be without a first-round pick. Then again, that's the price a team must pay to land a generational talent like Khalil Mack.

Still, the draft is more fun when the Bears have a first-rounder. 

But that fun has more often than not quickly turned into disappointment. Chicago's first-round success rate hasn't been very good, especially over the last 10 years.

Here's Chicago's first-round breakdown over the last decade:

2010: NONE
2011: Gabe Carimi (OL, Wisconsin)
2012: Shea McClellin (Edge, Boise State)
2013: Kyle Long (OL, Oregon)
2014: Kyle Fuller (CB, Virginia Tech)
2015: Kevin White (WR, Va Tech)
2016: Leonard Floyd (Edge, Georgia)
2017: Mitch Trubisky (QB, UNC)
2018: Roquan Smith (LB, Georgia)
2019: NONE

First, let's look at the obvious problem: Two of the last 10 drafts resulted in zero first-round picks. Not great. 

Of the remaining eight picks, five are no longer with the team (Carimi, McClellin, Long, White, and Floyd). While Long was a solid starter during his tenure in Chicago, Carimi, McClellin, White, and Floyd were downright busts.

Then there's Trubisky, who might be the most important first-round selection in franchise history. His career is on life support after the Bears traded for Nick Foles this offseason. He's trending in the wrong direction.

Smith, who's flashed elite playmaking upside during his first two seasons in the league, had some bizarre off-field issues in 2019 that impacted his growth as a starter last year. His arrow is still pointing up, but he has to prove he can be relied on for 16 games.

That leaves Fuller, who was recently dubbed the Bears' best first-round pick of the last decade.

Since being drafted 14th overall in 2014, Fuller has been a starter at corner from nearly day one. With the exception of a 2016 season wiped out by a knee injury, Fuller has started all but two games over five years.

The 28-year-old has 18 career interceptions, including seven in 2018 (which tied for the NFL lead). In each of the past two seasons, the former Virginia Tech standout has been named to the Pro Bowl

It's a fair assessment of Fuller's impact, especially when compared to the rest of his first-round brethren. Chicago's failure to hit on first-round picks has been a big reason why they've struggled to sustain success in recent years and will continue to be why they won't be taken seriously as a Super Bowl contender.

The Bears' first selection in the 2020 NFL draft won't come until the second round, No. 43 overall, but with two picks in the top 50, Pace has a chance to add two impact players to a roster that isn't far away from competing for an NFC North title.

    Kyle Long anxious for 'true' QB competition with Nick Foles, Mitch Trubisky

    Kyle Long anxious for 'true' QB competition with Nick Foles, Mitch Trubisky

    Former Bears offensive lineman Kyle Long knows Mitchell Trubisky very well. They were teammates for the last three years in Chicago. 

    But even Long is anxious to see how the Bears quarterback will respond after general manger Ryan Pace traded for Nick Foles last month.

    “I've never seen Mitch Trubisky in at true, true, true quarterback competition,” Long told NBC Sports Chicago this week. "And if that's what they're going to brand this thing as, then I hope to see that really happen."

    Foles has the trust of the coaching staff, having played for head coach Matt Nagy, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo in the past. And for that reason, many people are doubting Trubisky’s chances of actually winning the QB competition.

    “If they're bringing in a guy to take his position from Day 1, so be it, but let's not up and say it, so we're clear,” Long said. “It's like being in a relationship with somebody. You set boundaries, you communicate, and that's how you understand. But if you've got two guys competing, and that's a true competition, I'm anxious to see what Mitch is going to respond like.”

    That seems to be the big question. As Long said, Trubisky has never really been threatened for his job ever since he took it from Mike Glennon in 2017. And no one is really doubting how Foles (who played with Long’s brother, Chris, in Philadelphia) will handle the situation.

    “We all know how Nick will be. He's going to be Nick Foles,” Long said. “(Chris) says he's a great competitor. A winner. Obviously a Super Bowl champion. A really good guy. He likes Nick a lot.”

    And like many fans, Long was happy to see a move at quarterback, even if it meant a competition for his friend and former teammate.

    “Kudos to the Bears for making a move and shutting some people up in Chicago,” he said. 

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