Bears

Putting a bow on 2017 as 2018 really begins; What if Saquon Barkley falls to No. 8?

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USA TODAY

Putting a bow on 2017 as 2018 really begins; What if Saquon Barkley falls to No. 8?

The 2017 Bears season ended a couple months ago, and the 2018 “season” effectively began with the hiring of Matt Nagy and his staff. Personnel valuations by GM Ryan Pace in the wake of the season were done as a matter of routine, with second set of those undertaken looking at the roster through the prism of Nagy’s eyes. To that extent, there’s never really a dead period in the roster-repair shop at Halas Hall.

But the opening of the Scouting Combine in some respects signals the true start of the process, coming as it does just ahead of the March 12/14 start of free agency. With that in mind, one last look back at a couple of things that have played out since the end of the John Fox era:

Anyone else struck by some of the sentiments expressed by Fox, by guard Josh Sitton and by linebacker Pernell McPhee in their “exit” interviews?

One unmistakable thread in their comments was true disappointment at not being able to see through to conclusion what they were here to build. This was beyond the standard-issue thank-yous. McPhee told The Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs that he felt “disappointment in himself, “not finishing out my part.” Fox told me that it was “a bitter pill” that he couldn’t see it through, and his tone said so even more strongly.

Recall how Willie Young struggled with his emotions after he’d been given a contract extension before the 2016 season. It was about more than the money, which is why Young has been one of the most difficult keep-or-cut decisions up at Halas.

The point isn’t the verbiage so much as the theme, reflective of a pride in what they thought they could accomplish but didn’t. Contrast that with the deafening silence around exits by Martellus Bennett or Brandon Marshall. Even Matt Forte, whose first reaction was basically just mad and being treated like just a jersey number.

The point is the culture, something we’ve touched on here previously, but warrants mentioning again in the wake of and ahead of what’s coming. If it isn’t there, the whole will never become greater than the sum of the parts, which is some of why the Patriots accomplish what they do.

Fox will work again, on a sideline or a TV set. McPhee isn’t done. They were just saddened and cared that it didn’t happen in Chicago.

Inside “B-A-R-K-L-E-Y” is “B-E-A-R” – just sayin’

Saquon Barkley has been mock-drafted to Cleveland, the Giants, Indianapolis and Cleveland (again). But what if the Penn State running back, at this point one of the highest rated prospects in the 2018 draft irrespective of position, were on the board when the Bears’ turn came at No. 8?

Whether the organization is all-in on Jordan Howard as both the present and the future at the position is the issue. “All-in” can have different levels, as in “all-in – he’s our guy” or “all-in – he’s our guy unless we have a chance at huge upgrade.”

“He’s solid,” said one NFL executive, “but he’s no Todd Gurley.”

Would the Bears jump at what some regard as a generational talent and trade Howard? Probably not something that’ll present itself as a decision, but it’s pre-draft time, and GM Ryan Pace has revealed himself as nothing if not an aggressive round-1 trader. And the Bears in their first round are expected to target a playmaker who either scores touchdowns or has a lead role in preventing them.

In any case, consider: After a stretch of decidedly unspectacular draft picks at the running-back position, ostensibly struggling teams have turned themselves around with bold strikes at the one-time devalued position.

Jacksonville and Carolina selected running backs in last year’s top 10: Leonard Fournette to the Jaguars at No. 4, Christian McCaffery to the Panthers at No. 8. The Cowboys added Ezekiel Elliot at No. 4 of the 2016 draft. Gurley went 10th to the Rams in 2015.

All but the Rams from among those teams went from dismal to the playoffs in that back’s rookie year, and the Rams accomplished that in 2017, Gurley’s third season, when they finally got the quarterback position adjusted. Parenthetically, with Elliott out on a six-game suspension last season, the Cowboys missed the postseason.

What talent waits for the Bears in round 2?

Ryan Pace’s No. 1 picks rate an “Incomplete.” Kevin White has logged three injury-obliterated seasons; Leonard Floyd has missed 10 games in his two years; and Mitch Trubisky is a quarterback, by definition a spot needing time.

By comparison, Pace has struck some platinum in round 2’s – Eddie Goldman, a developing star nose-tackle; Cody Whitehair, already an anchor of the offensive line; and possibly Adam Shaheen, a small-college prospect who started slowly but still finished with 3 touchdowns and is in the spotlight going forward in the Matt Nagy/Mark Helfrich offense.

The lead public focus at the Combine will be on the talents projected for the top of the draft. The Bears will be tracking a lot more than that.

2019 NFL Draft Preview Show: How to watch online

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NBC Sports Chicago

2019 NFL Draft Preview Show: How to watch online

The pinnacle of the NFL offseason is NFL Draft night and it's finally here. This is the night that fortunes can change for teams with the right selections.

The Bears don't have a first or second round pick, but general manager Ryan Pace has been known to be aggressive and trade up in the draft. And the Bears are looking for depth on an already talented team that finished the 2018 sesason with a 12-4 record as the NFC North Champions.

All eyes will be on the running back class, where the Bears will look to add some talent alongside Tarik Cohen and Mike Davis.

NBC Sports has collected some of the best football minds from around the country to look ahead to draft in the NFL Draft Preview Show, which will begin at 2 p.m. CT and stream exclusively in the MyTeams App.

NBC Sports Boston’s Phil Perry will host and lead the discussions, including with our own Bears Inisder JJ Stankevitz. Fans can submit questions on social media using the hashtag #NFLDraftNBC.

Here's how you can watch NBC Sports' NFL Draft Preview Show online:

DATE: Thursday, April 25, 2019
TIME: 2 p.m. CT
WHERE: MyTeams App

Here are the guests:

Bears Insider: JJ Stankevitz
Raiders Insider: Scott Bair
49ers Insider: Matt Maiocco
Patriots Insider: Tom Curran
Seahawks Insider: Aaron Fentress
Eagles reporter: Derrick Gunn
Redskins Insider: J.P. Finlay
Rotoworld draft expert: Josh Norris

Catch up on our Bears NFL Draft preview coverage:

Mock Draft: Bears stick to best player available, wait to take a running back

On The Clock Draft Profiles:

- Memphis running back Darrell Henderson
Florida safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson
- Texas A&M running back Trayveon Williams
Temple safety Delvon Randall
North Dakota St. running back Bruce Anderson
Washburn cornerback Corey Ballentine
Iowa State running back David Montgomery
Oklahoma running back Rodney Anderson
Florida Atlantic running back Devin Singletary
Ohio State running back Mike Weber
Temple running back Ryquell Armstead
Boise State running back Alexander Mattison

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.

Finding the 'It Factor' – Teams pondering draft mega-deals need to study Bears’ hits, misses trading No. 1’s

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USA TODAY

Finding the 'It Factor' – Teams pondering draft mega-deals need to study Bears’ hits, misses trading No. 1’s

At some point of Thursday’s first night of the draft, history says that some team will push a big pile of draft chips over in front of another team at the NFL table in return for the latter’s pick. Some of those will work out; others will be considerably less than successful.

Just ask the Bears. Ask them why some of those mega-deals work and others don’t.

Last year it was Arizona trading up from No. 15 to Oakland’s spot at No. 10, taking quarterback Josh Rosen. The deal netted little, unless you believe that the NFL’s worst record and this year’s No. 1-overall pick count for something.

In 2017 it was the Bears going all-in for a one-spot move and Mitchell Trubisky. The Bears at least cashed one playoff check. Kansas City traded two No. 1’s and a 3 to move from 27 to 10 for Patrick Mahomes. Two slots later Houston traded two No. 1’s to move from No. 25 to 12 for Deshaun Watson.

The Bears, Chiefs and Texans all cashed playoff checks last offseason.

In 2016 the Rams traded up from 15 to No. 1 overall for Jared Goff. Philadelphia jumped from No. 8 to No. 2 for Carson Wentz. Both teams were in the 2017 and 2018 postseason, the Rams in the last Super Bowl.

In the might’ve-been category, Bears general manager Ryan Pace pondered a move from No. 7 to No. 2 in 2015 in a quest for Marcus Mariota but judged the price too steep.

The Cardinals’ Rosen gamble and the Bears’ for Trubisky – plus three other Bears mega-deals – offer case studies on the do’s and don’t’s of blockbuster trades involving top draft picks.

Three times in the past decade, and once 10-plus years before that, the Bears rocked the NFL with franchise-altering trades for what they hoped would be franchise-defining talents. Twice they appear to have gotten what they bargained for; twice, not so much, for intriguingly similar reasons.

These deals form a collective object lesson for teams (Oakland? Arizona?) contemplating the kinds of trades this week that the Bears made that brought them Jay Cutler, Khalil Mack, Rick Mirer and Mitchell Trubisky. Only the Bears-49ers deal that secured Trubisky represented a specifically draft-weekend trade; Cutler happened 10 years ago, ahead of the 2009 draft, Mirer was moved in February 1997 for a Bears No. 1 and Mack was a late-preseason deal.

But the four together serve as a collective trail of breadcrumbs regarding what is typically the difference between those kinds of blockbusters working out vs. blowing up on the acquiring team, in those cases the Bears, this draft, someone else.

Finding “It”

The critical element is, pure and simple, football character. It’s not talent. It’s the “It Factor.”

“The competitiveness, a guy playing with, we call it ‘dog’ or energy or swagger, those kinds of things,” Pace said. “There's more specific things I don't want to get to, but I would just say you can feel a guy's football character on tape and we're really strong on that.”

Mack and Trubisky have that essential football character, the “It Factor;” Cutler and Mirer didn’t. And the results reflected it.

The Cleveland Browns snagged “undersized” quarterback but leadership-heavy Baker Mayfield and improved by seven wins last season and by four prime-time games going into this one. Irrespective of any trade situations here, the Browns, like the Bears, can vouch for what happens without “It” – Johnny Manziel, Brandon Weeden, Brady Quinn.

Cutler, Mirer: leadership-lite

If there is a jolting difference that sticks out, it is that Pace very clearly has made football character a priority (Mike Glennon notwithstanding). Others haven’t.

Those inside Halas Hall at the time recall the personnel staff asking for evaluations of Cutler by the coaching staff. Those were done and included prescient, serious reservations about Cutler’s leadership and personality.

Those were disregarded by the dealmakers as not significant. They were. Cutler's Chicago teammates said all the right things about him, even as he was shoving one offensive lineman coming off the field, told another to shut up and play his own position at another point and was telling one position coach, on the practice field, to back off his fundamentals.

Cutler took a Lovie Smith team that reached the 2005 postseason behind Kyle Orton and the 2006 Super Bowl with Rex Grossman, and missed the playoffs four of his five Smith years, then in both of his Marc Trestman years and both of his John Fox years. Grossman and Orton were a combined 40-24 in Chicago. Cutler was 51-51.

Cutler simply wasn’t worth what the Bears gave up for him. It seemed obvious at the time (certain commentators who will remain nameless here were roasted for saying so at the time) and it proved out. He was in Chicago exactly what he’d been in Denver. He was the same middling quarterback with suspect “weapons” as he was with Pro Bowl’ers Martellus Bennett, Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, behind an offensive line that included Jermon Bushrod and Kyle Long, both Pro Bowl players.

Mirer was a disaster after the Bears chose to ignore his dismal four years with the Seattle Seahawks and give away. Mirer seemed perceptibly overmatched by the game when he was given three starts in ’97, all losses. He had no confidence and, worse, inspired none.

On the other hand, Mack and Trubisky… 

A rookie Trubisky told veteran Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton to shut up in a 2017 huddle (no one is supposed to talk in there except the quarterback), which Sitton respected and recounted. Not the same thing as embarrassing or disrespecting. Head coach Matt Nagy on more than one occasion last season made mention of Trubisky’s reactions to adversity and mistakes.

Football character. There is something to be said about a rookie quarterback who earns a complimentary nickname – “Pretty Boy Assassin" – from the defense for what he was doing to them running scout team. The defense’s nickname for Cutler doesn’t clear NBC censorship standards.

Mack brought with him from Oakland not only sacks, but also a mindset that took root in and resonated with an already-strong defensive unit.

“When you bring a guy like Khalil in,” Pace said, “I think the longer you’re around him, it’s not just the player, it’s his work ethic and it’s his professionalism and it’s everything he is as a person. And to have your best player be absolutely one of your harder workers is a great thing to have as a franchise.”

Football character.

The unfortunate reality is that character is harder to assess than talent. But as a handful of Bears transactions involving all-important high-round draft choices (and quarterbacks) have repeatedly demonstrated, arm strength, size, 40-times, all that stuff, don’t make up for a missing “It” factor if that targeted player doesn’t have “It.”

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.