Should the NFL’s playoff changes affect the Bears quarterback search

Should the NFL’s playoff changes affect the Bears quarterback search

If the NFL’s proposed collective bargaining agreement is ratified, seven teams from each conference will make the playoffs in 2020— a change that will immediately alter the league's player movement landscape in the coming weeks and months.

Under the proposed structure, the Los Angeles Rams would’ve been the NFC’s No. 7 seed in 2019, with the 8-8 Bears finishing one game out of a playoff spot (really, two games, given they lost to the Rams). But as the Tennessee Titans showed last year, just getting into the dance can spark an underdog run to a conference title game. The vast majority of the NFL — those not in full-on tank mode — should view the potential for a seventh playoff spot as a license to be more aggressive in the free agent and trade market as soon as a few weeks from now.

So, should the Bears look at this new CBA as reason to be more aggressive in pushing to acquire one of the big-name quarterbacks who will, or could, be available this year? After all, merely slightly better quarterback play could’ve leapfrogged the Bears past the Rams and into the playoffs a year ago.

The prospect of Teddy Bridgewater or Derek Carr or Andy Dalton representing that upgrade feels tantalizing on the surface, right?

But the CBA’s addition of a seventh playoff team does not, as far as we know, also include an addition of significantly more cap space available to teams in 2020, even if the salary cap has increased 40 percent over the last five years. An extra $25 million is not walking through that door to add to the roughly $14 million the Bears currently have in cap space, per the NFLPA’s public salary cap report.

So that means every reason we laid out why the Bears should not make a splash move at quarterback remains valid, even with the NFL lowering its postseason barrier to entry.

The Bears’ best bet in 2020 remains signing a cheaper quarterback like Case Keenum or Marcus Mariota (who shares an agent with Mitch Trubisky, potentially complicating things) and banking on roster improvements being the thing that gets them back into the playoffs. Adding a quarterback for $17 million — Dalton’s price — or more would hamstring the Bears’ ability to address critical needs at tight end, right guard, inside linebacker and safety, thus giving the Bears a worse roster around a quarterback who’s no sure bet to be good enough to cover for the holes his cap hit would create.

Does it feel like a good bet? No, and maybe feels worse if it’s easier to get in the playoffs in 2020. But a Trubisky-Keenum pairing, complete with a new starting right guard to help the run game and more than just Demetrius Harris to upgrade the tight end room, is a better bet than Dalton or Bridgewater and a worse roster around them.

Also: This new playoff structure will tilt the balance of power significantly toward the No. 1 seeds in each conference. The last time a team made the Super Bowl without the benefit of a first-round bye was after the 2012 season, when the No. 4 seed Baltimore Ravens won the title. Otherwise, every Super Bowl participant since hasn't played on wild card weekend. 

So while the Bears may become closer to the playoffs if the new CBA is ratified, they won’t be closer to getting a No. 1 seed. And that holds true even if they were to find a way to sign Tom Brady.

Getting in the playoffs can spark something special. But the Bears’ best path back to meaningful January football still involves an inexpensive approach to addressing their blaring need for better quarterback play. 
Is it ideal? No.

But it’s far less ideal to be in this situation three years after taking the first quarterback off the board with 2017’s No. 2 overall pick. 

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Why Bears made Robert Quinn their big signing in NFL free agency

Why Bears made Robert Quinn their big signing in NFL free agency

Only five players were guaranteed more money in free agency than Robert Quinn, whose five-year, $70 million deal with the Bears includes $30 million guaranteed. Somehow, general manager Ryan Pace and cap guru Joey Laine managed to land one of the biggest free agents of 2020 despite not having a ton of money to spend. 

But why Quinn and not a cornerback, safety, right guard, tight end or quarterback? The Bears entered free agency with true, glaring needs at those five positions. So it was not only surprising that the Bears landed a big fish, but also that it was Quinn. 

Meanwhile, Ryan Pace went bargain shopping with Artie Burns and Tre Roberson at cornerback, and Deon Bush/DeAndre Houston-Carson/Jordan Lucas at safety. See also: Germain Ifedi at right guard. Nick Foles and Jimmy Graham weren’t cheap, but also weren’t Teddy Bridgewater or Austin Hooper. 

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But looking at how free agency played out, the Bears’ call to go with Quinn (and jettison Leonard Floyd) does make sense.  

“We just feel like Quinn’s a proven pass rusher,” Pace said. “He’s got excellent edge speed. He’s got outstanding ability to bend the corner and I think we can take a position of strength on our defense and we make it even stronger and more dangerous when you add Quinn and you combine him with the players that are already up there, especially up front.”

The Bears’ 2020 defense feels like a bet on an elite pass rush covering for some potential deficiencies in the secondary. Eddie Jackson and Kyle Fuller are still there, but can a battle between Kevin Toliver II/Burns/Roberson/TBD draft pick produce a true starting-caliber corner? Or can Bush slide into a starting role next to Jackson after spending the last three seasons almost exclusively as a backup?

It’d be ideal for the Bears if the answers to those questions were yes. But what if opposing quarterbacks don’t consistently have enough time to throw because Mack, Quinn, Hicks, Roy Robertson-Harris, etc. are wrecking things in the pocket?

There’s certainly a thought in some NFL circles that great coverage is preferable to a great pass rush — it’s worked well for the New England Patriots, after all — but it’s not a hard-and-fast rule. Not every team gets to have an in-his-prime Khalil Mack. The Bears do. Signing Quinn to help maximize Mack’s impact makes a lot of sense. 

The money makes sense, too. Quinn is guaranteed $30 million, sure, but his $6.1 million cap hit in 2020 ranks 32nd among this year’s free agent signings. That’s really how the Bears made this work — big-ticket cornerbacks James Bradberry and Byron Jones are in the top five of 2020 free agent cap hits, while Bridgewater’s $14 million bargain is more than double Quinn’s cost. 

So all those factors led the Bears to Quinn. This feels like the right kind of signing, one that’ll help give the Bears a top-five defense — even if there may still be some holes in the back end of it. Floyd wasn't cutting it, despite his run-stuffing and coverage skills. The Bears needed to make their pass rush better, and did with signing Quinn.

Good thing that coin flip (metaphorical or not) wound up on the Bears’ side of things. 

“It's always been a defensive kind of team what was always presented to me about the city,” Quinn said. “So that was always an exciting thing going into a town like that where they love to see defense. Points of 0 versus 100, you know. So that's always exciting, plus the talent they already have there. Who can't get excited to join up with guys like Mack, Fuller, (Akiem) Hicks, (Eddie) Goldman, (Danny) Trevathan?”


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Here are 5 Bears games to watch while celebrating Roquan Smith's birthday

USA Today

Here are 5 Bears games to watch while celebrating Roquan Smith's birthday

It's Roquan Smith's birthday! Happy birthday to Roquan Smith – so sorry you have to spend it on Zoom. Hope you treat yourself to the finest meal Grubhub can offer. 

You don't really need a reason to, but since it's his birthday, now seems like as good a time as ever to revisit some of Smith's best games. And thanks to NFL GamePass, that's super easy to do. So here are five places to start, and we'll save the best for last. 

Hon mention: 2018 Week 1 vs. Green Bay (sack on first snap of his career); 2018 Wild Card (INT and six solo tackles, but Double-Doink, soooo). 

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2018 Week 9 @ Buffalo

Crazy how this game keeps showing up on Bears highlight lists! Everyone on the defense had a big day against the Bills, but Smith was especially outstanding. He had a game-high 10 solo tackles – 12 overall – despite only playing 86% of the defensive snaps. And even though Eddie Jackson got credit for forcing the fumble that he then returned for a touchdown, it looks like maaaaybe the FF should have gone to Smith: 

Interestingly enough, Pro Football Focus is bearish on his performance – specifically against the run and in pass rush – against the Bills; Smith's overall grade (58.1) is among the worst of his career. Either way, it's still a fun game to watch for a dozen reasons, one of them being his performance. 

2018 Week 12 @ Detroit

There's Roquan Smith, and then there's Roquan Smith against the Lions. In his first game against Detroit, exactly 10 weeks into his career, Smith played 99% of the defensive snaps while putting up nine solo tackles (10 overall), a sack, a tackle for loss, a QB hit, and a pass deflected. Contextually, it was a big sack, too: Smith got to Stafford on a 3rd-and-9 from the Bears'  30, forcing the Lions to bring out kicker Matt Prater for a 55-yard try. They'd eventually call a timeout and choose to punt instead. On top of all that, it was his highest-graded performance of the season according to PFF, so they're not always grumps! 

2019 Week 2 @ Denver

Smith's stat sheet is underwhelming in this game, but don't let that fool you – it's one of his more impressive games. For starters, it was approximately 165 degrees in Denver that afternoon (temp at kickoff was 87 so actually pretty close). A funny thing about being at that close to the sun is that it sucks in every way. The Bears were gassed that afternoon. Smith finished the game with 13 total tackles – the same amount he had against the Dolphins in equally miserable conditions – and was a major part of holding the Broncos to under 100 rushing yards on the day. Come for Eddy Pineiro's game-winning BOMB, stay for Smith's persistent run-stopping. 

2018 Week 14 vs. LA Rams

He's had better all-around games, but there's never a bad time to watch Smith grab the first and easiest interception of his career: 

He finished the game with six total tackles and a pass deflection, but also played 59 snaps for a defense that held the previously 11-1 Rams to 52 rushing yards and 187 passing. He had an equally impressive game against the Rams in 2019, too, so if you want to sub that in here, go for it. You probably have the time to watch both honestly. 

2019 Week 12 @ Detroit

I don't think there's any question that this is Smith's best game as a pro. Playing on three day's rest, Smith set career-highs in sacks (2.0) and total tackles (16)(!!), tackles for loss (2), and QB hits (2) against Detroit on Thanksgiving. He was far and away the Bears' best player on a day when Mitch Trubisky threw for 338 yards and Anthony Miller had nine catches for 140 yards. It was also basically the last time played in 2019 – Smith would suffer a season-ending pectoral injury 17 snaps into the following week's game against Dallas. 

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