Six degrees of Matt Nagy separation: Bears in sync with NFL undergoing QB sea change


Six degrees of Matt Nagy separation: Bears in sync with NFL undergoing QB sea change

Maybe call it “six degrees of QB separation from Matt Nagy”…

By the time the 2018 season starts, the Bears new head coach will have been involved with a surprisingly high percentage of starting NFL quarterbacks: Mitch Trubisky in Chicago, Alex Smith in Washington after a trade from the Chiefs, and Pat Mahomes, Smith’s successor behind center in Kansas City. But wait, there’s more.

Throw in that Nagy was quarterbacks coach under Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson when Pederson was Kansas City’s offensive coordinator (2013-15), and you have a one-off connection between Nagy and Carson Wentz. Too much of a stretch there? OK, maybe, but Nagy was in both Philadelphia and Kansas City during Nick Foles’ times in those two places. And let’s not go to sleep on Chase Daniel, a Chiefs backup in 2013-15 as well as Wentz’s backup in Philadelphia during the 2016 season and who might wind up as Trubisky’s understudy this offseason.

(Of course, there’s the link of Daniel being in New Orleans from 2010-12 when Ryan Pace was a rising Saints personnel guy, and Pace hired Nagy, so…

And 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo went to Eastern Illinois, Pace went to Eastern Illinois, Pace hired Nagy, so Nagy and Garoppolo… naah, that’s a little much, right? OK, fine….)

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But Nagy, Trubisky, Mahomes, Wentz and a handful of others are very much part of a sea change coming for the NFL, one involving the central position – quarterback – of a team and, by extension, of the entire sport.

By the start of the 2018 season, a number approaching half of the NFL could be opening the year with a starting quarterback having three or fewer years in that role, for those teams, or any teams. As it already stands, more than one-fourth of the NFL projects to go into the 2018 season with quarterbacks with three or fewer years as NFL starters:

1-3 NFL seasons completed

Jared Goff                  LA Rams

Deshone Kizer          Cleveland

Jimmy Garoppolo*   San Francisco

Marcus Mariota         Tennessee

Dak Prescott             Dallas

Mitch Trubisky          Bears

Deshaun Watson     Houston

Carson Wentz           Philadelphia

Jameis Winston        Tampa Bay

This includes Garoppolo, who became the 49res starter in his fourth NFL year but with the first three as a little-used backup to Tom Brady. But it does not include quarterbacks coming in via the 2018 draft, projected to have as many as four quarterbacks selected within the first six picks by teams in dire straits at the position (include Cleveland in that mix irrespective of Kizer):

Josh Allen, Wyoming       

Sam Darnold, USC

Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

Josh Rosen, UCLA

Kirk Cousins could remove one of those in-need teams from the list of ones in the hands (literally and figuratively) of youngsters. But the early-career successes of Goff, Prescott, Wentz, Watson and arguably even Trubisky point to a copycat league growing increasingly comfortable with relative novices leading their teams.

This becomes even more attractive given players being under their rookie contracts vs. veteran ones. Mahomes’ Kansas City contract is four years for a guaranteed $16.4 million, plus a fifth-year option. Alex Smith’s new deal with Washington pays him $17 million for just 2018 alone. Trubisky will cost the Bears $29 million over four years – what Cousins may cost someone for just 2018.

One justified criticism of Pace is that he and the John Fox staff tried to make the Jay Cutler thing work instead of addressing the quarterback position sooner, both financially and developmentally. Old news at this point; right now the Bears with Nagy and Trubisky are right in step with the NFL.

Charles Leno, Jr. on Harry Hiestand: 'He's getting us better'

USA Today

Charles Leno, Jr. on Harry Hiestand: 'He's getting us better'

Chicago Bears left tackle Charle Leno, Jr. has outplayed expectations after joining the Bears as a seventh-round pick in 2014. General manager Ryan Pace rewarded Leno for his play with a four-year, $38 million extension last offseason, committing to the former Boise State product as the Bears blindside protector for the immediate future.

Leno joined his teammates at the team's annual Bears Care Gala on Saturday and said new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand is going to make the group better.

"We love Harry, let's just get that out of the way," Leno told 670 the Score's Mark Grote. "Harry is a great coach. I saw what he did for guys that he coached in college and the guys that were before us here in Chicago. He's getting us better."

Hiestand's efforts at Notre Dame produced four first-round picks: Zack Martin, Ronnie Stanley, Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey. He brings a no-nonsense coaching style back to Chicago, where he last served under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. 

STANKEVITZ: In Harry Hiestand, Matt Nagy hits a home run on his first swing at Bears' coaching staff

Leno enjoyed the best season of his career in 2017. His 80.4 grade from Pro Football Focus was the best of all Bears linemen and his highest overall mark over the last four years. He finished 15th among all tackles graded by PFF last season.

Regardless, Leno still has to impress his new coach just like every other offensive lineman on the roster. The Bears haven't added any competition for Leno, but his fate as the team's long-term answer at left tackle could be decided by Hiestand.

Matt Nagy is winning over his players by being himself

USA Today Sports Images

Matt Nagy is winning over his players by being himself

Despite losing 34 of his 48 games as the Bears’ head coach, John Fox’s players generally liked him and were disappointed to see him fired on New Year’s Day. That’s not to say they were blindsided by it — losing leads to people losing their jobs, even if the culture at Halas Hall had changed for the better following the disastrous end of the Marc Trestman-Phil Emery era. 

It was with that backdrop that Matt Nagy was offered and accepted the position of Bears head coach a week after Fox’s firing. Four and a half months later, Nagy has seemingly made a strong first impression on his new team, with one reason standing out among many: He’s genuine in who he is and what he does.

“I would say Nagy can be stern, and he can be playful also,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “I think when you’re a first-year coach, you want to win (over) your guys, and you want to be firm, and he’s doing that. You can’t really tell he’s a rookie coach or whatever. I feel like he was born for this, and he’s doing a great job.”

Granted, no player is going to publicly blast their new boss — especially not before he’s even coached a game yet. But veteran players also aren’t oblivious to who can and cannot work out as a head coach, and there haven’t been any “damning with faint praise” types of comments that were more common five years ago at the beginning of the Trestman era.

Will this win Nagy any games come September? No. But consider this sort of like team chemistry: It won't win a team anything, but if a team doesn't have it, it can be costly. 

“He’s a cool coach, man,” linebacker Danny Trevathan — who played for Fox in both Denver and Chicago — said. “He’s always giving us little details and smiling but we know he’s a hard worker just like we are. He’s up there working just like we are. He’s always putting us in the right position and he takes care of us. On the back end, where I come from, you take care of coaches like that. You go out and make plays for those coaches.”

From an observational standpoint, Nagy comes across as genuinely excited not just to be a head coach, but the head coach of the Bears. Players respect that approach — he's not coming in acting like a hired gun, and he's shown through these OTAs and practices that he cares about them, even if they haven't spent much time together yet. And he's also not strutting into Halas Hall every day with an over-inflated ego based on his promotion. That resonates, too. 

“I like the way he came in,” Trevathan said. “He came in humble but he was hungry. He came anxious, moving around in the meetings. I like that. That gets me fired up. I feel like we’ve got a good leader up here in the head coach.”