Bears

Source of Bears misery difficult to identify because it is everywhere

Source of Bears misery difficult to identify because it is everywhere

Sometimes when something in the house is dusty and messy, you take it outside and shake it to get all or most of the crud out of it. So it is with a Bears writer in the wake of a four-game collapse in bulk by a team that was fancied as part of the Super Bowl discussion.

The devil is in the doubt

Coach Matt Nagy’s real challenges now extend far wider than simply scheming for the next opponent. Players are far harder on themselves than any member of the media or general public ever are, but Nagy’s Bears have been given game plans four straight weeks and undergone degrees of being crushed running those plans. They lost the only game this season in which the offense has totaled more than 300 yards (Chargers), and they were beaten physically in the other three by teams that trampled them for rushing totals of 169 (Oakland), 151 (New Orleans) and 146 yards (Philadelphia).

At some point players stop putting all the blame on themselves and begin to question what they’re being told to do. Doubt will be a far more sinister opponent for Nagy than Matt Patricia and the Lions, Sean McVay and the Rams or any other team will be for a Bears bunch on emotional life support.

And axiomatic to any team’s success is believing in its quarterback. Mitch Trubisky, once nicknamed “Pretty Boy Assassin” by an impressed defense, has done little since then to nothing to earn that belief, and his head coach doesn’t so much defend Trubisky as spread blame around the entire offense. 

“[The belief in Trubisky] is there,” Nagy insisted. “Here’s how we do it: We look at it as a whole unit. You go back and look at yesterday’s game, offensively, there’s a lot more than just one person, just to keep it really, really simple.

“That’s the part that’s frustrating, [that] Mitch knows and I know and we all know that it goes to him. He gets it. But there’s a lot of people involved here that we really believe in that it didn’t happen yesterday. That’s the part that’s really frustrating.”

Weapons? Where?

GM Ryan Pace has been about the business of trying to surround his “franchise” quarterback with weapons almost literally from the day the Bears drafted Trubisky. Three problems:

One, thinking vice versa, top quarterbacks routinely turn otherwise middling players into weapons. Trubisky’s deteriorating play has done exactly the opposite.

Two, except for wideout Allan Robinson, why Pace and the Bears identified marginal starters as “weapons” when their previous teams didn’t particularly regard them as such remains a head-scratcher.

And three, about some of those "weapons":

Trey Burton – third-string Eagles TE has 14 receptions, tied for 35th among tight ends; zero TD’s, blocking liability.

Taylor Gabriel – situational player who never started more than four games for Cleveland or Atlanta has 17 catches, 3 TDs, all against 1-8 Washington.

Anthony Miller – ’18 second-round pick with one start in ’19, zero TDs.

Adam Shaheen – injury-prone TE was drafted the day and round after Trubisky, has never had more than four receptions in any of 27 games into this, his third season; hasn’t played 50 percent of Bears snaps in a game this season.

Trubisky has yet to turn someone into a weapon, but the ones he’s been given haven’t lived up to their expectations.

Vital experience lacking

One qualitative problem hanging over the travails of the Bears offense is that neither the head coach nor the quarterback has real experience pulling out of a death-spiral crisis.

Nagy’s time under Andy Reid gave him a foundation in the West Coast offense but not dealing with failure, certainly not repeating, i.e. four-time failure. The Chiefs started 1-5 in 2015, then won 10 straight plus one in the wild-card round. Nagy was the quarterbacks coach, but Reid was such an established, respected coach that belief in his plans was never really questioned.

Trubisky had exactly 13 college starts, all in one year at North Carolina, a season in which the Tarheels had three- and four-game win streaks and never lost more than two in a row, before the Bears drafted him.

QB or not QB?

Repeating a recent theme because Trubisky has played it back into the headlines...

Whether for Marcus Mariota, Teddy Bridgewater, a draft pick, a free agent, all of the above, the Bears will be quarterback-shopping at the end of this season, something Ryan Pace has been derelict in doing since taking over as GM in 2015.

And while Pace has final roster control and Nagy over lineups, it is Nagy who needs to be the final decision-maker. After opting to stay with Jay Cutler two seasons, Pace’s has gone all in on Trubisky and Mike Glennon while passing on Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. Nagy was in on Kansas City’s pick of Mahomes.

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NFL Mock Draft: Bears add pass-catching TE in 2nd round

NFL Mock Draft: Bears add pass-catching TE in 2nd round

Get used to the Chicago Bears being connected to just about all of the top tight end prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft as the mock-draft season kicks into high gear.

The latest mock draft from the Draft Wire is no exception. In this two-rounder, the Bears snag Washington tight end Hunter Bryant at No. 43 overall.

Here's how Bryant's game profiles, via The Draft Network's scouting report:

Hunter Bryant should be a dynamic receiving threat at the NFL level. Bryant brings excellent quickness, run after catch skills and versatility to a flex tight end role. Plugging Bryant into a traditional inline role will water down his receiving skills — he's best working off the LOS or as a flexed slot receiver who can serve as a H/W/S mismatch for opposing defenders. If Bryant it put in such a flex role, look for early production and long-term starter status in the pros. 

Sure sounds like the kind of player the Bears could use in the passing game, where the entire tight end depth chart combined for just 44 catches last season. Trey Burton led the way with 14. It was a brutal year at the position.

Naturally, adding a playmaker who can expand Matt Nagy's playcalling toolbox is a critical 'must' for Ryan Pace this offseason, and a prospect like Bryant could be an ideal fit.

In Round 2 of this mock draft, the Bears add Ohio State linebacker Malik Harrison. Like tight end, linebacker will be an area of need depending on what happens with free agents Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski. It's likely that one of them will return, but even with Trevathan or Kwiatkoski back in the fold, the Bears have to add depth behind the starters. Will they address that need as early as the second round? Probably not, especially with pressing needs along the offensive line and in the defensive backfield.

If, however, Harrison does end up being the pick, the Bears would be getting a strong run defender who doesn't project as an every-down player at this point in his evaluation. He's likely to slide into the third round, if not later.

Should the NFL’s playoff changes mean the Bears should be more aggressive in a quarterback trade or free agent signing?

Should the NFL’s playoff changes mean the Bears should be more aggressive in a quarterback trade or free agent signing?

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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