Takeaways from early ’19 free agency: Bears not flashy, just better

Takeaways from early ’19 free agency: Bears not flashy, just better

Most of the mystery money in the shape of cap space from contract restructures for Eddie Goldman and Khalil Mack is still lying somewhere in a Halas Hall corner, waiting…just…waiting, waiting presumably for some roster purpose yet unseen.

An offhand guess is that general manager Ryan Pace has marshalled funds, borrowed from the future, anticipating a cut or player coming free elsewhere in the NFL sometime before Opening Day, and Pace will have the Bears positioned to strike. In 2016, that cut (in September, by Green Bay) was guard Josh Sitton.

In 2017 it was an August contract extension for left tackle Charles Leno. Last year it was the September trade for Khalil Mack, accompanied by the then-largest contract ever given to a defensive player.

In the meantime, though, the Bears went about their business well below the level of roster pyrotechnics in places like Baltimore (RB Mark Ingram, S Earl Thomas), Cleveland (WR Odell Beckham Jr., DT Sheldon Richardson, DE Olivier Vernon), Oakland (WR Antonio Brown, OT Trent Brown, S Lamarcus Joyner), WR Tyrell Williams), San Francisco (LB Kwon Alexander, DE Dee Ford, Tevin Coleman) and the Jets (RB Le’Veon Bell, LB C.J. Mosley).

A qualifier here is that of all those big-ticket teams, only the Ravens were in the 2018 postseason, and a one-and-done like the Bears at that.

But the question isn’t necessarily how much or on whom, but whether or not the Bears improved, because “you’re either getting worse and you’re getting better,” as Matt Nagy said in the postseason wrapup. They already have a young roster with an assemblage of rising players from whom performance jumps are expected, either from straight development or from second years in an offensive system.

And the conclusion from the signings of the week – S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, RB Mike Davis, C/G Ted Larsen, WR/RB/KR Cordarrelle Patterson, CB Buster Skrine – is that the Bears have in fact gotten better.

Were bigger options available? Of course. Landon Collins instead of Clinton-Dix? Davis or Bell? Larsen or Mike Iupati? Patterson or AB?

But consider:

Clinton-Dix - The Bears had a not insignificant offer of an extension on the table for Adrian Amos last offseason and looked to have it done. Amos ultimately decided against signing and now he’s in Green Bay.  But while Amos carries the better rep and perception, Clinton-Dix rates an edge in coverage, and Bears opponents threw on 61 percent of their snaps in 2018. Clinton-Dix has not missed a game in five seasons and had as many interceptions (three) in 2018 as Amos has had in four full NFL seasons.

Chuck Pagano is mildly unique in that he occasionally employs rotations in his secondaries. The Bears may not be done shopping for defensive backs, and Bryce Callahan has not gotten the play that was widely expected.

Davis - The career backup is not an upgrade from Jordan Howard. But he is from Benny Cunningham and Taquan Mizzell, and that’s the apples-to-apples comparison.

Larsen - Eric Kush served as fill for a couple seasons but Larsen has been a starting center and guard, and is a size and performance upgrade over Kush or Bryan Witzmann behind James Daniels and Kyle Long.

Patterson - The NFL’s worst kickoff return team just got exponentially better, and neither Tarik Cohen nor Anthony Miller need be exposed back there anymore. With his 7.9 yards per carry and average of 31 catches per season, he should fit in just fine with an offense that throws touchdown passes to offensive tackles, hands off to defensive tackles for scores and fields a cluster of five defensive linemen in goal-line skill positions.

Skrine - A Callahan return shouldn’t be ruled out until he signs elsewhere, but in the meantime, Skrine does not represent a precipitous falloff in sub packages. Skrine has interceptions in five of the past six seasons and at least a partial sack in the last three.

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Sacks or not, why the Bears see Leonard Floyd delivering on expectations

USA Today

Sacks or not, why the Bears see Leonard Floyd delivering on expectations

Leonard Floyd had two sacks in his 2019 debut, yet hasn’t tallied one since. But the Bears disagree with the idea of Floyd pulling a disappearing act over his last four games. 

“I don’t think saying he had two sacks in the first game and has done nothing since is a fair assessment of what he’s done,” outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino said. “… Leonard Floyd had done a great job of setting edges, he’s done a great job of affecting the passing game in coverage, he’s done a great job of knocking guys back into the launch point. We’ve just gotta figure out ways to get him clear and get him to finish as a rusher. And he’s completely focused and intent on doing that. He’s the right guy for it.”

Floyd indeed has made a positive impact since the Green Bay game in terms of generating pressures (nine) and getting run stops (seven), per Pro Football Focus. The Bears trust him to hold his own in coverage, too, having him drop back on 22 percent of his snaps on passing plays. 

This is where internal expectations for Floyd may not match the external ones from folks wondering why a player drafted ninth overall hasn’t had more than seven sacks in a season yet, and only has 17 1/2 sacks in 43 career games. Floyd’s sack total declined each of his first three years in the NFL; he only needs 4 1/2 sacks this year to change that, but it’s a low bar to clear. 

It’s worth noting Floyd’s 17 1/2 sacks are fifth-most among first-round picks since 2016, behind Joey Bosa (31 1/2), Myles Garrett (29 1/2), DeForest Buckner (24) and T.J. Watt (24). But it’s also worth noting that 71 players have had more sacks than Floyd’s 10 1/2 since the start of the 2017 season. 

Floyd looked to have the makings of a breakout season after that two-sack game against the Packers given he didn’t get his second sack of 2018 until Week 13, and didn’t hit that mark until Week 5 of the 2017 season. The hope was a fast start would spark Floyd to the kind of game-wrecking season worthy of a No. 9 overall pick, right?

That hasn’t happened. Floyd ranks 97th in Pro Football Focus’ pass rushing productivity metric, behind guys like ex-Bear Pernell McPhee and current Bear Aaron Lynch. 

So at this point in Floyd’s fourth season a a pro, it’s time for outside expectations to meet internal expectations for him. 

It’s a shift that can certainly feel disappointing. But the Bears would argue Floyd’s contributions are highly valuable given his ability to do so many different things, from stopping the run to dropping into coverage to affecting the pocket even if he doesn’t get a sack. He’s just not getting the one stat to which everyone pays attention. 

“He’s still impacting the game,” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “… The sacks or whatever, those haven’t been there of late. He’s great. He plays extremely hard. He does his job every single down. That’ll come. So he’s not going to press. I’ve got to do a better job of trying to get those guys in position to make those plays.”

The lack of sacks aren’t anything new for Floyd, too. He had 17 in three years at Georgia, and only had 4 1/2 his final season in Athens. And what general manager Ryan Pace said in 2016 after drafting Floyd sounds a lot like what Monachino and Pagano are saying about him now. 

“You know when you watch the tape: They move him all over,” Pace said at the time. “He’s such a versatile athlete, so he playing inside linebacker one snap and the next snap he’s in nickel running down the field with a slot receiver. And then he’s rushing. You see him at all these different positions.

“… You don’t see guys getting into him. Guys that I think struggle against the run, they let offensive linemen get into their chest and get engulfed by blocks. He doesn’t do that. He plays with such great separation, he keeps that from happening.”

The ability to ask him to do any task necessary in coverage. The ability to stop the run. These are what the Bears want to get out of Floyd, and are getting out of Floyd, in 2019. It may not be what those outside Halas Hall hoped for, and to an extent, it may not be what those inside the facility wanted, either. Teams usually trade up for powerful weapons, not Swiss army knives. 

This deep into Floyd’s NFL career, he is what he is. The double-digit sack breakout probably isn’t coming. 

But the belief in him from those inside Halas Hall isn’t going away, either. 

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If you didn't love him already, wait until you hear that Eddy Piñeiro is practicing at Soldier Field tomorrow

USA Today

If you didn't love him already, wait until you hear that Eddy Piñeiro is practicing at Soldier Field tomorrow

There are certain aspects of Fall in Chicago that other cities just can’t replicate. Whether it’s the first cold wind swirling through a playoff game at Wrigley, the 4:15 sunset, or endless optimism about Northwestern football turning it around in time for a New Years Six run, Chicago’s autumn overflows with rich tradition. 

The Granddaddy of Them All, though, is the annual inquiry that’s as time-honored as asking for  giardiniera and then picking off like half of it because god, that’s so much giardiniera. 

Will the Bears’ kicker be practicing at Soldier Field??

It’s long been the harbinger of whether a kicker Has What It Takes to succeed here. Robbie Gould loved [loved] to talk about how much he practiced at Soldier, and Cody Parkey avoided heading south on I-90 like his job depended on it. Kickers will say it doesn't make or break their ability to hit field goals on the infamously-rough field, but the court of public opinion can be just as unforgiving.

As for Eddy Piñeiro? He *will* be working out at Soldier Field. Exhale! Special Teams Coordinator Chris Tabor confirmed the practice session during his weekly media session from Halas Hall on Thursday, saying that the kicker plans to head into the city to work on some things. 

“We do [plan on going],” said Tabor, a man of few words. “In fact we're going to head down tomorrow.” 

Kicking at Soldier only gets tougher when the temperatures dip. Much of the reason Piñeiro made it through a shaky start to OTAs and Training Camp is because what he lacked in accuracy, he made up for in leg talent. 

After pinching a nerve in his kicking knee during a weight room session, many wondered whether he’ll still have enough power to hit some of the long-range kicks. According to the Bears, however, his rehab is progressing as planned and the power hasn’t left. 

“He's fine,” Tabor also said, seemingly unconcerned with word count requirements for kicker updates. “Kicked well yesterday.” 

In fact, Pineiro’s already at a place where he and the team feel that he’s close to returning to kickoffs. 

“Hoping so,” Tabor added, commendably committed to the bit. “We're working on it and we'll see where that's at.” 

So there you have it: Eddy Pineiro is practicing at Soldier Field tomorrow, feels almost 100% again, and may be back on kickoffs this Sunday.