Bears

Which of these 2 Titans free agents should the Bears consider signing?

Which of these 2 Titans free agents should the Bears consider signing?

The Tennessee Titans' 2019 campaign should provide Bears fans with hope that Chicago's underachieving year can quickly turn around in one season, assuming GM Ryan Pace makes calculated decisions to protect the team from another regression.

Tennessee's trade for quarterback Ryan Tannehill was the kind of chess move that allowed the Titans to give Marcus Mariota one more season to prove he's the franchise quarterback so many draft experts predicted he'd be, while also making sure the team could still compete if he failed. Mariota didn't take advantage of that opportunity, and he was out of the lineup for good by Week 7.

But Tannehill doesn't deserve all the credit for the Titans' breakout on offense. Two other players, both of whom will be unrestricted free agents in March, deserve some attention and potentially an offer from the Bears in free agency: Running back Derrick Henry and offensive tackle Jack Conklin.

RELATED: Top 30 Free Agents of the 2020 NFL Offseason

Henry ran for a league-leading 1,540 yards and 16 touchdowns in 15 games and would probably be the 2019 NFL MVP if it wasn't such a quarterback-tilted award. In fact, an argument can be made that Henry is the engine behind Tannehill's success. With so much attention paid to stopping the 250-pound workhorse, play-action and downfield opportunities were easier to complete. Tannehill did, after all, complete over 70% of his passes in 2019.

Imagine if Mitch Trubisky had the luxury of handing the ball to a player like Henry 25 times per game. His job would become, well, easy. And this isn't to suggest running back David Montgomery can't be an effective bell-cow back who can rumble for 1,250 yards. But Henry is an elite player who will remain at or near the top of the league's running backs for the next few seasons.

Will Ryan Pace pay nearly $14 million per season for a running back? It seems highly unlikely considering the limited salary-cap space the Bears have and the pressing need to add a Tannehill of their own. If Henry's asking price drops a bit, then who knows. But assuming a team with a lot of money to spend is willing to pay up, the Bears would be better served looking elsewhere.

So what about Conklin? Chicago needs an upgrade along the offensive line and while Charles Leno, Jr. and Bobby Massie have proven to be adequate starters during their careers, Conklin was at one time considered one of the NFL's top young tackles before injuring his knee in the 2017 playoffs.

He returned to form in 2019 and was graded as the 15th-best tackle in the league by Pro Football Focus. Compare that to Leno, Jr. and Massie, who graded 86th and 65th respectively.

According to Spotrac, Conklin's projected market value is $15 million per season, which is a little bit higher than Henry but is also for a position that is much harder to fill. 

The Titans declined Conklin's fifth-year option last May and as a result, he's going to cash-in on the open market. Tennessee may end up using the franchise tag to keep him, which would all but eliminate him from consideration for the Bears.

If, however, both Conklin and Henry are allowed to flirt with new teams, it seems pretty clear that Conklin would be the better use of funds. Sure, Henry would be a lot of fun to watch pound opposing defenses into submission, but Montgomery has the potential to be the same kind of fan-favorite. Conklin, on the other hand, is a clear upgrade over Leno, Jr. and Massie, and would provide more long-term returns for the money, too. 

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Kyle Long talks Bears offensive struggles on NFL Total Access

Kyle Long talks Bears offensive struggles on NFL Total Access

Recent NFL retiree and social media enthusiast Kyle Long recently appeared on NFL Total Access and spoke about the Bears’ recent offensive struggles.

Long emphasizes the blame for the 2019 season shouldn’t entirely rest on Trubisky’s shoulders, but entire offensive line. Long’s not just trying to let Trubisky off the hook here, football is a team sport after all, and if you look at the Bears’ offensive report card for this past season, you’ll see that the problem is not just under center. Some of the weight of the lack of OL production falls on Long himself, who continued to be plagued by injuries before retirement and needing to be replaced by Rashad Coward. Long brings this up himself in the interview, stating “I hold myself responsible as somebody who wasn’t able to stay healthy.”

Besides Long, Bobby Massie earned the lowest Pro Football Focus grade of his career (63.2), while Charles Leno, Jr. earned his second-worst (58.6) at tackle.

So, while it’s easy to point fingers at Trubisky and make him a scapegoat, the reality of the situation is that the Bears’ 2019 offensive struggles weren’t born in a vacuum, and there is a lot of room for improvement before the 2020 season begins.

You can read Long’s full quote below:

If the Bears can’t run the ball, they’re not able to pass the ball, and that holds true for any team in the league. You take the pressure off the quarterback with the run game and you keep the opposing offenses off the field.

When Mitch was drafted, he came into a team with a power back that was an All-Pro and you had two pro bowl guards and you had a litany of people around him on the outside and the coaching staff that made his job relatively easy. Granted he was a young player, he had tremendous success, so the expectations were high. Coming into the 2nd year, there was a change in scheme, now you’re looking at a different offensive coordinator in his 2nd year as a starter. With (Mark) Helfrich and the run game and injuries up front, it made it really difficult for Mitch to be able to settle in and have that comfort level to be able to fire the ball where he wants to, when he wants to.

You can watch the whole interview here.  

 

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This safety could be a perfect fit for Bears to replace Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

This safety could be a perfect fit for Bears to replace Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

The Bears have a big decision to make at safety this offseason, even after signing Eddie Jackson to the position's richest contract extension in NFL history.

Jackson's running-mate, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, is scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency in March and there's been no indication that the Bears plan to re-sign him before he has the chance to test the open market. He'll have plenty of suitors for his services, including an NFC North rival, according to NFL.com.

DETROIT LIONS: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, safety

This might seem like a bit of a reach for the Lions, but Detroit could use a splash signing in the secondary and has the cap space (projected $46 million) to get it done. Clinton-Dix has plenty of experience in the NFC North, having played for Green Bay and Chicago, and he stands alongside (Vonn) Bell as one of the best strong safety options on the open market. This only happens if the Lions don't retain Tavon Wilson, who played well in Detroit but is headed toward a pay raise this offseason.

If Clinton-Dix signs with the Lions, it would mark the second-straight offseason that the Bears would lose a starting safety to an NFC North rival. Adrian Amos signed with the Packers in 2019.

It would also make it two years in a row that Pace will have to find a starter at a critical defensive position. Fortunately for Chicago, there will be a few options who not only are worthy of a starting gig but who may, in fact, be an upgrade over Clinton-Dix.

CHICAGO BEARS: Vonn Bell, safety

The Bears have very little cap room to work with, and it's unlikely they'll be able to do much of anything at their current position. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is in search of a big payday in free agency, meaning Chicago will need to address the position in some form. Without cutting someone to create space, this isn't likely to happen, but Bell might sign at a lower number, at least.

Bell was the NFL's top run-defending safety in 2019, according to Pro Football Focus, which is the kind of profile the Bears could be looking for to complement Jackson's playmaking ability in the passing game. He'd be a closer match to Amos, whose physical style of play allowed Jackson to focus on creating turnovers and splash plays.

Much of Pace's decision will come down to the cost of each player. It's highly unlikely the Bears will pay two safeties at the top of the position's market value, which makes a player like Bell a more likely target because of his expected mid-level salary. 

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