Bears

Why NaVorro Bowman would and wouldn’t make sense for the Bears

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USA Today

Why NaVorro Bowman would and wouldn’t make sense for the Bears

A little after ESPN's Adam Schefter reported the San Francisco 49ers were putting linebacker NaVorro Bowman on the trading block, the 49ers released the four-time All-Pro inside linebacker. That begs the question: Would he make sense with the Bears?

The Bears need help at inside linebacker, with Jerrell Freeman out for the year, Nick Kwiatkoski still working his way back from a chest injury and John Timu out with an ankle/knee injury he suffered Monday night against Minnesota. Bowman, too, had some of his best years playing for defensive coordinator Vic Fangio with the San Francisco 49ers, with 2013 a high point (120 tackles, five sacks, two interceptions, six forced fumbles). 

Bowman is a big name, but his play hasn't matched his star power recently. The 29-year-old suffered two serious injuries over the last four years: An ACL and MCL tear in the 2014 NFC Championship, and a torn Achilles’ that limited him to just four games last year. That the 49ers couldn't find a trade partner, or didn't think they would before the NFL's Oct. 31 trade deadline, speaks to how much Bowman's stock has fallen. 

The money owed to Bowman may have been a deterrent in trade talks (he carries a cap hit of around $9.5 million in 2017 and a little under $12 million in 2018, according to Spotrac). If the Bears were to sign him, they wouldn't be on the hook for that much cash

But this doens't take into account two things, the first being how much the Bears like Kwiatkoski. Coaches felt confident he could seamlessly step in for Jerrell Freeman back in September before he suffered a pec injury of his own in Week 2. The 2016 fourth-round pick was limited in practice this week, and while he’s officially listed as questionable, that he’s worked with the scout team this week wouldn’t indicate he’ll play in Baltimore on Sunday.

But it does seem that Kwiatkoski is moving closer to a return, and when he does, the need for an aging, injury-prone former Pro Bowler would diminish at that position.

Then there's point No. 2: Why would Bowman want to sign with a team that's 1-4? Even if he still has a strong relationship with Fangio, he's nearing 30 and has played in three NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl. It's more likely he would push for a spot on a contender to chase a ring than go to a team lagging in last place in its division. 

15 Most Important Bears of 2018: No. 9 - Charles Leno, Jr.

15 Most Important Bears of 2018: No. 9 - Charles Leno, Jr.

All the high-flying receivers and the playmaking tight end that GM Ryan Pace added to the Chicago Bears this offseason will be rendered powerless if Mitch Trubisky doesn't have time to throw, making left tackle Charles Leno, Jr. one of the most important players on the roster this season.

The good news is Leno has already proven he's a solid starting tackle. He was the 15th-best offensive tackle in the NFL last season on Pro Football Focus' grading scale, earning an 80.4 (the highest grade of his career). Dig a little deeper into PFF's stats, however, and Leno ranked 20th in pass protection, suggesting he's in the bottom half of NFL starters in the aspect of his game the Bears need him to be reliable at. As a run blocker, Leno ranked 11th.

Still, Leno has steadily improved in each year of his career. The analytics show that. Here are his grades since his rookie season from PFF: 53.5 (2014); 56.3 (2015); 71.2 (2016); 80.4 (2017). His improvement should continue in 2018, especially with new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand fine-tuning his game. 

Leno has enjoyed an unexpected rise from seventh-round pick to a player who signed a four-year, $38 million extension at the start of last season. If his development continues, the Bears have a salary-cap bargain with Leno, whose average annual salary ranks 14th among left tackles at the start of 2018.

Chicago invested big money in Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton as well as draft capital in Anthony Miller, who they selected in the second round this year by trading away a second-round pick next year to move up and grab him. The only way they'll get a return on that investment is if Leno establishes, early in the season, that Trubisky can trust him. That trust is critically important not only for an effective offense this year but also for Trubisky's overall development. If he starts seeing ghosts in the pocket because of constant pressure from his blindside, Chicago's long-term plan can easily get derailed.

Leno will benefit from Trubisky's mobility and coach Matt Nagy's creativity. He doesn't have to be a perfect left tackle. But there will be a devastating ripple effect on the rest of the offense if he struggles, making him one of the Bears' most critical players in 2018.

NFC North named NFL's top QB division

NFC North named NFL's top QB division

The Chicago Bears have been haunted by elite-level quarterbacks in the NFC North for many years. Whether it was Brett Favre, Dante Culpepper or now Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford, it's been decades since the Bears could say they had the best passer in the division.

This season is no exception, especially with Kirk Cousins joining the Vikings. Rodgers, Stafford and Cousins will give defensive coordinator Vic Fangio headaches in at least six games this season, but the Bears have a talented passer of their own who can present a challenge to opposing defenses, too.

When factoring Trubisky to the rest of the established Pro Bowlers in the North, there's no division with a more talented group of quarterbacks, according to NFL.com.

Rodgers is the most talented quarterback in NFL history. I love Green Bay bringing in Jimmy Graham to help in the red zone. Stafford has been fantastic the last few seasons, a true maestro in the clutch. And Detroit improved the offensive line and run game this offseason -- that will provide the 30-year-old quarterback with some needed protection and balance. I think Trubisky will be this year's Jared Goff, taking a major leap forward in Year 2 with a new head coach and more talent around him. Lastly, Cousins swings the pendulum in favor of this division. He's the answer to the franchise-quarterback question for the Vikings.

The Bears have so much riding on Trubisky this season and beyond. He has to prove capable of squaring off against guys like Rodgers and Stafford, quarterbacks he'll do battle with for the next several years. If he doesn't develop into the kind of player who can make timely throws on game-winning drives, Chicago will remain a step behind Green Bay, Detroit and Minnesota, all clubs with starting quarterbacks who have more than a few big wins on their resumes. 

All signs point toward Trubisky becoming that guy. His rookie season wasn't perfect, but it was promising. And now that Ryan Pace has surrounded him with skill players who can beat NFL coverage, he should see a big bump in his production. That bump in production will go a long way in helping the Bears win a bunch of games, especially with a defense that returns intact after finishing in the NFL's top 10 last season.