Bears

Bears face decisions on Jay Cutler, Alshon Jeffery and 2017 roster

Bears face decisions on Jay Cutler, Alshon Jeffery and 2017 roster

What we "knew" most about the 2016 Bears heading into the season is that, offensively, Jay Cutler and Alshon Jeffery would be the straws that stirred the offensive drink. 

Thanks to injuries, suspension and a perfect storm that resulted in a 3-13 season, the straw had a hole in it, the team still couldn't collectively close out games and a fifth-round rookie (Jordan Howard) and a second-year undrafted free agent (Cam Meredith) turned into the greatest causes for optimism on that side of the ball. 

The news that the team is shopping Cutler is hardly news-bulletin worthy. We've written about Cutler Fatigue here and discussed it on CSN's BearsTalk Podcasts for some time now. A breakup has seemed inevitable after eight years of .500 ball when he's been behind center. The tricky part is finding an alternative that would be a marked improvement for a coaching staff that might need to finish .500 to continue on the job in 2018. Yet that's the gamble that must be taken for a franchise that almost needs to move on, for better or worse, in order to find a way out of the muddy ditch it's found itself in.

Cutler must first be deemed healthy enough after labrum surgery on his throwing shoulder - something similar to what Buffalo did with Tyron Taylor this week following groin surgery. But Taylor might be a safer bet to stay with the Bills than Cutler is here. Those medicals might be out there already around the league if shopping has truly begun. And while a new destination for Cutler might not earn him the same salary (roughly $15 million) he'd make here, the thinking here is he'd prefer a fresh start just as much as the Bears want one. 

So let's go shopping.

Cleveland? No. 

San Francisco as a stopgap starter? Maybe. There's tons of salary cap space while a successor is groomed, and there's the Shanahan (Kyle/Mike) Factor. But more losing. 

How about Jacksonville to push his young clone, Blake Bortles? Perhaps. There's still a loaded, talented young defense that has yet to reach a promising ceiling, and a couple of talented receivers. 

The Los Angeles Rams could provide a push for Jared Goff (though it's hard not to see Goff being the starter, for better or worse). But if something should happen, Cutler would be ready, with Todd Gurley, what should be a respectable defense and a location close to where wife Kristin Cavallari can return to actressing. 

Jay in Buffalo? Good one! 

Arizona has already shot down interest. 

We don't see Denver wanting him back as they await Paxton Lynch's maturity with Trevor Siemian as a bridge. 

Reuniting with Adam Gase in Miami could be an option with Ryan Tannehill's health still a mystery. 

Then there's always Houston. I'm looking for Tony Romo's ultimate destination impacting Jay's. 

But retiring, as some reports this week suggested? No. Despite the public perception, Jay is a competitor, and I truly believe that still runs through him. He may not get to prove his reputation wrong before he retires, but despite what body language experts feel, I believe he'd still like to prove something. But I'm also not counting on any team giving up a draft pick for him. Teams know the Bears will release him, but if a club lower on the waiver claim wire truly desires him, Ryan Pace has squeezed something out from teams for his players on the discard pile before.

As for Jeffery, all remains quiet on the franchise tag front. The seal remains tight at Halas Hall over whether there have been any negotiations this past week, and if so, whether they've moved in a positive, long-term direction. 

Two things to keep in mind: the Bears did not tag him last year until the day before the deadline to do so. That deadline this year is March 1. The other is the fact that other teams in similar situations (such as Washington with Kirk Cousins and Kansas City with Eric Berry and Dontari Poe) have yet to make moves either, as that deadline looms. If the Bears determine they'll cut ties with Cutler, Eddie Royal and Lamarr Houston, that will free up another $24 million in cap space on top of the $60 million-plus they have already. Perhaps that factors into the decision on Jeffery, who'd get paid $17 million in 2017 under a second straight franchise tag for a team that needs play-makers and a coaching staff that needs wins next season. Letting him go would require attention and a portion of those dollars to replace him in the draft and/or free agency.

We leave all our internet/talk radio caller GM's with this question: Would you REALLY want to be in Ryan Pace's shoes this offseason? Can you be as shrewd, wise and run the table to the extent he must, especially at the most important, franchise-shaping position (which, granted, he's put on the back-burner his first two years)? And "get it right" to build momentum moving forward for a franchise that's reached the playoffs just once in the past decade? The rebuild remains substantial. And so are the decisions he faces in a crucial offseason.

Bears 7-round mock draft: Is Jalen Hurts the answer at QB?

Bears 7-round mock draft: Is Jalen Hurts the answer at QB?

As the calendar inches closer to Thanksgiving and the 2019 college football season slowly comes to a close, attention will soon shift to the 2020 NFL draft and the pool of prospects who will be showcased in the college football playoffs and bowl games around the country. And that means mock draft season is here.

The Bears will be without a first-round pick for the second year in a row. But let's be honest, they still have Khalil Mack. And that's a win.

What the Bears do have is two second-round picks, which if the draft were held today would be two selections in the top 50. It's unlikely they'll remain that valuable as the season marches on and Chicago and the Oakland Raiders (re: Mack trade) continue stacking wins, but the point remains: The Bears have some draft capital that they can use to improve this roster heading into 2020.

With less than two months remaining in the regular season, the biggest question surrounding the Bears is at quarterback, where Mitch Trubisky is struggling to establish himself as 'the guy.' If his struggles continue, Chicago could use the draft, in addition to a veteran free-agent signing, to create a full-blown quarterback battle next training camp.

In this mock draft, that's exactly what GM Ryan Pace does.

Round 2: Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma

Hurts is getting some first-round love right now but it feels like his draft stock will depend on how his December goes. There's no denying his ability as a playmaker and comps to Lamar Jackson are already starting to bubble. Hurts is having a ridiculous season statistically, completing over 73% of his passes and a 6:1 touchdown to interception ratio. He has five games with at least 75 yards rushing, too. 

Hurts doesn't profile as a quarterback who'd be ready to step in and start early in his rookie season, and that's exactly what the Bears should look for in this year's draft. Trubisky will be on the roster next season, and coupled with a free-agent veteran signing, a prospect like Hurts will have the time to learn from the bench in Year 1. And if he's too good to keep off the field, it's a fantastic problem to have.

Round 2 (from Oak): Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri

The Bears' tight end problems have been well-documented this season. Trey Burton has been an oft-injured bust of a free-agent signing (2018) and Adam Shaheen is an even bigger bust of a second-round pick (2017). Young developmental players like Ben Braunecker don't project as long-term answers at the position, so adding a prospect like Okwuegbunam with their second of two second-round picks would be a good play.

Okwuegbunam's scouting report is likely all over the map right now. Some front offices will love him, others will think he lacks any special quality to be a top-50 pick. The former All-SEC freshman suffered a broken scapula in 2018 that limited his season to just nine games, but he flashed appealing upside as a receiver over that span. His production hasn't been great this year -- 22 catches, 280 yards, 6 TDs -- but his tape is promising. And, let's be honest: even if Okwuegbunam's true grade is somewhere closer to the third-round range, the Bears can't afford to wait on a guy at a position of need who could legitimately win the starting job as a rookie.

Round 5: Trevon Hill, EDGE, Miami

The Leonard Floyd experiment is over. And it's not that he won't be back with this team; it's just he won't be relied on as part of the pass-rush plan. He simply can't do it and it's time to move on. Enter Trevon Hill, who offers some twitchy upside as an edge defender.

Pace will have to do his due diligence on a player like Hill, whose checkered past includes dismissal from Virginia Tech in 2018. Still, he's managed 15.5 sacks and 28.5 tackles for loss over the last three-plus seasons.

The Bears need more pass-rush options, and that's what Hill represents at this point in the draft.

Round 6: Colton McKivitz, OT, West Virginia

It's unlikely the Bears will make any sweeping changes to the offensive line this offseason, especially at tackle where Charles Leno, Jr. and Bobby Massie are both under contract for the next several seasons. But the roster could use some depth on the edges which is where McKivitz fits in nicely.

Considered a riser early in 2019, McKivitz has experience at both left and right tackle and has been a reliable pass-blocker during his tenure as a Mountaineer. Entering the 2019 season, McKivitz had allowed just eight sacks on 1,459 pass-blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus.

Round 6: Alex Highsmith, EDGE, Charlotte

Ryan Pace loves small-school prospects, so I had to fit at least one (kind of small-schooler) in this mock draft. Fortunately for the Bears, it's one of the top lesser-known players who will be available in 2020 who also happens to fill a team need.

Highsmith has 9.5 sacks so far this season and fits the mold of that twitchy pass-rusher off the edge that Chicago must find to complement Mack. The likely Senior Bowl invite will have a chance to impress scouts in Mobile, Ala., and could ascend into the Day-2 conversation. For now, he's a great value pick in the sixth round.

Round 7: Evan Weaver, LB, Cal

Weaver profiles as a poor man's Nick Kwiatkoski, who the Bears might lose in free agency this offseason if he continues playing at a high level. With Danny Trevathan also on an expiring contract, Chicago needs to add another inside linebacker to the roster regardless of who they re-sign. 

Weaver isn't the best athlete. He's vulnerable in coverage. He isn't going to wow at the Scouting Combine. But he's strong, no-nonsense inside linebacker who isn't afraid of to throw his body around. Sounds like a Bear to me.

What are your thoughts on this mock draft? Share them with me on Twitter!

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Nick Kwiatkoski was NFL's top linebacker in Week 10

Nick Kwiatkoski was NFL's top linebacker in Week 10

Chicago Bears linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski is in a contract year. And if he keeps playing the way he did in Sunday's win over the Detroit Lions, Ryan Pace better get ready to pay up.

Filling in for an injured Danny Trevathan, Kwiatkoski dominated the Lions offense to the tune of nine tackles, a sack and an interception. It was the second time this season that he stepped up in what could've been a crisis for the Bears defense. In Week 4 against the Vikings, Kwiatkoski filled-in for Roquan Smith who was deactivated shortly before kickoff for reasons still unknown. He was fantastic in that game, too.

But Kwiatkoski's performance on Sunday was borderline special. In fact, he was so good that he earned Pro Football Focus' highest grade of any linebacker in the NFL in Week 10 with a 92.4.

His ridiculous showing against Detroit pushed his season grade up to 88.2, which is second-best among Bears defenders with at least 100 snaps this season.

So, yeah, he's going to get paid.

Kwiatkoski's role moving forward is expected to change. He won't be coming off the bench filling in for Trevathan or Smith; he'll be starting for as long as Trevathan is on the mend. And with a starter's tag comes a week's worth of preparation by opposing offensive coordinators who will have more time to gameplan for his strengths and weaknesses. We'll find out real quick if his incredible flashes this season are sustainable as a traditional starter or if he'll be exposed in his newfound role.

Regardless, Kwiatkoski's emergence has been a bright spot in a season that's been lacking many of them so far.