Bears

Bears find nuggets — and some fool’s gold? — amid struggles

Bears find nuggets — and some fool’s gold? — amid struggles

The season that has now lurched downward to its 2-9 point has given the Bears little in the way of overall satisfaction. But it has not been without value already in giving the organization some very meaningful, albeit unwanted, evaluations of what their depth chart of the future may look like.

Some of it has been supremely concerning. Without Alshon Jeffery (suspended) and Kevin White (injured), receivers Josh Bellamy, Cam Meredith and Marquess Wilson in particular were pressed into service. The result – with each committing multiple dropped passes in Sunday’s 27-21 loss to the Tennessee Titans – served to suggest strongly that the Bears do not have a dependable alternative to Jeffery, franchise-tagged for this year but a looming issue again next offseason.

Meredith looked like a player after a combined 20 catches in the Indianapolis and Jacksonville games. On Sunday he dropped more of the nine balls thrown to him (3) than he caught (2). Wilson caught a career-best eight passes but dropped a pair, one a touchdown there for the taking. Wilson, beset repeatedly by injuries, is a free agent after this season; is he depth worth pursuing?

“I think Marquess Wilson, it was his second game this season,” said coach John Fox. “He hasn’t been playing football for months and months.”

Because Jeffery is still on suspension for two more games and White is not expected back, the receivers will get additional chances.

But the Titans released veteran cornerback Perrish Cox after Sunday’s game. The Bears have rookie Daniel Braverman on practice squad; Fox does not have any history of scapegoating or making examples of players, but he has sent messages… .

Overshadowed by the drops by receivers and running backs was a decidedly different scenario playing out because of absent, injured starters.

With guards Kyle Long and Josh Sitton down, the Bears started Eric Kush as left guard and Ted Larsen at right. The only other time Kush and Larsen both started was against Minnesota, the only Bears win in the past seven weeks. Against the Vikings the offensive line allowed just one sack; the Titans got none, despite the Bears far behind and throwing the football 33 times in the fourth quarter alone.

Meaning: the Kush-Larsen line has allowed just one sack in 86 pass plays. The Bears rushed for a season-high 158 yards and 5.4 yards per carry against Minnesota; running backs netted 95 yards on 20 carries vs. Tennessee, a 4.8-yard clip.

Put another way, the Bears appear to have found some offensive-line nuggets amid the injury carnage.

“I just feel like [Kush and Larsen] do a great job in practice getting themselves ready for the game and then just be able to start the game from start to finish,” said running back Jordan Howard. “I feel like they can get into a rhythm and not worry about messing up and they can follow their assignments correctly.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Rookie linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski started alongside Danny Trevathan in place of suspended inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman. Kwiatkoski finished with four tackles in addition to spinning out of a blitz to pursue and force a throwaway by Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Quarterback Matt Barkley likely played his way at the very least into an NFL training camp next year (probably Chicago’s), throwing 54 passes, shaking off dropped balls to have his team in position for a comeback win. Barkley impressed at least one teammate who knew exactly what Barkley has gone through.

“Guys like me are few and far between,” said defensive end Willie Young, a seventh-round draft pick who has played his way into a career. “But if we get an opportunity, the only thing we know how to do is take advantage of it. Whatever happens after that, happens. I play on the edge. I honestly feel like [Barkley] played on the edge also.”

Why Nick Foles is the clear favorite for Bears' starting quarterback Week 1

Why Nick Foles is the clear favorite for Bears' starting quarterback Week 1

Calling a quarterback battle an “open competition,” as Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy did Friday, leaves that comment open to interpretation. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that Nick Foles is going to emerge from that competition as the Bears’ starting quarterback. 

The Bears are not going to hand Foles their QB1 job — he’s not even going to take the first snaps of the competition. Those will go to Mitch Trubisky, the incumbent here. Foles will have to win the job, and there’s a chance he won’t. I’m not ready to call the Bears’ quarterback competition for Foles before a single practice is held. 

But for Trubisky to win the job, and not Foles, the Bears will have to not only see the 2017 No. 2 overall pick out-play his challenger during training camp. They’ll have to convince themselves it’s not a mirage, and that the last three years of inconsistent-at-best tape aren’t a mitigating factor against a guy who threw for 373 yards as the MVP of a Super Bowl. 

“I think when we say open competition, this is a open competition, they’ve both been told that and I think it’s the best way to do it,” Pace said. “I think the good thing is honesty and transparency with both players as we go through it. We want what’s best for the Chicago Bears. It’s as simple as that.”

The quote that really stands out to me, though, after Friday’s hour-plus of teleconferences with Pace, Matt Nagy, Nick Foles and Robert Quinn, though, is an old one from February. It’s Nagy talking at the NFL Combine in February about wanting Trubisky to know the offense better than he does. It felt like a challenge to Trubisky at the time; it felt like an even greater challenge when Foles — who has experience running versions of the Bears’ offense in Kansas City and Philadelphia — was brought in. 

Essentially, the Bears told Trubisky through their words and actions: If you don’t know the offense to the level we want, we have a guy in place who does, and he'll take your job. 

Foles has a working knowledge of the Bears’ offense, one Nagy figured could get him through a game right now if need be. But there are plenty of different things the Bears do on offense compared to the Chiefs and Eagles (insert your own joke here about those offenses, most importantly, being better). There will be a learning curve for Foles to know Nagy’s offense better than Nagy, especially with the expectation of no OTAs or spring minicamps.

But Foles did an excellent job of explaining why a quarterback needs to know the offense better than its playcaller, one which resonates after watching so many Bears games spiral offensively in 2019. 

“I think if I can (know) this offense just as good, if not better, than the coaches,” Foles said, “when you step in the huddle, then you're able to face adversity better because there's gonna be times when Nagy calls the play and it's a different defense than it should be and it's up to the quarterback to change it.”

The Bears can try to simulate that adversity in practice, but also have a couple years’ worth of information that Trubisky can’t pull out of it. If everything is equal on the practice field, wouldn’t the Bears choose the guy who they hope can fix things in the middle of a game, rather than the guy who’s shown he can’t?

“This is a kid (Foles) who’s been through a lot of different situations,” Nagy said. “He’s been a Super Bowl MVP, he’s been in pressure moments and he understands a lot of the things that we’re looking for.”

Again, the Bears have not named Foles their starter. He carries a lower cap hit in 2020 than Trubisky, meaning the Bears will be okay financially with him being a backup. Trubisky could be sparked by the mere presence of Foles into being some version of the guy Pace hoped he was getting three years ago. 

If that’s the case, Foles may never play a down for the Bears in 2020. That’s actually the team’s best-case scenario. It’s what the Bears — and Bears fans — should be hoping for. 

But realistically, the odds are in Foles’ favor to be QB1 in Week 1. This franchise knows what Trubisky can do. A lot of Nagy’s coaches, including Nagy himself, know what Foles can do from past experiences working with him. And that gives an advantage to Foles. 

So if, in the absence of actual sports to gamble on right now, you’re looking for a safe bet: Take Nick Foles to be the Bears’ starting quarterback in Week 1 of the 2020 season. 

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Nick Foles 'grateful' for Bears trade: 'If I don’t agree to restructured contract, I’m not traded'

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USA Today

Nick Foles 'grateful' for Bears trade: 'If I don’t agree to restructured contract, I’m not traded'

Nick Foles wanted to be a Bear. He made that perfectly clear.

In fact, Friday’s conference call with the new Chicago Bears quarterback was pretty much over and Foles easily could have hung up and gone on with the rest of his day. Instead, he wanted to make sure the reporter who asked the last question about his trade to Chicago got the answer she wanted.

After further clarification, Foles went on to give an answer that lasted three minutes and nine seconds, addressing the details of his trade and restructured contract with the Bears.

“If I don’t agree to a restructure, I’m not traded, so therefore I’m back in Jacksonville,” Foles said. “This situation works best for the Jacksonville Jaguars and for the Chicago Bears and for me.”

Later, Foles actually called it a “crazy restructure,” most likely because it’s definitely a complicated and unique contract. But all parties had to get creative to make it work for the Jaguars, Bears and Foles.

So here’s essentially what happened: First, the Bears and Jaguars had to agree to a deal, but it was contingent on Foles agreeing to restructure his contract. At that point, Nick Foles’ agent David Dunn was notified of the trade and the quarterback had to weigh his options. This gave him some leverage, but he had to look at the situation in Jacksonville with Garner Minshew, the situation in Chicago with Mitchell Trubisky, compare the coaching staffs, and ultimately determine if it was worth moving his family. The COVID-19 pandemic also had to be considered because Foles’ wife, Tori, is pregnant and due to give birth in June. The couple endured a heartbreaking miscarriage last year and moving won’t exactly be easy in today's present world. 

“This is ultimately what I thought was best based on a lot of information from this last season to where agreeing to a crazy restructure was necessary to allow me to go play for Coach Nagy and the Chicago Bears,” Foles said. “It’s probably not the logistical move if you’re looking at numbers and contracts and moving and all that stuff, but it was necessary based on my heart and a lot of prayer and thinking. It was obviously a struggle.”

That said, Foles still sounded like a guy who wanted to be traded.

“I'm grateful for Jacksonville to allow it to happen,” he said. “Because ultimately (Jaguars general manager) Dave Caldwell and (owner) Shad Khan had to allow me to be traded and we were able to work behind the scenes to have these conversations to make it happen to where they would be open to trading me. And then ultimately it came down to the restructure and everything like that. But it took every single party to be on the same page and allowing this to happen.”

The restructure wasn’t simple, which is why some of the details are still unknown. What we know is that the Jaguars are taking a big cap hit this year to get out of Foles' contract in 2021 and 2022. Meanwhile, the Bears needed to add legitimate competition for Trubisky, but do so without breaking the bank because they didn’t have a whole lot of cap space to work with. In the end, Foles will still get the nearly $20.125 million guaranteed that was left on his Jaguars deal, but the Bears turned his contract into a more cap-friendly 3-year, $24 million contract.

Instead of getting base salaries of $15.125 million in 2020, $14.875 million in 2021 and $20 million in 2022, Foles will get $8 million in each of the three years.

But why would he do that?

Well, under his previous contract, there was only a $5 million roster bonus guaranteed beyond 2020, so unless he played like an All-Pro this upcoming season, Foles could have become an obvious cap casualty and not received those high salaries in 2021 and 2022 anyway. By agreeing to the restructure, he helps his job security because the guaranteed money is more spread out.

But what happens if he actually does play like an All-Pro?

The Bears included additional incentives reportedly worth up to $6 million per year. We don’t know what the specific thresholds are, but it’s safe to say that if Foles beats out Trubisky and leads the Bears to a Super Bowl, he’ll be compensated for it.

And in that scenario, he’d also certainly be worth more than $14 million ($8 million plus maximum incentives) per year, so the deal reportedly allows Foles to void either of the final two years of the contract based on performance. That’s vague, but again, the Bears are giving Foles the ability to earn what he’s worth. They had to do so to get him to take a team-friendly restructure that allowed the team to address other areas of need on the roster.

It’s a very reasonable deal for all sides. And most importantly, in 2020, the Bears have two highly motivated quarterbacks in an true open competition.

“Ultimately it was time to make a change,” Foles said. “It really worked best for both parties because I love Gardner (Minshew). I think Jacksonville can build around Gardner and now I have an opportunity to play for a team that I played a couple of years ago (in the playoffs) that was honestly one of the best teams I've played against. To be with a coach that was there for me from the beginning like Doug Pederson was. I got Matt Nagy.”

And Nagy has Foles.