Bears

Bears In-foe: Giants' 'O' just a two-man show

Bears In-foe: Giants' 'O' just a two-man show

Eli and Odell.

After a dozen years and two Super Bowls under Tom Coughlin, the fact that the Giants had three straight losing seasons and four non-playoff campaigns since capturing their last Lombardi brought change. Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo, who oversaw the last season’s eighth-ranked offense after coming over from Green Bay, was promoted. The bigger problems were on the other side of the ball. So what’s happened? Big Blue has slipped to 21st in offense, in large part to a non-existent run game, while averaging only 20 points per game. And they’re on a four-game win streak to improve to 6-3.

Eli Manning turns 36 in less than two months but is in his 12th straight season without missing a start. He’s been there through thick and thin and is up to seventh in NFL history with 309 touchdown passes, eighth all-time in completions (3,920) and ninth with 46,668 passing yards (335 behind No. 8 Fran Tarkenton). His touchdown-to-interception ratio this season is a pedestrian 15-to-10, with three lost fumbles, and his passer rating of 87.6 ranks 21st. But the guy has obviously been the “constant,” despite not being close to the vocal leader his brother was in his Hall-of-Fame career. Eli will never beat you with his feet (518 career rushing yards and a 1.9 average), but what’s considered a mediocre-at-best offensive line has allowed just 12 sacks. Derek Carr (11) in Oakland is the only regular signal-caller this season to have been sacked fewer times.

McAdoo made the gutsy call early in the fourth quarter Monday night to go for it on fourth-and-goal on the Cincinnati three-yard line, trailing 20-14. They set up so rookie wideout Sterling Shepard had linebacker Vontaze Burfict in isolation at the goal line, and Eli zinged it in to him for what turned into the winning score. Shepard’s 39 catches rank second among rookies, and he has been a key addition with Victor Cruz (25 catches, 377 yards, one touchdown) trying to see if he can recapture his star status after missing a stretch of 26 straight games the two previous seasons with calf and knee injuries. Cruz sat out Monday with an ankle injury but is expected to return against the Bears.

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But Cruz had already taken a back seat to Odell Beckham Jr., the meteoric first-round 2014 pick who was considered somewhat of a gamble because of his own injury history at LSU. Despite the occasional diva-like drama when opponents get in his head and a love-hate relationship with sideline kicking nets, he’s produced with the best. He reached 3,500 career receiving yards in just his 36th game, topping the mark previously held by Lance Alworth by one game. As good as Tracy Porter’s been this season, Beckham's quickness will be a challenge for him or perhaps Bryce Callahan who, if healthy, might be a more suitable matchup. But that’s a big “if.” Beckham had 10 catches for 97 yards Monday and made Pac Man Jones look ridiculous on a touchdown reception. Tight ends Larry Donnell and Will Tye have combined for 42 receptions.

The weakness, as mentioned, has been the ground game. It’s dropped from 19th to 31st (74.2 yards per game). Rashad Jennings rushed for 863 yards (4.4 average) a year ago, but that’s down to 255 and 3.2 this year. Monday night’s 87 yards on 15 carries were a bright spot. His complement, Shane Vereen, is on injured reserve, and before his better outing versus the Bengals, there was thought fifth-round rookie Paul Perkins would be getting more snaps.

The left side of the line and center Weston Richburg is the strength up front. 2015 first-rounder Ereck Flowers mans the left edge but might be better suited, long-term, on the right side. They lost left guard Jethro Pugh two games ago for up to a month with a knee injury. Brett Jones, whose last start before Monday was in the CFL in 2014, was injured on the first series, testing the depth further. With right tackle Marshall Newhouse trying to work his way back from a calf injury, the Giants are leaning on former seventh-round pick Bobby Hart.

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.