Bears

For Bears, interior OL a good strength to build on for 2017

For Bears, interior OL a good strength to build on for 2017

INDIANAPOLIS — A team coming off a 3-13 season doesn't usually speak of "strengths," if for no other reason than they usually didn't have many, or any at all. The Bears don't entirely see things that way.

A Bears team ostensibly committed to running the football tied for fourth in rushing average (4.6 yards per carry), and rookie tailback Jordan Howard wasn't the only "strength" behind that success, general manager Ryan Pace assessed Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. 

"I feel good about what we've done with our offensive line," Pace said. "You look at the interior offensive line [guards Kyle Long and Josh Sitton, and center Cody Whitehair] that we have, you know, I think it's set to be one of the better interior groups in the league.

"Of course there are more pieces we need to add, that's important. I think you can see the value of building a strong offensive line and what it does for the quarterback. In Dallas you have a great example of that."

On the surface, the Dallas example is enticing — the Cowboys went from 4-12 in 2015 to 13-3 in 2016 with the constant being an offensive line regarded as one of the best in the NFL. Four of the Cowboys' five regular starters in 2015 returned in 2016, with left guard La'el Collins the only departure (he suffered a season-ending toe injury in Week 3 against the Bears).

First-round running back Ezekiel Elliott was a revelation and, coupled with that offensive line, allowed a soft landing for fourth round quarterback Dak Prescott. Prescott took full advantage of that opportunity, throwing for 23 touchdowns and only four interceptions (in what's been discussed as the best rookie year for a quarterback in NFL history) while pushing the Cowboys to a 13-3 season. 

But as tantalizing as the 2016 Cowboys are, there's a flip side: The 2015 Cowboys still lost 12 games with the same offensive line. So what does that mean for the 2017 Bears?

The running game and offensive line strength is a good start, but it doesn't necessarily mean Pace will over-aggressively pursue free agents to add to the offense with decisions needed at quarterback (Pace described Jay Cutler's status as "fluid") and wide receiver (with Alshon Jeffery set to hit free agency). 

The larger strategy Pace hinted at in Indianapolis, then, is to mix in some veterans through free agency (the Bears do have loads of cap space, after all) but continue to focus on building through young talent. And, to go back to the Dallas example, it's worth noting the two most important pieces the Cowboys added in 2016 were through the draft. 

"There is a delicate balance between being aggressive and being decisive, but being responsible," Pace said. "I think you can always recover from the player you didn't sign; you can't recover from the player that you signed at the wrong price. I think we've got to be conscious of that."

Bears' offense ranks among the NFL's worst analytically, new study finds

Bears' offense ranks among the NFL's worst analytically, new study finds

The Bears' offense was bad last year. I know that. You know that. The Bears (hopefully?) know that. 

But *extremely 30 For 30 voice* what if I told you just how bad they really were? Would you be interested in that? You wouldn't be? Sorry, got a quota to hit. 

In a fascinating new study written by Rotoworld's Hayden Weeks, the lack of modern wrinkles in Chicago's offense are made painstakingly clear. Weeks took an analytically-slanted look at every NFL offense, and friends, it's a rough read: 

4th Down Aggressiveness: 23rd
Pass Rate on Early Downs: 9th
Pass Rate While Trailing: 13th
Play-Action Rate: 27th
Downfield Pass Rate: 16th
Middle of the Field Pass Rate: 5th
Pre-Snap Motion Percentage: 30th
Outside Run Rate: 20th
Shotgun Run Rate: 5th
Offensive Pace: 22nd

Overall, Weeks ranks the Bears as the 22nd best offense in football based on the above metrics. If there's any hope whatsoever, it comes from his short write up of Nagy's offense – but still, temper your expectations: 

If I incorporated the front office, the Bears would be much lower, but I think Nagy holds his own in terms of in-game analytics usage. He’s just been dealt a horrible hand at quarterback and with the offensive line. Nagy opted for a decent pass rate on early downs (9th) and while trailing (13th), plus uses shotgun a lot and targets the middle of the field (5th). There are a few things holding him back from jumping into Tier 3, however. The Bears weren’t aggressive enough on fourth downs (23rd) and didn't use play action (27th) or pre-snap motion (30th) nearly enough. Maybe the quarterback change sparks change.

Bears: Use play action! Just try it! I promise you'll like it. 

Did Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes' mega-deal actually leave money on table?

Did Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes' mega-deal actually leave money on table?

Patrick Mahomes forever altered the sports contract landscape with his landmark 10-year, $450 million extension that became official this week. It made all the sense in the world to lock up the 2018 MVP whose team could very easily be coming off back-to-back Super Bowl titles if not for a nail-biting loss to the eventual-champion Patriots in the 2019 AFC Championship game. But Brad Spielberger, who does extensive salary cap research and writing for OverTheCap.com, believes Mahomes could have massively cashed in again if he took a different approach to these negotiations

Coming in, we knew this was going to be a groundbreaking deal in some respects... I really didn’t think he was going to give up that many years of control – it’s basically a lifetime contract. Again, I know it’s maybe up to half a billion dollars, so it sounds crazy to maybe question his thinking there, but in 5, 6, 7 years down the road, he probably could have gotten another deal that would have made this one look small in comparison.

Every team in the league would love this deal… every front office in the NFL would say, the fact that they have this much time on this deal is the best part about it. Again, it’s a monstrous deal and there are outs at certain points so it’s not so strict as to say he can’t get out of it or he can’t work with it. If I’m his agent, I would push for 5 years, $200M fully guaranteed; let’s go mega-Kirk Cousins on steroids, let’s change the game, and then let’s see if we can sign a deal for $50M a year when that one runs out.

The scenario painted there is an interesting one, and might have allowed Mahomes to reset the quarterback market twice in a decade… but we’ll never know. For more from Spielberger, including how the Mahomes deal impacts the Dak Prescott and Deshaun Watson negotiations and what the Bears’ offseason moves tell him about the mindset of Ryan Pace’s front office, listen to the most recent edition of the Under Center podcast here or below.