As Bears prepare for Marcus Mariota, expectations for 2017 should be on the rise

As Bears prepare for Marcus Mariota, expectations for 2017 should be on the rise

The 2016 Bears season has been nothing if not a succession of painful object lessons (not to be confused with the literally painful injury elements) in quarterback management. Sunday another one lines up against them in the person of Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota.

But more is involved than another might-have-been Bears quarterback; the Bears sniffed at the cost of trading up for Mariota in 2015 but didn’t, and neither did anyone else. The Bears could have taken Dak Prescott in this year’s fourth round, but every other team passed on him in nearly four rounds. For that matter, every team passed for more than two full rounds on Joe Montana, Tom Brady and so on and so on.

The broader issue is not the past, however, but the future.

Because Mariota has become the latest case study for what Bears Nation might expect from a draft commitment to the position in 2017.

The Bears, who already have lost to three rookie/second-year quarterbacks (Prescott, Carson Wentz, Jameis Winston), are actively evaluating more than a dozen scenarios for addressing their quarterback situation in the coming offseason, sources told Those scenarios involve the draft, free agency and trade possibilities, and Jay Cuter, the only NFC starting (when he’s healthy) quarterback who has been with his team more than one full season and failed to reach the playoffs even once since 2010.

The oddity is that starting over with a young quarterback has typically reflected a collapsed franchise. Not so anymore, which is why the Bears internally want so much to establish what kind of core the presumptive new quarterback will take over.

Winston took Tampa Bay from two wins to six in his rookie season. Prescott has taken Dallas from four wins to 10 already. The Philadelphia Eagles are at 5-5 with Wentz after trading up for him from a 7-9 mark last season.

Mariota, the No. 2 pick, has played himself into the seventh-ranked passer (100.3 passer rating) in just his second season, and that with an abysmal team (that’s how you earn No. 2 picks usually). Prescott is No. 3 (108.6).

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The Titans were 2-14 in 2014 to get the No. 2 pick they used for Mariota. They were only slightly better last year (3-13) but already have a win total up to five, and have seen Mariota become one of the NFL’s best at closing once he gets the football in close.

Besides in the red zone, “he’s been effective in every other part of the field,” said Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. “He’s athletic; his movement comes into play, and they’ve run special plays down there that he can execute well.

“They have a lot of offensive packages down in the red zone that they’ve been successful with. And they still run the ball well down there. So they’ve got more variety in the red zone than most teams, and the quarterback is engineering it all.”

Bears still see Dion Sims as a valuable piece to their offensive puzzle

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Bears still see Dion Sims as a valuable piece to their offensive puzzle

Dion Sims is still here, which is the outcome he expected but perhaps wasn’t a slam dunk — at least to those outside the walls at Halas Hall. 

The Bears could’ve cut ties with Sims prior to March 16 and saved $5.666 million against the cap, quite a figure for a guy coming off a disappointing 2017 season (15 catches, 180 yards, one touchdown). But the Bears are sticking with Sims, even after splashing eight figures to land Trey Burton in free agency earlier this year. 

“In my mind, I thought I was coming back,” Sims said. “I signed to be here three years and that’s what I expect. But I understand how things go and my job is come out here and work hard every day and play with a chip on my shoulder to prove myself and just be a team guy.”

The Bears signed Sims to that three-year, $18 million contract 14 months ago viewing him as a rock-solid blocking tight end with some receiving upside. The receiving upside never materialized, and his blocking was uneven at times as the Bears’ offense slogged through a bleak 11-loss season. 

“The situation we were in, we weren’t — we could’ve done a better job of being successful,” Sims said. “Things didn’t go how we thought it would. We just had to pretty much try to figure out how to come together and build momentum into coming into this year. I just think there were a lot of things we could have done, but because of the circumstances we were limited a little bit. 

“… It was a lot of things going on. Guys hurt, situations — it was tough for us. We couldn’t figure it out, along with losing, that was a big part of it too.”

Sims will be given a fresh start in 2018, even as Adam Shaheen will be expected to compete to cut into Sims’ playing time at the “Y” tight end position this year. The other side of that thought: Shaheen won’t necessarily slide into being the Bears’ primary in-line tight end this year. 

Sims averaged 23 receptions, 222 yards and two touchdowns from 2014-2016; that might be a good starting point for his 2018 numbers, even if it would represent an improvement from 2017. More important, perhaps, is what Sims does as a run blocker — and that was the first thing Nagy mentioned when talking about how Sims fits into his offense. 

“The nice thing with Dion is that he’s a guy that’s proven to be a solid blocker,” Nagy said. “He can be in there and be your Y-tight end, but yet he still has really good hands. He can make plays on intermediate routes. He’s not going to be anybody that’s a downfield threat — I think he knows that, we all know that — but he’s a valuable piece of this puzzle.”

Bears logo ranked in bottom five of NFL in recent fan poll

USA Today

Bears logo ranked in bottom five of NFL in recent fan poll

The Chicago Bears logo has withstood the test of time. In a sports era full of uniform changes, the Bears have maintained the classic orange 'C' for most of their nearly 100 years in Chicago.

Unfortunately, tradition doesn't equate to popularity.

Chicago's logo ranked 28th in the NFL, according to a recent poll of nearly 1,500 football fans. Only the Redskins (29), Bengals (30), Jets (31) and Browns (32) were worse.

I’m not sure how I feel about the underbite on the “C.” I can see how this would be a polarizing feature of this logo. I wish to an extent that it met up more evenly. I think they could have had the bottom meet up in a more even fashion and still maintained the sharpness, of the “C,” which I like. I don’t mind the point [ON THE BACK SIDE OF THE “C”], without the point it would be super boring. The point actually does add something from a design standpoint that makes it stand out.

Bears fans will take exception with the results. Wins have been hard to come by in recent seasons, but there's still something special about seeing the familiar navy and orange on Sundays in the fall. The 'C' is arguably the biggest part of that. Sure, it's not a complex design overflowing with colors, but it represents a long and storied history. 

It's interesting that each of the bottom five teams have struggled to string together winning seasons. On the flipside, teams like the Saints, Falcons, Rams, Vikings and Eagles rank in the top six. Maybe it's recency bias.

In the NFC North, the Lions rank No. 2 (which is a shocker) and the Packers are No. 20.