Bears

Bears' shot at No. 1 seed still alive after Saints win

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Bears' shot at No. 1 seed still alive after Saints win

Tuesday, Dec. 28, 2010
1:57 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Well, from the Chicago Bears, thank you very much, New Orleans Saints.

Drew Brees rallying the Saints for a win over Atlanta (only the second GeorgiaDome loss for Matt Ryan) gave a little more life to the Bears outside shot at the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. The Saints and Falcons still need to both lose next weekend, which is a collective longshot because both are home, but anything that tilts the Bears toward playing the Green Bay game like it matters, the better for the Bears.

As I alluded to Monday, the Bears definitely benefit from a bye but not necessarily when they coast with resting starters in their final games of seasons. What that does is give certain key starters a de facto three-week break from intense prep, since the week before the last game isnt spent with the pedal all the way down if you know youre not playing. Thats just human nature. And then you have the actual bye week, and then finally comes the get-back-to-work.

You have to like the Bears chances in any case. And if Carolina and Tampa Bay can trip up Atlanta and New Orleans next Sunday, who knows?

Interesting perspective

FoxSports.com NFL vet and good friend Alex Marvez was in town for the Jets game (and some good jazz with Cyrus Chestnut at The Jazz Showcase awesome!). He also took an interesting look at the improbable Bears, improbable perhaps only because of some of the second-chance guys that have been instrumental in whats happened this season in Chicago.

Consider the number of key figures that have reinvented or re-started themselves as part of this Bears team: Mike Martz, Rod Marinelli, Greg Olsen (a new way of looking at his play), Jay Cutler, others. As Alex notes, not a lot was expected from this team but part of that was because of perceptions, and some very important individuals made some very important changes.

Rostering

It probably wont happen but putting tight end Desmond Clark on the active roster for Green Bay makes some sense. No one has caught more passes (36) lifetime vs. the Packers. Greg Olsen is next with 22 and Clark and Olsen have combined for 5 TD catches against the Packers...

Deal-watching

The three-year contract for defensive tackle Matt Toeaina sets in place a nice solid piece of the future on the defensive line, much as Israel Idonijes contract and extension did in 2006, even before Idonije emerged as the end he is now. The Toeaina pact give the Bears an obvious alternative to Tommie Harris, who isnt likely to be back after this season and likely just needs a fresh start for himself...

Two other contract situations warrant monitoring. Center Olin Kreutz is the only game in town at that position for the Bears and hell be back with a short-term deal. And Matt Forte, whos now the first back in franchise history to total 1,400 all-purpose yards his first three seasons, is up after next season. Look for the Bears to lock him up long-term before he goes to camp in what could be a very lucrative contract year if they dont.

What Forte and the offensive line have done since the off week, along with Jay Cutlers No. 1 conversion rate on third-down passes (54.7 percent), is have Forte averaging 4.7 yards per carry and stand No. 7 in the NFL with 810 total yards from scrimmage.

Huh?

The Bus was always the one that got away for the Bears, who could have drafted him in 1992 and solved running back issues for a long time. But Jerome Bettis as an analyst is a little harder to solve.

Bettis posits the Eagles as the best team in the NFC because of how theyre winning, variety of weapons, the usual stuff. What makes Bettis analysis a little bizarre is his citing the one Eagle blip as the loss to the Bears in Chicago, which he calls arguably the toughest NFC venue.

Really? The venue where the home team lost three times this season, twice to dud teams? And then theres the Georgia Dome, where Atlantas loss Monday to the Saints was exactly the second defeat the Falcons have suffered there in Matt Ryans career.

As I always stress, I have no rooting interest in the Bears (other than when they make my predictions look clairvoyant), but between Bettis proclamation and NFL guru Peter King ranking the Bears No. 7 on his power list, below the Eagles (No. 3) and tied with the Packers, two teams the Bears defeated, its hard to argue with Bears claiming they really dont get a fair share of respect.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Bears Free Agent Focus: Eric Ebron

Bears Free Agent Focus: Eric Ebron

Stop me if you've heard this one before: The Bears need a tight end.

It's a narrative that started bubbling since the middle of the 2019 regular season when it became apparent that neither Trey Burton nor Adam Shaheen was the answer at the position for the Bears. Coach Matt Nagy was forced to turn to undrafted rookie Jesper Horsted and little-known veteran J.P. Holtz to find production for his offense. It was a big problem for Nagy, whose system calls for a playmaking tight end like Travis Kelce to hit its maximum potential.

To be fair, there's only a few at that level (Kelce, George Kittle and Zach Ertz) in the league right now. But the Bears have to do their due diligence this offseason to try and find a 'lite' version of that guy. One player in free agency who has a resume of recent production as a pass-catcher to maybe be 'that guy' is Eric Ebron, who's coming off of a down year with the Colts.

Ebron appeared in just 11 games last season and finished with 31 catches for 375 yards and three touchdowns. It was a stark contrast from 2018 when he scored 13 touchdowns and was one of the NFL's best playmakers at the position.

RELATED: Bears Free Agent Focus: Case Keenum

The problem with Ebron as a viable target for Chicago is that his tenure in the league produced more seasons like 2019 than 2018, but his pedigree as a former top-10 pick with high-end athletic traits warrants at least a look for a possible one-year prove-it deal.

At 26 years old, Ebron still has a lot of good football left in his legs. His market value should come in lower than Burton's $8 million per season; according to Spotrac, Ebron's expected contract this offseason will pay him around $7.5 million per year. Compared to the likely cost for players like Austin Hooper (Falcons) and Hunter Henry (Chargers), Ebron will be a bargain.

Ryan Pace will be bargain shopping in March, and Ebron may end up on the discount rack after the first wave of free agency concludes. Teams will be hesitant to offer him the kind of multi-year deal he's going to seek, which will give the Bears a chance to swoop in and lure him with the prove-it theory. He's young enough to earn a lucrative contract in 2021 if he posts big-time numbers in 2020, which Nagy's offense will give him the chance to do if he stays healthy.

Even the worst version of Ebron is better than the best of what Chicago has on its roster right now. He should rank highly on their offseason wish list, assuming his market remains where it logically should.

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Bears Free Agent Focus: Case Keenum

Bears Free Agent Focus: Case Keenum

The Bears have been connected to all of the big-name free agent quarterbacks this offseason. General manager Ryan Pace is expected to add competition for the starting job in free agency or the 2020 NFL draft after incumbent and former second overall pick, Mitch Trubisky, regressed mightily in his third season last year.

But rather than focus on players like Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and even Marcus Mariota, it makes more sense to pay close attention to the next tier of free agent passers who could offer a potential upgrade from Trubisky while not necessarily creating shockwaves through Halas Hall upon signing.

One quarterback who fits that description perfectly is Case Keenum, the journeyman starter who's entering his 10th season in the league. 

Keenum is coming off of back-to-back forgettable seasons with the Broncos and Redskins, but it wasn't long ago when he was one of the better storylines in the NFL after leading the Vikings to 11 wins in 14 starts in 2017. He threw for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions that year and earned himself a respectable two-year, $36 million contract with Denver in 2018. His tenure as a Bronco lasted just one season (he finished 2018 with a 6-10 record) and his time as the Redskins starter was short-lived in 2019. He started just eight games for Washington.

For his career, Keenum's completed 62.4% of his passes and has thrown 75 touchdowns compared to 47 interceptions.

Keenum's resume isn't overly impressive, which is why he's a great fit for what Pace should try to accomplish over the next two months. He has to find a competent starter who can take advantage of everything else the Bears have going for them (namely, a championship-caliber defense) and who can be aggressive enough on offense to score enough points to win the close games. Keenum proved in 2017 that he can do that, especially when he has a good supporting case around him.

Keenum also qualifies as a solid bridge quarterback in the event Trubisky crashes and burns in 2020. At 32 years old, he's young enough to keep the starting job for a couple of seasons while Chicago attempts to find a younger long-term answer under center. 

Last but not least, he's going to be cheap. He didn't have a good year in 2019, and he was making just $3.5 million with the Redskins. There will be a limited market for his services this March, which means the Bears should be able to land him at a backup's salary despite his starter's upside. And that matters, especially for a team that's trying to free up salary cap space for other positions of need along the offensive line and secondary.

Keenum won't move the needle much for Bears fans in March, but landing a player of his caliber could ultimately be the difference between the Bears missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season and making a deep playoff run.