Bears

Don't blame Bears for Hurd situation

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Don't blame Bears for Hurd situation

What if the reason the Bears didnt find out that Sam Hurd was a drug figure of note was becausehe wasnt?

The knives didnt take long to come out for GM Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith after the Hurd case popped on Thursday. Nothing was really known beyond information contained in the federal complaint detailing Hurd activities that generally commenced in late July, but critics were declaring that there were ample indicators that the Bears should have picked up on.

An interesting rush to judgment. If you dont like Angelo or Smith, especially after a three-game losing streak, it's easy to drill them, facts optional. (If you dont think there is agenda journalism, youre not playing close enough attention. But thats getting off point here).

I had a long chat on Friday with Mike Florio over at ProFootballTalk.coms PFT Live! Mike, an attorney himself, had some seriously interesting perspectives that start with some basic common sense, which is the first thing to go in hysteria reactions.

The fact that, in the 24 hours-plus since the story broke, no one is reporting anything about the scope or breadth of the operation suggests that there was no operation, Mike wrote.

Heres the overall:

If Hurd was an operation before July, when the Bears signed him, no one in the Bears, Cowboys, NFL or government appears to have known it.

If he wasnt an operation, what exactly were Angelo, Smith and the Bears supposed to have known?

Once Hurd became or was aspiring to operation status, since July, what were the Bears supposed to have done if in fact details of a covert operation were shared with them?

More on that in a bit.

Mike and my mutual conclusion, based on the complaint and other considerations, was that the real indications are that Hurd wasnt a drug kingpin at all, but that he wanted to become one and was taking his first big steps toward it (http:tinyurl.com77sahy2).

Which doesnt exonerate Hurd of even a shred of his alleged actions. It does, however, point in a different direction with respect to the Bears.

Some points of perspective

Big time? How big?

One thing that jumped out at us immediately was the clumsiness with which Hurd handled the situation of the 88,000 found in a vehicle registered to him and driven by an apparent associate, who said the money belonged to Hurd.

As I recounted to Mike, a longtime friend working for an airline told me of how a mule carrying money for a suspected drug operation very calmly denied that a briefcase containing 125,000 in cash even belonged to him. He just walked away from it when authorities opened it and questioned him.

If Hurd was Pablo Escobar, he walks away from the car and the money.

According to the complaint, Hurd was talking to undercover officers about the massive amounts of cocaine and marijuana that he would need. He wasnt already doing business at those levels; he had huge plans but he wasnt there yet, albeit because his supplier couldnt get him what he needed.

Hurd clearly was wanting to take a big step, based on the federal complaint. But every sign so far says he hadnt taken it by the time the Bears signed him. And if there were earlier steps, they hadnt tripped any bells in Texas or Illinois.

Telling the Bears?

The Feds appear to have been onto Hurd for some time, based on information in the complaint. The Bears have former FBI and police officers comprising most of their security staff, including Director of Security and Safety Services Tom Dillon, a former SWAT team member.

Dillon and NFL security people have contacts and sources. The only available information right now says that the law was tracking Hurd since July since he became a Bear, not before by more than a day or two.

Should the authorities have given the Bears information on a covertsting operation? Not if they want it to remain covert. If the Bears, whod already made their deal with Hurd, were tipped off, should they cut Hurd immediately? And alert him in the process that something big was up? A difficult spot to be in, even if officials had apprised the Bears of what was being done, which we clearly dont know at this point.

So, should the Bears

Hurd does not appear to have been enough of a drug player to have registered on federal or NFL radar in Dallas, where he was for the last five years. Five years.

Maybe the lockout and the fact that the Cowboys werent bringing him back moved Hurd to start thinking about life, such as this would have been, after football.

Whatever, there is nothing to indicate that Angelo was lying Friday when he said, there was nothing we found that would create a flag or alert or real concern in Sam Hurds case.

Best evidence is that Hurd was still not a big player when the Bears signed him. As far as him being even a fringe drug player, Dallas didnt know; the NFL didnt know; the Bears didnt know. If someone has more than just opinion that they did or should have, trot it out.

After they signed him, Hurd still wasnt a player. And whatever he was, as I mentioned before, the nature of the investigation sets this outside the parameters of a simple background character check.

Throw in a lockout that put more than a few limits on information flow for teams and players, and you have an interesting environment.

Mike made one more point: In the day-plus thats gone by since this first broke, nothing really notable has been added. One report was that a double-digit list of involved players was out there, but that was shot down subsequently.

Knocking Angelo, Smith or the Bears for not having a better backup quarterback is one thing. Bashing them for not knowing about a drug situation with what is known at this point something else altogether.

3 things 2020 Bears will need to repeat 2018’s success

3 things 2020 Bears will need to repeat 2018’s success

The first two years of the Matt Nagy era can be boiled down to this: First, a tremendously fun year in which the Bears blew past expectations; and second, a tremendously un-fun year in which the Bears fell short of expectations.

So what will 2020 be closer to: The unbridled joy of 2018 (until the last kick of the wild card round), or the numbing disappointment of 2019 (despite still winning eight games)?

To answer that question, we should start by laying out some expectations for 2020. Broadly: The Bears should compete for a spot in an expanded seven-team playoff field. More narrowly: The Bears’ offense should be, at worst, league-average – about where it was in 2018. And the defense, led by a mauling pass rush, should be one of the best in the NFL even without Eddie Goldman.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Bears news and analysis.

But how do the Bears get 2020 to feel more like 2018 than 2019? Here are three key factors:

The tight end question

Trey Burton did not miss a game in 2018’s regular season, and the Bears’ offense was better because of it. While Burton’s numbers weren’t eye-popping (54 catches, 569 yards, 6 TDs) his steadiness at the “U” tight end spot allowed the Bears’ offense to create mismatches, especially with Tarik Cohen.

Burton never was healthy last year, playing poorly in eight games before landing on injured reserve. The Bears didn’t have quality depth behind Burton, and the “Y” spot was a disaster. The lack of any good tight end play wasn’t the only reason why the Bears’ offense cratered in 2019, but it might’ve been the biggest reason.

The starting point to the Bears’ offense in 2020 is, certainly, figuring out who’s playing quarterback. But the Bears need Jimmy Graham, Cole Kmet and Demetrius Harris to be the fixes their tight end room sorely needs. Just average play from those guys will help the Bears’ offense be closer to what it was in 2018 (which, again, was merely good enough), if not better.

MORE: Where Cole Kmet stands as Bears get to know their rookies

And if the tight end room is a disaster again? It might not matter who starts at quarterback.

Good luck and/or good depth

The 2018 Bears were incredibly lucky in dodging significant injuries early on. Adam Shaheen began the year on IR but returned in November; Kyle Long went on IR after Week 8 and came back Week 17. Depth pieces like Sam Acho and Dion Sims were lost, sure, but the Bears did well to make their absences footnotes to the season.

Even when slot corner Bryce Callahan was injured in Week 14, veteran special teamer Sherrick McManis did incredibly well in his place. Eddie Jackson’s season-ending injury in Week 15 was the most costly, as the Bears missed him in that wild card game against Foles and the Eagles.

But overall, the Bears were both lucky in terms of staying healthy and good in terms of replacing those injured guys in 2018.

The Bears saw some depth shine in 2019 – specifically defensive lineman Nick Williams and inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski – but even still, the defense struggled to dominate without Hicks on the field. And the aforementioned tight end position was a disaster without a healthy Burton. Long never was right, and the offensive line without him (or veteran backup Ted Larsen) never was either. Taylor Gabriel’s off-and-on availability due to multiple concussions hampered the offense, too.

2020 inevitably will be a year of attrition not only for the Bears, but for the entire NFL. In addition to avoiding football injuries before and during the season, teams will have to avoid COVID-19 outbreaks in their facilities. Training and personal responsibility can go a long way in avoiding injuries and illness, but it’ll take a lot of luck, too, for teams to stay mostly healthy.

MORE: Fragility of 2020 season constantly on Bears players' minds

The teams with the best depth will have the best chance of making the playoffs. Will the Bears be among that group? Maybe. But a shortage of draft picks in recent years might be costly. We’ll see.

Betting on pressure

The Bears had one of the best defenses of the last decade in 2018 because of, first and foremost, outstanding coverage from its secondary. The ability of Fuller/Jackson/Callahan/Adrian Amos/Prince Amukamara to disguise their coverages confused most opposing offenses, who by the way also had to deal with Hicks pushing the pocket and Mack marauding off the edge. Hicks and Goldman opened up gaps for Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith to snuff out any attempt at establishing the run. It was a perfect formula.

The 2019 Bears’ defense took a step back not only because Vic Fangio (and defensive backs coach Ed Donatell) left for Denver, but because of player attrition, too. Last year’s defense was good, but not great.

The formula for the 2020 Bears’ defense won’t be the same as it was in 2018, though. The signing of Robert Quinn, coupled with jettisoning Leonard Floyd, hints at a defense predicated on a dominant pass rush. Holes in the secondary were addressed on the cheap, be it with Jaylon Johnson or Tashaun Gipson.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. A trio of Mack/Hicks/Quinn seems impossible to contain. If the Bears’ defense re-emerges as one of the best in the NFL, it’ll be because those three guys lead the way in putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.  

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Mitch Trubisky, of course, was dubbed Bears' biggest liability in 2020

Mitch Trubisky, of course, was dubbed Bears' biggest liability in 2020

Mitch Trubisky's tenure in Chicago since being the second overall pick of the 2017 NFL draft hasn't been great. It hasn't been terrible, either. It's been a blend of good and bad which has led to an incomplete picture of who he is as a quarterback entering his fourth year in the league. It's the main reason why the Bears traded for Nick Foles; Trubisky can't be trusted (yet) to be the unquestioned starter for a team that on paper has playoff potential.

The fact that Trubisky can't be trusted contributes to the narrative that he's the team's biggest liability. Even if he wins the Bears' quarterback competition, will he really have the unconditional confidence of his coaches and teammates? Will Bears fans have the kind of faith in Trubisky that fans of other contenders have in their quarterbacks? Probably not. There's no reason why they should. Trubisky hasn't been consistent enough through nearly three seasons as a starter to deserve that level of trust.

According to a recent breakdown of every team's biggest liability, it was Trubisky, of course, who took the title for the Bears.

If new Chicago Bears quarterback Nick Foles can beat out Mitchell Trubisky and play well in 2020, the Bears might be a playoff team. If he cannot, Chicago might be looking at a lost season.

While the Bears roster is very talented, Trubisky has been anything but a steady presence under center. He has struggled to push the ball down the field—he averaged just 6.1 yards per attempt in 2019—and has limited what head coach Matt Nagy is able—or perhaps, willing—to do on offense.

Chicago ranked 29th in passing yardage last year and declined Trubisky's fifth-year option this offseason.

If the Bears are again one-dimensional, they're going to find it difficult to be relevant in the tough NFC North.

I ran a poll on Twitter that asked Bears fans who they prefer as the starting quarterback with just over one month to go before the season kicks off. The results were predictably close, but the nod went to Foles (56%). It feels safe to assume a big reason why fans hope Foles ends up QB1 is because of his proven track record in big moments. Even if he's a boring player with a limited regular-season ceiling, he has ice in his veins during the game's biggest moments. He's steady. He's consistent. He's pretty much the anti-Trubisky.

Is it fair to say Trubisky is a liability? Of course, it is. If he fails, the Bears will be set back for several seasons. Even if Foles salvages the team's short-term outlook, the long-term success of the franchise depends on Trubisky living up to his scouting report and becoming a franchise quarterback. And there just isn't enough evidence to prove he's capable of doing that.

If we don't know by now whether Trubisky can turn the corner and be a top-tier starting quarterback in the NFL, it's probably safe to say he can't. 

 

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