Bears

Emery will not shrink from taking WR's No. 1

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Emery will not shrink from taking WR's No. 1

The Phil Emery Era begins officially on Monday afternoon at Halas Hall as the Bears install the one individual calculated to have the greatest single influence on the Bears on-field future.

For the moment, however, a significant look is to the past, as it was for President Ted Phillips and the organization over the past few weeks. The decision that Emery was the man for the Bears future was based on his past, what hes done or whats happened where hes been besides character traits and what he saw as the directions to be followed if he were the choice for general manager.

Keys to Emerys future (really, anyone's for that matter) lie in his past, whether as a tough, disciplined strength and conditioning coach at the Naval Academy or as a college scouting director in the NFL.

General managers bring definite philosophies to their courses of talent action, beyond the obvious quest for greatness in players.

Jim Finks focused on tackles and quarterback on offense, reasoning that the end game was to secure the triggerman and also elite protection for that individual. Consequently there was a premium on tackles like Ron Yary in Minnesota with a No. 1-overall pick, and Dennis LickTed Albrecht (1976-77) and Keith Van HorneJimbo Covert (1981, 1983) with first-rounders.

Finks built the Vikings defense on the foundation of Carl Eller and Alan Page, both No. 1s.

Jerry Angelo had a propensity toward linemen with first picks of drafts at Tampa Bay and Chicago, albeit with a far sparser success rate than Finks.

Wide receivers as draft targets

While Emery was a top figure in college scouting for Atlanta, the Falcons went principally after impact players on offense. They chose wide receivers with late No. 1s in consecutive drafts: Michael Jenkins No. 29 in 2004 (after cornerback DeAngelo Hall at No. 8) and Roddy White at No. 27 in 2005.

Defensive end Jamaal Anderson was a bust at No. 8 overall in 2007 but the Falcons scored in 2008 with quarterback Matt Ryan at No. 3 overall. The Falcons traded up to get USC tackle Sam Baker in 2009 and got a marginal starter.

Angelo disliked drafting wide receivers with high picks because of the too-freequent bust factor. David Terrell (2001, No. 8 overall) and Mark Bradley (2005, second round) supported his beliefs.

But Emery comes from the Kansas City Chiefs and GM Scott Pioli most recently, where a central figure on offense has been wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, the 23rd overall pick of the pre-Emery 2007 draft.

Bowe is an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The Bears have been willing to invest heavily in free agent receivers (Muhsin Muhammed, 2005) and Bowe is substantially above what Muhammed was at the time of his becoming a Bear.

And Kansas City used their first pick (26th overall) in the 2011 draft on Jonathan Baldwin, a wide receiver from Pittsburgh. Baldwin missed time early with a broken thumb suffered in training camp.

Notably perhaps are the types of wideouts his teams have drafted with Emerys involvement: Jenkins, 6-4; White, 6-0; Baldwin, 6-4. And Bowe is 6-2.
Resolving Forte
Emery also was with the Chiefs in December 2010 when they gave running back Jamaal Charles a multi-year deal that included 13 million guaranteed in various forms. That deal was one standard of measure for the not-accepted offer made to Matt Forte prior to the 2011 season.

The franchise tag remains the likely option in Fortes case. Only speculation here, but Emery also saw the fragility of a running back when Charles was lost for the season after one week. Chances would seem marginal at best that Emery would be inclined to pay Forte more than Angelo was offering and substantially more than the Chiefs paid Charles, a three-time Pro Bowler.

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.