Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Improvement typically comes in incremental steps, not leaps. And the Bears of 2017, based on what they have done at a handful of positions, the latest being Thursday’s signing of wide receiver Victor Cruz, fit that template.

The clear organizational commitment is to build through the draft, even if injuries have undermined some otherwise apparent upgrades to starting lineups on both sides of the football. But if there is a “theme” to what GM Ryan Pace is doing to muscle up a sluggish roster, it is that the Bears are willing to take flyers on veteran players – with additions like four veteran wide receivers with injury and issue histories – that arguably point to a win-now mindset while draft picks develop and contribute.

Jaye Howard and John Jenkins. Make the defensive line “better?” Than Jonathan Bullard and Will Sutton, probably. But “good?” Mmmmm…..

The game-one tight ends last year were Zach Miller-Logan Paulsen-Gregg Scruggs. Now they’re Miller-Dion Sims-Adam Shaheen (based on a second-round draft choice). “Good?” Maybe, maybe not. “Better?” Obviously, based on Sims alone.

Mike Glennon-Mark Sanchez-Mitch Trubisky. Bears “better” at quarterback? Than Jay Cutler-Brian Hoyer-Matt Barkley, probably. “Good?” Mmmmmm…..

The decisions to sign Glennon and Sanchez to the quarterback depth chart have sparked their shares of understandable cynical skepticism. But Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo were not available in trade, so the Pace decision was to gamble on upside with Glennon over the known quantity of Brian Hoyer (the preference of some coaches) and certainly Jay Cutler, for whom “potential” and “upside” no longer applied.

Add in the aggressive draft of Trubisky and the result was three possibilities of hits on a quarterback (Sanchez and Connor Shaw being combined here as a pair entry in the hit-possibility scenarios). All three were deemed an improvement over Cutler and/or Barkley.

The results may not vault the Bears all the way up to “good” at the pivotal position for any franchise. But “better” is sometimes all you can realistically manage.

Taking a wider-screen look at wide receiver in this context… .

Coach John Fox has cited the need for the Bears to establish the ability to get yardage in bigger chunks. Accordingly, all four of the veteran wideout signings this offseason – Cruz, Rueben Randle, Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright –  have posted yards-per-catch seasons of 14 or longer.

All four won’t be on the opening-day roster, but all four offer the promise of major impact. Cruz, Randle and Wright have had seasons of 70 or more receptions, and Wheaton topped out at 53 in 2015 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice weren’t available, so “good” was hard to achieve in an offseason in which Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal were expected departures long before their exits. But are Cruz, Randle, Wheaton and Wright, with Kevin White and Cameron Meredith, a “better” starting point than Jeffery, Royal, White, Bellamy, etc. of a year ago?

Obviously. But players with even moderately established NFL “names” (like Cruz, Randle, etal.) are typically available for a reason; teams do not routinely give up on talent. And none of the four come without significant shadows on their NFL resumes, whether for injury or other questions.

Cruz missed most of 2014 and all of the 2015 season, and hasn’t played a full season since his Pro Bowl year of 2012.

Randle was described as a head case by scouts and was so bad that he was let go in the Eagles’ cutdown to 75 last year, followed by disparaging comments from those in and around the organization.

Wheaton flashed promise in his 2014-15 opportunities as a part-time starter but played just three games before a shoulder injury landed him on IR last season.

The Tennessee Titans thought enough of Wright, their 2012 first-round draft choice, to pick up his fifth-year option going into las season. But by week 14 he was benched for tardiness and was a healthy DNP in game 16, announcing after the game that he already knew he was not in the Titans’ plans for 2017.

The prospect of the Bears going from 3-13 to “good” borders on fantasy. But if being among the NFL’s busiest this offseason hasn’t propelled the Bears to that level, the results point to “better.” At this point, that’s something,.

Bears among teams with best odds to sign Colin Kaepernick

Bears among teams with best odds to sign Colin Kaepernick

Colin Kaepernick will participate in a workout in front of all 32 NFL teams Saturday in Atlanta in what's quickly become one of the most hotly-contested debates in sports. Is the NFL making a good-faith effort to assist Kaepernick in his attempt to get back into the league? Or is the workout nothing more than a public relations stunt intended to silence critics who think Kaepernick has been blackballed?

We won't know the answer until a few days after the workout, at the earliest. If Kaepernick does well and is still without a contract, then the argument against Saturday's session being sincere will have some merit. 

Until then, the Vegas oddsmakers are taking their best swing at which NFL team is the most likely to take the plunge on the former 49ers dual threat.

The Bengals currently lead the pack at 7/2, with the Steelers (4/1) and Ravens (6/1) not far behind. As for the Bears? Their odds currently sit at 12/1, which makes them the 8th-best bet to sign Kaepernick.

"I honestly have no idea right now," Matt Nagy said Wednesday about whether the Bears would attend Kaepernick's workout. "I’m just kind of focused in on where we’re at. I’ll leave that up to Ryan [Pace] and those guys. I know they’ll have a handle on that.”

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Why the Bears need to re-sign Danny Trevathan for 2020 and beyond

USA Today

Why the Bears need to re-sign Danny Trevathan for 2020 and beyond

Inside the Soldier Field locker room Sunday, Bears linebacker Josh Woods saw Danny Trevathan and went to go offer his sympathies to his injured mentor. 

“Damn, bro, I’m sorry,’” Woods told Trevathan. 

“I’ll be alright,” Trevathan responded. “It’s a piece of cake.”

Trevathan’s response after suffering a gruesome, potentially season-ending injury tells you a lot about who he is — and why he’s so universally respected and liked inside Soldier Field and Halas Hall. 

Piece of cake. That injury — don’t look up the images of it if you’re squeamish — is a piece of cake? 

“That’s just the type of guy he is,” Woods said, nodding to Trevathan's relentless positivity. 

Coach Matt Nagy said Thursday the Bears haven’t made a decision yet on whether or not to place Trevathan on injured reserve, which would end his season (the Bears have, occasionally, waited until the day before a game to put a player on injured reserve). Since Trevathan is a free agent after this year, it could end his career in Chicago, too. 

But near the top of Ryan Pace’s offseason to-do list — beneath addressing his quarterbacks, of course — should be doing everything he can to get Trevathan back in 2020 and beyond. 

“It’s one of those things, either it’s there or it’s not,” Pierre-Louis said of Trevathan’s leadership qualities. “Does it make all the difference, depending on the chemistry of the team? It can. But it’s definitely something that no matter what team you’re on you’re going to notice if it’s gone or not.” 

Trevathan will be 30 next year and does have a history of injuries (he’s only played a full 16-game season twice in his eight-year career). But he was playing some of the best football of his career prior to his injury against the Detroit Lions, and inside linebackers in general can still play at a high level in the NFL into their 30’s. 

The Bears, though, could probably replace what Trevathan does on the field (just as they could with most players not named Khalil Mack or Akiem Hicks). But what would be incredibly difficult to replace would be Trevathan’s impact as a leader on a team that touts its strong culture and lack of “turds,” as Nagy put it in training camp. 

“It’s a presence,” Pierre-Louis said. “He holds a presence and that’s not always a skill thing. Sometimes, either you got it our you don’t. He has it.”

Trevathan’s leadership can show up in different ways. It can mean taking a young player under his wing and showing him how to act like a pro in the NFL, as he’s done with Woods. It can mean setting the tone inside Halas Hall during a four-game losing streak. It can mean galvanizing his teammates in a critical late-game situation. 

And that leadership matters because it’s always two things: First, authentic; and second, positive. 

“A lot of guys lead by example, but coaches, offensive players, defensive guys know when Danny speaks, you listen,” Woods said. “You know? He’s not like one of those leaders that’s like an a—hole or anything. He’s a great guy. When he speaks, it’s positive. It’s always positive reinforcement.”

The Bears’ defense may struggle to recover from losing Trevathan after already being without Hicks, who’s on injured reserve after suffering his own gruesome elbow injury in Week 5. Those two players, more than anyone else, have been the heart and soul of this defense for years — they each arrived in Chicago in 2016, experiencing both the highs of winning the NFC North and the lows of a 3-13 season. They're the Bears' two most vocal leaders on and off the field. 

Hicks will still be in Chicago in 2020. But if the Bears want to give themselves the best chance of having another championship-level defense, they’d do well to make sure Trevathan is still here, too. 

“His presence, his poise, his leadership,” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “He’s out in front of the huddle. He makes all the calls. He’s got the helmet communication. All that stuff, besides being the player that he is and the calming force that he is. You just don’t replace guys like that.”

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