NFL free agency buzz: Bears GM Ryan Pace should be at home this time of year


NFL free agency buzz: Bears GM Ryan Pace should be at home this time of year

One major component in Ryan Pace’s background makes the Bears’ efforts in free agency particularly worth noting. Pace comes from the pro-personnel side of the game, meaning for most of his career in New Orleans his chief task was scouting and scouring other NFL rosters, which he should know almost as well as his own.

Pace made a play for rush-linebacker Pernell McPhee, a Baltimore Ravens backup because of the talent (Elvis Dumervil, Terrell Suggs) ahead of him. Finding a starter-grade addition a little ways down someone’s depth chart is a knack, and Pace’s experience prior to taking over as Bears general manager was heavily on the Saints’ pro side.

In other words, he’s had files on NFL free agents long before they became free agents.

Shifting DL targets

With Denver Broncos defensive lineman Malik Jackson going to the Jacksonville Jaguars after flirtations with the Bears, Broncos and Oakland Raiders, the Bears and others begin tightening focuses elsewhere.

The Saints drafted massive defensive lineman Akiem Hicks in 2012 when Pace was a member of the Saints’ personnel department. Now that Pace is Bears general manager and Hicks is a free agent, few would be totally surprised if the two got together again this offseason.

[MORE BEARS: Alshon Jeffery signs franchise tag tender]

The Bears have been linked to Hicks, rated No. 2 among free-agent interior defensive linemen by, and the prospect of pairing Hicks (6-5, 324) with nose tackle Eddie Goldman (6-4, 335) conjures up thoughts of a run-proof defense.

And be in no doubt as to the importance of immovable objects to a pass rush, even someone like Hicks, who has 9.5 total sacks in four NFL seasons. Richard Dent once told me that no one fully appreciated what William Perry meant to him: “With Fridge inside next to me,” The Colonel said, “I never had to worry about anything to my left.”


When the Bears opted to commit toward Ka’Deem Carey and Jeremy Langford and away from Matt Forte, one worst-case scenario for the Bears was the prospect of Forte going to the Green Bay Packers, as Steve McMichael, Jim McMahon, Jim Morrissey and a handful of others have done.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Packers are sniffing.

Safety searches

It wouldn’t be an NFL offseason without the Bears scouring the league for help at safety, and 2016 is another safety quest. David Bruton, who played 77 plays on a broken leg in a late-season game with Denver last season, has been with the Broncos since being drafted out of Notre Dame in 2009 and played for John Fox during Fox’s four Denver seasons. Bruton reportedly has seen interest from the Bears, Broncos, Giants and Dolphins (where ex-Broncos assistant Adam Gase is now head coach).

[SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

What makes Bruton intriguing is his leadership of Broncos special teams (three-year captain) , his age (28) and his potential. Normally “potential” is no longer in the discussion after seven NFL seasons, but Bruton has started just nine games, meaning low mileage, but partly because the Broncos have had some safety play from the likes of T.J. Ward, Rahim Moore and Brian Dawkins in recent seasons.

On guard: J.R. Sweezy a three-year Seahawks starter

Not that this means anything about how 2016 offseason will play out for the Bears’ offense, but efforts to upgrade the offensive line didn’t go all that well last offseason, meaning that Bears have to do some of the same work again.

The Bears used one-year contracts to bring in guards Vladimir Ducasse and Patrick Omameh (via waiver claim). Neither settled the right-guard spot and the latest effort is reportedly in the direction of J.R. Sweezy, who’s started the past three seasons at right guard for the Seattle Seahawks.

The guard/tackle market did get a little weird on Tuesday when the Oakland Raiders threw $60 million over five years toward former Raven lineman Kelechi Osemele. The Bears weren’t seriously in that discussion, though.

Matt Nagy describes Aaron Rodgers’ literal attempt to get first leg up on 2019 Bears

Matt Nagy describes Aaron Rodgers’ literal attempt to get first leg up on 2019 Bears

A year after finishing 6-9-1 and seeing the Bears win the NFC North, the Packers find themselves in an unfamiliar role in the division: hunter, not the hunted.

Green Bay very well could win the NFC North in 2019, though they’ll have stiff competition in the division in the Bears and Vikings. Thus, the Packers need to do what they can to get a leg up on the competition.

Enter Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers and Bears head coach Matt Nagy were two of the many sports celebrities to compete in the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship Tournament in Nevada from July 12-14. Thursday, Nagy recalled a prank Rodgers pulled on him at the event.

“So we're all in there and I'm scrambling to get in the back and stand up, and there’s about 100 guys sitting down in the back row,” Nagy said. “As I’m walking, all of a sudden, I trip.

“I kind of catch my knee. Somebody is sitting down. I look back. Someone stuck their knee out to trip me. I look back, and (Rodgers is) just sitting there and he’s just staring at me laughing, giving me this grin.”

Okay, so Rodgers tripping Nagy doesn’t actually give the Packers a leg up on the Bears entering the 2019 season. However, it sure is a fun way to kick off the latest rendition of the rivalry, as the two teams square of on Sept. 5 to open the NFL season. Plus. Nagy took the whole thing in stride.

“I just looked at him, and all I thought about is: ‘This is going to be fun,’” he said.

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Allen Robinson is looking like a true No. 1 receiver. Can he break the Bears' 1,000-yard drought?

USA Today

Allen Robinson is looking like a true No. 1 receiver. Can he break the Bears' 1,000-yard drought?

Here’s a fact that feels surprising every time it’s brought up: Allen Robinson is still in his mid-20s, turning 26 on Aug. 24. 

This is a guy who’s entering his sixth season in the NFL, having debuted while Marc Trestman was still Bears' coach. He’s four years removed from his 1,400-yard, 14-touchdown explosion with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but is also two years removed from the torn ACL that wound up ending his career there. 

As he enters his second season with the Bears, the difference from Year 1 to Year 2 has been noticeable. 

“I look like a totally different player,” Robinson said. 

That statement runs deeper than in just how he’s played over the course of the Bears’ preseason practices. He was able to grow his rapport with Mitch Trubisky during OTAs — a year ago, he wasn’t participating in those — and no longer has to focus on rehabbing his knee to get back on the field. 

But how Robinson looks even goes beyond his connection with Trubisky or his health. Cornerback Prince Amukamara practiced against Robinson when the pair were in Jacksonville in 2016, and said the receiver he was then isn’t the receiver he is today — in a good way. 

“He was real good in Jacksonville, and I feel like he’s better now,” Amukamara said. “I feel like in Jacksonville he really just went up and got the ball, they threw him a lot of jump balls. But now he’s running routes, he’s very crafty, he changes his tempo and he just seems very polished right now. He makes our jobs harder on defense.”

Amukamara pointed out that, of course, Robinson can still go up and snag those jump balls. Trubisky’s confidence in Robinson’s go-up-and-get-it ability grew in 2018, and is stronger entering 2019’s season. 

“I have a lot of confidence within myself, with me and him's chemistry,” Trubisky said. “And just being on the same page, if I put it up in his area 12 is going to come down with it.”

But it’s clear Robinson is more than a jump ball guy to Trubisky. The Bears can use him in a number of different ways, and the detail he puts into his routes and his ability to read coverages makes him a threat anywhere on the field. 

Similarly encouraging: Robinson and Trubisky are seeing things the same way. 

“I think for me and Mitchell I think we’ve done that a lot, being able to see whether it’s the breaking angle out of a route or stuff like that,” Robinson said. “I think, for us, we got a chance to rep a lot of that and to be on the same page — like if the corner plays it like this or if they run this kind of pressure or whatever it may be.”

Coach Matt Nagy said he’s observed Trubisky’s trust in Robinson being “a lot higher” than it was a year ago, too. 

“(Robinson) understands coverages,” Nagy said. “I think that separates the good wide receivers from the ones that become great. He has that next-level awareness. When you have that and you put the 'want' into how bad he wants it with his quarterback, that's where it's gonna be fun to see what those guys, how they connect this year.”

The Bears haven’t had a receiver eclipse 1,000 yards since 2014, representing the longest drought in the NFL. This is an offense, though, that believes in its ability to spread the ball around to a number of weapons, from Robinson to Taylor Gabriel to Anthony Miller to Trey Burton to Tarik Cohen to Cordarrelle Patterson to David Montgomery, etc. Not having a 1,000-yard receiver — sorry, fantasy football players — wouldn’t necessarily be viewed as a bad thing inside Halas Hall. 

Yet Robinson will enter 2019 with the best shot at hitting that mark, as he did four years ago. He stood out more than any other receiver during training camp, looking like a go-to guy for Trubisky if the offense is in a tight spot. That’s what he proved to be in the final seconds of January’s wild card loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, in which he dominated the final 20 minutes and made two critical catches that set up what could’ve been a game-winning field goal with time expiring (we all know what happened after that). 

So whether or not Robinson has a three or four-digit receiving yards total feels less important than the continuation of his development into a reliable, trustworthy target for his quarterback at any time in a game. And from what we've seen over the last month, that's what he'll be for Trubisky in 2019. 

“He's pretty much winning,” Trubisky said. “When it's one-on-one, the ball is going to 12 and he's unstoppable when he can go like that."

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