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.

Under Center Podcast: What will we learn about the Bears against the Patriots?

Under Center Podcast: What will we learn about the Bears against the Patriots?

On this week's Under Center podcast, JJ Stankevitz and John “Moon” Mullin look at how Bill Belichick and New England will attack Matt Nagy and the Bears on Sunday, and if Mitch Trubisky can get to the point where he can reliably lead a late-game scoring drive like Tom Brady is so good at doing.

You can listen to the whole thing here, or in the embedded player below: 


Mitch Musings: Trubisky progressing as he preps to face the gold standard of QBs

Mitch Musings: Trubisky progressing as he preps to face the gold standard of QBs

 Tom Brady has been credited with 54 game-winning drives in his Hall of Fame career, five of which have come in Super Bowls — all five Super Bowls he and Bill Belichick have won. 
To put it another way: Brady has engineered a game-winning drive in 18 percent of his regular season and playoff starts, while he’s only lost 22 percent of his career starts. 
“He just has this mentality that at the end of the game, they’re going to win because of him,” coach Matt Nagy said. “He’s going to make a special throw.”
The expectation for Brady is that he’s going to put together a fourth quarter comeback or a game-winning drive if given the chance. It’s not like he’s a markedly better quarterback in those close-and-late situations — in fact, his lowest passer rating by quarter comes in the fourth. But that rating is 94.2; his career rating is 97.4. Effectively, he’s the same quarterback. 
That baseline level of success is, undoubtedly, something for which Mitch Trubisky is striving. But the Bears’ rookie isn’t there yet, as evidenced by his career splits:
Fourth quarter: 86/151 (57 percent), 6 TDs, 6 INTs, 71.2 passer rating, 6.0 yards/attempt
Overall: 309/491 (63 percent), 18 TDs, 11 INTs, 86.7 passer rating, 7.0 yards/attempt
That factors in 2017, of course, and Trubisky’s numbers from that season aren’t as relevant as the overall experience he gained. There’s a much smaller sample size in 2018, but the fourth quarter downturn is still present:
2018 fourth quarter: 22/34 (65 percent), 2 TD, 1 INT, 94.1 passer rating, 7.4 yards/attempt
2018 overall: 113/161 (70 percent), 11 TDs, 4 INTs, 105.6 passer rating, 8.1 yards/attempt
The good news, perhaps, is that the gap is closing. That’s an area of progress the Bears needed, and still need, to see in 2018. Trubisky completed eight of 11 passes for 141 yards with a touchdown — and an interception in the end zone — on Sunday in Miami, and very well could’ve been credited with a game-winning drive had Tarik Cohen not fumbled near midfield with under three minutes remaining.
But the touchdown he threw to Anthony Miller, too, could’ve been a game-winner had the Bears’ defense not immediately given up a 75-yard touchdown on Miami’s ensuing drive.
“We’re continuing to grow and that’s one of those clutch plays that you have to make as an offense to help out the defense and put the team in a good position to win games and it was a big moment and I think a big area of growth for our offense and myself as a quarterback,” Trubisky said. “We’re just gonna have to continue to grow and make those types of plays to be able to give ourselves a chance to win every week.” 
Reid It and Weep?
The last three times Andy Reid, or an Andy Reid disciple, has faced the Patriots, their team has scored 40 or more points. Reid and Nagy teamed up to drop 42 on New England in 2017’s season opener, and Doug Pederson — Reid’s offensive coordinator prior to Nagy — put up 41 to win Super Bowl LII. On Sunday, Reid’s Chiefs scored 40 in a three-point loss in Foxboro. 
Maybe that matters on Sunday at Soldier Field, maybe it doesn’t. But for Trubisky, that Nagy had that success a year ago against New England “for sure” gives him a confidence boost. 
“I think coach Nagy knows this opponent very well,” Trubisky said. “I mean, he studies as much tape as anyone throughout the week and he’s had success against this team, so that definitely gives me confidence, and it’s just me and him continuing to communicate and being on the same page. He’s given me a lot of confidence that we’ll be able to move the ball and put up points against these guys this weekend. 
“So we just got to continue to take care of the football, be smart, while staying aggressive, but it definitely gives confidence knowing that coach Nags, that he knows these guys pretty well and has had success in the past, but we still got to go out there and do our jobs because the past success doesn’t determine future success. You still got to go out there and execute on the field and we know that.”
Belichick is a master of taking away what an opponent does best. But a common thread between those Chiefs and Eagles teams is having multiple weapons, to the point where taking the best one away isn’t a deterrent to scoring. The Bears may not have the same pick-your-poison roster as the Chiefs, who still put up 40 points despite New England muting Travis Kelce’s production on Sunday. 
But Trubisky and this offense might be trending that way, if Sunday’s 28-point second half against a good Miami defense is any indication. 
One Last Time To Not Count Out Touchdown Tom
Back to Brady for one final thought here: Trubisky was seven years old when Brady won his first Super Bowl back in 2002. The Bears’ quarterback probably doesn’t have much memory of an NFL in which Brady hasn’t been regarded as the most successful quarterback in the league.
Sunday will mark Brady’s final trip to Chicago in his career, unless he winds up quarterbacking another team (highly unlikely) or playing until he’s 49 (extremely unlikely). While he and Drew Brees and Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger still may have a few good years left in them, and Aaron Rodgers certainly has more than a few good years left, it feels like the quarterbacking torch is finally being passed from those veterans to a young, exciting group of passers like Carson Wentz, Jared Goff and Patrick Mahomes. Trubisky could be part of that not-quite-established-but-close group, too, if what he’s done in the last two games turns out to be sustainable. 
So for Trubisky, getting to compete against Brady on Sunday comes as a special opportunity. 
“I admire his competitiveness and just following his journey and what he’s had to overcome to be able to get where he’s at,” Trubisky said. “It’s very admirable and doing it this long, this well over a long period of time is pretty incredible. So you always look at that. And what they’ve been able to do. As a quarterback you’re judged by how many games you win and he’s been successful at that as well, so obviously he’s one of the best to do it. And it’s cool to watch his film as well as many other guys over the years, pick up anything you possibly can. Yeah, he’s had a lot of success so you definitely look at what kind of traits he has to be able to lead his teams to that many wins over a long period of time. 
“Is it cool? Yeah, for sure. But I think it’s just a testament to him of how he’s been able to do it for this long and still be that successful. And he’s just really been able to push the limits at what can be accomplished at this position and how everybody looks at it. He’s really taken this thing to new levels and it’ll be cool to compete against him on Sunday.”