Bears

Raiders-to-Vegas the latest in long line of NFL relocation drama, some of which included the Bears

Raiders-to-Vegas the latest in long line of NFL relocation drama, some of which included the Bears

PHOENIX — The Bears next play a team named "Raiders" in 2019, having just played them in 2015 at Soldier Field. Whether the Bears' schedule of opponents will say Oakland Raiders or Las Vegas Raiders is still fluid, but the Raiders are leaving Oakland sometime in the next several years after the expected vote Monday at the NFL owners' meetings.

Leaving a press conference at which NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Raiders owner Mark Davis and a couple other league figures formally announced the foregone conclusion of the Raiders moving from Oakland to Las Vegas, a Cleveland media counterpart fell in beside me and remarked, "Well, at least that's one story you won't have to worry about covering in Chicago."

Maybe yes, maybe no.

The NFL game presents endless spurts of the byzantine and bizarre, so my colleague — who saw his Browns bolt from their lakefront to Baltimore one dark upon-a-time — might be premature with his effort at comfort. Besides, nobody to my knowledge ever took the temperature of Decaturites when their town lost the Staleys to Chicago (at least the Bears kept a Staley as a mascot). And a deal had been worked out, later abandoned, to move the Bears to Hoffman Estates in the mid 1990s, something that had been preceded by then-chairman Michael McCaskey shopping the franchise to various suburbs, low-lighted by a flirtation with Gary, Ind., to something that concept drawings labeled "Planet Park."

Hizzone Da Mare once told George Halas that if Papa Bear took his team out of the city, the "Chicago" part of its name wasn't going with it. And son Richie blustered regarding Gary, "Let them move to Alaska."

Well, I mean, then again, hey, if Juneau or Fairbanks can come up with the requisite relocation fees.

And you can only wonder how many members of Raider Nation are feeling that way about the Raiduhs, that they can go to Alaska (or Gary) for all they care.

The vote approving the Raiders' move to Las Vegas (presumably the league toned down any anti-gambling rhetoric for the day) was believed to be 31-1, with only the Miami Dolphins saying nay. But the side issues were everywhere and somewhat more entertaining, given that the deal was a fait accompli ever since the city of Oakland failed to deliver enough of a stadium package to keep its Raiders where they'd begun under Al Davis when the AFL was formed in 1960.

It was difficult not to chuckle as Mark Davis opined that he thought his late father "would be proud" of moving the team to the self-appointed entertainment capital of the world. True that; Al moved the Raiders to Los Angeles in 1982, to a second location in that market subsequently, and then back to Oakland in 1995. Definitely a legacy to be proud of.

And one for Goodell, too, who summarized, "You know that our goal is to have 32 stable franchises for each of those teams and the league," meaning stable financially, not necessarily geographically. "We're all disappointed for Oakland and their fans," Goodell managed to say.

The Raiders do have one-year options on their lease in Oakland for the 2017 and 2018 seasons, and Davis said that if their Las Vegas facility isn't completed for the Bears' 2019 visit (OK, he didn't say "Bears," that was me), an extension might be in order.

Some observers are waiting for a reaction statement from jilted Oakland mayor Libby Shaaf, who got a thanks-but-no-thanks public letter from Goodell this weekend and sent a last-minute one for the league to delay its vote on the Las Vegas move, which the league didn't do. Somehow the thought of the Raiders asking Oakland to do something for them in their time of need is something worth buying a ticket to.

In the meantime, the move proceeds as expected, adding another mystery to the NFL firmament: moving a team to a significantly smaller sports market from the one it already occupied; moving not one but two teams into the Los Angeles market that had been abandoned by the Rams, Raiders and even Chargers (one of the teams now returning there); those sort of things.

How viable the Las Vegas market is for NFL football is something that'll play out over the next number of years. For now, good seats still available ... in Oakland.

The Bears are getting a different type of nickel cornerback in Buster Skrine

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USA Today

The Bears are getting a different type of nickel cornerback in Buster Skrine

When the Bears’ defense takes the field against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Opening Night, they’ll be returning 9 of the 11 starters that were part of a 2018 squad that was one of the best in Bears’ history. 

One of the few new faces that figure to be among the starting 11 is cornerback Buster Skrine. Gone is Bryce Callahan, who left for Vic Fangio’s Denver team after spending the first four years of his career in Chicago. Though Bears’ scouts have had their eye on Skrine for a few seasons now, it was his more palatable three-year, $16.5 million contract -- compared to Callahan’s three-year, $21 million contract -- that finally got him in house. 

“Me and Buster came out the exact same year, and I’ve watched him,” Prince Amukamara said after OTAs on Wednesday afternoon. “He actually played with my best friend and he would always talk about how fast Buster is -- especially when Buster played gunner. 

“I’ve always watched him, and I feel like he’s very similar to Bryce [Callahan] by being quick and being active. I’m definitely happy with the pick up.” 

Once considered a spot to place the third-best, less-athletic cornerback, no position has seen it's value increase so dramatically over the last decade. Offenses are changing dramatically; no team saw more three receiver sets in 2018 than the Bears’ defense. Per Sharp Stats, opposing offenses lined up in 11 personnel against Chicago 78% of the time. The next closest was the Chiefs at 71%, and the NFL average is 65%. 

“I think nickel is a different ball game,” Amukamara added. “I would say it can be one of the hardest positions on the field, just because you’re on an island, but the receiver has so much room to work with. Plus, it’s a lot of mental gymnastics, so you’ve got to know when you’re blitzing, know when you’re running, and so we put a lot on our nickel.” 

Despite not being considered part of a what teams have traditionally considered base defense, the pass-happy nature of this era in the NFL has all but mandated that nickel corners are on the field for most of the defensive snaps. It’s no coincidence that before breaking his foot against the Rams in Week 12, Callahan was on pace to set a career-high in snap percentage. 

“Nowadays, you see a lot more sub packages,” Bears defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend said. “You’re probably playing 70% in sub during a game now… Otherwise, it hasn’t really changed - he just plays more. That’s the thing - he is technically a starter. He’s probably going to run on the field first in a lot of games, and by rule that’s a starter.

“One thing about the nickel position is that you’ve got to do a little bit of both. You can’t just go out on 3rd down and cover and run the option routes. Now they’re going to hand off the ball and find out where you’re at and you’re going to have to make a tackle. That’s the difference in the position now - it’s a first and second down type of guy that has to be able to do it all.”

While Skrine isn’t considered as good a cover corner as Callahan, Skrine’s pass rush and run defense looks pretty similar. Per Pro Football Focus, Skrine’s run defense graded out significantly higher (80.7) than Callahan’s (57.8). 

“With Buster, it’s about his playing experience,” Townsend added. “He’s a guy who will mix it up in the run. He can blitz, and he’s reliable. He’s tough.”

Brian Urlacher misses Top 10 of all-time Bears list

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AP

Brian Urlacher misses Top 10 of all-time Bears list

Brian Urlacher played his way into the pantheon of Bears linebackers and the Hall of Fame over his 13-year career in Chicago, leaving no question he belongs among the all-time greats.

Where he stacks up with the best of the best in team history is still up for debate.

Hall of Fame writers Dan Pompei and Don Pierson ranked the top 100 players in franchise history for the team’s official site, and Urlacher fell outside of the top 10.

Urlacher came in one spot ahead of fellow legendary linebacker Mike Singletary, but the greats of pre-merger era earned many of the top spots on the list.

Dick Butkus came in second to only Walter Payton, while old school legends Bill George and Bulldog Turner ranked seventh and eighth, respectively.

It’s difficult to compare linebackers that played 50 years apart, especially when stacking them up with players at other positions.

Urlacher is still near the top of the list of the best Bears ever. They just have so many all-time greats, the likes of Dan Hampton, Richard Dent and Jimbo Covert just don’t have a spot in the top 10.

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