Bears

On the receiving end: Bears add WR depth with Markus Wheaton as Alshon Jeffery exits with 'pay cut'

On the receiving end: Bears add WR depth with Markus Wheaton as Alshon Jeffery exits with 'pay cut'

Among the Bears’ early moves in Free Agency 2017 was the signing of former Pittsburgh Steeler wide receiver Marcus Wheaton, a speed wideout of considerable promise with 53 catches in 2014 and 44 in 2015 before going on injured reserve with a shoulder injury after three games. The Bears have been search of increased speed and Wheaton, timed at 4.45 in 40-yard dashes, brings that to what is expected to be an extensively reconfigured depth chart in 2017.

Alshon Jeffery probably didn’t plan on a pay cut this year, but that’s kind of what he got for himself. Color him an NFL-wide casualty of a John Fox axiom posted on a Halas Hall corridor: “Ability is important. Dependability is critical.” Jeffery missed seven-plus games in 2015 with injuries, four games to a PED suspension last year and now a big payday this offseason, his second without the long-term deal he sought.

The Philadelphia Eagles signed Jeffery on Thursday to a one-year contract worth $14 million, down from the $14.599 million Jeffery was paid under the Bears’ franchise tag. If he can put together a year harkening back to his 2013-14 levels, he’ll make it up next deal. But for now, the Bears look like they knew what the market was, and wasn’t, for a bit of a puzzling player.

[RELATED: Bears add Quintin Demps in rebuild of secondary]

At this point the starting wide receivers for the 2017 Chicago Bears look to be Cameron Meredith (14 games, 66 catches, 888 yards, 4 TD’s) and Kevin White, who’s been in this position now in each of the two previous offseasons before leg injuries did him in. White has been rehabbing his broken leg and showing enough to inspire at least optimism if not full-blown confidence.

“He’s coming along fast,” said GM Ryan Pace last week at the NFL Scouting Combine. “I still have a lot of confidence in him. He has a lot of confidence in himself. We’re getting daily reports on his progress. I just want to see steady, consistent progress from him. Right now he’s getting his body all in alignment, and he’s feeling good. When I see footage of kind of where he’s at now, I get excited. I just want to see steady improvement.”

“The last two years we haven’t seen a lot. I have a confidence in our doctors and his rehab and his work ethic to get to the point we need to get to.”

Anthony Miller is hyped about Nick Foles' knowledge of Bears' offense

Anthony Miller is hyped about Nick Foles' knowledge of Bears' offense

One of the main reasons the Bears targeted Nick Foles in an offseason that was overflowing with quality quarterbacks to challenge Mitch Trubisky for Chicago's starting job is his familiarity with Matt Nagy's offense. The Bears knew what they were getting when they traded a fourth-round pick to the Jaguars for the former Super Bowl MVP, and in the current COVID-19 reality, that knowledge of who Foles is as a quarterback is more valuable than the team could've ever imagined.

So is Foles' comfort with the playbook. 

Unlike traditional offseasons when players have a chance to acclimate themselves with their new city, teammates, coaching staff, and offensive system, the novel coronavirus has thrust the Bears' quarterback competition into a shotgun four-week run that Foles is oddly equipped to handle. He's already made a positive early impression on wide receiver Anthony Miller.

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“You can definitely tell that Nick has been playing this game for a long time, and he knows this offense very well," Miller said Friday during a Zoom call with reporters. "He’s very detailed in practice, you can catch him in the back of an offensive play going through his progressions and he’s not even in, so that’s just the type of player he is, and I can’t wait to see him live action to see what he really can do.”

It feels like the Trubisky vs. Foles showdown has been underway since March, but the reality is it's just getting started. Padded practices begin next week and will give Chicago's coaches and players their first real opportunity to evaluate which quarterback gives the team the best chance to win.

According to Miller, the starting gig is up for grabs.

“This is going to be an interesting competition to see and the best man is going to get the job.”

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Super Bowl or bust? Why Bears' championship formula is backward in 2020

Super Bowl or bust? Why Bears' championship formula is backward in 2020

First, the good news: The Bears can win Super Bowl LV.

Why not? It’s August.

If Matt Nagy can find the right quarterback and Ryan Pace’s play to overhaul the tight end room pays off, this offense could be a ton of fun to watch. And if the addition of Robert Quinn gives the Bears the sort of fearsome pass rush we expect it will, this defense should be among the best in the NFL – and more than good enough to win a Super Bowl.

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There’s absolutely no part of me that’s going to tell you the Bears cannot win a Super Bowl before we’ve seen them practice, let alone play a game, in 2020.

“We want to win a Super Bowl,” wide receiver Allen Robinson said. “Every day we come into the facility, all our meetings and things like that, I think that our coaches are doing a really good job for everybody to keep that in mind and that's the main thing.”

Okay, but you’re probably waiting for the bad news. I just didn’t want to start with it. Because while it's not impossible for the Bears to make a Super Bowl run, there's a big reason why it feels unlikely. 

The Bears’ formula for winning in 2020, seemingly, is pairing a good enough offense with an elite defense. It’s what got them to the playoffs in 2018 as NFC North champions. It’s what could get them back to the playoffs again this season.

But an “eh, it’s fine” offense coupled with an awesome defense is not a formula that wins you a Super Bowl in 2021. As the last 10 Super Bowls tell us, it pays to have a great offense – and doesn’t matter if you have a great defense.

The last 20 Super Bowl participants, on average, had the sixth-best offense in a given year as ranked by Football Outsiders’ DVOA. The average ranking of their defenses was about 12th.

It’s been even more pronounced over the last four years. On average, a Super Bowl team in that span ranked fourth in offense and 16th in defense.

Only two teams in the last decade reached a Super Bowl with an offense outside the top 10 in DVOA (Denver in 2015, Baltimore in 2012 – notably, both teams still won). Eleven of the last 20 teams to make a Super Bowl had a defense outside the DVOA top 10, including last year’s Kansas City Chiefs.

MORE: Why you shouldn't worry about Allen Robinson getting a contract extension

So the Bears, as currently constructed, do not appear built to win a Super Bowl. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done – we’re not all that far removed from the 2015 Broncos hoisting the Lombardi Trophy with the No. 25 offense and No. 1 defense – but recent history suggests it’s unlikely.

That is, unless Nagy can find the success his former peers (Doug Pederson, Andy Reid) had with his offensive scheme. Make no mistake: Offense leads Super Bowl runs, with defense a supporting character. Not the other way around. And it feels like the Bears have it the other way around. 

 

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