Bears

View from the Moon: Amid Bears deals made and missed, looking for 'why’s' that make sense

View from the Moon: Amid Bears deals made and missed, looking for 'why’s' that make sense

Something isn't completely adding up from all that did and didn't happen for the Bears through Thursday's early hours of free agency.

If there was a mildly surprising side to the day, it lay in two places: some of the "no-way!" money flowing to some very mid-range talents. That happens in varying degrees every year.

The second, however, was the Bears pulling some of their financial punches. Why? Because simple explanations don't completely make sense.

The popular narratives of "Bears are cheap," "Nobody wants to play in Chicago" and "John Fox and Ryan Pace are one-and-done, win-or-else" somehow don't add all the way up when trying to get a handle on why none of the apparent top players at positions of Bears need chose Chicago.

Dead-coaches-walking? Maybe. Hardly necessarily. Fox and Pace haven't been given, nor would explicitly ask for, guarantees beyond 2017. Ownership will be looking for solid signs of program turnaround, but does anyone really think the Bears are a 3-5-win team again in 2017? Could happen – anything's possible – but 7-8 wins with another strong draft class likely demonstrate progress. If matters were so desperately dire, the absence of premium signings or letting go of safe veteran QB Brian Hoyer would have left blood on the Halas Hall walls Thursday night.

Players simply not wanting to come to the Bears doesn't work beyond one here or there. Cornerback A.J. Bouye would leave Houston for Jacksonville but not Chicago? Baltimore tackle Ricky Wagner saw more upside in Detroit with the Lions than Chicago and the Bears? (Maybe he just saw the $9 million/year the Lions were paying?) Alshon Jeffery just couldn't wait to bail on a Bears team and teammates who voted him a co-captain last year, and whom Jeffery thought enough of to declare after the last game would win this year's Super Bowl? Hyperbole aside, really?

Bears-cheap doesn't explain enough.

Various sources around the league said that the Bears stepped away from matching offers to two of their top choices because the prices got too high. Which two isn't the point. Suffice it to say that the Bears stayed too low to get Buffalo cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who went to New England; Arizona safety Tony Jefferson, signed by Baltimore; Wagner, grabbed by the Lions; and Bouye.

Why did they do that, when they obviously had the money, and the permission to use it?

Pace and finance chief Joey Laine established parameters/limits on what they were willing to pay whom. Ownership has said explicitly in the past that money would not be the prime basis for personnel decisions (as in whether to stay with Jay Cutler vs. absorb a big guaranteed-money hit by cutting him in 2015).

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

The Bears have spent major free-agency money on Pace's watch and attracted players from elite programs: a five-year deal for $38.8 million to Pernell McPhee, who'd won a Super Bowl ring with Baltimore; $24.5 million over four year for Danny Trevathan from Super Bowl-champion Denver; Josh Sitton, cut by Green Bay last September, went no farther than Chicago and the Bears' three-year, $21 million deal with $10 million guaranteed.

The Patriots reached out to Akiem Hicks last March, hoping to get him back. Hicks instead chose the Bears and a two-year deal with half of the pact's $10 million guaranteed.

Legions of players suddenly don't fancy Chicago? Follow the money.

If the Bears didn't keep upping the bid for a Gilmore, why not? They had the money. Hicks, Trevathan, Willie Young and others would've sold the Bears.

Or did the Bears look at Bouye, picking one, and decide that an undrafted free agent with one standout year as a starter behind arguably the NFL's best front seven might not be a sound target at $13.5 million per year, in a year when the draft consensus is that the cornerback class is perhaps the best ever, with starters to be had as late as the third round?

Or did the Bears like Jefferson, go to the limit of their "parameter," and make a decision that, holding the No. 3 pick of the draft, LSU's Jamal Adams or Malik Hooker of Ohio State offer "great" instead of just best-available-free-agent?

Understand: Pace and his front office, as every NFL organization does, have an integrated strategy that incorporates both free agency and the draft. And it factors in an element of "time" – what will needs be in 2018 and what players will be coming available via both free agency and the draft?

Case study: The San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers had edge rusher as their No. 1 need last offseason. They ignored the position in free agency, then used the No. 3 pick of the draft for Joey Bosa.

Pace indeed operates from a core philosophy and plan. Nothing says it's a good plan or the philosophy will translate into right choices. But somehow a lot of the narratives flowing out of early Free Agency III under Pace just don't all add up.

Who's in charge? Clear answer

One narrative circulating around the Bears over the past couple of years is who was really in charge of football operations around Halas Hall: John Fox, the coach with the NFL seniority? Or Ryan Pace, the younger GM who hired him? Since Fox was dictating certain internal policy and was seemingly the stronger public persona, some takes were that he was really the big hammer.

Events of the past week or so should have corrected any remaining misperception on the identity of lead dog. Sources said that a segment of the offensive coaching staff strongly wanted to stay with Brian Hoyer, which is not surprising or even unusual, having differing opinions on something like a quarterback.

The decision instead was for Mike Glennon, who is considered a roll of the upside dice rather than the safe Hoyer option. I texted one veteran agent in the wake of this decision and the others of the week, mentioning that it was funny that some opinions still held that Fox runs things. Came back the reply: "Not at all. It's all pace[sic]."

It obviously isn't really all Pace; at this level and with all that hinges on these decisions, consensus is an objective on the way to a collective goal. But if there still were any questions on the decision-making hierarchy, there shouldn't be now.

Here's where Bears fans stand on Chicago's QB competition after first week of training camp

Here's where Bears fans stand on Chicago's QB competition after first week of training camp

The first week of training camp is in the books, and while it certainly wasn't anything like what fans are accustomed to this time of year, it is still training camp, and the Chicago Bears do still have a quarterback competition underway, regardless of how odd it may seem.

Padded practices won't get underway for another week and there's been very little intel gathered from the t-shirts and shorts practices aside from what the coaches and players have shared on Zoom. We won't have any preseason games to scout and there will be very limited media access to the practice sessions once they get started (for real).

Regardless, Bears fans are an opinionated bunch even if there isn't much information available about how the battle between Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles is unfolding so far. What we do know is that both quarterbacks will be given an equal chance to win the job, and QB coach John DeFilippo is going to evaluate every aspect of every throw in every practice so the team can reach the best decision possible.

So who does the fanbase prefer at this point now that we're inching closer to Week 1 (five weeks away, to be exact)? Has Foles started winning over the Trubisky truthers, or does the former second overall pick still have the confidence of the fanbase entering his fourth season in town?

I decided to poll Bears fans on Twitter on this topic, and the results, as you could imagine, were very close. Of the 310 responses I received, 56% of the voters prefer Foles over Trubisky. Essentially, the job is still completely up for grabs, even in the eyes of the fans. The results are also proof that neither quarterback is overwhelmingly favored (from a support standpoint) by the fanbase. The point here is that Bears fans appear willing and ready to support whoever wins the job, which is great for the team overall.

There is no favorite to win this competition. Not with the coaches, and apparently, not with the fans either.

May the best quarterback win.

How Bears are adjusting to loss of Eddie Goldman: 'We're missing a key part'

How Bears are adjusting to loss of Eddie Goldman: 'We're missing a key part'

Asked Thursday to give an example of how linebacker Roquan Smith can take his game to the next level, Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano pointed to the first two plays of the 2019 season, including a tackle for loss on the first snap.

“They run a play to our right, their left. He sees an opening. He shoots through and gets a tackle for loss,” Pagano said.

It was a great play. It showed Smith’s speed and recognition. It set the tone against the Green Bay Packers in a game the defense played very well.

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But often overlooked on plays like that is the “opening” Pagano referenced. Smith had an unblocked gap to run through because of his defensive linemen. And as Smith ran through the open hole, nose tackle Eddie Goldman was directly to the linebacker’s left, locked head-to-head with Packers center Corey Linsley. With the Packers’ entire offensive line moving to their left at the snap, the center would typically try to get inside leverage on the nose tackle and get to the linebacker at the second level. Linsley had no chance to touch Smith on this play, mainly because of Goldman’s quickness.

RELATED: Danny Trevathan considered opting out, explains why he didn't

“He has very good foot speed, which puts him in position to win blocks,” Bears defensive line coach Jay Rodgers said. “He's got very good upper body strength and he stays in really good balance (too). Those are things that Eddie's been really good at. And because of all those traits, he's always in a dominant position. So when he takes on blocks, he's able to get off blocks.”

Or he’s able to stay on them, allowing his linebackers to run free. It just depends on what his job is on any given play. Those tend to be the moments that go unnoticed while his teammates make the tackle.

And that’s why the loss of Eddie Goldman, who opted out of the 2020 NFL season because of COVID-19 concerns, is such a significant loss.

“Man. Eddie’s a huge part. Huge, huge, role to this defense,” inside linebacker Danny Trevathan said Friday. “To have him not here, we’re definitely missing a key part. But I think the guys that they brought in are going to have to step up. They’re going to have to step up and it’s our job to push them each day to get to that level of play. Because it’s going to be a key factor.”

The trickle down effect of losing Goldman reaches the entire defense. Akiem Hicks will get even more attention than he usually does. It will be easier for opponents to focus on blocking the edges, where Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn await. And if Trevathan and Smith see more blockers in their face at the second level, it could lead to big runs up the middle that this Bears defense doesn’t typically allow.

The good news is, every player mentioned in that last paragraph is pretty good at football. The unit as a whole can rally to fill Goldman’s void.

“Our guys are more than willing to step up and pull the rope harder,” Bears outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino said. “When you have a good player like Eddie, it’s hard to not see him out there, but it’s become part of our reality, just like all the rest of it.”

Football coaches are used to adapting and that has never been more important than in 2020. Fortunately for the Bears, Rodgers is one of the best defensive line coaches in the game and the team hasn’t even taken a single practice rep with pads on yet. At least the team knows the reality now, instead of losing a player like Goldman mid-season.

While no one can completely replicate what Goldman brings to the table, the Bears do have experienced players across their defensive line, starting with Hicks, who can line up anywhere and eat up multiple gaps if necessary. At this point, Bears fans know what he can do.

But what about the other options? Here’s a look a few key players:

Bilal Nichols – 6-3, 313

Nichols doesn’t trail too far behind Goldman in size and has been trained at the nose. After a very promising rookie season, Nichols took a small step back in 2019 while also dealing with injuries. Has the former fifth round pick reached his realistic ceiling or can he develop into a consistent starting caliber player? Nichols is still only 23 and we're about to find out.

“He’s done a tremendous job. Young, gifted, hungry,” Trevathan said Friday.

Roy Robertson-Harris – 6-5, 292

Already converted from outside linebacker, it’s asking a lot for Robertson-Harris to play the nose, but this will likely be a rotational plan and he does have versatility.

“He obviously has played a lot of three-technique or what we're calling inside-one technique in our sub defenses,” Rodgers said. “He has never played a nose position in base defense, but that's OK. You're playing in the A-gap once you get into your sub world.”

Translation: Robertson-Harris has experience playing the gap between the center and the guard, but he’s not your traditional two-gap defensive lineman who’s out there to eat up space. I wouldn’t expect Robertson-Harris’ role to change too much, but he’s still only 27 and could be an ascending player, so if he continues to improve, it will certainly help the line overall.

John Jenkins – 6-3, 327

Jenkins, 31, is suddenly a very important player for the Bears because he has the most experience at nose tackle and previously played in this defense in 2017.

“I think any time you bring a player back, you had a really good experience with him before,” Rodgers said. “He has size. He has length. He has power. He's got really good foot speed. He loves to play the game of football. And he's very coachable.”

Jenkins has been a rotational player for most of his career, but actually played a similar amount of snaps as Goldman last year and Rodgers has a knack for maximizing veteran talent.

Abdullah Anderson – 6-3, 297

A former undrafted free agent out of Bucknell, Anderson is now in his third year with the Bears and saw 106 snaps on defense last season. He’s still a developmental player, but Goldman’s absence provides a big opportunity for the young defensive tackle.

“He's got really good size, he's got really good quickness and he's got really good hands,” Rodgers said. “He's very sneaky with his hands. You saw some glimpses of him in the Indianapolis preseason game when he got to play a lot of snaps in a row.”

But those glimpses didn’t always translate to the regular season. It will be interesting to see how much the limited offseason impacts Anderson as he’ll have a limited window on the field in training camp to prove himself.

Brent Urban – 6-7, 300 

Urban has never played nose tackle, but is now getting trained there, according to Rodgers. The 29-year-old veteran was claimed off waivers from Tennessee in the middle of last season and acclimated himself well to Pagano’s defense. At 6-7, Urban probably won’t translate well to the nose tackle position, but he does provide dependable veteran depth elsewhere on the line, which will be important.

“At the end of the day, what you'd like to have is the best two, three, four guys out there on the field that you could possibly put out there with the ability to substitute when you need to and not have any drop-off,” Rodgers said. “So we're going to continue to train everybody at every position, and we just have some options right now, especially at this part of camp.”

Typically, the Bears would already be a week into padded practices in training camp. Instead, they have to wait until Aug. 17 to put the pads on. At that point, they’ll essentially have three weeks of competition before jumping into game-week to prepare for the Detroit Lions.

And while the defensive lineman use that abbreviated time to compete, Trevathan and Smith will get used to life without Eddie Goldman in front them.

“Me and Ro just need to adjust our game a little bit to get a feel for those guys,” Trevathan said. “So it’s just to get that little vibe. I’ve played a little bit with them.”

He's about to play a lot with them.

 

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