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.

Eddy Piñeiro is quietly finding his form again, a sign he's cut out for this

USA Today

Eddy Piñeiro is quietly finding his form again, a sign he's cut out for this

As a large group of TV cameras gathered around Charles Leno Jr.’s space in the Bears’ locker room, Eddy Piñeiro quickly finished getting dressed in the shadows to Leno’s left. The kicker has stayed out of the spotlight since losing the trust of his head coach on a nationally-televised game three weeks ago, but he’s played as well as anyone during the Bears’ three-game return to relevance. 

“Yeah, I would definitely say I’m more confident,” he said after the Bears’ 31-24 win on Thursday night. “There’s just good rhythm – good snap, good hold.” 

He hasn’t had to attempt a kick over 40 yards (!!) over the three games, but Piñeiro’s accuracy issues, at least for now, seem at bay. He hit all five of his kicks against the Cowboys – four extra points and one 36-yard field goal. The kicker hasn’t missed a field goal (5-5) since LA, and has gone 9-10 on extra points. More importantly, they haven’t lost since either. 

“It feels great,” Piñeiro said. “Everyone in the locker room is super excited and happy. Everybody’s in a good mood. When you win, everybody’s in a good mood.” 

He hasn’t been physically tested much over the last month, but just ask Aldrick Rosas or Brett Maher how easy kicking at Soldier Field is, even in nice conditions. The Bears have always loved Piñeiro’s response to adversity and it’s starting to look like he’s rewarded them again. 

“Just gaining experience, honestly,” he said. “I think the biggest thing for me has just been gaining experience. Playing the game, I obviously don’t have the most experience, but I think trying to gain that experience has been the biggest thing for me.” 

Piñeiro mentioned that he’s still getting used to the adjustments that come with kicking in colder temperatures – which may help explain some of his more recent lackluster kickoffs. It’s easy to see how a nationally-televised game in unusually pleasant conditions could have been a trap for a young player who’s maybe pressing a bit, but after getting the full Bears Kicker Experience stuffed into half a season, Piñeiro knows better. 

“In my opinion, you’ve got to play well in every single game,” he said. “[it’s] not like just because you’re on national TV, you’ve got to play better. It felt good to get out there and hit a couple kicks.” 

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Run Mitch Run! Trubisky dominates Cowboys with his legs in Week 14

Run Mitch Run! Trubisky dominates Cowboys with his legs in Week 14

Mitch Trubisky looked like a quarterback who was selected second overall in the NFL draft with his performance against the Dallas Cowboys in Thursday night's 31-24 win. In fact, he's looked every bit the part over the last four weeks, but Week 14 showcased the complete skill set that made Trubisky the first quarterback drafted in 2017.

Against a Cowboys defense that was ranked as a top-10 unit coming into the game, Trubisky threw for 244 yards, ran for 63 yards and totaled four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing). He threw the ball with conviction and completed passes that an average quarterback never could have. His eight-yard touchdown pass to Allen Robinson with 10 seconds remaining in the first half was special. Despite blanket coverage by Dallas linebacker Jaylon Smith, Trubisky put the ball where only Robinson could catch it. It was a heater, too. 

Trubisky had more than one throw like that Thursday night. His first touchdown to Robinson came earlier in the second quarter with 12:18 remaining in the half. This time it was Cowboys defensive back Byron Jones in coverage, and he didn't stand a chance despite being in position to make the play. There was no way to defend against the accuracy of Trubisky's five-yard strike.

But what really made Trubisky's game a signature performance was his running. He regained the form that made him such an exciting player in 2018 and a guy who had a sleeper MVP candidacy in the preseason.

Last season, Trubisky ran the ball 68 times for 421 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games. His legs kept opposing defenses honest and opened easier throws for his arm. Prior to Thursday night's win, Trubisky had only run the ball 26 times for 80 yards in 2019. He upped his carry total by nearly 40% (10 rushes against the Cowboys) and nearly doubled his yardage in just one game. It helped the offense stay on schedule and produced one of the night's most memorable moments when Trubisky broke the pocket and juked his way to a 23-yard touchdown run with 13:28 left in the fourth quarter. He earned his highest rushing grade on the season from Pro Football Focus, too.

"Just pulled it," Trubisky said of the touchdown run after the game. "Really an awesome block by Leno. We knew they were a squeeze-scrape team. The backer is going to scrape over top. He does a good job of locking him out. I just cut up in there, made a guy miss, got in the end zone.

"The best part of that for me was how excited my teammates got afterwards. Really cool moment. It was good."

Trubisky's running does more than just make his job easier. It also hides some flaws in the offensive line, which has struggled in pass protection this season. After Week 14's game, pass-rushers will have to think twice about pinning their ears back and going all-out for a sack. Trubisky reminded the league he's a dangerous quarterback who will make defenses pay if they take too many chances against him.

Trubisky's growth over the last month of the season has been pretty remarkable. It took him longer than expected to get to this place he's at now, i.e. a quarterback who can put Chicago on his shoulders and win a football game, but he appears to have arrived. At least, if his last three games are any indication, he's become the kind of productive playmaker the Bears have so desperately need. He's completed 70% of his passes for 860 yards (seven touchdowns, four interceptions) and a passer rating of 99.1 over that stretch.

Spread over 16 games, this three-week run would equate to 4,586 yards and 37 touchdowns. His 99.1 passer rating would rank among the top-10 starters in the league, too. 

Trubisky tucked and ran with more frequency Thursday night and it paid off. It made the Bears' offense look almost unstoppable at times. It's been a while since that could be said about this squad, but it's better late than never.

"We've gotten better over the last couple weeks, I'm talking about as a team, that's what's most important to me," Trubisky said. "That is what allows you to get better as an individual, is if you focus on the team first, focus on the guys around you."

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