Leonard Floyd

Bears Season in Review: Leonard Floyd

Bears Season in Review: Leonard Floyd

This was supposed to be the season that Bears outside linebacker Leonard Floyd finally lived up to his 2016 NFL Draft expectations. Remember those? Floyd was supposed to be Chicago's version of Von Miller in then-coach John Fox's defense. He was supposed to bring elite pass-rushing upside to a defense that was desperate to get after the quarterback.

Instead, Floyd has settled in as a well-rounded starting linebacker who's better in coverage and against the run than he is at creating fear in opposing quarterbacks.

An argument can be made that Floyd's failure to develop into a double-digit sack guy is what led GM Ryan Pace to pull the trigger on the Khalil Mack trade prior to the 2018 season. In a weird way, it's the best thing Floyd's done as a Bear.

But as is often the case when a premier player like Mack is added to a roster, expectations for his teammates are elevated. How can they not be? With all the attention opposing offensive lines pay to Mack, a player with as much alleged talent as Floyd should be able to capitalize on the favorable one-on-one situations he'd see.

Unfortunately, that hasn't happened for Floyd in the two seasons playing opposite Mack. In fact, 2019 was his worst as a pass-rusher; he managed just three sacks despite playing all 16 games.

Floyd hasn't been a complete bust for the Bears, however. He was the ninth-highest graded defender on the team this season, per Pro Football Focus, with a 69.8 season mark. It was the best PFF grade of his career even though his impact wasn't all that noticeable on gamedays.

Is Floyd a serviceable starter? The answer is an obvious yes. But serviceable starters don't get paid more than $13 million per year, and that's what Floyd's due in 2020 if the Bears keep their word and pick up his fifth-year option. Since Floyd remained healthy in 2019, Pace can rescind the fifth-year option if he so chooses. And with the Bears already facing salary-cap challenges, keeping that $13 million off the books makes a lot of sense.

The Bears could've done a lot worse than Floyd in 2019, but it became painfully obvious by midseason that Mack needed someone to step up as the Robin to his Batman. It was Floyd's responsibility to be that guy, and he failed.

It would come as no surprise if we've seen the last of Floyd as a starter on the Bears' defense.

Four Bears Ryan Pace can cut to free up 2020 salary cap space

Four Bears Ryan Pace can cut to free up 2020 salary cap space

The Bears have a lot of work to do this offseason. Help is needed along the offensive line, there's a void at safety and a starting-quality quarterback is expected to be added to the depth chart.

Unfortunately, if the Bears want to fill those needs in free agency, general manager Ryan Pace will have to make some difficult decisions on the future of several veterans. Currently, in the bottom-five of salary-cap space in the league, Chicago won't have the spending power needed unless multiple cuts are made.

Here are four players who Chicago can move on from and free up cap space to spend on the open market.

OLB Leonard Floyd

Floyd is due $13.2 million in 2020, a cap figure that ranks third-highest on the team next season. He hasn't played up to that price tag and would cost the Bears no dead money if they rescind his fifth-year option. Floyd has just 11.5 sacks over the last three seasons combined, numbers that are more in line with a backup pass-rusher than a highly-paid game-changer.

WR Taylor Gabriel

Gabriel has been a solid receiver for the Bears when healthy, but Anthony Miller's emergence and youngsters Riley Ridley and Javon Wims deserve more playing time in 2020. Moving on from Gabriel will save Chicago $4.5 million; it's a logical move that Pace should make rather easily.

CB Prince Amukamara

Amukamara, like Gabriel, has been a very solid starter for the Bears, but he'll be 31 years old next season and will soon be on the decline. He has just one interception in his three seasons in Chicago; his lack of production doesn't warrant a $10 million commitment against the cap. The Bears will save $9 million in life-after-Amukamara.

TE Ben Braunecker

Braunecker doesn't have a big paycheck coming to him in 2020 ($1.6 million), but his dead-cap figure is just $150,000. It's a quick $1.5 million in savings, and while Braunecker has been a solid player on special teams for the Bears over the last few seasons, every dollar counts in an offseason with such high-priced needs.

If the Bears release Floyd, Gabriel, Amukamara, and Braunecker, they'll have roughly $27 million in additional cap space. It's safe to say that money can be invested more wisely on the open market this offseason than on the four players currently due to receive it in 2020.

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Ryan Pace: 'We're happy with Leonard Floyd'

Ryan Pace: 'We're happy with Leonard Floyd'

Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd is due more than $13 million in 2020 after the Bears decided to pick up his fifth-year option prior to the 2019 season. The expectation was that he'd finally reach his potential as a pass-rusher in his second year playing opposite Khalil Mack.

Instead, Floyd ended the season with a career-low three sacks.

"We're happy with Leonard," Pace said Tuesday from Halas Hall. "I know the stats don't always say that. Leonard does a lot of things that go a little undervalued. The versatility he provides, things he can do in coverage. Not a lot of outside linebackers that can provide the versatility he provides."

Floyd finished 11th on the Bears in tackles (40) and trailed only Mack in quarterback pressures (39) per Pro Football Focus. His 63.7 coverage grade ranked fifth among Bears starters in 2019.

Still, Floyd will be viewed as a disappointment unless he can develop as a pass rusher.

"Would we like more production with him? Yeah," Pace said. "Would he like that? Yeah. There's a lot of things he does that we like. "

Pace offered some reasons why Floyd's sack totals haven't been where the team hoped they'd be by now.

"There's a lot of times this year he's so close. If you look at his pressures, hits in the series, they're up there. The sack production, not so much. In a lot of ways, too, you look at the sack production of our entire defense. How many times this year were we playing with big leads before they could really pin their ears back?"

At some point, excuses fall on deaf ears. He has just 18.5 sacks in 54 games. As a result, it's not a given the Bears will actually stick with Floyd in 2020. They can rescind the fifth-year option if they choose to.

"As far as his contract, we're never going to get into those things. We like Leonard, glad he's here. Like a lot of our players. Does he want to play better? Yeah. Can he play better? Yeah. We'll see going forward." 

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