Austin Hooper

Four players Ryan Pace should target to fix the Bears

Four players Ryan Pace should target to fix the Bears

The Chicago Bears have a 1 percent chance to make the playoffs in 2019 after falling to 4-6 following Sunday night's 17-7 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. As a result, it's time to start looking ahead to 2020 and the necessary moves GM Ryan Pace must make in order to take advantage of the Bears' already championship-worthy defense.

Pace will face some obvious challenges in the offseason, most notably the salary cap where the Bears won't have much flexibility. According to Spotrac, Chicago will be in the bottom-five teams in the league in cap space which will make shopping in free agency a limited endeavor. 

But as we've seen many times in the NFL, creative general managers can move money around in ways to free up the dollars for new contracts to make sense, and it's on Pace to make sure he does that in order to land at least two big-ticket free agents to fix two of this team's most pressing needs.

The NFL draft will also provide Pace with a great opportunity to add young, starting-quality talent in the second round. The Bears will end up with two of this year's top-60(ish) players and they have to make those picks count.

Here are four players Pace should target in order to turn the 2020 Bears into the contender they were supposed to be this season.

Sign QB Teddy Bridgewater (Saints)

Bridgewater would be the perfect target for Pace and the Bears in free agency to bring stability and reliability to the quarterback position. The former first-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings has resurrected his career after a devastating knee injury in 2016. Now three seasons removed, Bridgewater proved he's ready to take on a starting job after playing five games in relief of Drew Brees after the future Hall-of-Famer suffered a hand injury.

Bridgewater won all five starts and completed nearly 68 percent of his passes along the way. He racked up 281 yards and two touchdowns in Week 7 against the Bears and displayed the kind of accuracy and decision-making that Matt Nagy's offense calls for.

The Bears won't be the only suitors for Bridgewater's services, but the appeal of starting in Chicago with a defense that's proven it can win games on its own will at least be enticing for the former Lousiville star.

Sign TE Austin Hooper (Falcons)

Hooper will command a contract similar to what Chicago paid Trey Burton in 2018 (four years, $32 million), so it will be hard to justify tying up that much money in the tight end position. But as 2019 has proven, there's no way for Nagy's offense to reach its potential without a weapon at tight end in the passing game.

Hooper missed Week 11 with an MCL injury and could be on the shelf for a few more weeks, but he's been one of the league's better playmakers at tight end this season. He has 56 catches for 608 yards and six touchdowns and has shown steady improvement over each year of his career. He had 71 catches for 660 yards and four scores in 2018.

Draft OT Prince Tega Wanogho (Auburn) in 2nd round

It'll take a little bit of luck for 'Prince' to fall to the Bears' first of two second-round picks, which right now sits at No. 46 overall. But the Bears have to be aggressive in upgrading the offensive line this offseason. While Charles Leno, Jr. and Bobby Massie are serviceable offensive tackles, a player like Tega Wanogho has the kind of traits that could eventually develop into a top-tier starter on either side of the offensive line.

The Bears could decide to prioritize the interior of the offensive line in the draft, and that's fine. But the best (and cheapest) way to land a high-end offensive tackle is through the draft, and Pace has to swing for the fences on a pick like this in 2020.

Draft EDGE Yetur Gross Matos (Penn State) in 2nd round

Pass rushers like Gross Matos are often pushed up the draft board because of the premium placed on the position, but with several teams expected to take a quarterback in the first round and with the number of ridiculously talented wide receivers in the 2020 class, a player like Gross Matos could suffer a bit of a fall.

Gross Matos has six sacks so far this season, which is a respectable total but has fallen a tad short of expectations entering the year. He had eight sacks in 2018 and was a popular pick to explode as a sack artist this fall. Still, he has the athletic profile Pace loves in his pass rushers and would be an instant upgrade over Leonard Floyd, who's failed to live up to his first-round billing since joining the Bears in 2016.

Fantasy Football Fix Podcast: Rookie running backs and stock watch after Week 1

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Fantasy Football Fix Podcast: Rookie running backs and stock watch after Week 1

Slavko Bekovic, Scott Krinch, Glynn Morgan and Tony Andracki react to a crazy Week 1 in fantasy, including buying or selling stock on guys like Austin Hooper, Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Mike Gillislee, Kenny Golladay and more.

Plus, rookie running backs had a huge opening weekend, but what can we count on from Kareem Hunt, Leonard Fournette, Tarik Cohen and other first-year backs moving forward?

Later, NBC Sports fantasy analyst Josh Norris drops by the podcast to give his take on Cohen, the Seattle Seahawks backfield and more.

Listen to the entire podcast here:

The Bears' defense was so close, yet so far, from playing a complete game

The Bears' defense was so close, yet so far, from playing a complete game

The Bears’ defense did a lot of good on Sunday. Akiem Hicks had two sacks, Julio Jones was held to four catches and Devonta Freeman barely averaged three yards per carry. 

But there was one glaring negative that washed out a lot of those positives: Austin Hooper’s 88-yard touchdown, which came on a third-and-3 with the Falcons backed up near their own goal line early in the fourth quarter. 

That touchdown put Atlanta ahead, 20-10, and while it didn’t keep the Bears from having a chance to win, it was one of those plays that defenders collectively said cannot happen. The Bears’ defense wasn’t aligned prior to the snap, which happened a few times on Sunday when Matt Ryan quickly set his offense and got the ball snapped. 

“I think we had miscommunication on the call,” coach John Fox said. “The particular call we played was not the call that we called. But I’m not going to throw people under the bus, obviously. We didn’t execute very well."

“We didn’t really think we were in disarray. We didn’t realize we were in disarray until he [Hooper] caught the ball.”

The Bears weren't pointing fingers after the game as to who was supposed to cover Hooper, with players saying they needed to watch the film to diagnose what exactly went wrong. Demps, a team captain, took responsibility for the play. 

“I played bad football,” Demps, who was stiff-armed to the ground on the play by Hooper, said. “I gotta be in the middle of the field.”

While that blown coverage cost the Bears seven points, there were two other key third down plays that led to Atlanta connecting on a pair of field goals. Hicks was whistled for a roughing the passer penalty late in the third quarter that extended a Falcons drive, leading to a Matt Bryant 28-yard chip shot. And late in the fourth quarter, the Bears again couldn’t cover Hooper, whose 40-yard reception on third-and-10 from the Falcons’ 25-yard line set up another Bryant field goal. 

Had the Bears made a stop on either of those third downs — especially the one of the fourth quarter — they could’ve had a chance to kick a game-tying field goal on that final drive instead of needing to get in the end zone. 

“I mean, one play can lose the game,” linebacker Danny Trevathan said. “But I feel like we played all right, we played good (for) three quarters. The thing is, we gotta play good for four quarters to win the game in this business.”