If anyone knows how to handle the Jalen Ramsey Experience, it's probably Allen Robinson

If anyone knows how to handle the Jalen Ramsey Experience, it's probably Allen Robinson

Rams' cornerback Jalen Ramsey likes to talk. In fact, Rams' cornerback Jalen Ramsey likes to talk a lot. 

The All-Pro corner, who was traded from Jacksonville to Los Angeles a few weeks ago, is famously opinionated and notoriously loud about it. Just ask Allen Robinson, who was the one to line up against Ramsey when he first entered the league in 2016. Both started their careers with the Jaguars – Robinson as a second round pick in 2014 and Ramsey as the fifth overall selection just two years later. It'll be the first time they've played one another. 

"It's going to be physical, it's going to be competitive, it's going to be fun," he said on Wednesday. "I'm definitely looking forward to it ... I talk, he talks, so it'll be fun." 

Ramsey figures to shadow Robinson throughout most of the game on Sunday, or would at least like to if he got his way. His in-game bravado – which sometimes overshadows the fact that he's the NFL's best cornerback – oftentimes throws receivers for a loop. It may be a unique challenge to NFC North receivers, but it's nothing new to Robinson. Whether it's showing up to training camp in a literal Brinks truck or publicly criticizing the quarterback of the team he now plays for, his audacity has never wavered. 

"Yeah, from the time he was in Jacksonville, we've had a lot of one-on-one's between me and him," he said. "From the time he got drafted. I definitely enjoyed it. It's always fun to go against good competition." 

"You better have confidence in this league playing corner and he's got ultimate confidence," Matt Nagy added. "You see part of his game is talking and there's some guys that do that, some that don't. Some guys that do it can't play, he can do it and can play. So you give respect to that guy. He matches a lot of the number one receivers and so I, we'll know where he's at." 

They don't keep in touch, but Robinson gave a lot of credit to Ramsey and the rest of that 2016 Jacksonville secondary for helping him turn into the type of Pro Bowl caliber receiver that earned him a three-year, $42 million contract with the Bears.

"Being able to play against him and A.J. Bouye for a couple years – and now going against Prince [Amukamara] and Kyle [Fuller] – I think it's always good to play good competition each and every week," he said. "You spend a lot of time with those guys in OTAs and Training Camp doing one-on-ones, and really fine-tuning your game." 

Robinson's generally considered a mild-mannered guy, but did say that knowing Ramsey so well, and vice-versa, may make the competition a little more spirited than normal. He's expecting a lot of physicality on the sidelines – where Ramsey does some of his best physical and mental work – and talked about how Ramsey's length affects the catch point on a lot of Robinson's routes. Whether the two are mic'd up or not remains to be seen, just don't expect any of it to affect Robinson. 

"You know, I know him too," he said. "So I would give us both an advantage."

The 2019 Chicago Bears are not the 2018 Jacksonville Jaguars…yet

USA Today

The 2019 Chicago Bears are not the 2018 Jacksonville Jaguars…yet

As the Bears reported to Bourbonnais three months ago for training camp, a question was asked nationally but dismissed locally: Is this team going to be a repeat of the 2018 Jacksonville Jaguars?

As in: A team that achieved massive, unexpected success based on an elite defense one season, then the next fell off a cliff when its defense went from No. 1 in the league to, say, No. 6 or 7. That’s roughly what happened to the Jaguars from 2017, when they came within one quarter of reaching the Super Bowl, to 2018, when they sunk to a 5-11 record. 

It didn't seem likely that a team who's biggest perceived weakness was its kicker.  (Remember those halcyon days?)

Six games in to a 2019 season that already feels like it's falling short of expectations, are the Bears following the same path?

Roughly, you can make the case. The Bears’ defense is still good, ranking 6th in DVOA, but hasn’t been as dynamic with worse injury luck (Akiem Hicks going on injured reserve) and worse turnover luck (the Bears are on pace for 27 takeaways, 10 fewer than they had in 2018). The Jaguars were the NFL’s No. 1 defense by DVOA in 2017, then slipped to No. 6 in 2018. The Bears, of course, were No. 1 in defensive DVOA (and just about every other measure) in 2018. 

And a Bears offense that was 20th in DVOA last year enters Week 8 ranked 25th. On offense, Jacksonville was 16th in 2017, then 30th in 2018. 

That Jaguars team started 2018 with a 3-1 record, too, just like the 2019 Bears. 

Before you start panicking, though, there are some important differences. First: While that Jaguars team put up 480 yards (!) in beating the New England Patriots (!!) by 11 (!!!) in Week 2, it lost games in Weeks 5 and 6 by a combined 49 points. While the final score of the Bears’ loss to the Saints does not tell the whole story, the 11-point defeat was the first of Matt Nagy’s tenure to be by more than seven points. 

The 2018 Jaguars had an incredibly difficult stretch of its schedule, which likely served to tear that team apart: Jacksonville played five consecutive games against teams that made the playoffs (Kansas City, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia and Indianapolis) and lost them all, then lost to a Steelers team that barely missed the playoffs to drop to 3-7. The Bears’ schedule is difficult, but not that difficult: The Chargers, Lions and Giants all lie ahead and are not likely to make the playoffs. 

Blake Bortles had a DVOA of -18.9 last year (meaning he was 18.9 percent worse than the league’s average quarterback last year, who was essentially Kirk Cousins), which is not as bad as Mitch Trubisky has been so far in 2019 (-9.8 DVOA). Trubisky is not in the Bortles zone yet. 

And that Jaguars team did have a volatile locker room that probably did more to generate blowout losses than create an atmosphere to fix things. The Bears do not believe they have the same volatility, though we haven’t seen how this team with no “turds,” as Nagy put it back in August, will handle falling short of expectations. 

On the whole, though, the Jaguars-to-Bears comparison is not totally fair yet. With 10 games left to play, the Bears have plenty of time to fix this season…or let it slide into Jaguars territory. 

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Why the Bears are willing to take the risk on Kyle Fuller

Why the Bears are willing to take the risk on Kyle Fuller

The Bears giving Kyle Fuller a hug in the form of a we-want-you-back transition tag represents an interesting chapter in their relationship with their pick at No. 14 of the 2014 draft.

This time a year ago, the Bears were on a course that would involve lavishing $7 million for one year on Prince Amukamara, and $8 million guaranteed in a three-year pact with Marcus Cooper. Fuller wasn’t drafted by the Ryan Pace regime, and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio had publicly cast aspersions on Fuller’s resolve after the cornerback remained out late in the season after seemingly minor knee surgery in August. Throwing Fuller under the bus did not sit well at all in a locker room conditioned to keeping issues in-house, let alone with Fuller himself.

Since the end of 2017, Fangio has been retained under new coach Matt Nagy, and he has reached out to Fuller for some golf and presumably a bit of relationship-building. The Bears engaging in contract talks described by GM Ryan Pace as “aggressive” reinforced the positive message. Best guess at this point is that, with the help of the market either producing an offer or validating the Bears’ offer with its silence, Fuller will be a starting Bears cornerback for several more seasons.

The result of the tag is difficult to predict conclusively. Teams may be reluctant to fashion a multi-year package for Fuller, reasoning that they will effectively just be doing the Bears’ work for them, the presumption being that the Bears will just match the offer.

Collective bargaining talks in 2011 eliminated flagrant “poison pills” in contract offers but opposing teams are free to structure contracts with front- or back-loading intended to put the player’s current team in a salary-cap bind. The Bears, however, have managed their cap superbly under Pace and are among the teams with the greatest cap space with which to make or match offers.

A tag not without risk

The Bears have had good and bad experience with the transition tag. They landed Andy Heck when the Seattle Seahawks passed on matching the Bears’ offer to the left tackle in 1994. They’d placed transition tags on defensive backs Mark Carrier and Donnell Woolford the year before and kept both with multi-year deals.

But letting the market set the value of one’s own players can blow up, sometimes painfully. The Bears were deep in negotiations with Alonzo Spellman in 1996 but refused to budge to the $2 million-per-year mark. The Jacksonville Jaguars then tendered a four-year deal worth $12 million, 50 percent more than the Bears’ line in the sand. The Bears then mysteriously matched the Jacksonville package, which included a $100,000 annual donation to Spellman’s foundation that the Bears unsuccessfully challenged.

Late in 1995, with tackle James “Big Cat” Williams in search of a new deal in the range of $2 million per season. A Bears executive scoffed, “James Williams, a $2-million tackle?! Oh, please.” He was right; the Bears let Williams hit the market, the Oakland Raiders came after him with an offer the Bears countered, and which revealed that James Williams in fact was a $2.9-million tackle.

With their transition tag, the Bears are telling Fuller that they think he’s worth $12.971 million a year, at least for the 2018 year. That the two sides didn’t get a deal done already at that level – A.J. Bouye and Stephon Gilmore set the cornerback market last offseason at $13.5 million per season – suggests that the increase of the salary cap to $177.2 million from $167 million has predictably bumped expectations (and demands) upward.

That no deal got done with “aggressive” negotiating says that the Bears may be saying Fuller isn’t a $13.5-million cornerback. What they’re hoping they don’t find out, in the Big Cat tradition, is that Fuller in fact isn’t a $13.5-million cornerback, that he’s a $15-million cornerback.

The Bears last year lost free agents over demands for massive guarantees rooted in coaching and quarterback uncertainties. They may still be looking at high guarantee demands but took their first step on Tuesday to keeping one of their own.

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