Mark Sanchez

Quarterback Mark Sanchez -- who did actually play for the Bears, you'll recall -- has officially retired from the NFL

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USA Today

Quarterback Mark Sanchez -- who did actually play for the Bears, you'll recall -- has officially retired from the NFL

The thing about the Chicago Bears franchise is that, unlike a lot of other NFL teams that are forced to manufacture prestige into their history, the Bears let their past speak for itself. George Halas founded the league, Walter Payton revolutionized it, and the '85 defense terrorized it. Walking through Halas Hall is as immersive a dive into the sport's history as any team can offer. 

Part of that history, forever enshrined within the sturdy, wind-whipped walls of Soldier Field, includes our story's hero, Mark Sanchez. After 8 NFL seasons that felt more like 12 NFL seasons, Mark has retired: 

The same Mark Sanchez that was going to save the Jets? Yes, that Mark Sanchez. The butt fumble guy. He did, if you try hard enough to remember, play for the Bears at one point. Here he is giving Mitch Trubisky a pep talk that Mitch is totally digging and definitely listening to: 

Here he is giving Mitch some profound wisdom that would actually be pretty good advice were it not such a painfully-thin reflection on his own experience:

“He’s not married, he doesn’t have any kids. You don’t need a five-bedroom place to look after for all your buddies to live in,” Sanchez said. “If you want another responsibility, get a dog or something.”

And now his watch has ended. 

Free agent focus: Which players could the Bears look to keep?

Free agent focus: Which players could the Bears look to keep?

The first decisions general manager Ryan Pace will have to make later this month are on which of his own players from the 2017 season he’d like to try to retain. There are 10 key names here to focus on before negotiations with other teams can begin March 12 and contracts can be finalized March 14.

Dontrelle Inman

Inman brought some much-needed length to the Bears’ receiving corps when Pace traded for him in October, and he caught 13 of 22 targets for 195 yards in his first three games in Chicago. But Inman’s production tailed off, with Mitchell Trubisky targeting him only eight times (with five receptions) for 45 yards and a touchdown in his next four games before Inman finished the season with five catches on 10 targets for 94 yards against the Minnesota Vikings. 

Former offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said in December that Inman’s decrease in usage was because teams quickly figured out that they could take him out of the gameplan by training their focus on him.

“Coverage,” Loggains said. “That’s as simple as it is. Nothing that he’s done or we’re trying to take him out of progressions.”

That’s not surprising — Inman isn’t a No. 1 receiver who can beat that kind of coverage — but the 6-foot-3 former Charger could be an option to return, and would be better suited as a rotational guy or someone who isn’t relied on to be the top target for Trubisky. 

Kendall Wright

The 28-year-old Wright led the Bears in targets (91) receptions (59) and yards (614) and played in all 16 games for the first time since his breakout 2013 season. But the Bears preferred to try to limit Wright’s snaps, as Loggains explained in October: “When he gets to play in that 25-35 range and he’s fresh and can bring the energy and juice,” he said. 

The Bears’ plan for Wright when they signed him a year ago was to have him be a complementary piece to their three top outside targets (Cameron Meredith, Kevin White, Markus Wheaton). With Meredith and White suffering season-ending injuries by the end of Week 1 and Wheaton proving to be a bust, the Bears had to rely on Wright more than they would’ve liked. 

As long as the Bears can better fill out the rest of their receiver depth chart, Wright not only would be a prime candidate to return, but someone who could be a productive part of the 2018 offense. 

Mark Sanchez

Sanchez wasn’t active for any of the Bears’ 16 games but still made a positive impact on the team in 2017. Specifically, the 31-year-old had a strong relationship with Trubisky, and the Bears could aim to keep that relationship intact. 

“He did a good job this year, all the things we value with him, his veteran leadership and his experiences,” Pace said, adding that Sanchez has expressed a desire to return to the Bears. “He’s a free agent, those are all evaluations that are ongoing.”

The bigger question is if the team believes Sanchez could be a viable backup after not dressing for a single game in 2017. There are other options on the free agent market, but it’s worth noting that one of those guys — Chase Daniel, who has connections to Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy — also didn’t throw a pass in 2017 (and has only thrown three since the end of the 2014 season).

Tom Compton

Compton was a steady presence as a reserve when he played and has the flexibility to play both guard and tackle. If Eric Kush is healthy after tearing his ACL last August, Compton could be a candidate to return as a swing tackle, or the Bears could look for someone on the free agent market. Worth noting is Compton’s relatively frequent presence on the Bears’ weekly injury reports last season. 

Zach Miller

Miller, unfortunately, doesn’t seem likely to play football again after dislocating his knee and tearing his popliteal artery against the New Orleans Saints, which nearly led to his leg being amputated. If Miller’s playing career is over, it’s a shame given he was one of the most well-liked players to pass through Halas Hall in recent memory. 

Kyle Fuller

If Pace were to use the franchise tag on Fuller, it likely would be a bridge to a long-term contract extension instead of using it to keep the cornerback under control for another year at $15 million. Fuller was one of four cornerbacks to break up 20 or more passes in 2017, but his inconsistent play in 2014 and 2015, as well as the injury that cost him the entire 2016 season, does present some risk. 

The Bears could opt to not use the franchise tag on Fuller and let him hit the open market and still have the confidence that they could re-sign him. To start: This year’s free agent cornerback class is headlined by Trumaine Johnson, Malcolm Butler, Bashaud Breeland and E.J. Gaines. Fuller would be entering a deep pool of cornerbacks, which Pace pointed out on Tuesday. 

“I would say cornerback this year in free agency and the draft is a good position, so that’s beneficial to us,” Pace said. 

It could be beneficial to the Bears specifically with Fuller, as a super-rich contract might not materialize if those go to Johnson and Butler. The Bears should be able to pitch Fuller, too, on the consistency in their defensive coaching staff — specifically, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and defensive backs coach Ed Donatell — as being the best option for the former first-round pick to continue to develop as a player. 

But too, if the Bears were lose Fuller to free agency, they could replace him with a couple of free agents or a free agent and a high draft pick. As Pace said, the depth of the cornerbacks available over the next two months is beneficial to the Bears. 

Prince Amukamara

Amukamara was a solid enough cornerback at times, but he didn’t record an interception and was penalized seven times for 99 yards, the most of any Bears defensive player in 2017 (Fuller, for comparison, was penalized three times for 21 yards). Amukamara turns 29 in June and is coming off back-to-back one-year deals. Would he take another one? And would the Bears want him back regardless? Again, the deep free agent market/draft pool could help the Bears find an upgrade over Amukamara. 

If the Bears do keep Amukamara, they very well could still draft a cornerback with an early round pick in April. 

Christian Jones

Jones totaled 57 tackles with two pass break-ups, one forced fumble and two sacks while playing well as a reserve next to Danny Trevathan. He’s played three years in Vic Fangio’s defense and seems like a likely candidate to return. 

Mitch Unrein

Unrein was not only a favorite of former coach John Fox but is a favorite of defense line coach Jay Rodgers. Re-signing him and then having 2016 third-round pick Jonathan Bullard compete with him for playing time could be a productive path. 

One thing Rodgers liked about Unrein last year was that helped the rest of the defensive line — standouts Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks — play faster. 

“Mitch is the glue that kind of holds it all together,” Rodgers said. “Very versatile player, he’s played every position on the front during the course of his career. He knows me, he knows what the expectation is, he knows how to communicate, he knows what’s coming, run game, pass game, he puts it all together. And when he’s out there on the field with those guys, he allows those guys to play fast. And if they know what’s coming their way, then they can play even faster. And I think his demand in the room of knowing what to do, when to do it and how to do it, raises the elevation of the other guys in the room. And he holds them accountable to knowing their stuff.” 

Lamarr Houston

The Bears parted ways with Houston before the 2017 season, then brought him back in late November after injuries sapped the team’s depth at outside linebacker. Houston notched four sacks in five games after returning to the Bears, and without many more productive edge rushers who could potentially hit the free market, Houston could be a candidate to return to help fill out the team’s pass rushing depth. 

Does Mark Sanchez make sense to back up Mitchell Trubisky?

Does Mark Sanchez make sense to back up Mitchell Trubisky?

INDIANAPOLIS — For all the focus this week on free agency, which unofficially begins March 12, and the NFL Draft, which begins in late April, no one affiliated with the Bears has lost sight of the most important key to the long-tern success of the franchise: Mitchell Trubisky. 

The Bears didn’t trade up in last year’s draft for Trubisky to be merely “fine.” They didn’t hire a young, quarterback-driven coach for Trubisky to be “just a guy.” They didn’t invest so much effort into building the structure around Trubisky just to feel “okay” about him. 

If the Bears get Trubisky right, they’ll get a lot of other things right, too. Matt Nagy is a big part of that equation, as is offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich and quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone. But another important guy in all of this will be Trubisky’s backup in 2018. 

“There’s no more important room than that quarterback room, and we’re really mindful of who we pair in that room,” general manager Ryan Pace said. 

So how about elevating Mark Sanchez from being a No. 3 quarterback who was inactive for all 16 games last year to being Trubisky’s backup?

“He did a good job this year, all the things we value with him, his veteran leadership and his experiences,” Pace said. “He’s a free agent. Those are all evaluations that are ongoing.”

Pace said Sanchez has expressed interest in returning to the Bears, where he and Trubisky developed a good relationship in 2017. Sanchez’s been-there, done-that history was important for Trubisky as the rookie dealt with so many new experiences in the NFL. 

Having that veteran quarterback as a sort of conduit from the coaching staff to Trubisky is helpful. But with a young quarterback like Trubisky, maybe it’s easy to lose sight of the job No. 1 of a backup: Being ready to come in and win at a moment’s notice. 

Pace pointed to that on Tuesday, mentioning Nick Foles' Super Bowl title, which could present a roadblock for retaining Sanchez. The last time the 31-year-old threw a pass in a regular season game was on Jan. 1, 2017, and he hasn’t been credited with a quarterback “win” — for what that’s worth — since 2014. 

“You need to be able to come in and win if something happens,” Pace said. “We just saw that in the Super Bowl. But again the chemistry in that room is important. You’re there for the starter. You’re in a supportive role to help him grow. We have a younger quarterback, so we have to be mindful of who we pair with him in that room.”

Pace could shoot to sign someone like Tampa Bay’s Ryan Fitzpatrick, Carolina’s Derek Anderson or Miami’s Matt Moore, all of whom are due to hit the open market in two weeks. Chase Daniel, who spent last year as the New Orleans Saints’ backup and has direct connections to Pace and Nagy, will also be a free agent but has had a longer layoff between NFL throws than Sanchez (Dec. 22, 2016, which was the only pass he threw that year). 

But opting to keep the same chemistry in the Bears’ quarterback room — minus Mike Glennon, of course, who will be released when the new league year begins March 14 — could have a benefit to Trubisky. And it could mean Sanchez is back at Halas Hall in 2018. 

“I think you just surround your quarterback, who’s your most valuable asset, with a lot of good resources,” Pace said. “We feel like we’ve done that, definitely with the coaching staff. And they all bring a different perspective to the table. It’s cool to walk into the offensive meeting room and see them collaborating and bouncing ideas off each other. It’s definitely that kind of relationship. So it’ll be interesting to see that play out. It’s definitely a creative offense.”