Mitch Trubisky

Bears grades and needs: The clock is ticking on Mitch Trubisky

Bears grades and needs: The clock is ticking on Mitch Trubisky

2018 depth chart

1. Mitch Trubisky
Usage: 14 games, 86.4 percent of offensive snaps
2019 status: $7,917,933 cap hit

The Bears spent last offseason building the best possible structure around Trubisky, from hiring Matt Nagy to signing Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton and Chase Daniel to drafting James Daniels and Anthony Miller. There don’t appear to be many more moves to be made now, outside of finding a solution to a lagging running game. 

So that puts the Bears’ necessary offensive growth squarely on Trubisky. His overall 2018 numbers were fine, completing two-thirds of his passes for 3,223 yards with 24 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and a passer rating of 95.4. Those made him roughly an average quarterback league-wide, with his rushing ability (68 carries, 421 yards) a sneaky asset. 

The optimistic view is Trubisky’s 2018 season — his first running Nagy’s offense — built a solid foundation on which he can build. Teammates noted Trubisky’s mastery of the “football 101” concepts by the end of the season, which should allow Nagy to move on to more advanced facets of his scheme. Having a full year of OTAs and training camp to build on that baseline knowledge, likely, will be beneficial for Trubisky and the entire offense. 

“I think it was just good to see the natural growth just in the offensive scheme as he gains more comfort and also more comfort with the players that are around him, that chemistry that developed,” general manager Ryan Pace said last month. “I was just talking to Mitch today about that, just the excitement about going into an offseason with the pieces in place around him and then year two in the same offensive scheme and how much growth can take place. So I just felt like you saw him playing more with his instincts because he was more comfortable in the system.”

The Bears are confident that growth will take place, but the team doesn’t have years upon years for him to develop — it has to be soon. His cap hit of just under $8 million in 2019, followed by about $9.2 million in 2020, means the Bears’ best window to win will be in the next two years. If the Bears pick up Trubisky’s fifth-year option for 2021, he’d likely cost somewhere in the range of $22 million, depending on what various extensions look like for the league’s top quarterbacks over the next two years (Jameis Winston’s fifth-year option for 2019 will cost the Buccaneers $20.922 million). 

The point is this: The Bears only have two years left of a cheap Trubisky before he gets expensive (or, if things go poorly, the Bears have to start over at the position). If Trubisky were to earn a salary around $22 million in 2021, he and Khalil Mack could combine to take up a rough estimate of 20 percent of the team’s salary cap. That doesn’t mean the Bears’ window to win will close after the 2020 season — it’ll stay open as long as Trubisky develops into the player the team thinks he can be. 

“Last year, he was so focused in on what do we do on offense,” Nagy said. “… Now he knows. He knows it all. And now he can take that next step of figuring out, okay, here they come. They have got a saw blitz, cover zero, now I know what to do or I know how to check to (a) protection, all that. That's going to be the big one for him.”

2. Chase Daniel
Usage: 5 games, 13.8 percent of offensive snaps
2019 status: $6 million cap hit

Daniel deftly quarterbacked the Bears past the Lions on Thanksgiving but was sloppy in an overtime loss to the Giants a week later, leaving him with a 1-1 record in the two games he started in place of Trubisky. Those games, combined with his extensive knowledge of Nagy’s offense and a good relationship with Trubisky, were likely enough to earn him a spot on the 2019 roster. It’s unlikely the Bears could find a better fit in a backup quarterback for less than the $3 million in cap space they’d save by releasing Daniel. 

“That’s why we have Chase,” Nagy said, tellingly, after Daniel led the Bears to that win over the Lions. 

3. Tyler Bray
Usage: 0 games, 0 percent of offensive snaps
2019 status: Unrestricted free agent

Bray fit with the Bears in 2018 as an additional voice with knowledge of Nagy’s offense, having spent an injury-plagued career in Kansas City prior to coming to Chicago. The Bears could look to retain him as a practice squad player and for depth in case of an injury, but perhaps Pace will explore bringing in an undrafted free agent or even a late-round quarterback as a third-stringer. 

2019 level of need (1-11, with 11 being the highest): 2

The only thing that matters is Trubisky’s development in 2019. That’s the Bears’ all-in bet for this year; if Trubisky makes the kind of improvement the Bears need to get back to the playoffs, they’ll be set. If not, serious questions will need to be asked a year from now about if Trubisky truly is worthy of being the Bears’ franchise quarterback of the future. 

The five most irreplaceable Bears in 2019

The five most irreplaceable Bears in 2019

The Bears deserve plenty of credit, from coach Matt Nagy to head trainer Andre Tucker to sport science coordinator Jen Gibson and everyone involved, for largely keeping the eventual NFC North champions healthy in 2018. The Bears lost tight end Adam Shaheen and right guard Kyle Long to injured reserve, yet had both players return during the season.

The most significant IR loss the team had was slot corner Bryce Callahan, who was placed on injured reserve after suffering a foot injury in Week 15. Backup linebacker Sam Acho and tight end Dion Sims were the other two players to land on IR in 2018. 

Only having five players be placed on IR (and having two return) was a major accomplishment for a team that frequently ended seasons with a double-digit list of guys on IR. But there was some luck involved, too -- luck the Bears can hope for, but can't count on, in 2019. This is football, and injuries are an unfortunately significant part of the game. 

So with that in mind, today we're looking at the five players the Bears can least afford to lose for a significant amount of time next season based on a few things: Talent, production, position, depth and money.

Consider this, too, a cheat sheet of sorts for where the Bears need to improve their depth over the next few months (except for quarterback). Here's the list:

1. Khalil Mack
2018 stats: 12 1/2 sacks, 6 forced fumbles, 73 total pressures

The Bears’ defense managed just two sacks against the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots and New York Jets after Mack suffered an ankle injury in the first half of the Bears’ loss to the Dolphins in Week 6. Mack played the rest of the game against Miami, and then against the Patriots, but sat out against the Jets and then the Buffalo Bills (the Bears had four sacks against a punchless offense quarterbacked by Nathan Peterman). It’s no coincidence that the Bears’ two worst defensive games of 2018 — allowing 31 points to the Dolphins and 24 to the Patriots — came as Mack was hobbled and ineffective. 

The Bears’ depth at outside linebacker looks thin heading into the 2019 offseason. Beyond Mack and Leonard Floyd, the Bears currently have Sam Acho (coming off a torn pec that ended his 2018 season) and unproven youngsters Isaiah Irving and Kylie Fitts, with Aaron Lynch set to become a free agent. Beyond Mack’s 12 1/2-sack production being largely irreplaceable, his playmaking ability and ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks was the top catalyst for the Bears having the NFL’s best defense in 2018. 

“He definitely brings a level of energy and a consistency at that position,” Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson said before the first round of the playoffs. “Definitely boosts the defensive line. He's definitely somebody you have to scheme for and know where he is.”

On top of Mack’s holistic impact on the defense, he carries with him a cap hit of $22.3 million in 2019 — which accounts for a little over 11 percent f the Bears’ total cap space. Literally and figuratively, the Bears can’t afford to lose him. 

2. Mitch Trubisky
2018 stats: 289/434 (66.6 percent), 3,223 yards, 24 TDs, 12 INTs, 95.4 passer rating

This is another obvious one, too: The Bears’ offense is built around Trubisky, no matter how capable a backup Chase Daniel may be. While the Bears went 1-1 with Daniel filling in for Trubisky last year, the chances the Bears could sustain a Super Bowl run with any backup quarterback not named Nick Foles are low. 

What the Bears need from Trubisky in 2019 is significant growth in Year 2 running Nagy’s offense. The Bears ranked 20th in yards per play, 21st in passing yards per game, 22nd in interception rate and 16th in first downs per game in 2018, and finished the year 20th in offensive DVOA (they did rank ninth in points scored per game, though that does factor in the six defensive touchdowns they tallied). The Bears need to be better, especially to combat a possible regression by the defense. 

The point here is this: The Bears’ offense won’t be able to take the step forward it needs without Trubisky operating it. His arm strength and athleticism — he rushed for 421 yards and averaged 6.2 yards per attempt — make him a potentially dynamic threat, one to whom the entire Bears’ organization has staked their immediate future. 

3. Trey Burton
2018 stats: 76 targets, 54 catches, 569 yards, 6 touchdowns

While Burton’s numbers in 2018 weren’t eye-popping, his impact on the Bears’ offense was significant. 

The Bears’ offense stagnated in its wild card loss to the Eagles, one which was marred by the loss of Burton a little more than 24 hours before kickoff. That exposed a sneaky weakness of Nagy’s offense: Without a versatile “U” tight end, the Eagles were able to take away Tarik Cohen, who only had four touches in that 16-15 loss. 

While Allen Robinson admirably stepped up in place of Burton, the Bears’ offense lacked the kind of dynamic flexibility that made it difficult to defend at times in 2018. Burton played 80 percent of the Bears’ offensive snaps last year, the highest of any skill position player. 

Finding a capable backup to Burton won’t be easy, especially because that player will be required to be a special teams contributor in the vein of Ben Braunecker (a restricted free agent) and Daniel Brown (an unrestricted free agent). Perhaps the Bears draft a “U” tight end April, though with limited picks that may not be a pressing enough need (then again, if scouts fall in love with a player, they’ll take him regardless of position). 

4. Eddie Jackson
2018 stats: 6 interceptions, 2 touchdowns 

Jackson initially wasn’t going to be on this list, with Akiem Hicks getting the nod over him. But as free agency approaches in a little over a month, the Bears seem unlikely to pour money into retaining Adrian Amos given Jackson will be in line for a deservedly-rich contract extension a year from now. It’s not necessarily good practice to have a sizable chunk of money tied up at the safety position, so unless the Bears can keep Amos on a bargain, it seems likely they’ll move on. 

Perhaps the Bears move forward with former fourth round pick Deon Bush, a cheap veteran free agent (perhaps like Tennessee’s Kenny Vaccaro) and a draft pick. But whatever the outcome is next to Jackson, the Bears will need the All-Pro on the field as much as possible without the experience of Amos next to him. 

The Bears were able to overcome Jackson’s absence after he sprained his ankle while running back an interception of Aaron Rodgers in Week 15 (while there were some egregious floating throws by Nick Foles in the playoffs that Jackson could’ve made a play on, the Bears still only allowed 16 points). But in 2019, without Amos, replacing him would be a more difficult task. 

5. Kyle Fuller
2018 stats: 7 interceptions, 13 PBUs, 66.6 passer rating when targeted (per PFF)

While most of the cornerback-focused attention over the next few weeks will swirl around Callahan, the Bears do have a sneaky need for better depth at outside cornerback behind Fuller and Prince Amukamara. At the very least, they’ll need competition for second-year undrafted free agent Kevin Toliver II, who has ideal length and athleticism but is short on experience. The Bears were lucky to only have the combination of Fuller and Amukamara miss one game in 2018 — and that was that laughable blowout win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

Fuller gets the nod here, though, given how good he is (his seven interceptions led the NFL) and how much money the Bears have committed to him (his $13.5 million cap hit is the third-highest on the Bears in 2019). The Bears would do well to continue to develop Toliver while targeting some veteran competition and perhaps drafting a cornerback, too, something Pace has only done once in four years with the Bears (and that player, Deiondre’ Hall, was moved to safety). 

Where do the Bears need better offensive depth in 2019?

Where do the Bears need better offensive depth in 2019?

The Bears are, for now, bringing back all 11 offensive starters from their 2018 NFC North-winning team after re-signing right tackle Bobby Massie last weekend. The Bears hope that continuity, coupled with a quarterback entering his second year in an offensive system, will lead to significant strides made by this offense in 2019, as colleague John “Moon” Mullin laid out earlier this week.
 
But focusing merely on the 11 starters returning might lose sight of a critical question for 2019: How the Bears will handle losing one or more of those players for some period of time. The Bears were lucky to only have three offensive players land on injured reserve last year, with two of those guys returning during the season (Adam Shaheen and Kyle Long). For all the success coach Matt Nagy, head trainer Andre Tucker and the Bears’ entire training staff had at keeping players healthy, there was an element of luck to it.
 
“It's tough because I think there is a little bit of good fortune that comes your way, no question,” general manager Ryan Pace said. “But I think we're doing things right now that helped put us on the right track. I really like where we're at in the weight room, in the training room and again what we're doing with our schedules.”
 
Still, every team’s depth will be tested, and the ones that handle those tests well are usually the ones that wind up in the playoffs — or even the Super Bowl. Look no further than the Los Angeles Rams, who managed to reach the Super Bowl after losing receiver Cooper Kupp just after the halfway point of the season and benching an ineffective Todd Gurley in the NFC Championship.
 
The Bears’ ability to handle losing starters in 2018, though, was somewhat of a mixed bag.
 
Mitch Trubisky
 
Games missed: 2
Replaced by: Chase Daniel

 
Trubisky missed two games with a shoulder injury, with the Bears cautiously handling their starting quarterback and handing the offensive reigns to Chase Daniel for road dates against the last-place Detroit Lions and New York Giants.
 
Daniel was good against the Lions, completing 27 of 37 passes for 230 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers in a 23-16 win that ranked among the most significant of the 2018 season. He was sloppy a week later, though, throwing a game-opening pick-six and fumbling four times against the Giants, though he was able to lead a last-ditch comeback to get that game into overtime.
 
The verdict: Daniel will be back for the second year of his two-year contract, and his extensive knowledge of Nagy’s offense will continue to be an asset as Trubisky begins to learn the scheme’s more advanced aspects. While it was only two games, going .500 with your backup quarterback is generally a good thing.
 
Adam Shaheen
 
Games missed: 10
Replaced by: Dion Sims, different formations

 
Shaheen injured his foot in a preseason game against the Denver Broncos and was on injured reserve for the first 10 weeks of the season, then returned for Week 11 against the Minnesota Vikings and suffered a concussion that sidelined him for Week 12.
 
Sims, meanwhile, was placed on injured reserve after suffering a concussion against the Buffalo Bills in Week 9. While Sims was ineffective when he played, he and Shaheen were the Bears’ two primary “Y” (in-line) tight ends. The result was, mostly, the Bears using a heavy amount of 11 personnel (three receivers, one running back, one tight end) with Trey Burton lining up in his “U” position. For instance: The Bears ran 295 plays with one tight end on the field on first and 10, compared to 112 with two or more tight ends.
 
Shaheen’s 2018 was mostly a wash, with only six targets in six games with one touchdown (as well as a catch on a two-point conversion against the Vikings). Sims finished his season with a 47.5 grade as a run blocker, and while Shaheen is hardly a finished product as a player, his physicality and run-blocking potential was sneakily missed during the season.
 
The verdict: In theory, replacing a second-year player with a veteran making $6 million should’ve provided the kind of depth the Bears needed. That wasn’t the case, though, and Sims will ultimately be released to clear $6 million in cap space, per Spotrac.
 
The Bears will need to figure out how to improve their depth behind Shaheen at the “Y” while also making sure not having a reliable in-line tight end isn’t detrimental to effectively running the ball.
 
Trey Burton
 
Games missed: 1
Replaced by: Ben Braunecker

 
Speaking of tight ends, Burton’s groin issue was arguably the most significant injury suffered by a Bears offensive player last season. The timing of it was brutal, with Burton starting to feel sore the Friday before the Wild Card game against the Philadelphia Eagles and then waking up Saturday morning to his groin being “completely locked,” as he described it.
 
With only about 24 hours to figure out a solution to Burton’s absence, the Bears’ offense was out of sorts at times and only managed 15 points. Allen Robinson stepped up, but Tarik Cohen only had four touches with the Eagles able to key on him without Burton on the field.
 
Braunecker, meanwhile, caught two passes for 15 yards while splitting his time between the “U” — Burton’s position — and the “Y.”
 
The verdict: Burton played all 16 games in the regular season, but losing him in the playoffs perhaps exposed a weakness in Nagy’s offense. The 11th-hour timing of Burton’s injury certainly impacted things, but it would’ve been worse from a planning standpoint had Burton suffered an injury on the first series of the game. These things can happen, and if Burton does have to miss time next year the Bears will have to have a better answer from a scheme and personnel standpoint.
 
Kyle Long
 
Games missed: 8
Replaced by: Bryan Witzmann

 
Harry Hiestand’s group excelled in pass protection even after Long suffered a foot injury late in the Bears’ Week 8 win over the New York Jets, one that initially seemed to threaten to end his season. Witzmann was durable and serviceable in place of Long, and for what it’s worth Jordan Howard had his best stretch of the season (88 carries, 399 yards) in December with Witzmann playing all but 27 snaps at right guard.
 
Long’s injury history — he’s missed a total of 22 games in the last three years — means the Bears will again need a plan to replace him if need be in 2019 (that is, assuming he’ll be back, though it seems likely he will be).
 
The verdict: The Bears could do worse than Witzmann, who played for Nagy in Kansas City from 2016-2017. If he isn’t brought back, a cheap veteran type similar to him would likely be the option. Hiestand, Nagy and Mark Helfrich deserve credit, too, for making sure the loss of a player as talented and important as Long didn’t have a significantly adverse effect on the offense.
 
Allen Robinson
 
Games missed: 3
 
Anthony Miller
 
Games missed: 1
 
Replaced by: Josh Bellamy

 
The writing was on the wall for Kevin White after he was among the inactives for the Bears’ Week 9 game against the Buffalo Bills, one Robinson missed. While White and Robinson played different receiver positions, that White didn’t even dress for a game in which Robinson didn’t play was a fairly damning indictment of the former first-round pick.
 
The Bears, meanwhile, valued Bellamy’s speed and versatility — he’s able to play all three receiver positions in Nagy’s offense — and he made a handful of plays when called upon. He caught a touchdown in Week 4 (the game Miller missed) and only dropped one of his 26 targets, per Pro Football Focus.
 
The verdict: Bellamy’s special teams acumen, offensive knowledge and leadership make him a candidate to be re-signed, with 2018 seventh-rounder Javon Wims in line for an opportunity to compete for an active roster spot, too. The Bears’ receiver depth is fine; improved depth at running back and tight end would help better mitigate losing a starter from this unit in 2019.