The NFL Scouting Combine ain’t what it used to be, which consisted of no real structure for media logistics and placement, meaning that the few days in Indy were rife with opportunities for casual interactions with coaches, scouts, agents and just about anybody – which is where the really good information lies.
Still, when Bears GM Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy go public, it’s generally news, even if it’s not NEWS. So some takeaways from their comments on Wednesday are possible, even if the comments were pretty much the same as the ones in their postseason press availability:
Kyle Long renegotiating his contract with three years remaining creates some interesting, mostly good, situations for the Bears.
The Bears did have an out after three years, which did give them a bit of leverage at a time when Long’s recent health issues wouldn’t have put him in a strong position as a free agent. But the Bears and Long elected to make the situation work, which projects as a major positive for an offense still in a semi-molten state.
It also cements in place, along with a top-shelf line coach, four-fifths of that line (Long, tackles Charles Leno and Bobby Massie, guard James Daniels) for what ideally will be at least three more years, something beyond rare in the fluid NFL. The final piece – center Cody Whitehair – is a priority for the front office as Whitehair enters the final year of his 2016 rookie deal coming off a Pro Bowl-alternate year.
This is of course a very big deal since these are the hands and feet entrusted with the well-being of one Mitchell Trubisky.
“Our offensive line right now,” Nagy said, “just the way they grew fundamentally—and a lot of that credit goes to [coach] Harry Hiestand for being such a great coach fundamentally with those guys—they believe in what he teaches them. He’s hard on them, but yet he loves them. They understand watching film how can they get better. You see that with every one of our guys right now.”
Having potentially four offensive linemen all in at least their second contracts typically would be cost-intensive, even with Daniels, Leno, Long and Daniels all clear draft and re-sign-your-own hits. And Trubisky’s looming mega-deal certainly figured into the math of the O-line and other contracts.
But the fact that the Bears got the Leno, Long and Massie deals done without needing to bid for them in free agency (a’la Kyle Fuller) says that they are in line with a planned structure that contemplates where the salary cap will be in the years those four will be together based on current contracts. And center is the most “affordable” O-line position after right tackle, so look for the Bears to get Whitehair done, as they have done with Leno and Eddie Goldman, at the outset of the season
Corner’ing the market
The No. 1 offseason need for the Bears remains the obvious situation at nickel-corner, with Bryce Callahan slated to hit a market that values cornerbacks in general roughly on par with pass rushers and behind only quarterbacks (using franchise-tag amounts as one measure).
What that market is will be extremely noteworthy.
And so is the fact that the Bears didn’t put, say, a transition tag on Callahan, a high-profile member of an elite defense. The Bears did that with Kyle Fuller and ended up needing to match an offer sheet tendered by the Green Bay Packers. So why not with Callahan?
The simple thought is that they’ve determined that the open market for Callahan won’t hit the heights that it did for Fuller, which it won’t be, obviously. And the transition tag puts a one-year bill of around $13 million for corners, which neither the Bears nor anyone else is likely to think a No. 3 corner is worth, particularly after paying Fuller and Prince Amukamara handsomely last offseason.
What the Bears likely have calculated as well is that they will have options if Callahan gets an offer that includes a legitimate shot at being a starter, which isn’t happening in Chicago.
Health-wise, one year later
One of the chief values for teams at the Combine is the chance to do fairly in-depth medical evaluations. Not that the information gained is conclusive; No. 1’s Kevin White (2015) and Leonard Floyd (2016), and No. 2 Adam Shaheen (2017) spent too much of their first two seasons hurt, albeit with injuries no Combine medical workups could’ve foretold.
But overall, Bears med staffers have done remarkably well with their work on draft prospects. Adrian Amos, Eddie Goldman, Roquan Smith, Mitchell Trubisky, James Daniels, Eddie Jackson, Tarik Cohen, Cody Whitehair, Anthony Miller, Bilal Nichols, Jordan Howard – some missed time at times there, but the Bears are nowhere near 12-4 without not only talented players from their drafts, but also healthy ones.
If there was a single most-impactful positive in the 2018, it was the relatively light injury blows suffered during the season. Consider:
Exactly one year ago Ryan Pace was announcing that the Bears were terminating the contract of defensive end Willie (“Don’t call me a linebacker!”) Young, one of the most respected vets in a changing locker room but an aging vet slowing down because of injuries. The Bears had ended 2017 with three (Young, Leonard Floyd, Pernell McPhee) of their top four edge rushers on IR, and the fourth (Lamarr Houston) on and off the roster (ultimately “off”) due to injuries.
All of which made then-coordinator Vic Fangio’s cobbling together a top-10 yardage and scoring defense perhaps the signature accomplishment of his distinguished career.
To put the health factor in perspective: Floyd in 2017 missed three times as many games (six) as the four 2018 starting linebackers (Floyd, Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan) missed combined in 2018.