Trent Williams

Five players the Bears should consider targeting at the NFL trade deadline

Five players the Bears should consider targeting at the NFL trade deadline

The 2019 NFL trade deadline (Tuesday, Oct. 29 at 3:00 p.m. CST) is quickly approaching, and that means general manager Ryan Pace has less than one week to determine if a trade is what this team needs to salvage a once-promising season.

The Bears have more than just one weakness; there isn't one simple solution or one position upgrade that'll fix the ever-growing mess. But there are a few veterans who could be had on the trade market who would represent an uptick in overall talent on this team. 

Here are five options for Pace to consider.

RB Melvin Gordon (Chargers)

Gordon had one of the most ridiculous training-camp-into-regular-season holdouts in recent contract-dispute history. It literally accomplished nothing for the talented well-rounded running back, who would bring a combination of experience and big-play ability to the Bears' backfield. What we do know, however, is that Gordon is looking for a big contract, one that Los Angeles isn't going to pay him. And if they aren't going to pay him, Pace might as well try to bring him to Chicago for at least the final 10 games of this season. The Bears' running game is arguably the worst in the NFL. Acquiring a player like Gordon, even if it's a one-year rental, can only help.

OT Trent Williams (Redskins)

The Bears' struggles along the offensive line haven't been because of any particular player; it's not like Chicago needs an upgrade at offensive tackle because Bobby Massie and Charles Leno, Jr. are playing poorly. They aren't. But Williams, who's vowed to never play for the Washington Redskins again, is one of the NFL's best all-around offensive linemen and would be a bonafide blue-chipper upfront. What would a Williams addition mean for Leno, Jr. and Massie? That's anyone's guess. But if a player of his caliber can be had at the trade deadline, Pace would be doing the Bears a disservice by not at least inquiring.

QB Case Keenum (Redskins)

Sadly, this is where we are with the Bears' quarterback situation. A player like Keenum, a veteran journeyman who's had as many lows as highs in his career, could actually be an upgrade for Chicago at the trade deadline. And it's not because he projects as a better longterm option than Trubisky. Rather, Keenum is the prototype quarterback who can inject life into an offense when it needs it most. The Bears wouldn't necessarily be giving up on Trubisky by acquiring a player like Keenum, but they would take a big step toward salvaging their playoff hopes.

TE OJ Howard (Buccaneers)

Howard is the most underused yet supremely talented players in the entire league. It's obvious he needs a change of scenery, and it's similarly obvious that the Bears need more than what Trey Burton is giving them at tight end. Howard is the perfect blend of power and athleticism to stay on the field in both running and passing situations and he can be a lethal weapon down the field for Trubisky (or whoever's under center). He's also a high-end run blocker. Win-win. The Buccaneers have said they aren't interested in trading Howard at this point, but where there's smoke? You know the rest.

OLB Vic Beasley (Falcons)

Beasley is essentially the Falcons' version of Leonard Floyd, with one exception. Beasley proved there's sack potential buried deep down inside him somewhere. He had 15.5 sacks in 2016. Compare that to Floyd, who has 17 sacks in nearly 3.5 seasons. The Falcons pass rush has been terrible in 2019, and Atlanta looks like they're ready to be sellers after dealing wide receiver Mohamed Sanu to the Patriots for a second-round pick. Beasley, who has the kind of quick-twitch that would make for an interesting pairing with Khalil Mack, would likely require nothing more than a Day-3 selection to pry away. 

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Is Charles Leno Jr. right long-term fit at left tackle for Bears?

Is Charles Leno Jr. right long-term fit at left tackle for Bears?

“I know if I take care of my business out here, everything else will take care of itself," Bears offensive tackle Charles Leno Jr. told CSNChicago.com when asked about the personal significant of the 2017 season.

Leno Jr. is entering the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, and since Jermon Bushrod injured his back in Week 3 of the the 2015 season, Leno, Jr. has been the starter at left tackle in the 29 games since. Leno Jr. has established himself as consistent and durable, but public opinions on him outside of Halas Hall cast doubt on how high the ceiling is for the final (seventh round) draft pick of the Phil Emery regime.

Pro Football Focus’ grading system has its fans and detractors. While the Boise State product showed improvement in 2016 (70.4 grade) compared to 2015 (46.1), they ranked him 44th out of 64 offensive tackles. Also, according to PFF, Leno Jr. and right tackle Bobby Massie allowed 73 quarterback pressures and committed 14 penalties, while grading out poorly in the run game as a tandem.

Yet there’s also the overall picture to look at. The team allowed just 26 sacks, ninth-fewest in the NFL despite three different starting quarterbacks. Football Outsiders ranked the Bears offensive line seventh in pass protection and eighth in rushing. But critics of the two tackles will say the main reason for those rankings is the strength in the middle, between Josh Sitton, Cody Whitehair, and Kyle Long (for half a season, at least).  Not that Leno, Jr. hasn’t been closely evaluated already, but as his future, and payday, looms. It’ll be an even more interesting watch this season.

“I’m always ready to take that next step,” said the 6-foot-3, 310-pounder who’ll turn 26 when the Bears host the Vikings on Monday, Oct. 9. “ Every year you can take a step. Whether it’s your rookie year to your second year, third year to your fourth, or ninth year to your tenth, you’re always trying to take another step, always get better. That’s my job right now, that’s my goal.”

And he’ll have to do it under his third different offensive line coach in his four years, as Jeremiah Washburn takes over for Dave Magazu. Leno Jr. told me there have been mostly minor tweaks and adjustments when it comes to new position coaches. He was most noticeable (that’s a bad thing), late in the season, when he was beaten a few times for sacks, but that didn’t do much to cloud his overall performance in his boss’ mind.

[MORE: Can the Bears win 'Nervous Season'?]

“To be honest, Leno was a real pleasant surprise, really exceeded expectations there,” general manager Ryan Pace said back on Jan. 4. “And I thought as he gained confidence, he got better and better. He’s very athletic, he’s long, got good balance. So (he) did very well. We have positive vibes about him coming out of the season.”

Leno, Jr. will make about $1.8 million this season as he finishes out his rookie deal. But as he enters this contract year, there are currently 14 left tackles in the NFL (including all the so-called “elite”) making an average of at least $10 million annually on their current contracts:

PLAYER | TEAM | MONEY

Trent Williams (WSH), $13.6

Russell Okung (LAC), $13.25

Terron Armstead (NO), $13

Tyron Smith (DAL), $12.2

Cordy Glenn (BUF), $12

Eric Fisher (KC), $12

David Bakhtiari (GB), $12

Riley Reiff (MIN), $11.75

Joe Thomas (CLE), $11.5

Andrew Whitworth (LAR), $11.25

Matt Kalil (CAR), $11.1

Anthony Castonzo (IND), $10.95

Jason Peters (PHI), $10.8

Nate Solder (NE), $10

Other left tackles averaging less than $10 million annually on their current deals include Houston’s Duane Brown, San Francisco’s Joe Staley, Atlanta's Jake Matthews and Tennessee’s Taylor Lewan. Plus, keep in mind here that Reiff (Detroit) and Kalil (Minnesota) were first-round picks by Bears' NFC North rivals deemed not good enough to keep around. Yet they still found believers willing to write a big check elsewhere.  If not the Bears, Leno, Jr. may find similar interest elsewhere with a season comparable to 2016. It’s all in the eyes of the beholder. 11 years ago, Pace and the Saints made Northwestern’s Zach Strief a seventh round pick, and he’s hung around — not becoming a starter until his sixth season, yet being a linchpin at right tackle since.

From the above list, only the 29-year-old Solder is a pending free agent, and it’s hard to see the Patriots letting him walk, though Bill Belichick has done stranger things that’ve worked out in the end. Leno Jr. is the next-best option, because the others really aren’t. Oakland’s Donald Penn is 34, while the Chargers’ Chris Hairston, the Ravens’ James Hurst, and the Dolphins’ Sam Young have all started less than half time they’ve been in the league.

If the Bears let Leno Jr. walk and look toward the draft, Notre Dame senior Mike McGlinchey is generally regarded as the highest-rated left tackle heading into the fall with Texas’ Connor Williams, Orlando Brown of Oklahoma, Mitch Hyatt of Clemson and Martinas Rankin of Mississippi State owning various first and second-round grades. 

Regardless of how the upcoming season goes, figure the Bears will still have needs to be addressed in the draft, “best available” or not. If he doesn’t have a believer in Pace already, another step forward by Leno Jr. could earn himself a payday, and stability — personally, and for the team as they figure out how to get the best protection possible for their quarterback of the future.