Chicago Bears February Scouting Report
A year ago at this time, Bears GM Ryan Pace probably figured that he didn't have much to do to take the Bears from playoff team to legit Super Bowl contender. "Get a kicker and we'll be fine" was probably the main thing floating through his mind, and much of the fan base (including yours truly) probably had similar thoughts. Fast forward to today, and now Pace has hard questions with difficult answers to deal with, starting with the game's most important position. Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich, O-line coach Harry Hiestand and tight ends coach Kevin Gilbride were all fired after the season and replaced by Bill Lazor, Juan Castillo and Clancy Barone respectively. Quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone was promoted to passing game coordinator, with John DeFilippo hired to replace him.
When Pace finally addressed the media after a very disappointing 2019 season came to a close, he insisted that QB Mitch Trubisky will be the starter going into the 2020 season (a scary thought). Who Pace adds to the quarterback room in free agency and/or the draft will really tell us what he thinks of Mitch's chances for future success. It may be fun to dream about someone like Tom Brady in a Bears uniform, but it's fairly unlikely that the team will spend big on one of the top free agent signal callers, all of whom have their flaws (age, injury history, mediocrity, etc.).
Chicago entered the offseason with only about $14 million in cap space. Even after clearing about $13.5 million in cap space by releasing CB Prince Amukamara and WR Taylor Gabriel on Friday, spending most of their available free agent dollars on a quarterback who isn't likely to be a long-term solution when the team has multiple needs to fill doesn't seem like the best idea. With QB Chase Daniel not expected to return as the backup, I think that Pace will probably sign one of the lower-tier free agent names like Marcus Mariota (who he liked coming out of Oregon) or maybe Case Keenum; someone who isn't a significant threat to Trubisky's starting job but can take over for him and win games if he falters again. Mariota and Trubisky do share an agent, so that could complicate things.
A trade for Andy Dalton could be possible if the Bears are willing to part with a mid-round pick, though he does carry a $17.7 million cap hit. Trades for Derek Carr or Nick Foles are also interesting thoughts, but Pace just does not seem ready to give up on Trubisky yet (though we've seen him run misdirection plays before). Pace may also use a draft pick on a quarterback, though I don't see him using one of his two second-rounders on one given his commitment to Trubisky, who had offseason surgery to repair the torn labrum in his left shoulder.
The Bears seem to be set here with RB David Montgomery and RB Tarik Cohen, but it was interesting to hear newly-retired G Kyle Long say on NFL Network's "NFL Total Access" a few days ago that the team needs to add a power back to their running game. Is Montgomery himself not a power back? He may not be a power back in the Jerome Bettis or Earl Campbell sense, but he is a back who usually requires multiple tacklers to get him down. What he needs is 1) more holes to run through, and 2) bigger holes to run through. After the waste that was the RB Mike Davis signing, I don't see Pace making any moves here in free agency.
With the release of Gabriel, the Bears now have a big need for speed in their receiving corps. In terms of free agents, I think WR Breshad Perriman could be an interesting name to consider. As many fantasy footballers know, the speedster got hot at the end of 2019, ending the season with three consecutive 100-yard games as Bucs receivers went down like flies. However, with one expensive receiver already under contract in WR Allen Robinson, I think the Bears are more likely to look to a very deep receiver class in the draft to add more speed. Signing Robinson, the Bears' only consistent offensive player in 2019, to an extension this offseason should be one of the team's top priorities. WR Anthony Miller suffered a left shoulder injury returning a kickoff in the season finale and will require offseason surgery again, creating more uncertainty at this position.
With TE Trey Burton and TE Adam Shaheen constantly injured/ineffective, this position is one of the Bears' biggest offseason needs, especially after seeing how important tight ends were to last season's Super Bowl participants. Burton had surgery to repair the labrum in his hip sometime after he was placed on IR in November. Pace made his first addition to this group when he signed TE Demetrius Harris to a one-year contract on Wednesday, but he's likely to be more of a blocking tight end. Austin Hooper or Hunter Henry would look great in a Bears uniform, but they may get around $9-10 million a year. Add that to Burton's 2020 cap hit of $8.55 million, and that's a lot of cash tied up in tight ends. It's more likely that the Bears will look to the draft here, where they may have their pick of the top available tight ends in the second round.
Pace acknowledged the O-line's struggles in 2019 and the need to bring in competition there. Injuries were a problem along with regression in varying degrees by everyone on the line, costing Hiestand his job. Pass blocking was half-decent, but run blocking was a huge issue all season. The starters are largely set and under contract except for right guard, so that's a position where I think the team may look to free agency for a veteran who can step in and start right away as opposed to a draft pick who may need developmental time. Brandon Scherff would be a nice addition (if he can stay healthy), but he's likely to be too expensive for the Bears.
The Bears went into last offseason not needing to do much on this side of the ball other than signing a safety and a nickel corner. This offseason, there are a few more decisions to make and holes to fill. OLB Leonard Floyd is due to make $13.2 million in 2020 thanks to his fifth-year option. Some people have suggested cutting him to create cap room, but it would also create another need that would require a decent chunk of money to fill. Signing him to an extension is another possibility, but his lack of sacks doesn't warrant a long-term deal. I think the Bears will probably keep him and hope for the best in terms of his sack production. There isn't much depth at outside backer beyond Floyd and OLB Khalil Mack, so the team may look for a cheap backup option in free agency and/or draft one.
At inside linebacker, ILB Danny Trevathan, ILB Nick Kwiatkoski and ILB Kevin Pierre-Louis are all free agents, so the Bears need to decide whether to re-sign any of them or sign somebody new to play next to ILB Roquan Smith. With Amukamara now gone, the team now needs a #2 corner as well (unless they think CB Kevin Toliver is ready to step into that role). Chicago signed CFL star CB Tre Roberson to a two-year deal in late January, so he could be an option. S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was ok in 2019, but signing more of a classic strong safety to replace him could allow S Eddie Jackson to focus more on making plays at free safety like he did in 2018.
After finishing 2019 strong, PK Eddy Pineiro should be the starter going forward.
More to come next month concerning free agency!
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