Chicago Bears February Scouting Report
On January 13th, the Bears announced that they were retaining GM Ryan Pace and HC Matt Nagy. The blood of many Bears fans boiled hotter than their morning coffee as they watched chairman George McCaskey and team president Ted Phillips give a song and dance about how the players never gave up during the team's six-game losing streak (the blowout loss in Green Bay would seem to say otherwise), how Pace and Nagy are "learning and growing in their roles" (after how many years?) and collaborate well together (on mediocrity I suppose), and how they understand the frustration of the fans (oh really?). After another disappointing season (especially considering their 5-1 start) and a backed-into extra playoff spot, I felt that change was necessary. It didn't happen, so now it's hard for me to find optimism for next season with Pace and Nagy still at the helm. The NFL salary cap will decrease for the first time in a decade, and the Bears don't have much cap space (though they can create some with cuts), so they'll have to spend wisely. Free agency starts on March 17th.
While there wasn't change at the top, there have been a lot of changes to the coaching staff. DC Chuck Pagano retired, and safeties coach Sean Desai was promoted to replace him. The longest tenured Bears coach (dating back to the Marc Trestman era, yikes), he's a smart guy with a Ph.D. in education and was Vic Fangio's understudy while Fangio was leading the stellar 2018 Bears defense, so I think this was a good hire. However, the team lost one of its top assistants, defensive line coach Jay Rodgers, who went to the Chargers. Rodgers helped develop many of the Bears' young D-linemen into quality players, so he'll definitely be missed. The Bears hired Chris Rumph from the Texans to replace Rodgers and promoted quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo to pass game coordinator after Dave Ragone left to become the Falcons' OC.
Who will the Bears' starting quarterback be in 2021? It's not likely to be QB Mitch Trubisky, who is no longer under contract and hopefully will not be re-signed. After playing well against some bad defenses in the second half of the season, he showed that he's just not good enough against better competition in the regular season finale loss to the Packers and the playoff loss to the Saints. QB Nick Foles is still here (for now), but is likely to only be the backup if he's still here when the season starts. Carson Wentz? Rumor had it that the Bears were very interested, but then Wentz was traded to the Colts, and some reports said that Chicago never actually made an offer. I was intrigued by Wentz because of his past success, but he had such an awful 2020 and may have attitude/leadership/coachability issues.
Deshaun Watson? Look, if you told me that he was walking through the doors at Halas Hall tomorrow, I'd roll out the red carpet for him. After all, he's the guy I wanted the Bears to take with the third pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. But with their first rounder only being at #20, it seems unlikely that Chicago will be able to build a trade package good enough for the Texans, who continue to insist that they won't trade Watson at all. And then there's this: would Watson really want to come to the team whose GM basically shunned him in the lead up to the 2017 Draft? If the answer is yes, then the Bears should make the best offer they possibly can (if he's made available) in order to acquire him and finally fix their decades-long quarterback problem.
As for other potential options, a trade for Derek Carr (if he's even available) would likely be pretty expensive, though not as expensive as acquiring Watson would be. A trade for Sam Darnold? I don't know about you, but I'm not sure I want a quarterback who sees ghosts. Or how about this: the Dolphins trade Tua Tagovailoa and draft picks (including the 2021 third overall pick) to the Texans in a package for Watson, then the Bears acquire Tua or the third overall pick from the Texans? I hear crickets. Ok. What the Bears will ultimately do here is very hard to predict, except that Pace will likely go big or go home, and that usually does not end well.
RB David Montgomery is entrenched as the starter, with RB Tarik Cohen coming off a torn ACL. I don't see the Bears spending here, though they may look at this position in the draft.
The big question here is what will happen with WR Allen Robinson. For whatever reason, the Bears have refused to pay him, and if an extension was going to happen, it likely would've happened sometime last year. It certainly looks like the team is going to franchise tag A-Rob, and it certainly looks like he's not going to be happy about that (he said as much last week). Teams can start franchise tagging players tomorrow (the 23rd) and have until March 9th to do so. If the Bears decide not to tag Robinson and just let him walk, they'd have a loaded free agent receiver class to choose a replacement from, including potentially Chris Godwin and Kenny Golladay.
In terms of other receivers on the roster, WR Anthony Miller could be a cut candidate after another disappointing season and his costly and foolish ejection in the playoff loss to the Saints. I've believed in Miller more than most over the past couple years, but at this point I have now given up on him as well. The talent may be there (at times), but the consistency and mental discipline just haven't been. WR Javon Wims, who had his own foolish ejection against the Saints in the regular season and then dropped a perfectly thrown TD pass in the end zone in the playoff loss, is a likely cut candidate as well. He should've been cut after his ejection, really. Then he wouldn't have been around to drop the TD in the playoff game.
T Bobby Massie is a likely cut candidate, as that move would free up $8 million in cap space if the Bears do it after June 1st. Some would like the team to do the same with T Charles Leno, but he was better in 2020 than he was in 2019, and who would play left tackle if they cut him?
Cutting TE Jimmy Graham would free up $7 million in cap space and seems likely. The Bears could then sign a cheaper vet or use a draft pick to get another tight end to pair with TE Cole Kmet, who improved in the second half of his rookie year once he got more snaps.
A pretty likely move here is cutting oft-injured and increasingly ineffective CB Buster Skrine, which would free up $4.9 million in cap space if done after June 1st. Signing J.J. Watt (whose wife, Kealia Ohai Watt, plays for the Chicago Red Stars) sounds like a nice idea, but with what money? DE Roy Robertson-Harris is already likely to be more expensive on the free agent market than what the Bears would be willing to pay to re-sign him. The team could also potentially restructure the contracts of highly paid players like S Eddie Jackson to create some cap space.
The Bears may not have much cap space, but they really should find a way to carve out some of it to sign PK Cairo Santos to an extension after he made his final 27 field goal attempts in a row (breaking Robbie Gould's team record) to end the regular season.
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