Chicago Bears February Scouting Report
We’re #1! We’re #1! We’re #1! Those words are usually said after your favorite team wins either a championship or a big game that will give your team the #1 ranking. But on the final day of the 2022 NFL regular season, I said those words to my dad after old friend Lovie Smith (I always liked him) and the Texans pulled off a ridiculous (downright miraculous, really) comeback victory over the Colts that handed the Bears the #1 pick in this year’s NFL Draft. Hey, at least we’re #1 at something.
In the weeks that followed, the Bears hired a new team president (former Big 10 commissioner Kevin Warren) and finally closed on the Arlington Park property that will hopefully be the site of a new state-of-the-art stadium for the team in a few years. It’s already been an eventful offseason, but the fun is just beginning. Armed with the #1 pick and far more cap space than any other team in the league, this is shaping up to be the most exciting offseason for the Bears in a very long time. And I don’t just mean the Chicago Bears. This is an exciting time for a certain "Cocaine Bear" as well. :)
When the Bears officially secured the #1 pick, I thought to myself, "Wow, the Bears could have anyone they want. Even Bryce Young." Hmmm... Ok, realistically, the chances that the Bears will trade QB Justin Fields and select Young or C.J. Stroud or Will Levis are slim. GM Ryan Poles said after the season that he’d have to be blown away by one of them to make that kind of decision. But yes, I’ve thought about it. Quite a bit. If there was a Joe Burrow or Trevor Lawrence-level prospect in this year’s draft (or if Young was bigger and taller), I’d be giving serious thought to selecting that player and trading Fields.
It’s not that I don’t like Fields. I love his leadership ability and his toughness, and we all know he can do a great Michael Vick impression. I was in college at the same time as Vick, and I thought he was the greatest thing since sliced bread with his track star speed and rocket arm. He’s still the most exciting college player I’ve ever seen. But some of Young’s strengths (like his natural sense of anticipation, ability to make full-field reads and go through progressions, and ability to read coverages) are areas where Fields has struggled with inconsistency. Those are all key traits of successful quarterbacks, and we don’t know how much better Fields is going to get at those. That’s why the idea of trading Fields and drafting Young is so intriguing. I know that some fans/media types are already growing weary of this discussion, but this is going to be a thing until we see what the Bears actually do with the #1 pick on April 27th.
That said, it’s still very unlikely to happen, and I do believe that Fields is capable of a Jalen Hurts-like improvement if the Bears can get him enough help. It was encouraging to hear him admit during Super Bowl media week that he needs to work on his short game. No, I don’t mean golf. I mean accuracy on short passes, like quick game/quick screen/spot pass types of throws. I’ve mentioned multiple times before that he needs to work on those.
Yes, I know that runningback is much lower on the totem pole of positional value than it used to be back in the day. But positional value be damned, part of me really wants the Bears to sign Saquon Barkley (if the Giants don’t bring him back). I know his injury history is concerning. But when you think of Bears history, you think of great runningbacks and great middle linebackers. With all due respect to Neal Anderson and Matt Forte, who were both favorites of mine, you can argue that the Bears haven’t had a true superstar tailback since Sweetness. When I say "superstar," I mean someone who is one of the faces of the league. Someone with a nickname like Christian "CMC" McCaffrey or Derrick "King" Henry. Or someone who is just known by his first name, like "Saquon."
Poles said after the season that he loves what free agent RB David Montgomery brings to the team in terms of leadership, tenacity, and toughness. But as much as he embodies the mentality that Poles and HC Matt Eberflus want this team to have, the Bears are in dire need of dynamic playmakers, and you’d be hard-pressed to put Montgomery in that category. Can you win with him? Yes, but he isn’t a score-from-anywhere threat who will keep opposing defensive coordinators up at night like a healthy Saquon is. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bears bring Montgomery back, but I think the Bears could use an upgrade here.
What about RB Khalil Herbert, you ask? Yes, he averaged 5.7 yards/carry last season, but he struggled as a receiver out of the backfield (just nine receptions) and in pass protection. In terms of other potential free agents, Josh Jacobs would be great, but his contract might be too rich for the Bears’ blood, and he may get tagged by the Raiders. Tony Pollard would be very intriguing if not for the very unfortunate broken leg and high ankle sprain he suffered in the Cowboys’ playoff loss. He’s still a possibility, but the injury gives you some pause, and he may get tagged by Dallas. Miles Sanders doesn’t excite me that much because of his lack of production as a receiver. Of course, the Bears may look to the draft for a solution here as well (Tyjae Spears, perhaps?).
WR Darnell Mooney is the top guy here right now, and he may get a contract extension before the season starts. WR Chase Claypool hardly did a thing after Poles traded for him and really needs to work on his chemistry with Fields this offseason. WR Byron Pringle, WR N’Keal Harry, and WR Dante Pettis are all unrestricted free agents. Could any of them return? Possibly, butlikely as depth and not as a featured guy. WR Equanimeous St. Brown signed a one-year extension in the first week of January. If he’s going to be a fourth or fifth receiver who knows OC Luke Getsy’s system well and is a good run blocker, then fine. But if the Bears expect him to be more than that, they need to remember that he did not come through in a couple of key late-game situations last season. WR Velus Jones Jr showed flashes in a roller coaster rookie season, but barring a huge improvement this offseason, the Bears shouldn’t expect him to be much more than a gadget guy and return man.
It’s no secret that the Bears need a lot of help here. It’s also no secret that this free agent class of wideouts isn’t very impressive. That’s one of the reasons why Poles traded for Claypool. Jakobi Meyers is considered by some to be the top name available, and he’d be a decent signing. But I think the Bears should set their sights higher. They need a legit #1 receiver, and a healthy Michael Thomas could be that player. If the Saints cut him as many expect, I’d love to see the Bears bring him in on a one-year prove-it deal. If the injury bug bites him again, Chicago can just let him walk after a year. Maybe Parris Campbell could be another target on a prove-it deal to play in the slot. He has electric speed and finally managed to stay healthy for a season in 2022. Poles could’ve signed Ju-Ju Smith-Schuster last offseason but didn’t, so it doesn’t seem likely to happen one year later.
If the Bears want a #1 receiver, they may have to trade for one. One name that’s been mentioned a lot is Cincy’s Tee Higgins. With a stud quarterback throwing to him, I can’t imagine why he’d want to leave the Bengals, but perhaps the front office might feel that the team can’t afford to pay him and Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase. Even if Higgins became available, the price would be steep. DeAndre Hopkins has been mentioned as a potential trade target as well. He could be a short-term solution, but how effective would he still be by the time the Bears are ready to compete? Chicago will likely have to draft a receiver or two as well.
With TE Cole Kmet coming off a solid season, tight end isn’t a huge need, but the Bears can use all the playmakers they can get, and another legit receiving threat here would be very helpful for 12-personnel. I wouldn’t mind a Mike Gesicki or a Dalton Schultz for the right price, or the Bears might look to the draft here.
This unit did a great job at run blocking as Chicago led the league in rushing, but as we all know, the pass blocking was atrocious at times. RG Teven Jenkins and LT Braxton Jones are likely to start next season, but the team needs two or three new starters here. LG Cody Whitehair is a cut candidate, and C Sam Mustipher and RT Larry Borom struggled last year. Orlando Brown Jr has been mentioned as a possibility, but some have questioned his fit in the Bears’ wide zone scheme. Many media types have suggested San Fran’s Mike McGlinchey as a target if the Niners don’t re-sign him. Jawaan Taylor could also be on the Bears’ shopping list. The draft will be key here as well, as many have Chicago drafting a center on day two or three.
Chicago needs a line change here, and I’m not talking about the Blackhawks. Pretty much the whole starting D-line needs to be replaced, and the Bears started that process when they released DE Al-Quadin Muhammad recently. You can probably pencil in either Jalen Carter or Will Anderson at one of those spots (likely after a trade down), but in terms of free agents, Washington’s Daron Payne would be at/near the top of the list. However, recent reports suggest that he’lllikely get tagged. Philly’s Javon Hargrave or Denver’s Dre’Mont Jones would look great in a Bears uniform. Minnesota’s Dalvin Tomlinson is another possibility.
At linebacker, LB Jack Sanborn was a revelation and has a chance to start next season, but the Bears need help here as well with LB Nicholas Morrow set to be a free agent. T.J. Edwards and Bobby Okereke (who played for Eberflus in Indy) could be targets. In the secondary, Chicago can’t go another season with CB Kindle Vildor playing so many snaps. Maybe a guy like Rock Ya-Sin (who also played for Eberflus in Indy) could be a target, or the team may draft a corner. A lot will depend on whether the team thinks CB Kyler Gordon will play on the outside or as the nickel. Safety looks set if S Eddie Jackson comes back healthy from his Lisfranc injury.
As much as he struggled last season, PK Cairo Santos is likely to return here.
I will return next month with more Bears news and analysis!
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