There was no shortage of activity from Bears GM Ryan Pace as free agency began a few short weeks ago. Across the NFL the biggest stories surrounded the quarterback position with big names like Tom Brady, Teddy Bridgewater, and Philip Rivers entering the market. The focus for the Chicago Bears this offseason surrounded what to do with one of the league’s worst offenses, which looked poised to make strides after a breakout in 2018.
The biggest question surrounded quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. After a promising second season in 2018, 3,223 yards while completing 66.6% of his throws and 24 touchdowns, the expectations were high in 2019 which saw a quarterback’s play regress. This led to uncertainty of the quarterback’s future behind the doors at Halas Hall. Offensive additions for the Bears included QB Nick Foles from the Jacksonville Jaguars and TE Jimmy Graham.
The biggest moves were made on the defensive side of the football which sees a stronger front seven headlined by the signing of former Cowboys edge rusher Robert Quinn, replacing Leonard Floyd who was waived after 4 seasons in Chicago. Here is my assessment on the good, bad, and questionable moves of the Bears offseason.
A veteran pass rusher who posted 11.5 sacks in 14 games last season in Dallas, Robert Quinn is a stronger presence opposite of Khalil Mack. Leonard Floyd was expected to take the leap when Mack was traded to Chicago but the lack of production opened up opposing offenses to regularly double and triple team Mack. In Leonard Floyd’s first 4 seasons he only posted 18.5 sacks while Quinn posted 30.5 sacks in that same time frame. Floyd struggled with injuries early and never was able to take his pass rush to the next level, even with Mack lined up opposite. It is easily a major upgrade for this Bears defense as it heads into its second season under defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. Expect bigger things from this front seven that is now headlined by the newly acquired Quinn, a healthy Akiem Hicks and Roquan Smith, Danny Trevathan, and Khalil Mack.
While at first this seems like a questionable move considering Nick Foles’ contract and his late season heroics as a journeyman backup, the bigger picture needs to be addressed. First, Nick Foles agreed to restructure his contract shifting more of his base pay into performance incentives. If the Bears end up sticking with Trubisky as the starter incentive based pay won’t be a factor for Foles or the Bears. Second, there is officially an open QB competition heading into training camp. Trubisky has not had to deal with this kind of situation yet in his career so this is a major test to see how he can step up to the pressure of competing for a starting job. I expect both quarterbacks to push each other everyday in practice for the starting spot. This should be a quarterback competition watched across the league during training camp. Many people also forget Foles has familiarity in the Nagy system. Nagy stems from the Andy Reid coaching tree, which also produced Eagles coach Doug Pederson. Foles has produced success under Reid, Nagy (as a coordinator), and Pederson, including a Super Bowl MVP performance in Super Bowl LII. There is seemingly more upside to the trade as the Bears only surrendered a 4th round pick.
A variety of moves happened in the secondary this offseason for the Bears. Some departures include Ha Ha Clinton-Dix who signed with the Cowboys and Prince Amukamara who was released. With Clinton-Dix out of the picture, Eddie Jackson can return to his spot at free safety after making the move to strong safety this past season. It was quite apparent that Jackson is more of a difference maker at the free safety position, having 6 interceptions in 2018, so the opportunity for him to return to this spot is a strong positive. Letting Amukamara walk was a necessary move for the Bears as Amukamara gave up a 66% completion percentage on targets last season, a spike from this 2018 performance. The Bears signed Steelers cornerback Artie Burns to a 1 year deal. It is a low stakes contract for a former first rounder who has had limited playing time the last few seasons in Pittsburgh. The Bears also maintain secondary depth signing both Deon Bush and former Kansas City Chief Jordan Lucas to 1 year deals. These moves set the Bears up heading into the 2020 NFL Draft expected to add more help to the secondary.
Tight end was a position the Bears were expected to add depth towards. With a lack of production from the position in 2019 it was clearly time to make changes. Trey Burton opened up the passing game in 2018 for the Bears but was a nonfactor in 2019 due to injury. There were several big names in this year’s class such as Austin Hooper and Hunter Henry. The Bears ended up signing Jimmy Graham to a 2 year deal with $9 million guaranteed. If this was Jimmy Graham from 2014 this deal would have been a steal, however this type of contract for a 33 year old tight end was not the right move for the Bears. While the Green Bay does not rely heavily on a catch passing tight end, the Bears do. Graham has also been questionable with more dropped passes in recent years. In 2 seasons up in Green Bay Graham only produced 93 receptions for 1,083 yards, and 5 touchdowns. Not the kind of production that is needed from a starting tight end in Nagy’s system.
The Offensive Line
One of the biggest issues surrounding the 2019 Chicago Bears was the performance by the offensive line. The line generated great protection and running lanes in 2018 but was unable to continue in 2019. The 2019 offensive line battled injuries and the inability to establish consistent run blocking and pass protection. The inability to run the ball has not allowed the Bears to open up the passing game. With Kyle Long out of the picture, it is time for the Bears to address a major hole with the interior offensive line. The Bears did sign former Seattle Seahawk tackle Germain Ifedi to a 1 year deal which helps address needs on the line. Ifedi is expected to make the switch to guard. However, there were other offensive guards available in free agency that the Bears missed out on. For there to be an improvement in the Bears offense it starts up front with a line that can establish the run and protect the quarterback. Expect the Bears to use this year’s draft to address some more of these needs.
The Bears had to make a major decision as regards to the middle linebacker position. Heading into last season Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith were the starters with Nick Kwiatkoski stepping in for both at times throughout the year. Both Danny Trevathan and Nick Kwiatkoski were going to be free agents this offseason. The Bears decided to keep Trevathan on a 3 year $27 million contract while Kwiatkoski signed with the Las Vegas Raiders. Kwiatkoski stepped up and played tremendously in the absence of Trevathan and Smith at times this past season. There was seemingly greater upside for the Bears to bring back Kwiatkoski. Kwiatkoski would have been a cheaper option for solid play. Both players are still fairly young with Trevathan at 30 and Kwiatkoski at 26.
Another questionable move for the Bears was the lack of additions on the offensive side of the football for the passing game. In efforts to clear cap space the Bears cut WR Taylor Gabriel. Primary weapons for the Bears remain Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller. The Bears should look to add another playmaker in this upcoming draft as it is a deep draft for receivers. Or the Bears should look to increase playing time for other in house receivers like Javon Wims, Riley Ridley, and Cordarrelle Patterson. The trio of these players were under utilized in 2019. Having witnessed a training camp practice last season, this trio does have big playmaking ability that has yet to be seen on the field outside of Patterson.
The Bears did make tremendous strides on defense and should remain one of the league’s elite defenses in the NFL. But it remains to be seen what changes will come about with the Bears offense, but one thing is for certain, there will be a quarterback competition this training camp. With the NFL Draft around the corner expect the Bears to use their picks to bolster up the secondary and offensive line. I do not think it will be out of the question to see the Bears go offense on some picks as well, perhaps a late round pick at wide receiver or tight end.