The annual NFL owner’s meetings is most synonymous with the league’s competition committee congregating on important safety and rule issues to discuss. The other crucial segment offers another gathering for the NFL’s coaches and executives as they discuss pre-draft plans less than a month out, roster evaluations post-free agency, and more.
For Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace as a guy who almost a month ago said he “always wants to be honest”, the owner’s meetings offer another opportunity to do just that. In his second official public presser since the initial wave of free agency calmed and Chicago introduced it’s main signings, the personnel lead offered fascinating comments on several recent developments concerning his team.
- Pace praised Mark Sanchez and said he appreciated his addition because of his NFL experience across other big markets such as New York: “He’s knowledgeable, he’s smart and him and Mike have already kind of clicked.”
It’s clear the Bears are really high on Sanchez and his “intangibles” in what he can offer to their quarterback room. Not only is Sanchez a guy you’re filling on the bottom of your roster to help a young passer develop, he’s also here to help Mike Glennon in however long he starts.
Remember that Glennon isn’t your typical starter as he only has 18 career NFL starts under his belt and hasn’t started in a game over two seasons. He’ll need time to come along and work his way back in and that’s what Sanchez is theoretically here to help with in the Bears’ mind.
- According to Pace also on Glennon: The Bears have had “informal talks” to try and trade for Glennon in the last two seasons as they’ve appreciated him since he was drafted in Tampa Bay.
What’s fascinating to note about these comments is that they prove on some level that Jay Cutler was never the guy Pace fully wanted to tie himself down to in building his roster. He was was always a stop gap in himself that offered the Bears a placeholder. And while Pace was seeking a way out, he just never pulled the trigger either on Glennon before, or in the draft on any passing prospects in 2015 or 2016.
In year three, as Chicago finally signed Glennon when he became a free agent, acquired Sanchez in that back-up and depth role, and are still highly likely to draft a young quarterback at some point at the end of the upcoming April - it’s obvious Pace is now pushing his hand on the sport’s most integral position. He’s always known these days were coming and is finally moving on his thoughts.
- Kyle Fuller will still be a cornerback with the team for now, but may over to safety.
Ah, finally. The endless conversation of where Fuller’s place on this Bears team will get some clarity. It should be considered if Fuller plays anywhere with Chicago firmly locking down his responsibilities after missing the entire 2016 season due to injury, the better.
You can never have enough talented position players and it’s not like the Bears are in great enough shape to just let talents like Fuller walk away without experimenting as much as possible. Now, how successful he would be at safety is a different question, but his ball skills to and ability to play well off-coverage would be an asset in the secondary. It would also kill two birds with one stone if he became more than a viable starter at safety.
What’s key to maintain here is that this changes none of Fuller’s trade value or active role with the organization. They were definitely ticked at the fourth year cornerback in his “will he or won’t he” saga late last year, but it’s best not to harbor a grudge.
Yet, it might even be possible the Bears are still actively shopping as that market heats up before the draft. He could net a late round pick if moved. Talking about him and his future with the team with one year left on his rookie contract sure makes it look like he’s staying in Chicago for at least the 2017 season, though.
- In other position change news, it looks like the Deiondre’ Hall test at safety is officially set to commence during organized team activities in the late spring. The Northern Iowa had some experience at the position in college.
After acknowledging Hall’s recent arrest at an Iowa bar and that the Bears are doing their due diligence with the young cornerback in an investigation, Pace said that he will be tried out at safety when the team officially comes together in May.
First of all, Hall also does seem to have the range and necessary ball skills a safety needs to possess, albeit while a little tight in the hips partly due to his size and height. He also has the obvious experience to draw back on, even while it was limited. I don’t think this is the Bears giving up on their promising player at cornerback but more so of believing he could excel greatly in another area, as the two concepts aren’t mutually exclusive. Pace noted that part of why Hall was drafted was because of his “versatility.”
Hall barely played in the 2016 season after a severe ankle sprain and as he’s still incredibly malleable as a professional because of that limited time for development, it can’t hurt the Bears to try the former fourth round pick in a niche where he might actually pan out at a higher level of play. There’s a lot of upside and untapped potential here that the Bears want to access.
Of note, if both Fuller and Hall are being tried out at safety, it’s not likely the attempt happens at the same time as both seem to me as more free than strong safeties, but that’s just my evaluation and speculation. However these talks of competition and testing almost definitely mean a boundary corner is coming to fill in the Draft either way - shocking news.
So Fuller probably only gets his shot and a position move if 1). Chicago doesn’t like how Hall progresses in his practices. Or 2). They legitimately have exhausted all options and want to find him a spot to play at all cost.
Or, both will partner at safety and all of this goes out the window. With a position that’s tormented the Bears arguably as much as quarterback, it can’t hurt to see all perspectives.
- The Bears have a huge void at wide receiver with the departure of Alshon Jeffery. To replace him, they’ll rely on Kevin White (we’ll see how that goes) and one of last year’s breakout players in Cameron Meredith:
“I’m excited about Cam. I just see him getting better and better ... Cam’s a guy with a lot of upside, the path that he took, and just to see him mature over the past couple of years.” said Pace of the third-year receiver. “I just love his skill set, love his professionalism, and I think we’re going to see him ascend.”
The undrafted Meredith led the Bears in receiving yards (888), receptions (66), and targets (96) in 2016, as he really took a step up in production and maturity as a professional receiver.
Where his ceiling ultimately ends up is anyone’s best guess, but given his best trait in getting separation - natural quickness and route running - as well as an eager to desire to continually polish up his game, you can expect monumental things from the 24-year-old moving forward. Meredith relies on savvy and doesn’t always need his body to post up and get open. That’s a good thing.
This excitement in the rising star from Pace is not unfounded. It’s safe to say he’ll be a reliable anchor in the Bears offense for some time.
- Pace’s overall general thoughts on the 2017 draft class and his “fleshed out” plan.
1). “We’re going to draft the best players available wherever that may be and if it’s a quarterback.”
2). “In general, I really like the makeup and the character and the intelligence and the intangibles of the class.”
A general manager appreciates the talent in a draft class and is going to pick the best player evaluated in his mind at his designated first pick. In other news, water is indeed, wet.
If you’re reading anything serious about players not currently on the Bears roster from Pace with the draft on the horizon, I can’t help you. This is the time of year you can’t give away strategy, negotiating stances for pick trade conversations, or your overall draft board as a whole host of problems comes about when other teams know your player preferences.
To his credit: Trying to figure out Pace’s thought process in regards to the guys he’ll pick also seems like a futile exercise from the outside looking in. So he’s doing his job well in that regard - if you believe he should be given brownie points for keeping everything close to the vest.
These two statements from Pace overall, are in my mind, as neutral and vague as possible. He’ll have his honest moments that he appreciates and he’ll also have the occasional necessary filler.
Bottom line: Now’s the time for a poker face with no emotional giveaways. Pace said and revealed nothing of merit about the Bears’ draft and pointing these specific words out was more about cautioning against using a crystal ball to search for tangible meaning behind them.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron and Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.