Welcome to the very first regular Chicago Bears mailbag here at Windy City Gridiron. I agonized over some kind of creative name for me opening Santa’s presents, but we might as well just stick to a good old mailbag. No need to be redundant or too over the top.
As previously discussed, you guys ask the questions either here or on Twitter, and I’ll sort my way through the best and or most relevant to answer them. A nice give-and-take.
This week we’ve got several different situations concerning the Bears such as Mitchell Trubisky’s contract situation to dive deep into. Let’s get to it.
What is the deal with Trubisky’s contract? And the rookies in general? The whole class seemed very slow to sign this year. - Grygus
The way the collective bargaining agreement was worked out in 2011 means the manner in which negotiations go with rookie players changes dramatically. Given that there’s a set rookie pay scale, the inching to hold out for more money or lose out on bonuses is significantly lessened. There’s really not much breathing room for rookies to alter their deal depending on draft position outside of sitting out a season and pulling a John Elway for a new team.
Where Trubisky’s current predicament likely lies is in the offset language, often a snag in any contract negotiations for any player. For example, just last year there was an impasse over a signing bonus for 2016 No. 3 overall pick Joey Bosa and the Los Angeles Chargers. It’s customary for a top-five pick not to have that withheld in any fashion but the Chargers insisted otherwise and that battle went on for a few months. Regardless of whether the player has “earned” those dollars, the very nature of rookie contracts and top picks necessitates teams follow precedent.
I don’t believe the Bears are anywhere near that serious contentious point with Trubisky, nor is there any reason to believe it’s solely over a signing bonus. Right now, both parties aren’t publicly throwing shots at each other and there isn’t a rush until training camp. There’s no serious jeopardy of Chicago’s future franchise quarterback not having a deal by late July. Though the tension rises the more time goes by, no doubt.
As for the other rookies, former Bears salary cap magician Cliff Stein isn’t here and he was the one who set the standard for getting guys locked in quickly. While the other four players of the Bears’ 2017 NFL Draft class in Adam Shaheen, Eddie Jackson, Tarik Cohen, and Jordan Morgan took a little while longer to sign than normal, let’s be clear: being the first to sign your players doesn’t matter as long as you sign them in a timely fashion. Trubisky’s situation in that light is worth monitoring, but he’s vowed to stay around the team and still practice so there’s only a moderate alert for now.
What (if any) UDFA’s are you most hopeful for? - @ActualLeeMatt
Chicago’s 2017 undrafted free agent class is full of potential and underrated talent. Of the current players on the Bears’ 90-man roster, two guys stick out to me the most: the kicker in Andy Phillips from Utah and the receiver from Wyoming in Tanner Gentry.
Phillips, a former US National Ski Team member, was one of the best kickers in college during his four-year career. When you note the relative instability of the incumbent Connor Barth, the Bears’ starting kicking competition will really heat up this summer: one that I predict Phillips will win.
Meanwhile, Gentry was incredibly productive in his senior year at Wyoming with 72 receptions, 1,326 yards, and 14 touchdowns in a wide-open offense. This is a savvy, tough, and smart wideout with an underrated skill set.
Gentry does face a tough uphill battle to make the Bears’ roster since you can safely lock in Cameron Meredith, Kevin White, Victor Cruz, Kendall Wright, and Markus Wheaton with their guaranteed money in consideration. But there’s no reason to believe he can’t make the team as one of the fringe sixth or seventh receivers next to the Bears’ top special teamer in Joshua Bellamy. You can never have enough playmakers.
When can we realistically expect Kyle Long to play at a high level again? - Hooch62
Long did offer an update on rehabilitation from his off-season ankle surgery and it appears to be even more of a grind than usual. He hasn’t fully participated in any activities with the Bears yet and they haven’t offered any concrete updates in that regard either. However, it would be misguided to think he isn’t progressing along his recovery timetable properly.
Chicago, as much as they’ve mismanaged other players in injury, aren’t going to rush their best offensive lineman back before he’s ready. He’s a veteran who still has approximately six weeks before training camp. Ideally, if he’s making a position switch as recently reported, he’s back by then, but even then it’s not too much of a concern.
I would expect Long to be on the field in Week 1 against the Atlanta Falcons and that’s all that matters in his preparation. He won’t be at 100 percent yet at that point either and that’s okay. Given that he is an offensive lineman with a reliance on power, leverage, balance and athleticism, it’ll take a few games before he’s fully comfortable again. If by midseason 2017 you don’t see a comfortable Long, then sound the alarms. But I expect no such broken development.
What can the players and coaches actually do in the six-week break? - Mooph
According to the collective bargaining agreement itself, which you can find online, no players are allowed any organized football activity from the end of the off-season program - which the Bears conclude this week - to training camp. Players and coaches aren’t allowed any contact with each other as well. However, the Bears and other NFL players are allowed to use team facilities for whatever they like to work out individually on their own. Simple restrictions and guidelines for all.
As far as how closely this is enforced, it depends on who pushes the envelope and lets themselves get caught. I think teams having less contact with each other is detrimental to a degree, which contributes to lackluster starts for many in recent years. but I also think getting away from the game and decompressing is crucial as well. Football is such a mental, physical, and emotional grind, that even non-contact play can be in some cases, excessive. There are far more important things to gripe about for players in the collective bargaining agreement such as the mentioned offset language - which is a totally different discussion - as opposed to how much exposure to football they have.
Get inside Fangio’s head. How does he see himself in this final year of his contract? - abynum
I would love to be a fly on the wall in Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s private defensive meetings and the occasions he muses to himself. I think that while the Bears haven’t enjoyed the kind of defensive success he had with the San Francisco 49ers, he’s still committed to his unit’s improvement and ascendance. The Bears haven’t given him the kind of personnel he had in the Bay Area and that’s played partly into less-than-ideal Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings (31st in 2015, 22nd in 2016). But there is a lot of talent on the front seven such as Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks, and Jaye Howard that Fangio himself can’t even gloss over the possibilities with proper health. There’s potential here that the coordinator has been working to cultivate for awhile.
What will ultimately determine Fangio’s future in Chicago is the future of head coach John Fox and or the leap (if they make one) the Bears defense makes in 2017. If Fox is retained beyond this season then Fangio likely stays. If Fox is summarily let go, but the Bears defense finally shows signs of consistently being on the rise, then there’s always the chance that he sticks around with a new head coach - should that person want him to stick around.
I don’t know if it’s fair to make any judgments on a 2017 lame duck Bears staff who needs to prove a lot but I do think it’s fair to speculate that Fangio has already run through plenty of these kinds of scenarios in his head. The Bears future, and his career in Chicago, hangs in the balance after all.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is an editor for Windy City Gridiron. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.