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Bears mailbag: Nagy relationships, 2017 rookie growth, and GM trust

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One of the most transformative off-seasons in Bears history has only begun. Opening the mailbag on rookie expectations of all kinds, and more.

Detroit Lions v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Mercifully, the primary winds of change have already swept through Halas Hall this Bears' off-season. Former Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy is now Chicago's head coach and he's been wasting no time while hard at work putting together his very first coaching staff. A staff that will ideally help him turn the Bears into a consistent contender as we see his smile light up the Soldier Field sidelines in future home playoff games.

That picturesque January football scenario is getting ahead of the curve. The Bears and Nagy still have to focus on finishing that staff that includes the return of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. They have to find suitable receivers for Mitchell Trubisky. They have to peruse the draft, as per every year, and put together the final pieces of a winning defense, not merely good unit. Otherwise known as business as usual, except for a rookie head coach going through this process for the first time.

Let's pop open this week's WCG mailbag and dive in on these Bears' issues.


I'd imagine the way the Bears' 2018-2020 coaching staff shakes out will be likened to Mike Ditka and the then-retained veteran Buddy Ryan of the 1980's. Because this is supposed to play out exactly like the 1985 Bears, right? As is every future quality Chicago football season, apparently. That's how it works in these parts. Every current player even has a direct correlation to 1985 as far as comparisons. (Trubisky is the new punky quarterback!)

Jokes aside, I'm rather intrigued by how Nagy, Fangio, and new special teams coordinator Chris Tabor mesh. Even more so by the Nagy and Fangio dynamic. All reports pointed to Nagy being an incremental part of the full court press the Bears put out to retain Fangio. That's because Nagy clearly prefers the defensive continuity that will allow him to delegate to his essentially assistant head coach by proxy in Fangio.

While older at almost 60-years-old, Fangio's been around younger head coaches as a coordinator. This isn't a fresh situation he doesn't know how to handle. John and Jim Harbaugh were both his junior (albeit by only several years) when Fangio was with the Ravens as a linebackers coach and with Stanford and the 49ers as the defensive coordinator, respectively. Working with a 39-year-old energetic innovator such as Nagy will be a little different, but nothing out of the realm of temperament that Fangio isn't already used to.

If anything, Nagy and Fangio will prove to be quite good for each other in their relationship. A power dynamic in a routine meeting of the minds where both can challenge viewpoints and come to an understanding as to what needs to be done defensively, and what's best for the Bears as a team. Nagy is going to be the leader of all 53 rostered Bears, assuredly, but that doesn't mean he won't heavily delegate to Fangio either. That's why Fangio is here, so Nagy can focus on Trubisky, the offense, and company when he has to. Nagy can be the head coach when it's necessitated.

Ultimately, I'm of the belief that Fangio will set the table for how this situation plays out with his almost 20-years younger boss in Nagy. There'll likely be some friction at the start - if there hasn't been any already - but the process and hopeful team success will smooth everything out from a respect standpoint. This Bears' coaching duo will define this new era, for better or worse. It'll be built on respect, trust, and football savvy of two contrasting philosophies.

Which 2017 rookie is going to make the biggest improvement in year 2 of their career and why? - rockbadger

Almost by default, both Tarik Cohen and Adam Shaheen will have dramatically better sophomore NFL campaigns. Cohen will, because he'll be used properly and creatively by a staff that understands how to get his explosiveness into space. Gone will be the days of lamenting his wiped out touchdowns because he'll score at a higher clip anyway.

Meanwhile, Shaheen will improve simply by virtue of playing more and being the Bears' starter at tight end from the outset in 2018. Which makes him the easier answer of these two bright rookies and the entirety of Chicago's 2017 class.

This is a supremely talented and freakishly sized athlete that will have an entire off-season of work behind him to be ready and fine-tuned for his heavier workload. Shaheen should justifiably be seen as a matchup nightmare with improved hip fluidity and route running as likely the eventual Bears' No. 1 option in their passing game. I don't want to get too high, too soon on his ceiling. But given the output and chemistry he already he has with Trubisky, there's no reason Shaheen can't be a top-10 tight end next year and eventually be seen as one of those monsters defenses can't account for regardless of personnel.

14 total pass targets isn't going to happen again. A concerted effort will be made to avoid that offensive sieve for a young player like Shaheen specifically.

In this regard, Trubisky is too much of a lay-up to pick to make the leap next season. I do believe he's going to take the next step as the Bears' franchise quarterback, but I wouldn't set the bar at MVP-level by any means. More like a solid offensive facilitator still learning the ropes, taking in another year by the reins to grow up.

That, too, goes for Eddie Jackson who seems like a finished product at this stage. The only aspect of playing NFL safety that Jackson doesn't yet get is consistently and properly breaking on routes for more takeaways and pass deflections. Otherwise he's already setting the table for how the Bears' secondary improved this year and should see an uptick in his own production with that mentioned skill-set added.

Shaheen takes the cake of this squad because he's going to see the most playing time in relative comparison to his teammates who saw the field much more in 2017.

Looking at the upcoming free agent class this March, the 26-year-old Trey Burton will be a hot commodity among teams seeking a move or "H-back" tight end. Guys like Jimmy Graham and Tyler Eifert will in all likelihood, also be available, but command a higher price tag for two older (Graham is 31-years-old) and oft-injured (Eifert).

That makes the current Eagle Burton, to me, the best available tight end addition the Bears could make: especially as he fits their new Andy Reid West Coast-rooted offense to a tee. Burton is the complement you'd want for your full-blown workhorse in Shaheen because he plays all over the field.

Philadelphia often lines Burton up as a fullback, since he lead blocks well. The Eagles also split him outside or in the slot, because the smaller tight end at 235 pounds runs routes well. They also have him stay in line, as the "F" tight end to Zach Ertz, because he handle his own as a blocker unless isolated against a defensive end.

Needless to say anymore, Burton would be an ideal Swiss Army Knife for Matt Nagy and company to play around with on offense. The amount of creative packages and schemed plays having two gifted tight ends such as Shaheen and Burton would do wonders in an NFL based around having studs at the position. Bank on his upside, as Ryan Pace has often done in the past three years (sometimes it's worked, sometimes it hasn't), and expect a seamless fit for a crucial free agency period.

Should Pace actually even target a true No. 1 wide receiver? Or would we be better off with a bunch of good No. 2's and No. 3’s. Assuming Nagy stays true to the Reid system, how much have his coaching tree truly had "star" wide receivers? - on the fencik

First of all, I think Bears fans need to adjust their expectations as far as finding a star wideout for this offense in the next few months. Because there won't be anyone like that available in March, at least without any health questions.

Miami's Jarvis Landry is overrated and is the epitome of high volume, low output. He doesn't test defenses with his short check downs and will be extremely overpaid for doing so. Salary cap hell isn't worth this breed of player, let alone anyone. Plus he is too slow (a 4.7 40-yard dash) to fit the fast-paced scheme Nagy will employ in receivers looking for yards after the catch. While Jacksonville's Allen Robinson is coming off a torn ACL, which wouldn't make it prudent for the Bears to invest in two receivers coming off the same injury when considering Cameron Meredith's return.

From the draft perspective, the Bears won't find a game-changing superstar because it'll be highly unlikely that Chicago uses another top-10 pick on a receiver - a position that historically has the least value of any other that high. Nor is there any Julio Jones and Antonio Brown (who mind you, was a sixth-round pick) available at first glance.

With all of that in mind, it doesn't matter that the Bears don't target a real No. 1 receiver on the outside.

All of the best offenses from the Patriots, to the Saints, to the Steve Sarkisian-less Falcons, all have a multitude of options for their quarterbacks to cycle through their reads on. A variety of targets that get open, make plays, and know their role. These offenses are able to spread defenses out and create matchup problems because you can't account for every offensive player on the field. A chess game won almost by a matter of fact. At some point, when the stockpile is filled, someone on offense is going to win in coverage. They always do.

I'd also almost prefer that a young Trubisky is forced to go through his progressions and use every outlet on the field. As opposed to force feeding 150 targets to one man to drag down an offense much in the mold of early Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson. Only experienced quarterbacks can handle the responsibility of a game-breaking star receiver in my mind. Rookies or green passers in general, tend to rely on these tools as a crutch, stunting early growth. The Bears would obviously like to avoid stunting any part of Trubisky.

Now, all of this comes with a caveat when you remember that each of Atlanta, New England, and New Orleans have a go-to guy in Jones, Rob Gronkowski, and Michael Thomas. All-Pro level ability comes in abundance in this trio. When Tom Brady or Drew Brees absolutely need a third down conversion, they can go in Gronkowski or Thomas' direction. That's a luxury, in part because of the rest of their well-designed and stocked attacks.

In time, you'd like to see someone like Shaheen become that force in the middle of the field that Trubisky and the Bears can go to with the game on the line to take it over. Reid offenses traditionally haven't had that star No. 1 receiver outside of guys like Terrell Owens for a season. Back then in 2005 football, this was an issue. Reid's Eagles teams often found themselves choking away home playoff games because a high-powered regular season offense couldn't create space against the NFL's best defenses in the cold.

In 2018, that player for the Bears can and comfortably probably even should be a tight end, like a Shaheen-type (I know, I know, keep expectations at a moderate bar).

Until that development happens, for next year, Pace will focus on adding any variety of competent weapons first as guys are allowed to mature.

Every year, folks want the Bears to trade down in the draft, as if it's the most realistic option, and I don't understand why. Football and the NFL itself doesn't actually work the way Madden's Franchise Mode does. Teams aren't that willing to give up picks for players they don't need or want because you do. There has to be a selling point. You can't turn on the settings that allow you to acquire whoever you want without restriction.

Which, to a greater point from the team like Chicago trading down, stockpiling picks for the sake of picks merely makes you the Browns. Eventually you have to go for it and select an impact player to take advantage of your slot. The Bears need stud immediate starters this year after investing in the future last spring. Taking yourself out of that order gives you less of a chance to find players that fit that bill.

To play along for this specific scenario, the only reason the Bills - who possess the No. 21 and No. 22 picks in the first round - would trade up into the top-10 is for a quarterback. If you consider that UCLA's Josh Rosen, USC's Sam Darnold, and Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield are all gone by No. 8, is Buffalo really going to make that deal to offer up two picks for the price of one to get someone like Wyoming's Josh Allen or Louisville's Lamar Jackson?

I think not. This isn't the Bears' Trubisky trade where but a few mid-rounders were given up. Buffalo actually has to desire a specific need to get to Chicago's slot and at the moment, I don't see the possibility.

30 years from now, will Bears fans look back more fondly on Ditka and Ryan or Nagy and Fangio? J. Wood

As Bob Zeglinski from Chicago IL, who is sitting in for my brother Bill that's recovering from his most recent heart attack, it brings me great pleasure to answer this certain question.

To talk about a certain soon-to-be undefeated team, which come next January, shall be hoisting a certain Super Bowl trophy over its collective head. A team that is known as, Da Bears. After oh, eight championships in seven years, I've got to think fans will finally be torn on Ditka against Nagy. The collective, certain tide will turn ...

No wait, never mind. I'm not doing this. Leave the Trubisky-Nagy-Fangio Bears alone! Let them make their own legacy.

Hmm. Now this is ... this is an issue to ponder over deeply. Who would I take over my dear son, Leonard Floyd, if the Bears were allowed to re-draft 2016? If the same group of players selected after Floyd were available, that is.

Would it be 2016 All-Rookie member and 2017 Pro Bowler, Falcon Deion Jones?

Hard pass, although he is fun to watch. Not many better 4-3 outside linebackers.

Would it be the previously mentioned Saint in Thomas who also was a 2016 All-Rookie Team member and 2017 Pro Bowler?

I've thought about this for Trubisky's progress, as it'd be enjoyable to see the chemistry and connection, and no.

How about the tone-setting Atlanta safety Keanu Neal?

Spoiler alert: I wouldn't pick anyone over Floyd. Thanks for your consideration.

Hi, this is Ken from Missouri. Long time listener, first time caller.

Whew, sorry, I’m a little nervous on the air here.

Okay, my question is “On a scale of 1-10, how do you personally rate the job that Ryan Pace has done in the last 12 months, and why?" I’ll hang up and listen to your answer, m’kay? - Ken Mitchell

Hey Ken, thanks for calling in. We appreciate your patronage and in all honesty, great question. I could tell you were nervous, but you did swimmingly.

My answer: I'd give Pace a 7 for his last calendar year as Bears general manager.

I know many will decry the abhorrent 2017 free agency class headlined by Mike Glennon and Markus Wheaton among others. It didn't matter. Chicago didn't have many long-term commitments in terms of cap space. Most of the added free agents from last March won't be rostered by the time we come to this year's free agency.

Now, can Pace afford another spending spree that doesn't markedly improve a team that should be a playoff contender come fall? No. Not in the slightest. He still didn't hamstring the team in any event. This March needs to be special.

Pace's C grade (if we're going by typical grading standards) comes from his promising 2017 Draft class. Each of Trubisky, Shaheen, Jackson, and Cohen all look like foundational pieces the Bears can build on for the future. That's your franchise quarterback in Trubisky. Your franchise tight end in Shaheen. Maybe the best safety Chicago has seen at the revolving door of the position since Mike Brown in Jackson. And, a talented gadget back that diversifies an offense into a tangible specialty in Cohen.

Pace brought all of them in. Pace scouted them. Pace set the table for his hand-picked coach in Nagy to work with these talented assets in his cupboard from the get-go. Now he has an offensive innovator and bright head coach that will hopefully maximize the best of not only their abilities, but the rest of a hungry roster ready to win.

I don't know how successful Nagy will be. I don't know if Pace brought in the right guy until there are results on the field. I still give all credit in the world for setting this foundation to at least let it happen for a possibility.

Don't prescribe to the notion that just because the Bears have been mismanaged and irrelevant for 30-plus years, it means that trend will continue. That's not how sports work. That's not how fandom works, especially for those who weren't even alive or conscious enough to remember many of those doldrum days. Your experiences don't invalidate what someone else thinks is happening with the team for being optimistic, nor is your past entirely irrelevant either. Everyone watches, writes, covers, all for the glorious unknown.

At some juncture, you either go all-in or you stay rooted and wallow in misery like an eternal cynic who will never be pleased. The ability to co-exist and see what good Pace has built is okay. To ability to be skeptical of what Pace has built is also fine.

I guess I'm a Pace apologist who only harbors in conspiracy theories for distancing myself to look at this Bears' situation objectively, though. Pace has accomplished his goals as a general manager, in finally getting his quarterback, building around him effectively, and hiring his own head coach. Now it's time to see this hoopla play out.

Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron, and contributor to The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.