For the first time in all too long, the Bears are playing meaningful games in December, and the offseason is more a subject of speculation than a pressing concern. However, with the Bears enjoying a mini bye after an 11-day gauntlet, the contributors at Windy City Gridiron took the chance to discuss what we thought this team might need moving forward. On Wednesday, we also asked fans to weigh in on what they saw as the needs the Bears would have heading into the offseason.
We received enough feedback to have two parts--the low priorities and the high priorities Based on our opinions and the feedback of the community, here are the lesser of the Bears’ likely top needs next offseason.
#4: Edge Rusher
As this is being written, 13% of those voting in the poll identified EDGE as a top need.
Andrew Link, our regular pass-rush analyst extraordinaire, had this to say about the position:
I could put EDGE as a priority easily, but with Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd under contract for 2019, and with Aaron Lynch, who seems to want to be in Chicago, plus young players like Isiah Irving and Kylie Fitts, this doesn’t seem like as big of a need at the moment. What a difference a Mack makes, huh?
Meanwhile, WhiskeyRanger thought the position was enough of a need to list it as his third-highest priority in the contributor discussion:
For as well as Leonard Floyd has been playing all around, he’s still not quite the pass rushing compliment to Mack that this team needs. Granted, Hicks arguably fills that role, but ideally you’d still want more off the edge opposite Mack than what Floyd and Lynch are providing. Fitts has shown flashes, but it’s still up in the air what he will become. Yes, it may be a stretch to call this a need for a team that’s currently top 3 in Sacks, but the times this defense has struggled this year, it’s mostly been due to a lack of consistent pass rush (or bad tackling...). So I can see this being a priority, so they aren’t forced to blitz an ILB or DB in order to generate pressure when teams are able to take Mack out of the game. Plus, it looks like a deep Edge class this year, and with the Bears lack of high picks, they may look at take advantage of the value the position offers in this draft.
It will be interesting to see how much of a need EDGE becomes and whether or not the Bears choose to exercise the extra year option that they have on Leonard Floyd. When thinking of Floyd as a total outside linebacker, someone who can take away weapons from the other side and also apply pressure (even if he doesn’t always get home), it seems like a no-brainer to lock him up for another year. However, Pace might have other plans in mind.
#3: Running Back
19% of those voting in the poll considered running back a top priority, putting it in third place overall. The contributors also consider this to be an area of concern, and they largely agreed with the community. The Man In Charge, Lester Wiltfong himself, called this “the Jordan Howard conundrum,” and ranked it as his third-highest priority.
At this point the writing is on the wall for Howard. If I were making the call, I’d keep him, but if he’s not in the future plans for Matt Nagy’s offense the Bears are likely to trade him. The NFL views running backs differently theses days, and if the Bears can target a mid-round guy that has more quickness and receiving ability than Howard, I think they go that route and pair him up with Tarik Cohen. Even if the Bears do decide to keep Howard, it’s likely that he’ll walk as a free agent after 2019, so finding his replacement could happen this draft.
For what it’s worth, when Jay Ajayi—a one-time Pro Bowler with more than a year left on his contract—was traded mid-season, he netted a fourth-round pick. Ajayi might be the most optimistic comparison for what Howard might bring on the trade market. Most running backs don’t even command that much draft capital, unless they are former first-rounders being traded to the Colts.
Meanwhile, Andrew Link considered running back to be the third-highest priority as well. Here is what he had to say:
Three Yards and it’s Ground to Dust: The running game has been awful. Don’t let the team stats fool you, that has a lot to do with Mitch Trubisky and the wide receivers getting a number of carries. Matt Nagy has had plenty of opportunities to alter the running plays to fit better with Jordan Howard’s style, yet he hasn’t done so. The only reason I can think of is that he wants to run this system and in a year where the Bears offense is still learning, he wants everyone to know exactly how to execute the inside zone scheme. Howard made his name running in an outside zone scheme where he has the ability to use his vision, while also giving him the ability to get up to his top speed when hitting the hole. The inside zone happens much quicker and relies on a running back who can hit the hole hard and with the correct sense of timing. Sure, the offensive line and tight ends (I’m looking at you Dion Sims) have struggled to open holes, but sometimes there are holes there and Howard simply doesn’t get there quickly enough. My guess is that the Bears are going to throw money, draft picks, and UDFA resources at the running back spot. When run correctly (see: Kansas City Chiefs RB Hunt, Kareem), the jet sweep and other horizontal motions play hand-in-hand with the quick-hitting runs up-the-middle. This needs to be upgraded for this offense to take the step it needs to in 2019.
Additionally. WhiskeyRanger gave the position an honorable mention:
Running Back also wouldn’t shock me, but I’m still not quite sure how Nagy values the position... Maybe they try and grab an all arounder like Justice Hill if he’s there for them, or maybe they just try and game plan better for Jordan Howard and roll with what they’ve got. I just don’t know. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
However, one contributor thinks that the position carries an ever higher priority. Erik Duerrwaechter had this to say about what he considered to be the most important off-season need:
Not only has Jordan Howard and the overall running game struggled to get going this season, but Howard will be a free agent in the 2020 offseason. There’s also a chance he could get traded, given all the rumors and smoke generated this past year. Plus, the Bears are in prime drafting position when it comes to finding a new featured back to add in the backfield. Kareem Hunt, a player Matt Nagy knows quite a bit, was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2017 draft. And Howard himself was drafted in the 5th round of the 2016 draft.
For my part, I feel like besides retaining whatever talent they have, the Bears should attack the position with what I have come to consider the “Pace Area of Emphasis.” This is where Pace spends money on a handful of medium-tier free agents, spends a draft pick on the position, and then also shuffles through undrafted free agency in order to create a lot of competition at the position and to hope real talent rises to the top.
Those are the less-than-urgent priorities as the community and as the contributors see them. Next up, we will look at the top priorities and at what options might be out there to address them.