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Bears mailbag: First half reflection, Adam Shaheen’s return, upcoming free agents and is this a playoff team?

In this week’s mailbag, we’ll answer questions about Shaheen’s return, what the future holds for the Bears and who impressed in the first eight games.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
NFL: Chicago Bears at Buffalo Bills Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Rejoice, Bears fans! Through eight games, the team is 5-3 and in first place. Not sure many would have expected that back in training camp.

After losing two straight games, they’ve followed it up with two straight wins and a chance for a third this Sunday against a struggling Detroit Lions team that would all but be put out of the playoff race with a loss.

As fun as the start of the season has been, the meat and potatoes of the schedule is upon the Bears and another 5-3 record should be enough to get them in. Either way, let’s dive into another week of the mailbag to answer all of your burning questions.

This is a good question and in the spirit of the midway point of the 2018 Bears season, I figured this would be a good question to kick things off.

First, I’ll start with my surprises.

Offensively, my biggest surprise has to be Taylor Gabriel. When the Bears originally gave him a four year, $26 million deal back in March, a lot of people questioned why they’d give up so much for a guy that has never been anything more than a third receiver. I think we’re quickly finding out that Gabriel has the ability to be the team’s top target on a weekly basis. He’s currently on pace for 74 receptions, 852 yards and four touchdowns. He’s also their best deep threat. Big find for general manager Ryan Pace.

Defensively, it has to be Bilal Nichols. Despite him not starting a lot and missing last week’s game, his presence as the team’s second five technique has been a huge value. Obviously it’s still early but he looks like another great mid-round gem.

My most disappointing starts with Kyle Long, and not because he’s been bad, but this is the third year in a row he’s landed on Injured Reserve. He’s due over $8 million next year, so you have to wonder if his future in Chicago is at risk. You have the feel for a guy who has spent all but one season with a pretty terrible team. He deserves better and I hope that the Bears will do right by him and come to some sort of a compromise so he can stay for 2019.

On the other side of the ball, I haven’t been overly impressed with Adrian Amos. Not to say he’s been bad by any means, but I don’t think he’s currently playing to the caliber he did last year. He and Bryce Callahan are the team’s two primary free agents and if I had to guess right now, Callahan will be the priority.

My best guess? Daniel Brown.

It’s possible that Adam Shaheen could return this weekend (assuming he practices this week), which could force the team to keep all five tight ends with Dion Sims and Ben Braunecker both battling concussions. But if injuries aren’t a factor, I can’t imagine this team keeps five tight ends, when they don’t truly use them all anyways.

Obviously Trey Burton and (unfortunately) Sims are safe, which leaves Braunecker and Brown hanging and because of how they use their tight ends, neither one would project for much playing time on offense. With this in mind, Braunecker is the better of the special teams players, which is why I think Brown could be on his way out.

Before the start of the season, I put out my schedule prediction. That had the Bears going 10-6 overall and 3-3 within the division. Obviously things have changed since that point but I’ve always thought 3-3 would be realistic, especially after losing to the Packers in Week 1.

As much as I want to project the Bears to beat the Lions both times over the next few weeks, that’ll be a lot to ask. Even for a struggling Lions team. Since 2013, the Bears have been putrid within the division, and while I believe that’ll change this year, I’m not sure I can see them making a drastic swing to a 4-2 or 5-1 record.

Here’s how I’d predict their final five division games going:

Vs Lions (Win)

Vs Vikings (Win)

At Lions (Loss)

Vs Packers (Win)

At Vikings (Loss)

I hope I’m wrong but 3-3 overall is still good enough to get them to 10-6, if they beat both the Giants and 49ers.

In my opinion, no. I’d actually argue that the defender did more to interfere with Burton than vice versa.

Overall, it was a poorly officiated game and it didn’t just go against the Bears that game. It went both ways.

I thought Akiem Hicks got away with two roughing the passer calls (hits the helmet) and also didn’t think Prince Amukamara should have been called for pass interference on either one of his two flags.

The good news? They’ll have a new officiating crew this weekend.

The bad news? We have to listen to the same broadcast crew. Maybe Chris Myers can get a few names right this time.

I’d say I’m more frustrated with Mitchell Trubisky’s accuracy at this point than I am worried and here’s why.

Almost all of his issues stem from his footwork. It’s inconsistent and something that I figured would be less of an issue as the season went on. That was one of my primary concerns with him coming out of North Carolina but to be fair, that’s with most college quarterbacks.

I have to wonder how much good working with Jared Goff in Los Angeles did for Trubisky at this point but it’s absolutely something he’s going to need to correct if he plans on being a successful quarterback in the NFL for a long period of time.

The other level to this is comfort. Head coach Matt Nagy runs a very complex offense and the offensive line hasn’t exactly been great. I think that the more comfortable Trubisky gets and the less he has to think, the more composed his game will be, which will lead to more accurate passes and better decision making.

It’s a process and while it’s been a little bit more of an up and down product to this point, I still think he has a bright future.

My guess is Shaheen’s return to the offense means nothing but good things and here is why.

  1. It gets Sims off the damn field.
  2. Shaheen’s biggest value was on third down and in the red zone.

Those two values can’t be understated and it will likely results in more two tight end sets, with two viable pass catching options for Trubisky. I would guess the staff will bring Shaheen along slowly but even from his first game back, I expect his impact to be felt.

The Bears health through eight games has been very impressive and likely a big reason why they’ll compete for a playoff spot down the stretch (knock on wood).

I think that we can attribute that to multiple factors, including general manager Ryan Pace’s constant search for these exact answers.

As most probably remember, Pace has been pulling his hair out over the past few seasons, trying to come up with solutions for his injury issues. From a monetary perspective, the Bears were the most injured team in the league through the John Fox era. I’m not going to say that they would have been a playoff caliber team with better health but I’d bet Fox’s win total of 14 would have been a little higher over those three years.

I think Nagy’s plan in the preseason was a strong one and I think that was particularly aided by his training staff hires in the way of Jason Loscalzo and Andre Tucker. Loscalzo’s success at Washington State was well documented and so far it has paid off in a big way. He and Cougar’s head coach Mike Leach invented the “Leach Beach,” which is now at the Bears’ facilities. It’s been said that training in soft sand helps prevent soft tissue injuries and tears in the lower body.

Either way, I’d classify this as a group effort and one that has been very successful through eight games.

The Bears will be operating with a limited amount of cap space for the first time in quite a while. This needs to be noted when talking about the upcoming off-season.

With that being said, Callahan and Amos are the team’s top two pending free agents, and while it’s possible they could choose to lock both down, I tend to believe they’ll value Callahan more than an in-the-box safety like Amos.

The one thing working in the Bears favor right now? A loaded safety market with headliners like Earl Thomas, Tyrann Mathieu and Landon Collins. Obviously some of these players may stay with their current teams but currently, I’d rank Amos sixth, maybe seventh on that list of top free agent safeties for 2019. As we saw this past year, the safety market isn’t exactly booming, so it’s possible the Bears could end up bringing him back on an affordable deal but I don’t think he’ll be their top priority.