The Monsters of the Midway are back to featuring an offensive Head Coach in Matt Nagy. While this may concern you because you are still scarred from the Marc Trestman era, do not be frightened. Instead, you should be very excited and ready for football to get back into our lives. Who Matt Nagy has surrounded himself with not only matters for the organizational leadership, but it is directly tied to the success of this franchise. Offensively, Nagy has surrounded himself with former Oregon Head Coach Mark Helfrich, former Minnesota Vikings Head Coach Brad Childress, and the legendary offensive line coach in Harry Hiestand. More specifically, he also has hired respected positional coaches and the list includes running backs coach Charles London, wide receivers coach Mike Furrey, and Kevin Gilbride Jr. as their tight ends coach. With all due respect to the offensive minds of Marc Trestman, Aaron Kromer, and Matt Cavanaugh, the offensive staff Coach Nagy has assembled for 2018 looks to be far superior than the 2014 Bears offensive coaching staff.
Having this many really good offensive minds will be very beneficial to Mitchell Trubisky and his development. This staff will not only be able to prepare Trubisky better, but they will also be able to focus on his strengths and put the young quarterback in a position to succeed. Trubisky showed flashes of brilliance in his rookie season, making Bear fans giddy about what the future could hold with him under center. The Bears have not been to the playoffs since the Conference Championship game against the arch-rival Green Bay Packers in January of 2011. How can Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy assemble an offensive unit around Trubisky in 2018 so that the Bears can get back to the playoffs for the first time in nearly 8 years?
Luring Harry Hiestand away from Notre Dame and back to the Bears organization will prove to be crucial to what Matt Nagy is able to do with his offense. Hiestand is notoriously thought of as an offensive line guru. Hiestand will inherit a good offensive line, with some really talented players. Cody Whitehair has proven to be a very good center or guard, and will only get better under the tutelage of Hiestand. Getting the three time Pro-Bowler Kyle Long back healthy will be crucial for this unit. Charles Leno Jr. is consistently durable and quietly provides good season after good season.
The Bears also could pick up the option on Josh Sitton, which would cost the team $8 million dollars. While Sitton turns 32 this season, Pro Football Focus graded Sitton as the fifth best guard in the league in 2018. With that type of production and the fact that the Bears will have plenty of cap space after cuts occur (if they maximize the cuts of players who did not play last season, the Bears could have roughly $80 million in cap space), then the Bears could easily pick up the option for Sitton in 2018.
Bobby Massie has been a serviceable right tackle, but if the Bears decided to cut Massie they would save roughly $5.5 million in cap space. The Bears would be able to replace Massie’s production if they chose to, but Massie is in the last year of his contract, is still affordable, and is young.
Depending on what the Bears have in mind for the draft could have an influence what they do in terms of making cuts in free agency. While it is not likely the Bears are going to sign a big money free agent offensive lineman, they may opt to use their first round pick on one. There are two players that Coach Hiestand is very familiar with from Notre Dame: Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey. Nelson would be able to step in day one to be a fierce guard in the league. Nelson would bring a mean, physical attitude to the offensive line, while also being able to dominate the opposition with his size, strength, athleticism, and an unrelenting motor to defeat the opponent. McGlinchey would be able to come in and start at right tackle immediately, and possess great size and athleticism.
If the Bears were set on drafting either of these players, it may be reflected in the moves they make. If they decide to not pick up Sitton’s option, it is likely the Bears have Nelson on their mind. The Bears have the money available to keep Sitton, and his very high production in 2017 proves he can still play at a high level. The Bears could conceivably keep Sitton, move Kyle Long back to right tackle, and have Nelson step in at left guard. Or they could cut Massie and draft McGlinchey if Nelson is not available. Either way, Nelson is likely to be the Bears top target because of his unique ability and the attitude he could bring to the offensive line protecting Trubisky.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
This is an area that Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy will improve on this offseason. Cameron Meredith will be returning from a torn ACL, and the Bears are unsure what they will get from Meredith. In 2016, Meredith emerged as a difference maker and appeared to be blossoming into a number one receiver. The oft-injured and former first round pick Kevin White will be back for his fourth season after sustaining another season ending injury in 2017. At one point, White had top end ability at wide receiver. If he can stay healthy (which is a major if at this point), White could be interesting in this system. Tanner Gentry will also be back, and the hope is Gentry and Trubisky will be able to rekindle the connection they had in the 2017 preseason.
The former third round pick Markus Wheaton will likely be cut as soon as Ryan Pace can. Wheaton is due to make $5 million dollars in 2018. That is steep for a player who could hardly see the field in 2017, since injuries and performance limited his game reps. The serviceable Kendall Wright and Dontrelle Inman are both set to hit the free agent market. Both will be inexpensive to re-sign if the Bears are interested. Wright provided a safety blanked for Trubisky because of his dependable route running and good hands. At times Inman was quiet, but he also showed flashes of brilliance after Ryan Pace made a trade with the Los Angeles Chargers to acquire Inman. He could be a good candidate to return. Josh Bellamy is also a free agent and had some solid moments for the Bears last season, but can be inconsistent with catching the ball.
Look for the Bears to be aggressive at wide receiver in free agency. The favorite name in free agency is Jarvis Landry. Landry is a three time pro bowler, who will only be 26 in 2018, but will probably command $13 to $15 million in free agency. The Bears are said to have interest and they have the money to acquire him if they decide to do so. Two other players to keep an eye for the Bears are Paul Richardson and Albert Wilson. Richardson has flashed a lot of potential in Seattle. Richardson will only be 26 next season, but is coming off of his best year with the Seahawks. He has the speed and quickness that would fit Nagy’s offense. Additionally, Coach Nagy is quite familiar with Albert Wilson from their time in Kansas City. Again, this is a player who is not a number one receiver, but Wilson would be very valuable to the Bears, or any team that signs him. Wilson is an excellent route runner, who has good hands and speed.
At tight end, Adam Shaheen will get a major role going forward. Nagy likely sees Shaheen as a bigger version of Travis Kelce, who flourished with Nagy in Kansas City. With Shaheen set to have a major role, Dion Sims will likely be cut by the Bears because he is owed $5.7 million in 2018. Daniel Brown is a player who seems to do well with more playing time. Brown is an intriguing player and it will be interesting to see how he can be utilized under Nagy’s offense. Another player who is intriguing for the Bears is Ben Braunecker. Braunecker is another big tight end. Brown and Braunecker should get increased repetitions when camp breaks.
One of the most solidified positions on this team is running back. Pro Bowl running back Jordan Howard leads the charge to this unit. In his first two seasons in the NFL, Howard has had back-to-back 1,000 yard rushing seasons. Howard will be utilized better under Nagy’s offense, similar to how Nagy used rookie Pro Bowl running back Kareem Hunt this past season. To see how Nagy employs Howard will likely keep opposing defenses awake at night.
Tarik Cohen’s role will also be expanding under Nagy. Cohen will be used as a hybrid running back and wide receiver. Getting the ball in Cohen’s hands will be crucial. Cohen could be poised to have a major season like Tyreek Hill did for the Chiefs last year.
Nagy will make it a point of emphasis to utilize Howard and Cohen in 2018.
Will The Bears Return To The Playoffs In 2018?
The offensive minds on the Bears coaching staff appears to be a very solid group on paper. If Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy can focus on acquiring depth at wide receiver and ensuring that Mitchell Trubisky is protected, then the Bears may be on there way to returning to the playoffs for the first time in nearly 8 years.