With the beginning of the NFL’s shorts Olympics this week, or rather the 2018 Scouting Combine, the Bears have their work cut out for them to find their next franchise players in this year’s draft. This is a meeting of the minds of the entire NFL, from front offices and coaches, to scouts and agents. Player testing and interviews in Indianapolis isn’t as important as what’s on film, but they play an immense role into how teams invest into potential draft picks nevertheless. What the Combine means more than anything is the kick off of draft season in earnest.
As always, the two primary figureheads of the Bears spoke before the festivities start this weekend. For general manager Ryan Pace, this is his fourth rodeo at the Combine. He’s looking to set up second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with weapons and discern the personalities of players under his hand picked head coach in Matt Nagy. The time to make any kind of jump in the win-loss column is now or never.
In regards to Nagy, while already a little less than two months on the job, this is the first time he’s in a league-wide setting as the leader of his own team. What he sees and how he operates will be critical for the Bears’ franchise moving forward. Perhaps Nagy falls in love with another prospect at first sight this year.
Here’s key points Pace and Nagy touched on in Indianapolis while a little under two months away from the 2018 NFL Draft.
Winds of fishing change
Pace began his press conference by announcing personnel plans, which to be fair, were the only real pieces of information of any substance.
First, there’s the release of Willie Young, who has been with the Bears since 2014. Young had been one of the Bears’ good soldiers in his tenure with Chicago, and may have something left in the tank. But this is a move that signals a plan for an overhaul on the defensive edge. At 32, Young is better as a part-time player and not worth the pending $5.4 million roster cap hit if he had stayed with the Bears.
Releasing Pernell McPhee and Young over the course of a week means that ideally Chicago has an idea of finding depth next to and behind Leonard Floyd. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio needs more reliability from his outside linebackers, Floyd included. Given the debilitating knee condition of McPhee and the continually wearing down of Young, it wasn’t meant to be for these two.
Two years ago, Young and McPhee were seen as integral players for the Bears. Now they move along with the winds of change, and necessary change at that if Chicago’s defense is going to become elite. The only issue is that star pass rushers don’t hit free agency. This is an area where Pace and the Bears are going to have to get creative.
The end of his year
In the least surprising news of the Bears’ off-season, Pace also announced that the team will release Mike Glennon.
Glennon began his Bears career by emphatically stating that 2017 was “his year” at least a dozen times last May. 2017 did end up being his year ... after 10 turnovers in four starts. The ineffective Glennon jettisoned plans to sit Mitchell Trubisky for the duration of the season and paved the way for the hopeful face of the franchise to make his debut much sooner. With a $16 million dollar cap if he had been retained, Glennon’s future was sealed as soon as he was benched at the end of last September.
One would expect the Bears to now be active in the backup quarterback market to find a suitable veteran behind Trubisky. Don’t discount the return of Mark Sanchez with that in mind. The 31-year-old proved to have a sizable influence on the development of Trubisky than Glennon could've hoped for.
One final reminder: don’t get caught up in term of an NFL contract. Guaranteed money is the only thing that matters in the structure of a deal. As soon as it was seen that Glennon had only $18.5 million guaranteed of his now dead three-year, $45 million dollar deal, the writing was on the wall. Remember this for future reference before lamenting any poor commitments. Or before the next Glennon style contract is handed out in the league.
Hello, A.J. McCarron!
Locking in the future
Now that the exodus of players the Bears won’t be rostering anymore is almost over, believe it or not: they do possess core guys that they’d be better suited to sign to extensions sooner rather than later.
Three names came to mind that Pace touched on at the Combine: Eddie Goldman, Cameron Meredith, and Adrian Amos. Three talented and at minimum serviceable starters, the Bears know they’re served best by keeping at Halas Hall on cheaper deals by beginning negotiations early. The next four years represent a window to make a consistent leap for the Bears and this trio will play a big factor.
In the case of Goldman, the 24-year-old will never be a superstar in the mold of the Rams’ Aaron Donald. That pass rush game is not his style. But Goldman is one of the more underrated nose tackles in football and serves as the all-important anchor to the Bears’ defense. He’s a powerful bull rusher that knows how to use his hands and keep his linebackers free by occupying multiple gaps. What Goldman does for Chicago’s defense is understated. They’re wise to to move forward with his financial proceedings now.
As for Meredith, expectations were sky high for him coming into the 2017 season. After tearing his ACL in the third week of the preseason against the Titans, he became an afterthought as the Bears’ passing game struggled over the next four months. Barring unforeseen complications, he should enter 2018 as the Bears’ No. 1 receiver. He’ll have had ample time to recover by Bourbonnais and since Pace is working on an extension for him, the Bears as a whole don’t seem concerned with how he’ll play in his return.
Making a deal for the restricted free agent in Meredith now signals that the Bears would rather not wait until he breaks out once more and drives his price up. Think of a low risk extension in the mold of Adam Thielen’s contract with the Vikings last year. Figures that will be around four years and $20 million with almost $10 million guaranteed. That’s a bargain to pay for one of the bell cows of your offense if you’re the Bears.
As for Adrian Amos, he’s not a superstar. But you’ll be hard pressed to find a better strong safety in-the-box type than him. A Pro Football Focus darling, Amos enjoyed a resurgent 2017 season with the rangy Eddie Jackson covering for his liabilities as a pass defender. It’s rare you saw Amos miss a tackle or assignment when working as the Bears’ hybrid linebacker. That’s his value. That’s his ability. While not a true game changer, the fourth-year pro and 24-year-old is dependable.
To extend him now on an affordable deal makes sense. This isn’t a player with the most valuable or irreplaceable skills but is a guy the Bears would rather keep if they could in an upcoming proposed contention window. Compare any deal he receives to someone like the Ravens’ Tony Jefferson. Jefferson, who plays in a similar fashion to Amos as not quite a safety and not quite a linebacker, received a four-year $34 million dollar deal with $19 million guaranteed from Baltimore last off-season.
Amos, from that perspective, should see something in the range of four years and $24-26 million with $14 million guaranteed. At his skill set, that’s the security both the Bears and he should be seeking.
The Art Of The Deal continues
The elephant in the room here is obviously Kyle Fuller. The deadline to tag Fuller is next Tuesday and it doesn’t appear that the Bears have anything in place yet for their star cornerback.
Pace however used “aggressively” to describe how the ongoing talks are going with Fuller as the two sides look to reach an agreement. This is the sign of working on a long-term deal that, from a glance, doesn’t seem far off from being finalized. Of each of these players, Fuller’s absence would create the biggest hole for Chicago in their secondary. It's imperative that whatever progress Pace has reached with Fuller be capitalized upon soon.
Communication, communication, communication
Nagy had much less to say aside from platitudes and player comparisons.
To me, one aspect that struck a chord was relationships: particularly among the Bears’ power figures.
Nagy and Trubisky not included, the key relationship to watch this off-season is between Nagy and Pace. This general manager-head coach pairing is joined at the hip as both understand that their success with the Bears will be defined by how they collaborate together. Two young minds in league terms. Two young minds looking to make their mark with their pinpointed franchise quarterback in Trubisky.
What sticks out there is how Nagy praises Pace, and what he specifically praises about him. He not only seems genuine about his excitement, but also appreciates communication: a lost art in the last three years for the Bears.
“Communication ... without a doubt,” is how Nagy described Pace’s biggest strength as a general manager. In the light of an organization going through a slight reboot with a new coaching staff, that facet speaks volumes. In the manner that Nagy is learning his head coaching job on the ropes, how Pace helps bring him along sets the table for the Bears at the top.
There were questions as to whether Pace and John Fox were always on the same wavelength, especially during the last two years of Fox’s tenure with Chicago. It needn’t be said, but if the top men in an organization aren’t getting along, then the whole vision of development, the future, and what’s best for the team is muddled. Pace seems to be learning from his mistakes as he understands that he and Nagy as a duo cannot afford to falter or have any outstanding beefs.
One’s success with the Bears plays into the other’s and vice versa. It’s about helping each other grow, not working independently with a contrasting ideal in mind. Without playing a game, already the Bears are off to a bigger jump start with their new coach’s era than before.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron, and is a contributor to The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.