After running wild through the NFC North and surprising many around the NFL in 2018, the Bears’ 12-4 season ended in disappointment with a Wild Card playoff defeat. Fortunately, with a star-studded defense, a quarterback on the rise, and leadership that understands what it will take to run through the playoff gauntlet, the future looks bright.
On Monday, Bears general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy acted as that needed leadership as they spoke to a gathered media contingent in Lake Forest. They touched on what sparked one of the more memorable seasons on the lakefront in recent memory, Today Show quibbles, where they have to improve as an organization, and much more.
Here are my thoughts on every major note as the Bears officially turn their attention toward the 2019 off-season.
The merits of Pagano
The Bears made waves to lead off this past weekend when they hired former Colts head coach Chuck Pagano to be their new defensive coordinator. Noted guru Vic Fangio had left to become head coach of the Broncos, so Chicago moved quickly to find his replacement. Pagano has been someone that’s been around the NFL for more than two decades, having garnered an underrated reputation in high esteem.
As Pace and Nagy waxed poetically about their new defensive leader, it was immediately evident as to why the Bears wanted to bring Pagano in and hold him tight.
Nagy first called Pagano a puzzle piece of sorts for the Bears defense, and cited his experience and aggressive style as being the most attractive pieces of his resume.
“He has an attacking style. He is aggressive. He’s had a lot of success,” Nagy said. “The more we talked, the more we felt this was a perfect fit for us.”
Pace couldn’t help but reverberate the same thoughts of his coach, as he deferred to Nagy’s call.
“He has a very aggressive mentality, he’s a great person, great evaluator, great dealing with people, has had success in the past, and he’s very collaborative,” Pace said.
The Bears know what they’re getting with the 58-year-old defensive mind. Some of it may be inflating their own hire, but there was mostly genuine excitement as to the prospects of what Pagano brings to the table.
The last time Pagano served as defensive coordinator for anyone was with the Ravens in 2011. Baltimore finished with the league’s best defense by DVOA and that was with a 33-year-old Ed Reed and 36-year-old Ray Lewis: the two cornerstones of the unit outside of former Defensive Player of the Year in Terrell Suggs. In Chicago, Pagano gets to work with Khalil Mack, Eddie Jackson, and Roquan Smith: prolific players in or around their prime with plenty of tread left on their tires.
There has been concern over how the Bears could maintain the same high level of defensive play they enjoyed this year without Fangio at the helm. The fact of the matter is, the last time Pagano had anything close to the amount of defensive talent he has with the Bears, his team played on Championship Sunday. Those continuity concerns may soon go by the wayside.
Not a Today Show, not an any day show
Has there ever been more of an unnecessary mess in the aftermath of a missed field goal? After Cody Parkey’s now infamous “Double Doink” against the Eagles, he booked an appearance on NBC’s morning staple the Today Show this past Friday. Then, on Saturday, Goose Island held a kicking competition outside their main brewery for roughly 100 brave (but mostly foolish) souls to attempt to kick the length of Parkey’s miss (43 yards) in snowy conditions. A truly brilliant promotion to capitalize on the part of the company, with a good amount of hilarity ensuing from the slipping and sliding.
But in terms of twisting the knife and drawing out what was already an anguishing play for many in Chicago, you couldn’t have done much more. For the Bears specifically, Parkey’s clear self-serving appearance on national television to talk about his miss and his moment didn’t sit well with higher-ups.
“In our locker room we talk about a we thing,” Nagy said in reference to Parkey’s sit down interview. “And that was more of a me thing.”
That’s essentially Nagy, ever the professional, politely saying Parkey’s quick foray into the spotlight was extremely selfish and overshadowed the strong culture the Bears have established as a team. That’s Nagy trying to play the nice guy but putting the writing on the wall: after one season, Parkey’s time with the Bears is over.
It’s one thing to miss 11 total kicks over the course of one season, including the playoffs. It’s another thing to miss a kick that ends your team’s playoff dreams. It’s on an entirely different planet to then talk about your struggles publicly in the aftermath of the miss without any consideration of those involved with your organization. Parkey did receive a lot of death threats on social media in the aftermath of the miss, which is never okay. There should also be proper processes and systems put in place for mental health of athletes.
However, whatever happened to the middle ground of, “Hey, this athlete failed at his job, dramatically so, and can and should be fairly criticized as such.” It doesn’t and shouldn’t have to veer to either absolute of death threats or, “It’s difficult to make 43-yard kicks, leave him alone, what’s wrong with you?”
This can be a nuanced conversation. Why ever comment if an athlete can’t be held accountable for their responsibilities?
Evidently, the Bears feel the same about Parkey’s failures and subsequent selfish routine along that middle ground. All that’s left for them to do is eat the dead money on his contract (approximately $4.4 million) in the coming months: a guarantee at this point. They’ll have to if they want to move on past this episode and find a more consistent place kicker. After that, a recent all-too-familiar Chicago kicking carousel begins anew.
A second Hunt
In late November, graphic video from last February surfaced of former Chiefs star running back Kareem Hunt assaulting a women. He was summarily released by Kansas City despite being one of the most productive young running backs in football on one of the best teams in football.
Domestic violence, after all, is a sensitive issue that many (justifiably so) feel professional sports teams, not just those in the NFL, have a responsibility to do better in regards to violence from active players. That goes double for violence against women and partners. It’s an area where the sports landscape has significantly lagged behind in getting with the times. While this wasn’t technically a case of domestic violence as it wasn’t between people living together at home, it was assault and violence against a woman.
Hunt never caught on with another team after passing through waivers and is now sitting in the free agent wire, waiting for a second opportunity that may never come. That is, unless you ask the Bears apparently: who didn’t rule out the possibility of signing the 2017 Pro Bowler.
“I’m a guy, I’ve been raised that way, to give second chances,” said Nagy in response to the possibility of Chicago acquiring Hunt. “That’s his situation, and I wanted to talk to him about it as a true personal side.”
Nagy clarified that he had personally reached out to Hunt a week ago and wanted to check in on where he stands. Pace, in this conversation, otherwise remained vague on the prospects of Hunt making hay in Lake Forest: perhaps a statement on his stance in it’s own right.
From a pure football fit, it doesn’t get much better than what Hunt would offer the Bears. He’s a multi-faceted back that’s an excellent route runner out of the backfield and is a powerful and patient runner between the tackles. Having Hunt on board would allow the Bears to reach a high level of offense they were never quite able to attain with one dimensional players like Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen splitting time.
That being said, the ledger of Hunt’s past will assuredly be difficult for many to overlook: both on a local and national level.
When the Bears signed former 49er Ray McDonald (similar issues) back in 2015, rampant fervor and heat on the move eventually led to them backing out of the signing. That was with a far less important role player. Acquiring a centerpiece like Hunt would lead to far more controversy, far more necessary hand-wringing, and a storm even the Bears themselves might not be prepared for, as much as they think they may be. Hunt may also not be even be able to play for most of the first half of the season: a concrete suspension for his actions hasn’t been doled out yet.
At any rate, the glow and honeymoon of what the 2018 Bears reinvigorated in football in Chicago would be understandably over for many in lieu of Hunt’s potential arrival. The platitude of “second chances” Nagy made sure to emphasize over and over would ring hollow.
One’s thing for sure amongst this hoopla: the Bears may not possess a ton of salary cap space, they may not have a bevy of high draft picks, but it will still be an eminently fascinating off-season at Halas Hall.