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Bears Mailbag: Post rookie mini-camp, kicking competition heating up and any free agency moves up Ryan Pace’s sleeve?

The Bears are heading into the meat and potatoes of their offseason program. Who wins the kicking competition? Who impressed at rookie mini-camp? Could Pace make a surprise free agent move? All of this and more.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Oakland Raiders Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Bears 2019 rookie mini-camp is in the books. Which means that the Bears will have a set of 10 OTAs before wrapping up the offseason activities with a mandatory mini-camp from June 11-13.

Despite having David Montgomery, Riley Ridley and Duke Shelley to watch in their first professional practices, all eyes were on the team’s kicking competition. That battle featured a total of eight kickers, four of which were tryouts. After an up and down weekend, the team not only didn’t sign any of the tryout legs, they cut down their rostered kickers in half.

After an uneven weekend, the Bears traded for kicker Eddy Pineiro, who had won the Raiders job before being placed on Injured Reserve with a groin injury a year ago.

With 13 total practices left before the team breaks for six week until training camp, there’s a lot to cover. So, let’s dive right into this week’s mailbag.

As most know by now, yesterday any ramifications to the compensatory pick formula have gone away in regards to outside free agents.

On top of that, the Bears have right around $16.5 million to work with in cap space. Naturally, there will always be fans wondering if their favorite team can get better by adding someone of impact in free agency, regardless of the time. The difference for the Bears? Not only is their roster currently full, they don’t really have many needs on the roster right now.

With Nkdamukong Suh, you’ve got an aging player that hasn’t been as dominant lately and is likely still looking for a chance to start. I’m not sure he’d get that with a team like the Bears. Obviously Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman are highly paid and locked in. On top of that, Bilal Nichols emerged as a valuable weapon in his rookie year and they have Roy Robertson-Harris for depth as well.

I’m not sure it’s wise for them to push development from young players to the back burner, for a player like Suh who is on the down slope of his career. It’s also worth noting that while the team has a healthy amount of cap space remaining, they need all they can get in the coming years and still have in-season expenses, plus a Cody Whitehair extension to work out over the summer. Long story short, I don’t see this as likely.

Here’s where I’m at with a player like Shane Ray. The Bears have their top three edge rushers in line. They’ve also got a bevy of younger talent as depth in the way of Isaiah Irving, Kylie Fitts, Chuck Harris and Matthieu Betts.

Could they opt to sign Ray on a cheap one-year deal? It’s possible, but I don’t think it’s likely. Ray was a former first-round pick, but he has simply not been good over his first four years. I’m not sure how much he would give the Bears that they don’t already have and again, you’re sacrificing potential development from other younger players to find that out.

If I had to guess, I think the Bears are more than likely comfortable with their depth heading into camp.

Looking at the Bears’ current roster, I see a few depth areas that could be filled. Here are a few names that they could look into at close to veteran’s minimum that could compete for a roster spot in training camp.

  • Tre Boston (Safety)
  • Derrick Morgan (Edge)
  • Levine Toilolo (Tight end)
  • Mike Mitchell (Safety)
  • Kayvon Webster (Cornerback)
  • Orlando Scandrick (Cornerback)

Again, I’m not sure edge rusher would be a need, but Morgan would be my pick if it is. It’s possible the Bears could opt for another veteran tight end and Toilolo wouldn’t be a bad fit for competition. Defensive back is where I see an opportunity to get better. As of now, the team has just five safeties on the roster and they could also use some cornerback depth.

The concept of a committee backfield is always a fun thing to think about. It’s also easier said than done, especially when you have a pair of unproven backs in the way of Montgomery and veteran Mike Davis. Yes, the Bears really like Davis, but they also didn’t deal up for Montgomery for him to get a set amount of touches and stay in a rotation if he is clearly the best back.

I would imagine that heading into OTAs and ultimately training camp, Davis will be the team’s “starter” within the committee. With that said, I’m not sure how long that will last if Montgomery does what he was drafted to do.

Here’s how I look at it- If the Bears run the ball 300 times this year, how do you split up carries overall? I’d break it down this way-

  • Montgomery 170 carries
  • Davis 125 carries
  • Tarik Cohen 75 carries
  • The rest 30 carries

Even looking at this, it’s hard to see how they are truly going to be able to split carries and involve someone like Cordarrelle Patterson and Kerrith Whyte as well.

The reality is more of this; one of Montgomery or Davis will establish himself as the primary back. While neither player will see 20-25 rushes per game, one will clearly lead the snap count at the end of the year and I think it’ll be the rookie.

As far as cutting Davis in 2020, we need to see how things play out. If he gets washed away as the year goes on, it could absolutely make sense. If he’s still relatively involved, they could keep him at $4 million for 2020.

I know there’s been some talk and comparisons between Montgomery and former Bears running back Matt Forte, but honestly, I don’t see it. I think that Forte had more burst and long speed. But I do think that Montgomery has better lateral agility, power and elusiveness in the open field.

I think a more apt comparison and one that I have felt that fits for a while is Kareem Hunt. If you watch Hunt at Toledo and compare it to Montgomery at Iowa State, I think you’ll see two similar players that made very similar plays.

That’s just my take, but I think that’s a better comparison. Obviously, that is strictly an on-the-field comparison because off-the-field, they couldn’t be any different.

Yesterday, the New York Post put out (what I perceived) as a clickbait article, with little substance.

Long story short, they called the team’s kicking search an embarrassment.

Here’s the deal, though. The Bears are coming off a (12-4) season, after winning five games the year prior. They were also a better kicker away from further advancing in the playoffs.

Has the team’s kicking search been unorthodox? Absolutely. Has it been extensive? Of course. Either way, they made the right decision in not keeping Cody Parkey around. Now, it comes down to finding his replacement.

They could take the “easy way out” by signing a veteran, but they are committed to finding a younger, more controllable option. At this point, they still have time. It’s only May. If none of their three currently rostered kickers pan out, I’d be willing to bet they’ll have options available in late August. Whether that’s a veteran or a trade target, it’s just something we’ll have to keep waiting out. It’s not time to deem it anything at this point, though. All that matters is finding the right guy and simply put, they still have time.

Kai Forbath is a veteran kicker that has remained on the market all offseason. I think that’s worth noting here.

Like I talked about above, I firmly believe if the Bears are forced to go with a veteran option, someone like him or even 44-year-old Matt Bryant will be around in late August. At this point, we just need to have some patience.

Pineiro won the Raiders job last year against a veteran option, but he was hurt and ended up stashed on Injured Reserve. If it wasn’t for Oakland landing Daniel Carlson after being cut from the Vikings, there’s a good chance that Pineiro is still the starting kicker in Oakland. He’s got a huge leg, has proven he can win an NFL job and most importantly, was added with kicking consultant Jamie Kohl’s input in mind.

Let’s see how things play out before moving onto stopgap options like Forbath or Bryant.

As head coach Matt Nagy pointed out in some of his weekend pressers, the players weren’t in pads and there wasn’t much work for edge rushers to do in rookie mini-camp this past weekend.

In order for the Bears to truly see what they have in some of these undrafted free agents, including Betts, they will have to wait until training camp and the preseason to see how it all plays out.

I think with Betts, he has a lot to prove. Yes, he dominated at Laval, but keep in mind, that’s the equivalent of playing against Division III type competition. We’ll need to see what he has against NFL talent before I start to buy into some of the hype he’s received so far. He’s also 24-years-old, so he’s on the older side for a rookie.

The undrafted edge rusher I’m more interested in seeing is Chuck Harris out of Buffalo. The team used one of their top 30 visits on him and much like Betts he was a priority signing. Much like the kicking competition, we’re still about two months away from truly seeing what they have there.

I’d be somewhat surprised if Mitchell Trubisky ends up being top five in passing yards this coming year. One, I don’t think the Bears are going to throw that much and two, you’re always going to have those teams and quarterbacks that will throw a ton and rack up the yards.

Even so, I don’t think it’s remotely out of the realm of possibilities that Trubisky breaks the 4,000 yard threshold and sets multiple team records along the way. In many ways, this is a make or break type year for the third-year quarterback. He doesn’t need to be elite, but taking that next step and contributing to a top 10 offense would be a much bigger deal than being top five in yards, especially if that means him throwing way too much.

I’m not sure the rotation is what will help Trubisky and this offense, as much as having running backs that actually fit the scheme and all different stylistically.

In Montgomery, you have a do it all back that is able to block and catch out of the backfield. He’s also someone that makes tacklers miss on a regular basis.

With Davis, he’s an ideal fit for inside zone, that can get to the second level with regularity. He’s also someone who can catch out of the backfield, but maybe gives you the best option as a short-yardage back.

Obviously, we all know what Cohen can do out of the backfield. He’s the speed threat, but I also expect him to be featured more at receiver than at running back.

All in all, you’re getting three different options that all offer different threats and that alone should help the running game.