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Bears mailbag: Kicker talk, roster depth and a pending Cody Whitehair extension?

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The preseason is half way over and we’re officially two weeks out from Week 1. It’s a packed mailbag full of questions that will be answered over the next week or two.

NFL: Chicago Bears at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

We are officially half way through the preseason and exactly two weeks away from the Chicago Bears kicking off the NFL’s 100th season on Thursday night. That means real football is close, but we still have the matter of two more preseason games to attend to before we get to enjoy the real fun.

The good news? We’ll start seeing roster movement next week and more importantly, the team has been clearing money, likely for a few extensions. Once the middle of next week hits, it’ll be fast and furious between wrapping up the preseason, contract extensions and roster cut downs. It won’t be as exciting as last year, but we’ll still have much more to be interested in this time next week.

With that in mind, let’s dive into this week’s mailbag.

I’d be lying if I said I had much faith in the Bears figuring out their kicking situation and here’s why.

Since the end of January when they signed Redford Jones to a futures contract, they’ve had:

  • 20+ kickers in the building
  • Four tryouts
  • Five kickers signed to contracts
  • Have cut four of they’ve had and still don’t have an answer (as of now) almost eight months later

On top of that, let’s look at who might be available:

In essence, you’ve got two kickers that have never attempted a regular season NFL kick, a reliable veteran that has had health issues lately in Gano. Then you’ve got Santos who hasn’t been the same since his injuries and two street free agents that haven’t been called, despite all the kicking issues around the league.

Long story short, I’m not sure there’s a long-term option out there and even if there is, we won’t know that until we get well into the regular season. They’ll make a decision in a week and a half, but that doesn’t mean this saga is over. So, buckle up because this could continue to drag out without some luck.

I think we as fans have the tendency to overanalyze everything during preseason. That includes backups, namely at quarterback or at other key positions. Here’s a few things I would ask those who are worried about depth:

  • How many teams have starting caliber depth at each position?
  • How did Kevin Toliver II, Sherrick McManis and even Deon Bush look last year in training camp?
  • How many teams in the NFL have “good” or even passable starting quarterbacks?

The reality is, there are 32 teams and the talent level vary on each squad. The Bears have all 22 starters figured out and multiple of those are either All-Pros or Pro Bowlers. I’m not sure how realistic it is to expect them to be two or three deep at each position. The reality is quite simple, if enough impact players get injured, that team won’t be as good and isn’t likely to challenge for a playoff spot.

The instances of Nick Foles, etc., aren’t the norm, they are the exception. In terms of overall roster talent, I believe the Bears have a top three roster. Health is always key, but no matter the team, they can’t take too many hits and not expect to see a drop-off. I would remind everyone that one reserve playing on a unit with 10 other usual starters is much different than going against a first-team unit, with 10 other reserves around them.

The move to convert Charles Leno Jr’s 2019 base salary into a signing bonus was an interesting one. On the surface, usually when a team clears money it’s for a reason. In the Bears case, we’ve seen them move around money for more short-term flexibility and the ability to roll that over into another year.

Regardless of Leno’s contract move, I 100% believe that Cody Whitehair is going to be extended. They had $16.5 million (or there about) to work with before this move and now are around $21.5 million, according to yesterday’s NFLPA’s salary cap report. Whitehall’s money in 2019 wasn’t going to impact the cap by more than a couple of million.

My guess is that they have another player in mind to extend. My guess is that player could be Danny Trevathan on a cheaper team-friendly deal. I could be wrong there, but again, they can always roll that money into next year. Either way, it helped gain some extra money in the short-term and effectively, likely a little more in 2020 after the bigger cap rollover.

I don’t expect anything big in terms of moves, but the flexibility is always nice, even as the team inches to the NFL trade deadline mid-season. You never know. If this is a Super Bowl contender like we all believe they will be, the Bears will have the flexibility to make a move now.

More than likely, I think both will make the final 53-man roster. For someone like Nick Kwiatkoski, it makes a lot more sense. He’s started in this defense and is a quality backup in the final year of his rookie deal. Bradley Sowell is a little different for me. So far, he’s shown nothing that makes me believe he’s worth keeping. With that in mind, my guess is that the Bears think differently.

Keep in mind, the “escalators” are already factored into their cap hit for 2019, which was a sizable jump for Kwaitkoski. Sowell is in the final year of a two-year deal, but there’s no money change for him.

Undrafted rookie Ian Bunting is the closest one to taking a roster spot from one of them and even then, I think it’s unlikely to happen. If anything, Bunting will be kept as a fifth tight end.

I would be lying if I said I was paying much attention around the league to any potential cut candidates that could help the Bears. I think it’s also key to keep in mind that unlike previous years, they aren’t in a position where they are looking for key contributors. They also have a much more loaded roster than they did just two years ago.

My guess is that outside of kicker (which will likely come from a trade or free agent signing due to their low ranking in the waiver wire), they are more likely to get poached, versus being the one’s poaching. Times have changed in Chicago, so I wouldn’t expect a very active September 1st.

As I posted a few days back, I see no concern whatsoever with the Kyle Long situation. He’s always been an emotional player and this is far from the first practice fight he’s been in. Don’t get me wrong, swinging a helmet at someone is absolutely crossing the line, but things happen in the heat of the moment, right or wrong.

There’s a good chance that this is Long’s final year anyways, but I don’t think that particular incident is going to have anything to do with that. He’s still one of the leaders on this team and he simply lost his cool.

I wouldn’t put too much more thought into it. It’s also a slow part of the year with no starters playing in the preseason. So some stories have a tendencies to appear bigger in period of slower news cycles.

Not high, but that didn’t really change much even with the Rashaad Coward injury. Much like quarterback, it’s hard to expect to have quality offensive tackle depth when multiple teams around the league has been going through starting offensive tackles like water over the past few years. Teams like the Houston Texans are a prime example of exactly that.

Sometimes starting quality depth is hard to find. The good news (and knock on wood), both Leno and Bobby Massie have been very reliable in the health department. At some point, they’ll need a higher-end draft pick at the position, but for the time being, they’ll have to hope their two starters stay healthy. If a reserve has to come in, I would expect head coach Matt Nagy to adjust accordingly. Good coaching can go a long way in those situations.

Depth. That’s really the only thing outside of the kicking competition to keep an eye on.

Here are a few battles I’ve got my eye on:

  • OLB 4/5
  • DB 10
  • ILB 4/5
  • TE 4/5
  • RB 4
  • OL 7/8

There are plenty of battles going on, but truth be told, I would guess that a lot of those are more fan created. At this point, the coaching staff has a pretty good idea of who they are going to keep.

An educated guess would say that counting kicker, there’s probably around three or four roster spots somewhat up for grabs. Frankly, that may be a bit of an overestimation. If anything, simply look for development or be like me and pray that the preseason ends safely and gracefully.