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Bears Mailbag: Cairos Santos’ job status for 2020, top rookie through five games and replacing James Daniels

Does Cairo Santos lose his job when Eddy Pineiro is healthy? How will the Bears replace James Daniels moving forward? All of these questions and more are answered in Week 6’s mailbag.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The Chicago Bears are heading into Week 6 looking to get off to a (5-1) start, but they’ll face a streaking (3-2) Carolina Panthers team that has won three in a row heading into Sunday’s game. Despite it feeling like the season has just started, we are quickly approaching the half way point and yet, the Bears are very much in the playoff race.

Even with a strong start, there are still many questions this team has yet to answer. The biggest one, and most pressing, will be the plan to replace left guard James Daniels, who became the team’s second starter to be lost for the year due to injury.

We’ll answer that question and many more in this week’s mailbag.

Judging by the fact that they signed Kai Forbath to the practice squad last week, my guess is that Eddy Pineiro’s 2020 outlook must be somewhat bleak as he is still recovering from a groin issue that popped up in Training Camp. It would be his third lower body in as many years and his second career groin injury. Both have landed him on Injured Reserve and the first one caused him to miss the entire season.

To Cairo Santos’ credit, he has been very reliable this year for the most part. Obviously, his biggest issue over the latter part of his career has been his accuracy from 40 yards-plus, but he did well for himself on Thursday night by draining a 47-yarder. At this point, I think the Bears will continue to roll with Santos because Pineiro isn’t ready and again, the former journeyman has done a pretty good job overall. I would actually say there’s a better chance of Forbath seeing time with the Bears this year than Pineiro and that’s purely health related.

It appears — at least out of the gate — that the Bears are going to trust Juan Castillo’s development with Alex Bars and/or Rashaad Coward and give one of them the first shot at left guard to replace Daniels. Bars did step in on short notice last Thursday night, but Coward does have more starting experience. Either way, the Bears appear somewhat comfortable with their situation, at least in the short-term, but as we saw with the running back position, a veteran addition down the line is always an option.

I think the one thing to remember here is while there are some quality (not groundbreaking) names on the Free Agent market, the majority of those names didn’t even see much time in Training Camp. Which means there would be some sort of a ramp up period (likely on the practice squad) before any of those guys would be ready to contribute.

In my personal opinion, I would at least hold a tryout with a few names and get someone planted on the practice squad and worked into game shape because let’s be honest, Coward had the majority of 2019 to prove himself and didn’t and in relief, Bars looked primarily overwhelmed. Albeit against a very good Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive front.

Either way, at least in the short term, I wouldn’t expect any new names to replace Daniels.

I would have to agree with you that through five weeks of the season, Jaylon Johnson has been the team’s best rookie. I’d actually argue that he’s at least in the conversation for defensive rookie of the year. Over time I believe the interception numbers will come, but so far he has been a part of a secondary that ranks near the top of the league against the pass and he has done and excellent job alongside Kyle Fuller.

Darnell Mooney has also been very impressive as well. As a fifth-round pick he has quickly slid into the team’s No. 2 role and has not looked back. As the season progresses and the offense improves, it’ll be interesting to see how much his production jumps up, but as far as production and overall roles go for a late-round rookie, Mooney has been the team’s most pleasant surprise.

NFL: New York Giants at Chicago Bears Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Roquan Smith has been an interesting study. Not only this year but over his two-plus year career so far, but I think there are two levels to his evaluation.

  1. How is he playing as a whole?
  2. Has his play been worth the No. 8 overall pick?

Sometimes those two mix and the comparisons of others players at the position within that same 2018 draft class are presented and things get messy. Here’s my answer, though.

Smith has played relatively well in my opinion when judging him solely based on his play and overall role. I also think it’s worth noting that while Danny Trevathan has been improving over the past few weeks, he has still been a liability in coverage, which has put more pressure on Smith. Some may argue that this is exactly what you’d expect a No. 8 overall pick to be able to work around, but I think that’s all subjective.

As a whole I’d say he has played well with some inconsistencies in the coverage and tackle department. At the same time, he has not come very close to warranting the draft pick they spent on him, which for many, is very disappointing.

That will all be dependent on the overall growth of this offense within the next few weeks. By the numbers, the Bears have been the “worst” (4-1) team in the league. According to Football Outsiders’ DVOA formula, they are also the second worst (4-1) team in their grading history. The only team in front of them? The 2010 Bears team that happened to, you know, go to the NFC Championship game after hitting their stride post-bye week.

I think the important aspect to remember right now is this. The first few weeks in any season are always unpredictable. Mix that in with the fact that teams had a short off-season and zero preseason games and then remember that the Bears made a quarterback change mid-way through Week 3. Add all of that together and you have a team that is still establishing an identity, which is why I’m personally not too worked up about how they’ve won games so far.

As of now, I think this team’s realistic middle point is still around nine, maybe 10 wins. Again though, these next few games are very important. Not only do their next three games three games come against NFC playoff contenders, two of those are on the road. Get out of that stretch (2-1) and a (6-2) record with five very winnable games over their last eight and maybe we’ll see an 11 or 12 win team.

Long story short, I still think we have a lot to learn about this team in the near future, so I won’t change my original prediction just yet.

As we head into Week 6, the Bears still don’t have any sort of contract extension for Allen Robinson done. While it’s frustrating that general manager Ryan Pace can’t seem to get something worked out with his best offensive player, it’s also frustrating for the reason you’re asking about.

Extending Robinson now insures that the Bears have the ability to not only form a cap friendly deal in the short-term but even put some of that money into this year’s spending. The bigger concern I have about the team Franchise Tagging him next year (outside of burning the bridge like they did with Alshon Jeffrey) is that they’d have to take the brunt of that cap hit (projected to be around $16 million or so).

So in short — Yes, extending Robinson now helps them spread out his cap hit and backload the cap hit but if Pace does not get something done and Robinson plays on the franchise tag next year, they could be looking at a much higher cap charge for the 2021 season because of it. Which in turn will hurt their overall flexibility this upcoming off-season.

The short answer is the pandemic. Because of the fact that only select few cleared people are allowed into each team’s locker room on a weekly basis, the Bears can’t just bring in a person or two with a camera to catch the magic that is “Club Dub”. It’s very unfortunate for fans, but at this point it’s also very understandable as the NFL has grappled more and more with the virus and its impact over the past few weeks.

Maybe as things level out later in the year, we may get a surprise video or two, but my guess is that we probably shouldn’t expect any fun Club Dub videos unless a player decides to pull out a phone and record it themselves, which seems unlikely given what happened with Tarik Cohen’s video with Kyle Long in the background back in 2018.