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Chicago Bears Mailbag: Leonard Fournette, the quarterback battle and a list of potential “surprise” cuts

The 2020 NFL is a week away and with roster cuts due on Saturday, we take a closer look at what to expect in the coming days leading into the team’s Week 1 affair against the Lions next Sunday.

NFL: Chicago Bears-Training Camp Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

This has been a weird and troubling year for a multitude of different reasons. Despite some serious doubts around the country that an NFL season could happen, we are closing in on exactly seven days until the league kicks off in Kansas City. In some ways, it’s hard to believe we’re already in September. Yet, here we are and despite there not being a preseason, the regular season is right around the corner.

For the Chicago Bears, they’ll enter the season trying to prove many doubters wrong. Over the last few weeks, we’ve all followed the quarterback competition closely. We’ve also caught glimpses of what this roster will look like heading into next week. Yet, the reality is, most of us are still in the dark on exactly what to expect for this team in the coming years due to how locked down practices have been.

On Saturday at 4pm eastern standard time, all 32 teams must cut their rosters from 80 players down to 53. The next day (after waivers), teams will be able to set their 16 team practice squad.

What makes this time so interesting is that in 2020, the cut down period will see 320 players less players on the free agent market due to smaller rosters, while seeing up to 196 extra players grab up roster spots on the practice squad. All due to the extended roster rules for this season alone. So, in all reality, most teams may only have to make 11 true cuts.

With all of this in mind, the Bears still have plenty of decisions in the coming days to make. So let’s dive into exactly what to expect and much more.

As I mentioned above, the quarterback competition has been at the forefront of most conversations for not only Bears fans but the national media over the past few months. Everyone has their opinion on who the starting quarterback should be, myself included. The reality is, there’s only a select few opinions that matter and those are at Halas Hall. Before I answer this question, I want to be very clear when I say I want the better of the two quarterbacks to start. Whoever the coaching staff and general manager decide that is, so be it.

With all of that said, I feel that Nick Foles is the better and more proven of the two players, which is why I want him to start. Again, it’s subjective and there are plenty of thoughts on how the team will arrive at this decision, but here’s my thought process.

Mitchell Trubisky has had three years to grab the bull by the horns and become the franchise quarterback. To put it simply, he hasn’t done that. It was easy to excuse it in Year 1 under John Fox. It was also easier to believe that after Year 2, Trubisky could take a big step in Year 3, yet he didn’t. He took a step back, which led the team to go out and trade a fourth round pick and guarantee over $20 million to Foles. Right there, that tells me that they’ve lost faith in Trubisky and rightfully so. When you compare him to the other two quarterbacks taken in the same draft, Trubisky is in a very different spot.

Going into training camp, I believed that Trubisky needed to convincingly beat Foles in camp and not only has he not done that, but by most accounts, he’s actually been slightly beat out. He’s also making the same mistakes and showing the same flaws that he has his entire time in the league. Has he improved? Maybe? Slightly? But it’s not nearly enough to become the quarterback this team needs.

On the other side of the coin, Foles has a Super Bowl ring and a Super Bowl MVP under his belt. Is he a great quarterback? Absolutely not but he’s at least shown — in spurts — that he can be a competent quarterback that you can with win, not in spite of.

Simply put I would rather see a proven veteran like Foles get the first crack at the job, which is why I want him to start. The Bears start with a pretty light schedule for the most part. Getting off to a good start is paramount for any playoff hopes this team may have.

I somewhat feel like that the Bears will stand pat at the position and let things play out with David Montgomery. Some believe there’s an outside chance he could be ready for Week 1. I tend to believe that’s not only overly optimistic but also too risky to rush him back.

Obviously this entire thought changes if Cordarrelle Patterson misses much more practice time. He’s currently missed the last two days of practice, at least in the open portion, but Nagy’s words from Wednesday’s presser are worth keeping keeping in mind when looking at the position as a whole.

C.J. Prosise is also likely in their Rolodex of players they’ll have on speed dial with an injury or under performance. Especially after his workout a few weeks ago with the team. At this point, I tend to believe Pace and Nagy when they say they are comfortable with his running back depth, even if I don’t agree. In some ways, I think that was obvious between the Prosise tryout and not pursuing Leonard Fourtnette, who signed with the Buccaneers last night.

The good news? There’s plenty of quality veterans out there to choose from if things change. Devonta Freeman is a name I really like as a fit if things progress in a bad direction with this group.

I’ve actually asked myself this same question a few times now. While I don’t think Artie Burns was ever really in the mix for the starting job, I do question their commitment to Kevin Toliver II right now. If Jaylon Johnson is healthy (which Nagy said on Tuesday he is), he should start.

They have moved Buster Skrine outside in non-nickel packages, but the reality is that teams are playing with three corners around 70% of all defensive snaps now. With that being the case, if they don’t feel Johnson is ready and don’t trust Toliver, I see no issue with bringing back Prince Amukamara on a veteran minimal deal.

Whether or not that will happen likely depends on how they viewed Amukamara when they cut him. Was he cut because he was too expensive or was it due to him declining and a high price tag? Combine that with their true feelings and Toliver and you’ll likely have your answer by the end of the weekend.

My gut feeling is that they stick with what they have for now, though.

Akiem Hicks hasn’t practiced since injuring his quad a little over a week ago. Head coach Matt Nagy has been asked about it multiple times and has pretty much had the same answer the entire time: He’s not worried and much like Allen Robinson (who returned on Monday), they are much more worried about Week 1 than anything else.

Unless he’s a no-go on the injury report all three days next week, I wouldn’t be overly concerned. Their eyes are clearly on Detroit and are playing it safe with a few different veterans right now.

There’s no question the Bears have some interesting decisions to make at receiver over the next few days. At this point, it’s safe to say that Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller and Darnell Mooney are locks for this roster. Barring something unexpected, I’d also say that Ted Ginn Jr. is also pretty much locked in, as well.

The next question becomes what they are going to classify Cordarrelle Patterson as. I would assume due to the David Montgomery injury, you can slot him in at running back for the time being, which means that the team could conceivably carry both Javon Wims and Riley Ridley with little issue. It’s also possible that they could opt to carry five receivers with Patterson’s versatility and carry another tight end instead. Only time will tell what their decision will be.

With that in mind, you were a little more specific in asking who is more important to the team’s future and for me that’s Ridley. Not only was he a 2019 fourth round pick, but many viewed him as a third round talent last year. Obviously he didn’t see much playing time, but much like his brother Calvin Ridley, he’s a very good route runner with reliable hands.

Wims has had the past two years to prove his worth and at least in my opinion, he shows more in camp and practice than he does in game situation. Hence, his catch rate hovering below 50% in 2019. So, I’d say that Ridley is more important to the team’s future, even if that means a depth pass catcher on the boundary. Depth at the position is key, but I can tell you this, the Bears have higher hopes for Ridley than just depth. He’ll get an opportunity this year, it’ll just be a matter of him taking advantage of it.

Over the last week or two I’ve dove deeper into the team’s roster. On Tuesday, I did my final roster projection (including practice squad players) and for the most part, I didn’t find too many surprises. With that said, here’s a few I could see people viewing as “surprises”.

  • Wims (All depends on how many guys they want to keep).
  • Duke Shelley (With Kindle Vildor on the roster, it’s hard to see them keeping three different nickel corners).
  • Eddy Pineiro (Purely based on health, it wouldn’t shock me if they cut him and placed him on the practice squad until his groin injury fully heals).

Outside of those three names, I don’t see many real surprises. If anything, I think you could argue that the probability of a “surprise addition” is more likely than a subtraction at this point. With that said, I think what we see and what we expect is likely to be the final product heading into Week 1.

Throughout the past few days, the Bears website has been pushing a few different LeDarius Mack articles and bits. Yes, I know he’s the younger brother of Khalil Mack, but he’s also very new to football and was never a full-time starter at Buffalo. All of this despite being pretty productive in the snaps he did get.

Ultimately, I don’t see the younger of the two Mack brother making the final 53-man roster, but I do believe he’ll get serious consideration on the practice squad.

As far as any other undrafted free agents go, I don’t think there’s any real room on the 53-man roster for any of them. With that being said, don’t be surprised to see a few make the 16-man practice squad. In fact, I had defensive lineman Trevon McSwain, Mack and Rashad Smith making the practice squad. Out of those three, I believe Smith has the best chance to steal a roster spot, considering the depth at inside linebacker.