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Bears Mailbag: An offseason questionnaire of what lies ahead for a desperate franchise

The Chicago Bears are heading into their most crucial off-season in recent memory. Is there any quick fixes to get them back on track or will it be more disappointment lying ahead?

Seattle Seahawks v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Next Monday, the “legal negotiation period” opens up in the NFL at 4pm ET. That will allow teams to start “legally” negotiating with soon to be free agents, thus it signals the true start to the NFL off-season. It’s well known around the league by now that the salary cap is expect to come in below last year’s figure. Which means as of now, 11 NFL teams are currently over the cap. The Chicago Bears are one of those teams.

The good news? The NFL’s salary cap can be manipulated with the current structure of today’s contracts. So while it may look bleak for around half the league, there is plenty of wiggle room, even for a team like the Bears. So what now? What can we expect in the coming weeks and months?

Detroit Lions v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

In my mind, the Bears have two realistic options in the short-term:

  1. Franchise Tag Allen Robinson
  2. Let Robinson walk

If the team franchises Robinson, I don’t think it’ll be with a tag and trade maneuver in mind. It’ll be with the thought that they can try and hammer out a long-term deal before Mid-July with the knowledge that they have him under contract for the upcoming season.

If they choose to let him walk, my guess is that it’ll come down strictly to value versus potential replacements.

Ultimately, I believe the Bears will tag Robinson and allow it to play out more into June and July. None of this really much matters if the quarterback situation doesn’t improve, though. Who knows? Maybe Robinson is more inclined to get a deal done if he knows the guy throwing him the ball is of an elite type level.

After watching the Bears quarterback room play out over the course of 2020, I don’t think anybody would be wrong for having wanted Teddy Bridgewater. Is he the quarterback that Minnesota believed him to be (pre-injury)? Probably not but he would have still been a sizable upgrade over what they had this past season.

Now comes Year 2 of his deal and it appears the Carolina Panthers want an upgrade at the position. Could this be a situation where the Bears wait it out until draft night and see if Carolina takes a rookie quarterback? They’d only be on the hook for $10 million of his almost $23 million salary for 2021 and a pretty affordable out in 2022. With that being said, is Bridgewater good enough to make the Bears into a Super Bowl contender? I don’t believe so, but how many better options are the Bears truly looking at right now? From my perspective, not many, especially if no trades of the two big names happen this off-season.

All in all, I do think Bridgewater is going to be one of a few quarterback available closer to draft night as teams look to move in different directions with younger arms.

That’s a great question and one that many folks are trying to find answers for as well. It’s fun to think of Russell Wilson in a Bears uniform, but understanding or even trying to project how it would ultimately get there is the trickier part of all of this.

Here’s what we know — Wilson isn’t happy in Seattle and while he hasn’t requested a trade, his agent just so happened to form a list of four teams his client would accept a trade to. On that list of four teams were the Bears. Again, Wilson hasn’t formally requested a trade but why have a list of options if you’re not looking for a way out.

That brings your question into a bigger light. Why would Seattle deal him? The rumor is that the relationship is untenable. While it’s not to the extent as it is in Houston with Deshaun Watson, the expectation is that by next season it will be. So, what benefit does Seattle have in keeping an unhappy player an extra year? Outside of simply going through the motions and hoping things get better, they stand to gain very little. Wilson will be a year older and the acquiring team would lose one year of control if he’s dealt in 2022, instead of this year. That means less value for the Seahawks.

Ultimately, this is going to come down to one of two things. Either Seattle will realize the relationship is broken beyond repair and quickly pivot to their replacement or they’ll hold on another year and hope things can be fixed. My personal guess? Nothing is going to materialize until closer to the draft. Which means we all stay on high alert until something more definitive is put out. While this may not be the most ideal situation for the Bears, patience could be key this off-season as they look to solve their quarterback dilemma.

As most of us have seen over a multitude of decades (especially in recent history), a better quarterback will get you a lot further than a better defense in today’s NFL. I think that it’s also worth noting that even if they dealt one of their top defenders, there is still plenty of talent on this defense to keep them right around the middle of the pack.

Obviously it would be nice to have a well-rounded team, but the Bears are faced with a situation where they have far too much invested on the defensive side of the ball, while needing a big-time roster turnover on the offensive side of the ball. Sometimes you have to rob Peter to pay Paul. With that being said, I think the defensive unit’s best days are behind them (with this current group). At some point, they’ll need some youth infused in with some of their aging veterans.

Either way, one thing is for sure, you always take a top-end quarterback over anything else. I would also keep in mind that when you have a star player changing teams, other Free Agents find a way to follow.

Wild Card Round - Chicago Bears v New Orleans Saints Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

This is not a trade I see the New York Jets making. The No. 2 overall pick is worth a lot. For as good of players as Robinson and Khalil Mack are, this is one team taking on a lot of money, a pair of veteran players and not getting back nearly enough youth in return.

I’ll be honest in saying that I don’t think the Bears can “afford” to trade up to No. 2 from No. 20, but if they did it would require much of what it’s been rumored to take for Watson or Wilson (i.e. multiple first round picks and a player or two).

More realistically, the Bears would need to tag and trade Robinson, add Mack or even someone like Roquan Smith and their next three first round picks for a chance to even sniff No. 2. Even so, I’m not sure there’s a ton of incentive for a team like the Jets to drop down 18 spots in a year where they could land a great talent or even slightly trade down, pick up more draft capital and still grab a top-end talent.

There lies the dilemma the Bears find themselves if they can sign or trade for a proven veteran. Yes, this is a deep top-end of the quarterback class, but there’s a realistic scenario that the top five names go in the first 15 picks.

Another question we need to ask ourselves; Does a rookie quarterback save general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy’s jobs? I’m not sure they have that type of leash.

That’s a tough question, but one we may want to ask ourselves if trade talks continue to progress with Mack’s name in them. Seattle is short on pass rushers and I would assume if they deal Wilson and can’t get a quarterback in return, they are going to be looking for an elite defensive player or two back in return. If Mack was involved in such a deal, it’s worth noting a few things...

  1. The Bears would save just $5.2 million and take on a $21.4 million dead cap hit if this trade happens before June 1st.
  2. As we know, pass rushers are expensive. Yannick Ngakoue, Shaquil Barrett and Jadeveon Clowney highlight the top pass rushers expected to hit the market. Robert Quinn got $14 million per year coming off his lone 10+ sack season in multiple years. So you would have to expect that Ngakoue and Barrett will make more than that on the open market in the coming weeks. Again, if you save just $5.2 million, you’re looking at a situation where signing a free agent pass rusher at a high price becomes almost counterproductive.

A few other cheaper names to keep an eye on in this type of situation would be Bud Dupree, Carl Lawson, Trey Hendrickson and even our old friend, Leonard Floyd. There are a decent amount of solid pass rushers expected to hit the market, but unless the Bears were to make a trade happen quickly, most of those names could be off the market before the Bears had a real need. This is yet another issue with having so much money tied up in a pair of veteran pass rushers. If something goes wrong, you’d like to rely on a cheaper player on a rookie deal and right now, the Bears don’t have that.

It’s funny that you mention that because SI’s Albert Breer actually brought this possibility up on Monday morning. He noted the Bears as one of the three teams that would make sense for Sam Darnold and have some level of interest in the quarterback.

I’m personally not a huge fan of Darnold and I’m also not a huge fan of bringing in a busted projected and hoping this desperate team can fix him. Regardless of how your evaluations of Mitchell Trubisky and Darnold were pre-draft, they are both in similar situations. Trubisky may be one year ahead in that cycle, but Darnold has never seen success as the NFL level. Most will argue that Darnold is more talented and less broken, but for a team like the Bears who are expected to win now, the former USC product feels like a large gamble. If they couldn’t “develop” someone like Trubisky, what would give anyone faith they could do better with Darnold?

With that being said (and as you pointed out), the Bears would be in a position to actually use their first round pick in the draft. I would guess Darnold gets nothing more than a third round pick (or something equivalent in value) at this point. So let’s assume that they have both their first and second round picks for next month’s draft in this scenario. If so, you could see a combination of offensive tackle and offensive weapon for their first two picks. As the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport noted earlier, the Bears are likely to move on from right tackle Bobby Massie, which leaves a large hole on an already questionable offensive line. This is a very deep class, so in Round 1 (assuming the board fell correctly), there should be a worthy starting offensive tackle worth the pick.

Receiver only becomes a more glaring need if Robinson isn’t somehow retained. Even so, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who follows this team that doesn’t believe they lack offensive fire power. Depth is also in question.

Regardless of what plays out this off-season, the Bears are absolutely in need of more receiving depth. Even with Robinson and Darnell Mooney, there’s a lot of questions to follow. I’ll be honest and say I’m still not sold Anthony Miller is on this roster Week 1. Same with Javon Wims and we already know how they feel about Riley Ridley. Even if you keep two of the three I just mentioned, you need more upside and depth, overall. I wouldn’t really count Cordarrelle Patterson as a receiver and for him to stick around in the future, he’s going to need to be playing for a lot less than his two-year, $10 million deal he signed two off-seasons ago.

There should be a multitude of different veteran receivers that can be had on cheaper one year deals, but in my opinion the Bears would be wise to use another valuable draft pick on one. Especially if Robinson plays the year on the tag. They waited to strike in last year’s ridiculously deep class and appear to have found good value with Mooney. I’m not sure I’d wait that long this draft, but as I noted in my response above, I do think another offensive weapon (wide receiver or tight end) should be high on their list of offensive needs this off-season and early in the draft. Either way, receiver should be a need. Even if it’s simply for depth purposes with the hope of getting more out of a rookie down the line.