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Bears Mailbag Week 2: O-line, Justin Fields, any trade candidates, and more

The 2021 NFL season is off and roaring and Aaron Leming opens up his Bears mailbag to answer your questions!

NFL: Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

NFL’s Week 1 was host to some wild games and some big surprises. Unfortunately for the Chicago Bears, they didn’t come away with a shocking win. If anything, the only real shock was how poorly their defense played on opening night.

The good news? Week 1 results are usually the biggest “wild card” when it comes to full-season indicators. More good news? We saw rookie quarterback Justin Fields for five snaps and should see more in the future. But with all of that being said, the Bears still find themselves at (0-1) with a crucial game coming up on Sunday. With a win, all things are fixable. With a loss, they’ll drop to (0-2) with a very difficult road matchup awaiting them the following week.

How much can we take away from Week 1’s 20 point loss? We’ll cover that and more in Week 2’s edition of the Windy City Gridiron Mailbag.

Heading into Week 2, the Bears have some serious questions at left tackle (as if they didn’t have enough problems already). 39-year-old veteran Jason Peters started out the game on the left side. He looked fine for the most part but then went down at the end of the first half with a quad injury. In came the fifth-round rookie in Larry Borom. The rookie didn’t last very long after he was rolled up on and was ruled out of the game shortly after coming in.

We need to see what the extent of both injuries are, but for the meantime there’s cause for concern. My guess would be that Peters will be back sooner rather than later, while Borom could be heading to Injured Reserve with a high ankle sprain (or possibly worse). It’s unfortunate because I felt for the most part, Borom looked pretty dang good in his limited snaps.

Upon re-watch, nothing really stood out to me as overly poor. Which is pretty good considering he was a late round pick and wasn’t originally projected to see any starting time in 2021. I would also note that I felt like as a whole, the Bears offensive line as a unit played pretty well, all things considered. Now the Bears have to hope Borom’s outlook is more positive than it initially looked in-game.

I’ll somewhat piggyback off the last question and tie it into this answer. A lot of the decision on Borom and Teven Jenkins will widely rely on a few factors.

  1. When does Borom get back from his lower leg injury?
  2. When does Jenkins return (if at all) in 2021?
  3. How does Germain Ifedi look at right tackle as the season moves forward.

In all ideal world, Borom misses a few weeks, comes back and takes over at left tackle again at some point soon after. Then around the midway point of the season, Jenkins returns and sees a few starts at either right or left tackle. Unfortunately (so far), things have been less than ideal when talking about the team’s offensive tackle situation.

The fact that the Bears are committed to keeping Borom on the left side tells me that either they don’t believe Jenkins is coming back this season or they have re-thought their process of putting their second-round pick at left tackle. My best guess is that they’ll try and slot in Jenkins where ever they can when he’s ready to come back. I’d lean to him sticking on the right side at this point though. Especially considering their commitment to Borom at left tackle. Again though, health and availability can drastically change that plan in the coming weeks or even months.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Chicago Bears Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

At least for me, this exact question was one of my biggest takeaways from Week 1’s game. Despite the Bears adding Marquise Goodwin, Damiere Byrd and even Brashad Perriman (who was inactive, but speedy nonetheless), the Bears attempted just one throw over 10 air yards on Sunday night. Every other team in the league had at least four passes that traveled over 10 yards through the air. Besides the new guys mentioned above, they also have Darnell Mooney on the roster, who has plenty of down the field speed too.

Going back to the start of 2018, it has become clear that for as much as head coach Matt Nagy wants the Bears to be a down the field threat, he doesn’t call nearly enough plays for that to be the case. Whether it’s been the quarterback, offensive line or lack of proper personnel at receiver, there’s always been an excuse for why they can’t consistently get vertical.

The reality is simple — They have more speed and they have a quarterback capable of consistently making the throws. Now, it’s up to Nagy to change his mindset and open things up. The head coach has talked at nauseum with the cliché saying “Be You,” right? Maybe this is who Nagy truly is. A play caller that is afraid to take shots unless everything around him is perfect. At some point, the excuses run out and you are who you are. Three-plus years into the Nagy era, it’s starting to look like this is just who they are.

Feeding off of my response above to a more generalized view of the Bears’ entire offense, I think Allen Robinson also falls into this category. I do think Nagy prefers speedier guys to get vertical overall, but Robinson is still this team’s best receiver. He’s also a very valuable piece to this offense moving forward.

It’ll be interesting to see if his Week 1 output/target share was a fluke or if Nagy plans on using his speedier players more as a whole moving forward. One thing I will say is this, I’ve often wondered if Robinson’s speed profile fits what Nagy wants to do on offense. Again, that’s not to say he will be pushed out as the season goes on but I almost wonder if Mooney’s snap count will continue to outpace him as the season goes on. Especially as they attempt to get more vertical down the field. That’s something to monitor as we move through the season.

For as critical as I have been of Nagy over the past few years, I think a winning record through three years and a pair of playoff appearances speak for themselves when comparing him to somebody like Jim Boylen. I’ve never been the biggest basketball fan out there, but I have followed the Chicago Bulls (and their fans) closely enough to know that it would be doing Nagy a disservice to equate him to Boylen.

After checking both ESPN and Yahoo’s fantasy numbers, it does look like Yahoo has Fields projected to take over in Week 4. At least to my understanding, most of these projections are done before the season starts and don’t usually change much. Maybe I’m wrong and there has been a sizable adjustment made after their Week 1 game, though.

Here’s what I will say — Week 4 has always seemed like the first logical starting point for Fields. Why? Because there’s a good chance that they’ll either be (1-2) or still looking for their first win when looking at their next two games. I’m sure this isn’t really going out on a ledge but I fully believe if this team is (0-3) heading into a winnable home game at Detroit and the offense is still averaging under 20 points-per-game, they’ll seriously consider making a change at quarterback. You almost have to, right?

I’m still in the camp that the change will be made before their bye week in November. How much before that is really the bigger question for me. It’s all about the wins and overall offensive production right now though.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

In terms of overall trade assets, I think the Bears have very few “untouchables” currently on the roster. Those would be recent draft picks (Fields, Mooney, Jenkins, etc). Outside of that, I’m sure they’d be willing to move anybody at the right price. With the caveat being salary cap ramifications...

Could the Bears trade someone like Khalil Mack or Eddie Jackson? Theoretically, yes. Financially, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense though. Using these two as examples, while you could save some money in the current year but you would also incur a large dead cap charge the following year because of it. Without getting too much into exact dollar details, many players will fall into this category for the Bears.

The only real true trade candidates come in the way of Allen Robinson, Akiem Hicks, Robert Quinn, Jimmy Graham and maybe even somebody like Eddie Goldman (which seems unlikely).

Notice three of those players are on the last year of their respective deals and with Quinn, enough dead cap space falls off to make it worth it. I can’t imagine they’d deal either Robinson or Goldman unless they can get back a decent pick or two for them though. The biggest issue? None of their real tradable assets will hold a ton of value. Especially in a year where most teams are snug against the cap and on cash spending budgets.

So, if the Bears do make any trades, don’t expect any first (or likely second round) picks back in return.

Carolina Panthers v Chicago Bears Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

I’ve always been of the mindset that it’s much less risky to trade back than trade up. Pace has been very active in both departments through his tenure with the Bears, but he does have a tendency of trading more draft capital than he receives.

Now, more than ever, Pace needs to be able to gain more picks and take more swings. Something the Bears have been short on over the past few offseasons have been resources as a whole. Whether that’s cap space or draft picks. The age of their roster and lack of quality young talent throughout their depth chart shows that. They won’t have a first round pick this year. So I’d like to see them maneuver around a bit to get a few more bites at the apple when it comes to the 2022 draft and beyond.

With all of that being said, I think Pace is who he is. So, I wouldn’t expect a big philosophical changes. For Bears fans, that’s just going to have to be something we live with while he runs the football operations in Chicago. But yes, I do agree with the overall sentiment that he does need to be trading back more often than he trades up. Especially when he doesn’t have a full arsenal of picks at his disposal.

I personally believe Nagy losing the locker room is a narrative that is very overplayed and unlikely to happen. I know a lot of people will cite Marc Trestman for proof that it can happen, but that was a very different situation. Trestman was a different personality and a coach that would address his team with his back turned to them in the back of the locker room. They also had quite a few strong personalities on that team, including Jeremiah Ratliff and we all know the story of how that went.

Sometimes, I think fans get a little too caught up in believing that all 53 players have the same view of the team and the same vision of how things should be handled. The reality is, teams lose and teams have rookie quarterbacks each year. There will come a time when the best players will be starting, but there’s still no guarantee they will win a lot of games. That’s just the nature of the NFL. To the Bears’ credit, they’ve done a good job of building a good culture inside the walls of Halas Hall.

I know that some had labeled me as “negative” heading into the regular season with my original thoughts on the team and my (7-10) projection. I’ve also been cautioning people not to overreact too much to any one week, especially Week 1. Sunday’s game was simply a confirmation for me. The flaws and overall concerns I had about the team were on full display. With that being said, I’ve always had them losing to the Rams and I didn’t think it would be overly pretty.

So, I’m sticking with my original (7-10) prediction for the time being. If they come out and get smoked against the Bengals, things may change in a hurry though.