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Bears Mailbag: General manager and head coach interviews, the state of the franchise and more

The Chicago Bears are just over a week removed from cleaning house and starting over. While times are exciting, what exactly should fans expect over the next few weeks?

New England Patriots v Miami Dolphins Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

The 2021 regular season concluded just 10 days ago and the Chicago Bears were quick to make their moves in the early going. Last Monday, team Chairman George McCaskey did what needed to be done. That involved relieving both former general manager Ryan Pace and former head coach Matt Nagy of their duties with just one year remaining on their respective deals.

Shortly after their requests for interviews starting rolling out, and since that point the Bears have requested 25 interviews in total. More should be expected as the process moves along, especially regarding their head coaching vacancy. You guys can keep tabs on all of Chicago’s interview requests and all their completed interviews in this tracker right here. With consultant and Hall of Famer Bill Polian leading the charge on an expansive search, what should fans expect moving forward?

We’ll cover all of that and more in a special edition offseason mailbag.

Of the 15 (current) general manager interviews requested by the Bears, they are slightly over half way done moving into Wednesday. One could assume they are done adding names to the list, but as we’ve seen over the past few days, this process could see another few names added before everything is said and done.

With that being said, it’s worth noting what Jeff Hughes (of DaBearsBlog) said. He believes the goal for the Bears is to be done with general manager interviews by the end of this week and onto their final round of in-person interviews shortly after. For anyone who has been following Jeff, you’ll know he’s been dead-on for the entirety of this process so far.

Now, I know some have felt like this process has already been drug-out, but I think it bears repeating that the length of this process has been quite normal to this point. The Bears have also cast a very wide net in this search. Depending on the final numbers, they have a very real chance to surpass the Carolina Panthers’ 17 general manager interviews from last offseason. In total, Carolina’s process took 11 days to hire Scott Fitterer.

Assuming the Bears start their second (and final) round of interviews this coming Monday, I think it’s safe to assume they’ll have a hire by mid-next week.

Cincinnati Bengals v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

As a whole, I think the overall general manager candidate pool is a strong one. There are many quality names to choose from and I believe the Bears have done a nice job of bringing in the top names. Head coach is a little different because it’s more subjective due to what a team is looking for in a head coach. With that being said, I do believe the Bears have some intriguing candidates on both lists.

For general manager, here are my five favorites:

  1. Ed Dodds (Indianapolis Colts)
  2. Rick Smith (ex-Houston Texans)
  3. Morocco Brown (Indianapolis Colts)
  4. Glenn Cook (Cleveland Browns)
  5. Omar Khan (Pittsburgh Steelers)

Originally, I had Joe Schoen in my list as well, but it appears that he is the front-runner for the New York Giants’ vacancy. Dodds is my clear favorite, but some have reservations about how his personality would fit with an organization like the Bears. Smith has done it before and was very successful. Big question with him is whether or not he’s ready to jump back into an NFL job full-time. Brown, Cook and Khan all have their pluses as well. Brown has been viewed by many as the better overall general manager candidate in Indianapolis because of his diverse background. Cook is young but a fast-riser. Khan provides a more out of the box approach, as his background is more on the business side of things.

For head coach, my list isn’t nearly as confident and for me personally, I’m not nearly as intrigued by as many names as the general manager candidates.

  1. Brian Flores (ex-Miami Dolphins)
  2. Brian Daboll (Buffalo Bills)
  3. Byron Leftwich (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
  4. Nathaniel Hackett (Green Bay Packers)
  5. Matt Eberflus (Indianapolis Colts)

Todd Bowles comes as my “5b” to Eberflus. Both are very good defensive minds and both would be quality choices. With Flores, he comes with a few caveats and I’ll dive more into those in a few. Daboll feels like the perfect match for Justin Fields, but the Bears need to be sure this isn’t the same road as Matt Nagy was in 2018. Leftwich is another fascinating name, although he has long been rumored as the Jaguars’ top target. Finally, Hackett and Eberflus have flourished as of late. Hackett does have play calling experience in Jacksonville, so that quells some concerns. Eberflus is a forward-thinker and has been a fast riser in Indianapolis.

So far, the Bears have requested to interview 15 total general manager candidates and that list continues to grow by the day. With all of that being said, I find it hard to believe that all 15 candidates were brought in solely with the idea of interviewing them for the general manager vacancy. If I had to guess, some of these names are brought in for additional background on other more serious candidates. Others are likely brought in to gauge how “close” they are to being ready for a step up but also to see if there could be a fit somewhere else in the organization under a new general manager.

George McCaskey was pretty clear that they had zero interest in adding a President of Football Operations. They could easily change-up their current structure around the new general manager if he wanted more support. I would have to believe that is something that’s being considered if that is what the new general manager wants.

In short, I would not rule out some “greener” names being brought in to gauge other roles, but only time will tell how that pans out. The team’s primary focus is on the general manager spot and that hire will ultimately run the football operations side of the house.

On Monday, Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports went on the Brother From Another show to talk about current head coaching openings. He spent about two minutes talking about Flores and the Bears. Below is the video, but the gist of what Robinson said was that the Bears are “smitten” about Flores, and that he would want a certain amount of personnel control and a “Top 5” quarterback at his next job.

Doesn’t everybody want a Top 5 quarterback? In all seriousness, the talk about him wanting a certain amount of control could indeed be a turn-off for many teams. It could also make for a tougher pairing with any general manager, assuming the Bears had Flores as their top head coaching candidate. Flores does come from the Bill Belichick tree and has a certain way of wanting to do things. It’s also worth noting that virtually anybody who leaves the Belichick-umbrella, fails at their next stop.

With that in mind, I think we are at a point where all information should be taken with a grain of salt. The Bears have said they’d prefer to hire a general manager before a head coach, and there’s no reason not to believe them to this point. Like Betsy pointed out, the Bears are doing their due diligence on many candidates in both pools. I would fully assume that once a general manager is in place, the “targets” at head coach will become clearer. Flores is still my top candidate but obviously, the mechanics of him agreeing to the job would be key.

My personal take on the Jim Harbaugh situation is simple. I think it’s the Las Vegas Raiders or bust for him. I know Harbaugh has been a popular name for quite some time and I don’t want to take any credit away from him for what he has done in his coaching career. With that being said, I think he wants the NFL more than the NFL wants him.

It’s been reported that he poked around the NFL job market last year that saw a total of seven job openings last year. Harbaugh didn’t get a single interview. It has also been reported this year that he has once again had his name out in the open for head coaching jobs and to this point, nothing has come from it. Obviously he would need the right situation to come back into, but I think the interest in Harbaugh around the league is much lower than the interest NFL fans hoped he’d garner.

In terms of his overall fit with a team like the Bears, I just don’t see it happening. It feels like if the Bears wanted him, he would already be here. Maybe I’m wrong and I have to eat those words. If I were a betting man, I’d be putting money on Harbaugh coaching for one of Michigan or Las Vegas in 2022, though.

I would assume that any NFL job that Harbaugh takes, he’ll want a certain level of personnel control. That’s why the Raiders seem like the most logical fit for him right now. They were already accustomed to that with the dynamic of Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock. They are also in the market for both a new head coach and general manager.

If Harbaugh does take that job, expect it to be for a big salary and a decent say in the overall roster construction. That’s simply not something a lot of NFL teams would feel comfortable with in general. Especially for a coach that has been out of the league for quite some time. I also do not believe that is a structure the Bears feel overly comfortable with. Especially for a franchise who just took team President Ted Phillips out of the Football Operations loop.

NFL: NOV 18 Titans at Colts Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I thought this was an excellent question and absolutely worth touching on in this week’s mailbag.

A few weeks back, I did some research on head coaching hires since 1990. I got the original idea from WCG’s own Jack Silverstein and ran with it from there. During my research, I looked to dispel false notions. One of those notions was that offensive-minded head coaches are better than defensive-mind coaches or vice versa. Really what it comes down to is simple.

There are two candidate pools that bring the most success. First-time head coaches that were previous coordinators and second-time head coaches that had not yet won a Super Bowl at their previous stop. Of all the hires from 1990 through the 2021 hiring cycle, the difference in Super Bowls appearances and wins between offensive and defensive coaches had some interesting notes. 25 offensive-minded coaches have made the Super Bowl since 1990 and 15 of those had won the big game. Conversely, only 10 defensive-minded coaches had made the Super Bowl with 4 different coaches winning Super Bowls. The biggest name on the defensive side? Bill Belichick.

So, what does this all mean? It means that offensive-minded coaches have the leg up. Frankly, they absolutely should in today’s NFL. What doesn’t it mean, though? No team should discount a high-quality defensive-minded coach. Of those candidates this year, here are a few names.

  • Brian Flores
  • Matt Eberflus
  • Todd Bowles
  • Leslie Frazier
  • Dan Quinn
  • Jerod Mayo

The biggest question there: What type of offensive staff can they build around a young quarterback like Justin Fields? That remains the key in any discussion, but especially with a defensive coordinator “applying” for this job. Conventional wisdom would say the safer bet is a veteran coach like Flores, Bowles, Frazier or Quinn because they’ll have more connections to build the right staff. Regardless, hiring a defensive-minded head coach would inherently carry more risk for the Bears. Getting the right guy should be priority No. 1, but how could it be the right candidate without the proper plan to take Fields to the next level? That’ll be a question the Bears will have to find the answer to in the coming weeks.

Washington Football Team v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

I figured I’d end the mailbag with a little more of a zoomed out approach. While the general manager and head coach searches are fun, eventually, they’ll have to get to work this offseason and make some critical decisions.

Some of those critical decisions will be how they choose to build the offense. As of now, Darnell Mooney, Dazz Newsome and Cole Kmet are their only pass catchers under contract for the 2022 season. That leaves a lot of room for improvements/upgrades, but also requires quite a few resources in the coming months. James Daniels, Jason Peters and Germain Ifedi will also be free agents. Daniels is the only one I could see returning. That leaves two big holes on the interior offensive line (the team must also upgrade over Sam Mustipher).

Excitement is justified, but don’t forget that the Bears won’t have a ton of resources to go crazy this offseason. They will be sitting around $30 million in cap space once they get to the 51-man limit. They will also be without their first and fourth round picks this year.

Here are a few names I’d target at each position.

Receiver:

  • Michael Gallup (ACL injury and all)
  • Chris Godwin (ACL injury and all)
  • DJ Chark
  • Christian Kirk
  • Odell Beckham Jr.
  • Russell Gage

I believe they need to add a few names here. They will likely only be able to spend on one but there are some value options out there like Isaiah McKenzie and Josh Reynolds who could also make some sense as well. A high draft pick will almost certainly be required here, as well.

Offensive Line:

  • C Ryan Jensen
  • G Brandon Scherff
  • C Brian Allen
  • G Austin Corbett
  • C Bradley Bozeman
  • G Laken Tomlinson
  • G Alex Cappa

I’m sure you get the point by now. Basically anyone who is a top option on the interior offensive line should be receiving a look. It’s possible they could bring Daniels back, but even if they do they’ll need better interior depth and a starting center. The draft is another area where this could be addressed in the mid rounds.

All in all, we should have a much better idea of what direction the Bears will be going in once they get their general manager and coaching staff in place. There’s plenty of unknown both from a schematic standpoint and from a philosophical standpoint.

The Bears will have many interesting decisions to make (as noted above) and that doesn’t stop on the defensive side of the ball. Not only do they need another starting caliber cornerback or two, they need a better safety alongside Eddie Jackson, a better inside linebacker opposite of Roquan Smith and have a few decisions to make on the defensive line.

Second-year edge rusher Trevis Gipson had a quality sophomore season, but was it enough for them to feel comfortable eating a lot of cap and trading away one of their veteran pass rushers?

Khalil Mack still has three years remaining on his contract. He’ll have a $30.15 million hit in 2022 with just $3.15 million in pre-June 1st savings. If they chose to trade him, the money wouldn’t change much. The bigger difference would be post-June 1st where they could save $17.75 million (regardless of a cut or trade). The issue there? They’d be kicking that additional $14.6 million into 2023 as a dead cap charge. If they waited another year, they could save $13.9 million from a traditional pre-June 1st cut. That seems to make more sense for them.

Robert Quinn is a little less certain, but his 2022 money still says he stays for the upcoming year. The veteran has a $17.138 million cap hit. Only $4.425 million could be saved pre-June 1st. A post-June 1st trade or cut could save them $12.9 million but again, I’m not sure that makes a ton of sense.

Long story short, I believe both pass rushers will be back in 2022. The following year provides much more cap savings and not nearly the amount of dead cap charges that it would require this year. The one thing I don’t want to see them do again? Push more dead money into the future for a small savings in the present. All that does is make it more painful to eventually move on.