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Some Opinions as the Bears Open Training Camp

Greg Gabriel shares a few thoughts on some of the latest Chicago Bears news items as the team reports to camp today.

NFL: JUN 14 Chicago Bears Minicamp Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Before I begin, being that I am new here at Windy City Gridiron, I would like to tell you a little about myself and my philosophy. While I have done a considerable amount of media work over the past 10 years, I don’t consider myself a media person. Having spent the better part of my adult life working in the National Football League, I think like a football executive, not a media analyst. I intend to pass those thoughts off to you, which I hope you enjoy.

The Chicago Bears open Training Camp today, and as usual, there are some new players recently signed/traded for and, of course, the usual disgruntled player/players wanting new contracts. I don’t view the distractions as negative but as business as usual throughout the National Football League.

Fans forget that until recent years, holdouts at training camps were the norm. When I was with the Giants in the ’80s and ’90s, it was not unusual to have 10-12 veteran holdouts as well as one or two rookie holdouts when camp opened. Even though we’d rather have them in camp, they were almost expected to be missing. It was always considered a minor distraction as we knew the player would eventually sign and be in camp. Remember, real games don’t begin for another seven weeks; there is plenty of time to prepare players.

The Roquan Smith Situation

Roquan was the eighth overall selection in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. He has been a key part of the defense ever since, and he is arguably one of the best inside linebackers in the game. Roquan has certainly outplayed his contract and deserves a new one.

At present, he is under contract for this year because the Bears picked up the fifth-year option of his original rookie contract. That will pay him close to $10 million this year. While that is a considerable amount of money, it’s not close to the going rate for top inside linebackers.

When Roquan was drafted, the Indianapolis Colts selected Darius Leonard at the top of the second round. Like Smith, Leonard has been one of the top inside linebackers in the NFL since he came into the League. Last year, Leonard signed a contract extension worth around $98 million for five years. We have to assume that Roquan wants a similar deal, and based on his play to date, he deserves it.

In the NFL, agents always look to better the previous large contract at each position. Being that Leonard signed his contract a year ago, Smith and his camp will be looking for slightly more. Why? It’s a year later, and agents have a good idea of when each team will take in revenue over the next few years. While the Salary Cap has been flat the last few years because of the Pandemic, it will rise significantly beginning next year.

When Ryan Poles was hired as General Manager, the Cap Analyst for the Bears under Ryan Pace (Joey Laine) was let go. Bears Legal Counsel Cliff Stein who had negotiated all the Bears contracts from 2002 until Pace was hired, is now back doing the job he loves. Stein is highly respected by the agent community and executives around the League. While he is a tough negotiator, he is also fair. Cliff will get the Roquan Smith deal done, and it will be a deal that everyone will be happy about. Yes, the media and many fans will try to make a big deal about Smith not having a new contract yet. Just relax; it will get done in plenty of time for Smith to be prepared for the regular season.

The Bears Sign Guard Michael Schofield

Sunday, the Bears brought local player Michael Schofield in for a workout. This will be Schofield’s ninth season in the League, and he has over 80 starts in his career. He is a very reliable and versatile player who can play guard or tackle and help a club win. Yesterday, the Bears signed Schofield to a one-year contract.

If you just looked at Bears Twitter, you would think the Bears just signed a Pro Bowl-caliber player. That is not the case. I look at this signing far differently than most. Yes, I like the signing as he will provide experience and depth to a very young group, but I don’t see him as a difference maker.

What does Schofield do well? In my opinion, he is a good pass blocker and a better than adequate run blocker. A player doesn’t stay in this League for nine years if he can’t play. I differ from many because I see Schofield as the floor for right guard this year, not the ceiling.

The League agrees with me as it took until July 25th for Schofield to get a contract from a club. If you look at his last few contracts, he has been paid at just over the veteran minimum rate. That tells us that the League says he is a solid contributor, not a difference maker.

Unless I’m reading Ryan Poles wrong, he and Coach Eberflus would prefer the young guys get the playtime as they are the future of this team. With practice beginning tomorrow, the young players will be given every opportunity to win the starting jobs that are open across the O-Line. In the end, the best five will be the starters, which could be with or without Schofield as a starter.

During OTAs, no contact is allowed, so it can be very difficult to evaluate both the offensive and defensive line. Now, with real football beginning, the best will rise to the top. The best part of the pre-season will be watching the offensive linemen compete against veterans like Schofield. In the end, we will know who the best five are. If Schofield is the starting right guard, then he beat out guys such as Tevin Jenkins, Larry Borom (yes, I think one of those two will end up at guard), or Zach Thomas, and the Bears will be better off because of it. But it will also mean that the young guys may not be good enough.

Editor note: Greg wrote this article before the Bears signed Riley Reiff.

The Bears Trade for WR N’Keal Harry

Like with the signing of Schofield, I see many fans thinking that the trade for Harry means the Bears are bringing in a very good receiver. Hardly! Let’s be honest, to date, he has been a bust. Harry’s best season was 2020, when he had 33 receptions for a 9.3 yard per catch average. In his other two seasons, he had 12 receptions each. These are hardly numbers you would expect from a first-round draft choice.

Coming out of Arizona State, Harry was highly thought of. He was/is a big athletic outside receiver who had also been effective as a returner. He was (and still is) one of the better blocking receivers from that Draft.

While the talent was there, something went wrong in New England, and they gave up on him. Granted, New England can be a tough place to play, and the offense for receivers is difficult to learn. If a player doesn’t put in the required effort, he won’t last under Bill Belichick.

There were whispers that Harry didn’t have a strong work ethic, and being that the Patriots gave up, I have to believe there is some truth to that. Still, he is very talented, and if he decides that he really wants to be a successful player in the NFL — now is the time to prove it.

There are scores of talented players who don’t succeed in the NFL, usually for the same reason — they lack a high degree of football character. Football character is not to be confused with personal character. Football character is a player’s love for the game, his desire to be great, and his work ethic. Right now, Harry has a chance to rescue his career, but the reality is it’s his last chance. If he fails here, there may not be another opportunity.

If Harry puts in the necessary work and develops to play to his talent level, he will be a good addition to the Bears. If he doesn’t, it was a wasted seventh-round pick the Bears used to acquire him.