Why Is Jimmy Graham Still a Chicago Bear?

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

Is Jimmy Graham due any roster bonuses and is there a date the Bears will have to make a decision on him? There was lots of speculation of him being cut, so pretty surprised Graham is still on the roster. Hopefully it’s not because of the Russell Wilson dreams. — @luckyneckbeards

Graham has a straightforward contract for the final year of his deal. He has a base salary of $6.9 million for this season and will earn $100,000 in a workout bonus for total compensation of $7 million. Other than a no-trade clause in the deal, that’s about it. His roster status has been somewhat of a question, but at this point I expect Graham to be on the team. If the Bears were going to part with Graham, they would have done so by now. They have a high level of respect for him and wouldn’t wait to part with a veteran of his stature, something that would make it more challenging for him to land elsewhere. So it’s a fair bet that he is in the team’s plans for this season. I wondered if the Bears potentially got a slight pay cut from Graham, but as best as I know, that has not happened. Graham led the team with eight touchdown receptions last season and had another in the playoff loss in New Orleans. With the Bears banking on improvement at quarterback, I would bet they similarly are counting on greater production from Graham. He has been considered a fantastic teammate everywhere he has been and has certainly been a positive influence on Cole Kmet. Yes, $7 million seems like a lot to pay for those intangibles, but that’s the value the Bears have placed on Graham and it looks like he will get that from them this year. As far as Wilson goes, I would bet Graham has put in a good word about the Bears to his former Seahawks teammate, but it’s hard to imagine his presence could facilitate a deal.

Actually, I don’t think Graham is still on the roster just for his intangibles.

The Bears had a lot of trouble scoring in the red zone in 2018 and 2019 without the use of gadget plays. If you gave head coach Matt Nagy a shot of truth serum, he’d probably tell you it was because he didn’t have the mismatches on the roster that he needed to get the ball into the end zone with a short field. Having a good, playmaking tight end is a key to solving that issue.

Graham doesn’t have the wheels to help you a great deal in the open field anymore but he was a reliable red zone target in 2020 with 8 touchdowns. Given his value in that area, the Bears probably don’t think they are over paying him even if the rest of the league does.

Why Are Bears Fans Angry? It Has Little to Do with Russell Wilson.

Dan Pompei at The Athletic gives his view point on the Bears quarterback situation and why the reaction from fans has been so negative:

Andy Dalton is what happens when you draft Mitch Trubisky instead of Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes, get rejected by Tom Brady, and your trade offer for Russell Wilson isn’t enough to entice the Seahawks.”

“The story had been told that quarterback-needy teams like the Bears had many options going into this week.

“The story was a fairy tale.

Dan Patrick reported the Seahawks rejected the Bears’ offer for Wilson of three first-round picks, a third, and two starters, saving the Bears from themselves. So Wilson was not available for an attainable price. And If Wilson were a realistic option for anyone, why did three of the teams on his shortlist sign other quarterbacks, and the fourth verbally recommit to the one it already had? The answer is he wasn’t an option.

“As for Watson, the Bears couldn’t match the resources of other likely suitors, and they knew it. Besides, he may not have accepted a trade to the Bears. So he wasn’t an option either.”

“The public disappointment about Dalton is understandable because the myth perpetuated by the uninformed and the gullible was the Bears could acquire a quarterback who could rise above their sad history at the position.

Long time readers of this blog will know that I love Pompei. But he’s way off base if he thinks Bears fans were hanging their hopes on acquiring the likes of Wilson while the Seahawks ate a $39 million cap hit. Like many of those associated with the NFL, Pompei is under-estimating the average non-casual football fan, probably because he’s been listening to too many meat heads calling into sports talk radio.

In any case, most Bears fans are angry for reasons based closer to reality. Starting with how the Bears got into this situation in the first place.

Pompei mentions that the Bears missed on Trubisky. Fair enough. But we all understand that those things happen. He forgot to mention that the Bears signed a quarterback in Nick Foles last year who flat out can’t stand in the pocket in the face of a pass rush anymore. But along the same lines, we all know that talent evaluation in the NFL isn’t an exact science. We, or at least I, can forgive that too.

But here’s what I can’t forgive. The Bears offered three first-round picks, a third, and two starters for Wilson because that’s what franchise quarterbacks in the NFL are worth. If that’s the case, how do you only draft one quarterback in six years? And that one was drafted more or less out of a desperate and immediate need.

Sure the chances of hitting on one are low. But if you do hit on one, you hit the jackpot. And you can’t win if you don’t play.

Bears moves leading up to free agency and since it started indicate one thing. That there has been no plan for the future beyond the current year at any time.

Pace has spent two years squeezing out every dollar of cap space and pushing off hits into the future to win now. He has traded away future picks to move up to draft the likes of Anthony Miller and Trevis Gipson. But the thought of reaching just a little to draft a player that couldn’t help in the current year was repugnant.

And now the bill has come due.

Pompei contends that there were no realistic options that better than Dalton. I disagree. Strongly.

Dalton is 33 years old and we know who he is. The odds that he’ll be better with the Bears than he was last year with a more talented Cowboys offense are miniscule.

For argument’s sake, let’s take the possibility of a trade off the table because it takes two teams to make one and we don’t know what the situation is with other teams.

On the same day that the Bears signed Dalton, a 28 year old Jacoby Brissett signed as a back up for the Dolphins. Is Brissett better than Dalton? No. But there’s at least the possibility that with a change of scenery and a new coach, the light could come on.

Similarly, Ryan Fitzpatrick signed with the Washington Football Team. Fitzpatrick is 39 years old but has been far better than Dalton the last two years as he essentially carried a terrible Dolphins offense.

Each of these players offered something that Dalton doesn’t. The possibility, however remote, that the Bears could have been better in 2021.

As it is, the Bears are a team that wasn’t close to being able to compete with good teams for a championship is 2020. They have Dalton, an older and, at least statistically, less capable replacement for Trubisky. And there is the distinct possibility that the team, with a history of drafting for the moment and with a front office and coaching staff under pressure to win in 2021, won’t draft a quarterback.

The fans of the 31 NFL teams that don’t win the Super Bowl live on hope. Now I ask you. If you are a Bears fan under these circumstances, what hope is there?

I’ll hang up and listen for your answer.

Desai Hiring a Notable Change of Attitude for Bears Management

Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times addresses the changes in the 2021 Bears coaching staff:

When [head coach Matt] Nagy had to hire Fangio’s replacement, he took two days.

When he hired [Chuck] Pagano’s replacement, he took 10.

With a more deliberate tack — and leaning on experience from two years ago — Nagy interviewed nine candidates.

“That was different than the first time,” he said. “And then there were a lot of great ones.”

Nagy picked [defensive coordinator Sean] Desai because he admired his conviction and confidence. Desai is the rare NFL coach who didn’t play college football, but players still have an “unbelievable connection” with him, Nagy said.

A couple thoughts here.

First, the fact that Nagy felt that he had to interview 9 candidates is not exactly a vote of confidence in Desai. You certainly want to do due diligence but 9?

Nagy is, for all practical purposes, a lame duck head coach. You have to wonder how many of those candidates turned him down before he settled for Desai.

In fact, one of the first things I thought when Nagy hired Mike Pettine as a senior defensive assistant was that he might well have made him defensive coordinator had he been available to him at the time he filled the position.

The second thought I had was more positive.

Finley already pointed out that Nagy basically had decided to hire Pagano the minute Fangio left.

Four years ago, general manager Ryan Pace fell in love with Mitch Trubisky and decided to draft him almost to the point where he basically excluded all other possibilities out of hand. He notoriously didn’t even meet with Deshaun Watson. It turned out to be the wrong move.

In both cases I’m sure Bears management thought that they were moving with “conviction” a term both Nagy and Pace love to use. Most notably in the case of Trubisky, people have wondered with some justification if Pace made up his mind too quickly and didn’t do the thorough evaluation of the other prospects that he should have.

The methodical approach to interviewing defensive coordinator candidates, though it may have been a excessive, could be an indication that Bears management have learned their lesson and don’t plan to make any hasty moves without considering all of the possibilities in the future.

Tough Cap Decisions Will Tell Us A Lot about Where the Bears Think They Stand

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune talks about how the Bears might create space under the reduced salary cap in 2021:

Free safety Eddie Jackson is a prime candidate for a restructure to lower his cap hit of $11.45 million. Maybe the Bears will take a similar approach with outside linebacker Robert Quinn, who has a $14.7 million cap hit but has a fully guaranteed base salary of $11.5 million. The Bears could attack the problem by moving cap commitments into future years when the overall cap number is expected to rise, especially after the NFL finalizes new television contracts and the pandemic is in the past.

The problem with extending contracts is that, obviously, it connects you at the hip to players for the future. The same goes, to a lesser extent, with converting salary to bonuses, which spreads the cap hit out over future years but which also makes it harder to part from a player in those future years.

Jackson is, indeed, a prime candidate for this and I consider it to be almost a certainty that the Bears will do something here if they can. Kyle Fuller is another player who is in line for an extension. Both are still in the prime of their careers and, though it was a bit of a down year for both as play makers, I think pretty much everyone still considers them to be cornerstone pieces for the defense. As Biggs points out, this might be easier said than done, however. Agents will know that the Bears are desperate to create space and this will give him leverage.

The problems come after that. Quinn is a great example of a player who is a real quandary. He didn’t live up to his massive contract last year. To top it off, the contract was back loaded which means that the Bears are paying the price for it this year in terms of the cap hit. When they put the contract together, I’m certain it was with the idea that they would do a restructure this year. But now you have to wonder if that’s still the plan.

Quinn carries $23.9 million dollars in dead cap if the Bears cut him this year as the contract stands. That obviously makes doing so prohibitive. However, that falls to $9.3 million if they cut him is 2022 and the cap savings would be $6.7 million.

So the Bears have a decision to make with Quinn. Do they want to restructure his contract and move money into future years, making it more difficult to cut him later? Doing so would be betting that he recovers to be a better player and earn the money in his contract. But that’s a bet I think it would be difficult to make based upon what we saw this year. You have to wonder if they would be better off leaving the contract as it is, which would leave them to option of separating from him later if necessary.

The Bears are in a similar situation with Akiem Hicks, who is entering the last year of his contract. Hicks is 31 years old and has been injured a bit more often than anyone would like the last couple years. On the other hand, the defense isn’t anywhere near as good without him. Extending Hicks would essentially be betting that he maintains a high level of play for at least a few more years, something the Bears should be hesitating to do with a declining player on the wrong side of 30.

Other options for creating space include cutting Bobby Massie and Jimmy Graham. Each older player has his flaws. Each has his strengths. Cutting each creates another hole in the lineup that has to be filled with someone else.

Connecting yourself to the younger players above like Fuller and Jackson for future years is a no brainer. But its what the Bears do with the other players that will tell us a lot about where they are at.

Disconnecting from these players would be what the Bears would want to do if they think that the current team needs a major overhaul. But it they continue to connect themselves with older players that they could replace, especially those like Massie and Graham, that tells the world that they continue to think that the current team is good enough to contend. That’s something that many, including myself, might question considering the Bears performance against some of the better teams in 2021.

One way or the other, the Bears have to create space under the cap in order to make the moves at quarterback, wide receiver and other positions where holes exist in the current lineup. But its going to involve some tough decisions that are going to tell us a lot about where the Bears think they are at and that will have implications far into the future.

Nagy Says Team Has Lost Its “Edge”. Fixing It Will Be a Challenge.

Dan Wiederer quotes Bears head coach Matt Nagy in an interview with the Chicago Tribune:

“What I’ve learned the most from the past two years — and I put this on me — is I think we lost a little bit of that (edge) with those standards,” Nagy said. “You just think they’re going to happen naturally from the culture that you built. And when I say that, I’m talking about practice habits. It’s starting with me making sure that every single play, we are going 100 mph. And if you’re tired? Get your tail out. That’s going to be a mindset and an attitude that then goes onto the playing field on Sundays.

“I feel like when some things didn’t happen (for us), it was more us just saying, ‘OK, when is it going to happen?’ Instead of making it happen. I have to be better as a head coach on the front end on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday in practice of making sure that we are the best practice team in the NFL. … I feel like the last two years, that slipped a little bit.”

First of all, kudos to Nagy for this incredibly honest response. In it, Nagy confirms something I think most of us suspect about the natural order of things in the NFL.

For most new head coaches, the first year is relatively easy. Everyone on the team is on edge and concentrates just a little bit more because they aren’t familiar with the coaching staff and they’re on uncertain ground. Relationships with the previous coaching staff are now gone and suddenly you are wondering how safe your job is. IN 2018 when Nagy and his staff were new, this is the position the Bears players found themselves in. As often happens that first year, they got very good results.

The problem is that rarely lasts. Players establish new relationships with coaches. Coaches get to know and trust the players. Everyone eases up a bit. That’s the position the team is in now.

Nagy has a real problem here, one that might be more serious than he thinks. Its hard for any coaching staff to maintain that edge that natural circumstances created in that first year. Almost no one manages to do it. But once you ease up, its mighty tough to go back to the way things were. Players resent it and it can create a bit of a toxic atmosphere.

I’m not saying Nagy can’t do it and I’m certainly not saying that he shouldn’t try. But it will be interesting to see if he can be one of those rare types of managers who can pull it off.

No Matter the Plan, It Has to Include Drafting a Quarterback in 2021.

Brad Biggs at The Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

While I am maybe the 10,000th person to note this, none of the current top-five quarterbacks in the NFL (Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson — pick any order) was a top-five pick. Corresponding, almost every top-five QB pick this decade has been a disappointment. Why does every pundit every year say you must trade into the top five to get a franchise QB? Data shows this is completely false. Would the Bears be better off drafting a QB at No. 20, moving up or down slightly if needed, then packaging 2021 second- and third-round picks (and a 2022 Day 2 pick if needed) for a late first/early second pick and take a second QB? Data says that franchise QBs can be had, but you need a lot of at-bats. Thoughts? — Marc B., Avondale

I agree with you that teams often need a lot of swings at a quarterback to get an extra-base hit, and if the Bears are guilty of anything over the last several decades, it’s the failure to take enough cracks at the position. Your point is that quarterbacks can be overdrafted, and that’s definitely a fact. Here’s the issue I have with your scenario: If the Bears wait until No. 20 to draft a quarterback, or consider only a slight trade up to get one, the chances of selecting a passer who can come in and start as a rookie are minimal. What you see in the second half of Round 1 is that many times quarterbacks are overdrafted. Sure, you can point to Rodgers and Jackson and find others who were selected later in the first round, but they are the exceptions. Count up all of the quarterbacks taken in the back half of Round 1 and in Round 2 who have been failures. It’s a long list. Considering the other needs the Bears have, I don’t believe they can draft two quarterbacks this year, but it isn’t a bad idea in some years if you see multiple prospects you like..

Marc probably isn’t the “10.000th” person to note this but I did say something similar just the other day.

As I sad then, it isn’t just a question of taking a quarterback. Its a question of being smart about it and taking the right guy, no matter where he’s drafted.

I really doubt that the Bears are going to be able to draft a quarterback who is gong to be starting this season. I think we’re probably looking at a scenario where a veteran bridge quarterback starts.

But I will say this. If you ask who the Bears are developing to start in the future in May and the answer isn’t obvious, it will be a fireable offense for every decision maker involved.

I don’t throw terms around like “fireable” lightly, even just as a blogger. And I’m very serious about it here.

I don’t care where they do it. But they’d better draft somebody. It’s been a franchise-level failure that they haven’t drafted more players at the position to this point. If they don’t do it this year, is malpractice pure and simple.

Why Aren’t the Bears Talking to Allen Robinson? A Few Possible Reasons.

Brad Biggs at The Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

Re-signing Allen Robinson seems like a no-brainer. Why aren’t the Bears talking to him? The whole thing feels needlessly disrespectful. Are they just that far apart contract-wise that the Bears don’t even want to bother? — @adam407

There’s no question the team and Robinson were far apart when it came to parameters of a contract extension last summer. My opinion has been that the Bears will use the franchise tag on Robinson, and the deadline for that is Tuesday. The Bears need to be competitive in 2021, he has been their best offensive player for three seasons and as much as they talk up the ability of the other wide receivers on the depth chart, they would be in a miserable place without Robinson. Darnell Mooney had an encouraging rookie season, but in a really good offense, he’s a No. 3 receiver next season. Anthony Miller hasn’t progressed since his rookie season. Riley Ridley can’t get a uniform on game days. Javon Wims hasn’t really stepped forward with his opportunities. They have to keep Robinson. Maybe the Bears take a swing at a long-term extension before Tuesday, but it’s not like that’s a deadline as they would create more time for negotiating by using the tag. You can call it disrespectful, but at the end of the day, it’s business. Robinson is seeking what’s best for him and using comparable contracts to justify his position. He took a risk playing out his last contract and performed well. The Bears haven’t valued him in the same range, and that’s how we’ve arrived at this point. It’s not ideal. It might not seem fair for Robinson. But it happens.

I think there may be a few reasons why the Bears aren’t talking to Robinson. The first may be that there simply isn’t anything to talk about. There’s little advantage to the agent, Brandon Parker to negotiating with the Bears before they actually apply the tag. Once that’s done and Robinson is actually occupying the cap space, the pressure on the Bears begins to increase as their freedom to sign other free agents decreases.

I’d say it also possible that the Bears are trying to send a message here. When negotiations started earlier in the year, Robinson (read \”his agent\”) decided to make a public display which supposedly demonstrated his unhappiness by dropping the Bears from his social media accounts and, briefly, letting it known that he wanted to be traded. This was, of course, all posturing but the Bears are notoriously adamant about insisting that negotiations not be public. It’s possible that the Bears are telling Parker, “If this is the way you are gong to choose to handle your business, you are going to get the rough end of the pineapple from us.”

Finally, and I tend to like this explanation best, its entirely possible that the Bears have decided to franchise Robinson and see how the market gets set in free agency.

With the drop in the salary cap, this offseason is pretty much unprecedented and its entirely possible that neither the Bears nor Parker actually know what Robinson’s market value is. Will the prices for high end free agents go down due to lack of cap space? Or will the high end free agents continue to be signed at high salaries while the middle class gets further squeezed? For that matter, no one knows what the salary cap will even be at this point.

So its entirely possible that nothing is happening because everyone is being patient for all kinds of reasons.