The Bears Front Office Is Apparently Setting Expectations Appropriately

Adam Jahns at The Athletic reviews George McCaskey’s comments to the media at the owners meetings along with Kevin Fishbain.

McCaskey: ‘Well, the goal every year is to win a Super Bowl. We saw last year how the Bengals can go from last in their division to playing in the Super Bowl and coming darn close to winning the whole thing. So what we’re looking for is progress. How are they putting the team together? How are they working together? Are we moving forward? Are we doing the right things? Are we doing them in the right way? And again, looking forward to seeing the results.

Jahns: This was the first time in the Poles era that McCaskey used his line about winning the Super Bowl every year. He’s used it in the past. McCaskey, though, made an effort to temper them. And I felt that was notable. It’s important in terms of not only setting the right expectations for himself and his team but also maintaining them for this season and next. [GM Ryan] Poles’ moves this offseason — starting with trading Khalil Mack to the Charters — indicate that a rebuild of sorts is happening at Halas Hall. McCaskey would never use that “R” word. But he seemingly knows what’s happening with his team.”

It is indeed notable that McCaskey tempered his statement about competing for the Super Bowl every year. One of the things that Ryan Pace did very poorly with the Bears was managing expectations. He seemed to want to set the expectations for the team high in order to push them to meet those expectations. I think that’s OK in the locker room. But its a dangerous business when you are doing it with the public.

When you are also setting expectations for the team’s fans and when the team doesn’t perform to the expectations that you have set, it resulted in major disappointment. All of the sudden 8-8 with a first round playoff loss which might have been a sign that the team was competitive under Lovie Smith isn’t good enough. You can’t claim that its a step along the way where the organization continues to learn and get better anymore because you’ve already publicly declared it to be a finished product.

Poles seems to be doing a better job of setting the expectations for the team this year and, if I were to guess, he will do a better job in years to come. He understands that if he wants to handle the free agent market in a sane manner that he is embarking in a long process.

This is especially true because he is short on draft picks this year. It is true, as McCaskey said, that the Bengals turned their fortunes around very quickly. But they had very high draft picks in two straight drafts that allowed them to do that. The Bears will not have that luxury.

Eventually you hope that this team will make the playoffs and compete for a Super Bowl every year. But fans and to a certain extent media have to understand that that may take a long time if they are going to properly set the foundation and do it right.

Setting expectations for the team internally is one thing. Setting public expectations appropriately as something else altogether. The early signs are that perhaps Poles understands the difference.

The Implications of Matt Eberflus’s Proposed Heavy Use of the Nickel Defense

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune addresses take always from the session that Bears head coach Matt Eberflus had with the media at the owners meetings.

“When asked if there is a candidate on the roster to play strong-side linebacker, Eberflus said he wasn’t sure. Ideally, the Sam linebacker would have the ability to slide inside, if needed, as a reserve. He said he doesn’t anticipate the Bears being in their base package too much, saying they could use a nickel cornerback as much as 85% of the time.

“That highlights the need at the position as the Bears are without a clear nickel or starter opposite Jaylon Johnson. They haven’t added a cornerback in free agency, although there wasn’t a particularly deep group of options. Eberflus had one of the top nickels in the NFL in Indianapolis with Kenny Moore, a former undrafted free agent. Moore is one of the many young players who really developed under Eberflus and his defensive staff.”

Thomas Graham Jr., Kindle Vildor and Duke Shelley have experience, but they will almost certainly have to compete against multiple options for playing time.

“Obviously we need to add some pieces there, and we’re excited about doing that,” Eberflus said. “Those guys have been working hard in the offseason. And we’re excited to get our hands on them and see what they could do.

If the Bears are really going to spend 85% of their time in the nickel defense then that’s going to have a lot of implications in terms of the players that they choose to join the team in the off-season. Eberflus went on to talk about what he is looking for in terms of coverage skill level for his cornerbacks. But my first thought was that the Bears are going to have to worry extensively about being able to stop the run in that defensive formation. That leads me to a few thoughts:

  1. As Eberflus pointed out, you need a versatile strong side linebacker. You might think that the Bears will pick up a strong side linebacker that will simply come out in the nickel formation. That is usually what happens because teams usually play the nickel in passing situations and strong side linebackers are typically the worst in coverage of the three positions. But in the Bears case, they may very well want to keep the strong side linebacker on the field for his ability to stop the run. It is entirely possible that, though the Bears are in nickel, on a down where the probability of a run is higher than normal they will want to keep the strong side linebacker in rather than the weak side or middle linebacker for his ability to stop the run.
  2. As Biggs pointed out, the choice of nickel back is going to be critical as well. You’re going to want a nickel who is more than the little quick guy who can cover slot receivers. You’re going to want a guy who can stick his nose in and stop the run. I don’t think the Bears have that guy on the roster right now. So I think that, though wide receiver and cornerback to pair with Johnson has to be among the early priorities in the draft, we can look for the Bears to draft somebody who they feel can play the nickel in the middle rounds. Perhaps even higher than that.
  3. One formation that has become increasingly popular in the NFL over the last 5 to 10 years is the “big nickel”. This is a nickel formation where the extra defensive back is a safety rather than a quarterback. This may very well be what Eberflus has in mind depending upon the down and distance. It would allow the Bears to be effective in stopping the run while keeping the mobility and coverage skills of a defensive back on the field. I don’t have the statistics in terms of frequency but the big nickel is certainly something that Eberflus employed with the Colts.

The Plan for Robert Quinn

Kevin Fishbain at The Athletic answers your questions.

Haven’t heard much buzz about Robert Quinn. What is the likelihood the Bears are looking to trade him, is there a likely timeframe of when it would happen, and what would his price be? — Joseph P.

Between Quinn and Khalil Mack, it always made more sense to move Mack, but that trade had to put everyone on alert — including Quinn. While nothing should surprise me … I’d be slightly surprised if they traded Quinn. He’s familiar with this defense and should thrive in it coming off a season in which he set the franchise record with 18 sacks. I’m not sure how excited [head coach Matt] Eberflus would be entering the season with Trevis Gipson and Al-Quadin Muhammad as his starting defensive ends.

Though there would undoubtedly be a market for Quinn, I don’t think that the idea was ever to completely denude the Bears of talent. Admittedly at 32 years old when the season starts, he probably doesn’t fit the younger, rising talent that the Bears are looking for right now. Because Quinn is older and his salary is almost $13 million, you’d have a hard time convincing me that the Bears would get more than a fourth round pick for him.

Trading Quinn before June 1 would leave $12.7 million in dead cap money. That becomes a more manageable $8.5 million next year when the Bears might a) have a replacement and b) consider it worth taking the hit to dump the $14 million in salary that he would make at the age of 33. I’d say look for a trade then. But if it happens, don’t expect much.

What Are the Implications of the Ryan Bates Offer Sheet?

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune discusses the signing of Bills guard Ryan Bates to an offer sheet.

General manager Ryan Poles has pledged to upgrade the offensive line, and the Bears signed Green Bay Packers interior offensive lineman Lucas Patrick to a two-year, $8 million deal. They also signed veteran Dakota Dozier to a one-year contract. Patrick said he expects to play center.

The Bears need to replace right guard James Daniels, who left for the Pittsburgh Steelers in free agency, and have to determine a plan at left tackle. Adding Bates would give them a potential starter at guard.

A few thoughts here.

  1. The Bills have about $49,120 in cap space according to They tendered Bates at $2.433 million. So the Bears might be offering something in that area per year or a bit more over 2 or 3 years. The deal would almost certainly have to be front loaded to make it difficult for the Bills to make space to match.
  2. I think that it’s interesting that the Bears are concentrating on the interior of the offensive line. That might be because good young tackles are hard to find in free agency. But it makes me wonder what the plan is at the position. Are the happy with the tackles that they have? Or will they address the position in the draft? I have to think the latter. Certainly Tevin Jenkins and Larry Borom did not show enough last year to make anyone confident that they will fill the two positions adequately. And I’m unsure of how they fit into the new outside zone blocking scheme, especially Borom.
  3. On a related note, I’m unsure of what all this activity at guard and center means for Cody Whitehair. Whitehair is still young but he’s paid good money. That’s because former GM Ryan Pace out an emphasis in the position. He followed the New Orleans model of sinking the salary cap into good guards to keep the pocket clean and allow the quarterback to step up. But Poles may feel differently about the matter and may prefer to pay his offensive tackles. Its possible that these signings will all compete for two available spots on the interior of the line. But, having said that, could Whitehair be traded for draft picks? Or could he be moved to tackle, a position that he played in college? These questions are worth considering.

The Bears’ Free Agency Plan Makes Sense

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions.

“What justification is there for Ryan Poles’ nonsensical free-agent approach? He could have chosen one of three smart strategies. He could have: 1. Targeted players who were cut by other teams or who didn’t cancel out comp picks; or 2. Sat out free agency until after the comp pick deadline to stack picks for next year; or 3. Spent to acquire top talent while upgrading the team in the short term.

“Instead, he signed a bunch of below-average players to contracts large enough to cancel out any compensatory picks. The team is now worse than last year, and while the Bears could have had three or four comp picks by simply sitting out free agency, now they are likely to get zero. This offseason is an unmitigated disaster. — Sanjay A., Chicago

“I don’t think there is any reason to look at the Bears’ moves so far — one week into the start of the new league year — and do cartwheels. But I think you need to take a longer view and wait until about the middle of May to assess what shape the roster is in. There still is a lot of heavy lifting to do and the draft to look forward to. As I’m sure you realize, there was no quick fix for this roster either.”

“Compensatory picks are great and give teams more depth in the draft. Historically, the Bears have done a poor job of accumulating these because they’ve drafted poorly. Teams that consistently stockpile compensatory picks generally draft well and can afford to allow some of their developed players to sign elsewhere. This wasn’t a good roster Poles inherited and some immediate action was required.”

I think the fan who wrote this question doesn’t really understand what is going on here. The problem that I have is that he assumes that the Bears should be basically either be tanking for compensatory picks or they should spend big to upgrade the roster. They are doing neither.

The Bears aren’t approaching free agency with the idea of accumulating draft picks. They’re rebuilding an old roster that isn’t very good. The plan is to accumulate players who have played in the league but who are still young. These are players that they think are still on the rise.

There are a number of advantages to doing this over following either of the paths that the fan proposed:

  1. These players are cheaper than the established veterans that you might sign and you don’t have to over pay.
  2. They are hungry, still looking for their break through to a future pay day.
  3. They’ve played in the NFL against professional competition. That makes them easier to evaluate than a draft pick.
  4. They are available immediately to help players like quarterback Justin Fields develop. A compensatory pick isn’t.
  5. On a related note, they allow the establishment of a team that at least will play competitively on a week to week basis. This keeps fans interested and it helps other young players to develop.

Its awfully hard for a young player to become the best that he can be when he is surrounded by incompetence. And there’s the real danger that young players could become used to losing.

Instead of holding out for compensatory draft picks, I think its better to look at these signings as older versions of compensatory draft picks that you already know more about and can evaluate more effectively.

Is Poles’ plan the right one? No one can really say. I’d say this plan along with either of the ones suggested by the fan above could work. That’s because, when you come right down to it, success or failure will be almost entirely based upon the organization’s ability to evaluate and develop talent no matter what plan you follow.

But having said that, I would hardly call what the Bears are doing “nonsensical”. It makes perfect sense.

Welcome Back to the Locker Rooms and Other Points of View

  • Kevin Fishbain at The Athletic takes a look at the Bears salary cap situation.
  • Here’s a look at the Bears’ 18 biggest cap hits and where those cap hits rank at their respective positions heading into the 2022 offseason, which officially began Monday. All contract figures from Over The Cap and Spotrac unless otherwise listed


    Khalil Mack $30.15M 2nd
    Robert Quinn $17.137M 17th
    Eddie Jackson $15.090M 4th
    Cody Whitehair $12.3M 7th
    Eddie Goldman $11.810M 13th
    Nick Foles $10.666M 21st
    Roquan Smith $9.735M 12th
    Tarik Cohen $5.75M 13th
    Danny Trevathan $5.719M 18th
    Justin Fields $4.289M 32nd
    Mario Edwards Jr. $4.224M 32nd
    Cairo Santos $3.175M 15th
    Jeremiah Attaochu $3.1M 81st
    Angelo Blackson $3.1M 48th
    David Montgomery $2.801M 24th
    Cole Kmet $2.066M 32nd
    Teven Jenkins $1.906M 63rd
    Jaylon Johnson $1.764M 64th

    Many Ryan Pace defenders have pointed out that the Bears are in the top third of the league in available space this year. But they failed to point out how many players the Bears will need to sign in order to fill out the roster. Its nice to be able to rebuild much of the roster in that respect. But the new players will quickly eat up the available space. It’s not a disastrous situation. But it’s also not good.

    When I look at the table above I see two players that are way over paid. The first is Khalil Mack who, though an excellent pass rusher, it’s not the second best in the league. His cap hit has been largely inflated due to the fact that he has restructured his contract in order to allow paste create more space in previous years. Eddie Jackson’s contract is outrageous relative to his production.

    These are problems created by Pace that the Bears are not going to be able to easily solve.

  • Adam Jahns at The Athletic quotes former Colts head coach Tony Dungy on why his system of grading players with “loafs” spread throughout the league.
  • “That’s how you win in the NFL,” Dungy said. “People will look at schemes and the offense and motions, and there’s a lot of things that come and go in the league. But you still win by not beating yourself. You win with energy and effort — and especially on defense. If you don’t hustle, if you don’t execute your technique and you don’t play all-out hard, you better have tremendous players if you’re going to win.”
    This is a lesson that I think is a universal truth. I wouldn’t say that the Xs and Os aren’t important but they are nothing if your team doesn’t execute. People like to talk about the failure of Matt Nagy’s offense. But it wasn’t the offense that failed. It was the players who failed to execute it.

    I get worried when I hear new head coach Matt Eberflus and new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy speak. I hear a lot about HITS and such. But no one has talked about how they are going to get players to concentrate, execute and do their jobs, especially on offense where it’s more than just not “loafing”.

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions.
  • There seems to be a view that an offensive player is the inevitable pick in the second round, but would you be shocked if the Bears took a defensive player with their first pick given the change of scheme and holes at CB, LB, safety and DT? — @davidpbmaddox

    I’m not sure who has that view. It’s really hard to predict what a team is going to do in Round 1 this far out — although last year at this time, it was apparent that if the Bears didn’t make a move for a big-time veteran quarterback, they would move mountains to try to draft one. It’s even more difficult to predict what position a team will target in Round 2. What if Poles makes his most significant moves in free agency on offense? Would folks saying an offensive pick is inevitable pivot at that point? I’ve always said it’s best to see what happens through the first two weeks of free agency to get a better idea of the true roster needs a team has. We can talk at length about positions of need, but it’s impossible to say who the top-graded players will be when the Bears are on the clock. My best advice is to wait and see what shakes out with the roster. Which players will be signed? Which players will be released? What areas of need will look more settled by early April? Take a step back and see what clues the team leaves.

    Many GMs seem to take the approach that you fill your holes in free agency and take the best player available in the draft. Certainly that’s how former Bears GM Jerry Angelo felt.

    And the questioner points out, there are a lot of holes for the Bears to fill and even with the cap space that they have, they may struggle to fill them in free agency. So it could turn out to be a situation where you have the opposite happening. That is, there are so many holes that you take the best available player because you have holes at almost every position.

    I’ll be interested to see where the Bears end up here.

  • Jahns addresses the cornerback position.
  • Jahns: When it comes to cornerbacks, teams can be aggressive on the open market, which leads to major deals around the league. It happens every year. I just can’t see Poles being a part of it this offseason, especially if he means what he says about staying out of the first wave of free agency. Serious money is going to be spent.

    Yes. Not by the Bears.

    A lot depends upon what kind of defense Eberflus wants to run. I think it’s safe to say that there will be a fair bit of zone coverage which, perhaps, means that the Bears could opt for cheaper players.

    Interestingly, not that he can’t play zone, but Johnson really excels in man coverage. It will be interesting to see how they use him.

  • Fishbain discusses combine talk behind the scenes.
  • Some agents and team executives questioned the Bears’ decision to fire Pace after allowing him to trade up for [QB Justin] Fields last year. There was some surprise because of the investment made in Fields — a first-round pick for the 2022 draft. To one executive, it was an example of the organization’s lack of planning and direction under chairman George McCaskey.

    I don’t think it was lack of planning. I think it was lack of insight. Most of us knew the Bears had the wrong people in place in January last year. But McCaskey decided they needed one more chance. The new front office and staff are now stuck once again with a quarterback that they didn’t draft who basically wasted a year under a coaching staff that couldn’t get the best out of him.

    Many will give Pace credit for drafting Fields. But any GM could have pulled off that trade if they wanted him. And, even if you disagree with that, it was yet another desperate move by a front office that couldn’t get the position right. He needed to go last year.

    One Final Thought

    Biggs had ten thoughts from the combine.

    The culture of candor where the staff devours tape as a large group and discusses players one-by-one is something [GM Ryan} Poles was initially exposed to by former Chiefs GM John Dorsey. I asked a veteran scout who has been in meetings like that about the process and pros or cons as a GM learns about an inherited staff he inherits. The scout had some interesting thoughts.

    “It’s either a rigid process or a complete free for all, depending on how you want to do it,” the scout said. “(Poles) likes the method of everyone watching tape together. I can see it both ways. If you are all watching tape together, you cannot be as thorough or as focused if you watched it on your own, and then the whole groupthink thing can come into play occasionally.

    “Loud voices in the room and just the people that talk a lot or talk loud and talk with conviction, they dominate the discussion. It doesn’t always mean they know more and oftentimes it means they know less. All of this is more challenging in a group you don’t know. You have no idea who to listen to. When (Poles) is walking into a room of scouts he’s never worked with, that’s hard.”

    As the scout described — and he’s been through pretty much the same situation before — there are multiple motivating factors in play.

    “What can happen in those rooms, and it’s happened every time I’ve (been through this kind of change), you’re auditioning for a job,” the scout said. “It’s easier to have these wide open, group discussions when you have a clear, trusting relationship that has been established with people. In order to have candor, there needs to be trust. That’s psychology 101, right? It’s hard to speak with candor when you’re effectively trying to keep your job.”

    Most office workers, including myself, know exactly what this scout is talking about. In most meetings, the loudest person, the “type A personalities”, are the ones who are heard. This is not always a good thing.

    Like Poles, my impression is that the Bears have a reasonably good scouting staff. Its where the GM decides what to do with the information that they gather that things go awry.

    But if Poles wants to hear from everyone, he’s probably going to have to collect the thoughts from people who are not as apt to be as forward in these meetings in another way. You have to build relationships with different people in different ways depending upon who they are and how they think. As the scouts says, it will probably all be easier once an atmosphere of trust has been established.

    On a related note, though Biggs has done a good job of keeping the 10 thoughts columns interesting during COVID, these articles are always better when the reporters have access to the players in the locker room. Biggs, in particular, has a talent for sneaking away with players into a corner and getting their thoughts on in-depth issues that only someone who plays a position can give you. Its those insights that make this column a must read every week.

    The comment from this scout is a great example of what I’m talking about. Yes, Biggs could have called him. But the whole process is better and more personal when you meet with someone in person. Insight was gained that you maybe don’t get on the phone when you are interrupting someone’s day. I, personally, really want that back and I’m sure he does, too.

    Supposedly the NFL is planning to allow reporters access to the locker room again this year. However, according to Hub Arkush at the NFLPA has requested that the league not allow this. I believe that this is shortsighted. I know that as a fan, newspaper reporters are still the best way for me to get information. And when you limit their access to that information you are limiting our access to that information. And that makes it much tougher to learn about the game.