John Fox Is Going Nowhere without Ryan Pace

Dan Durkin at The Athletic answers your questions:

“If Myles Garrett and Solomon Thomas go first and second respectively, you’ll learn a lot about who is in charge and where the franchise thinks it is. This scenario gives Pace the option of taking the top quarterback in the class, or the top defensive back in a very deep and talented class. If a quarterback is taken, it’s clearly [general manager Ryan] Pace’s team and timeline. If a defensive player is selected, [head coach John] Fox’s preservation plan is still alive and well.

“All moves point to this team being in the middle of a long rebuild. But Fox seems to be under more pressure to win. Pace inherited an aging roster from Phil Emery, who was simply not good at picking players. Truth hurts. Thus, Pace has more time to build this roster.”

I have to disagree with this completely. I’ve seen no indication whatsoever that Pace and Fox aren’t joined at the hip.

Yes, the Bears are, indeed, in the middle of a long rebuild. But I fail to see how ownership can cut Pace slack on what is a much poorer roster talent-wise than it was when he took over while not giving Fox more time to win with the same roster.

The strong suspicion here is that the team needs to show improvement next year but not as much as some people seem to think. If things still appear to be headed in the right direction, even if it’s slowly, George McCaskey will likely continue to be patient with both Pace and Fox.

And the guess here is that the Bears definitely will show improvement. Three wins is a low bar to exceed and the truth is that a Bears team with even average health beats that by a win or two with no off-season improvements at all. If the Bears win 5 to 6 games, both men are probably safe.

Loggains the Best Indicator that the Bears Did the Right Thing With Hoyer

As John Mullin at CSNChicago.com mulled over the appearance of stability within the Bears organization the other day, he offhandedly threw out this little nugget:

“[W]hen the Bears didn’t re-sign Brian Hoyer this offseason, which may not have appeared to be benchmark non-move but was, at least one Bears coach was apoplectic at not staying a course with a quarterback who delivered 300 passing yards and zero turnovers in his brief Bears ‘career.’”

Given their past history together with the Cleveland Browns, the bet here is that the coach in question was Dowell Loggains.  And, because of that, if anything I applaud this non-move.

First of all, Hoyer would have been a place holder for a draft pick.  True, Mike Glennon might turn out to be the same but that’s the worst case scenario for him.  He’s got enough upside to ultimately turn out to be the guy.  Because of that, he represents both the placeholder that Hoyer was and a swing at the position, which Hoyer wasn’t.

But the fact that Loggains was against this non-move makes me all the more happy with it because, let’s never forget, Loggains was the one pounding the table for Johnny Manziel with the Browns, ultimately getting that entire coaching staff fired in the process.

If Dowell Loggains was for it, you can bet that the right thing to do was the opposite.

Progress or Mirage? It’s All Part of the Plan.

Some thoughts on The Athletic’s Dan Durkinsevisceration of owner George McCaskey’s comments at the owners meetings in Arizona:

“‘We want to continue to see the progress that we’ve seen so far,’ McCaskey said.

“Hearing these quotes in the middle of the desert at the NFL owners meetings seemed very fitting. The image the Bears have of themselves is a mirage. Fans thirsting for a winner are instead left out to dry, dealing with the reality of a bottomed-out franchise, savoring their last precious drops of water — nine to be exact, if we’re measuring what separates teams in the league: wins.”

“As a daily observer and analyst of this team, I’m struggling to see said progress. The Bears are selling history in the present. That’s just the fact of the matter. Legacies and stories about the days of old are about the only positive things fans can cling to at this point. Reality is just too hard to bear.”

I certainly understand where Durkin is coming from here.  Fans and media who measure progress in terms of wins from year to year are obviously going to think that such comments are down right foolish.  After all, how else is “progress” measured except as wins?

But neither McCaskey nor Bears fans can afford to think that way.  At least not too much.  Quick turn arounds are, indeed, possible in the NFL but they are just as often followed by quick declines.  What the Bears are aiming for and, indeed, what most teams in their position are aiming for, is long-term success.

In 2013 the Bears barely missed the playoffs and guys like Durkin called that visible progress.  But it was that progress that was the mirage as the Bears totally fell apart as a team in 2014, largely due to bad chemistry.  That chemistry was reportedly cause by the influence of veteran player like Brandon MarshallMartellus Bennett and, at least according to some, Jay Cutler.  The Bears have spent the last two years completely dismantling that team, a process that was only complete this offseason with the release of Cutler.  And that’s the reason why the Bears are in the position that they are in today.

Progress can, indeed, be an illusion, and fans can hardly be blamed for being skeptical.  But we’re probably really only now seeing the current Bears leadership implement the vision they had when they came in.

I truly believe that General Manager Ryan Pace loves new quarterback Mike Glennon despite the statistical evidence that indicates that he’s been mediocre to this point.  The signing of Glennon has led to the Bears being a laughing stock amongst media league-wide.  Despite that, Pace is betting heavily that he’s the answer.   Whether he is or not will be a large factor in determining whether the Bears are finally headed in the direction that McCaskey believes they are.  At least that’s the plan.

But perhaps more important are  the players the Bears have concentrated on in free agency.  Yes, those guys have limited talent and that probably is one of the things that makes Durkin and many Bears fans think that the team is spinning its wheels.  But, according to the plan, those guys are being counted on more to show the younger guys how to do it right and build a winning attitude.
For example, when Pace addressed the signing of back up quarterback Mark Sanchez, he didn’t even bother to try too hard to convince anyone that he thought the players was actually any good.
““I like him in this role for a lot of reasons, and one of them is the experience that he has. He’s been through the highs and lows of our league. He has played in some big markets. He has dealt with challenges. He has dealt with success,’ Pace said of Sanchez.  “I think he’s the kind of player that exudes confidence. I like that about him. He’s knowledgeable. He’s smart, and him and Mike have already kind of clicked. They’re together and they’re organizing workouts on their own, and those kinds of things are important.’”

And it’s that last point that is obviously the most important.  Sanchez is there to help Glennon.  That’s why almost all of the veteran signings are there, to help the younger players.  That’s why they’re short term contracts.  They’ll be replaced ASAP with more talent through the draft and that’s where the Bears plan to get it.  That’s how they will establish a foundation for long-term success.

Whether they can sustain success that way under the current regime is certainly a legitimate quesiton.  The 2016 draft class looks to have been a very successful one in that respect.  Cody Whitehair is already one of the top handful of centers in the NFL.  Jordan Howard is already amongst the elite running backs in the league.  Leonard Floyd showed promise in an injury marred season.  Nick Kwiatkowski also looks to have starter potential.  However, while the bears should be very happy with the 2016 rookie class, it it needs to be pointed out that the Bears’ 2015 draft class – Kevin White, Eddie Goldman, Hroniss Grasu, Jeremy Langford, Adrian Amos and Tayo Fabuluje – didn’t look anywhere near as good in their second year.

In any case, it has to be recognized that the veteran free agents are just there right now to establish the right culture – something that was lacking in the mirage of 2013 and led to the disaster that followed.

 I think George McCaskey probably has the right attitude.  As long as things look like they’re moving in the right direction, he’ll be OK with it.  That should show up in the form of more wins than 3.  But I don’t think there’s a target as long as they see progress towards a long-term goal.  And everything I see happening right now is geared towards that long-term plan even if it’s very tough to see sometimes.
We’re all going to have to be very, very patient, I think.  This thing is going to be, at best, pretty mediocre for at least a couple more years and during that time, we’re going to hear from media and fans like Durkin a lot.  Despite that, hopefully it will result in something special at the end.  The only way fans are going to be able to sustain that hope through the tough times ahead is going to be to see the Bears actions in the proper perspective.

Adrian Peterson Remains Unsigned But It’s Not All About the Money

Jeremy Fowler at ESPN  makes claims that former Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is demanding too much money.

Adrian Peterson might have priced himself out of signing with a team early in free agency.”

“One source from a team in the market for a running back believes Peterson wanted more than $8 million in the first year of a contract. Despite his reputation as one of the best playmakers of the modern era, that is a steep request for the current veteran tailback climate.”

It seems that few people in Minnesota are surprised.  Rana Cash at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune seems to be typical:

“The consensus all along has been that it would come down to money for Peterson. Of course he says it is more to it than that, but from a general manager’s perspective, that’s what it is all about.”

Indeed, Peterson does dispute this.  And, I for one, believe him.

I’ve little doubt that Fowler’s sources told him the truth about Peterson’s demands.  In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that isn’t what he told the Vikings at the beginning of free agency   But to suggest that’s the whole story is monolithic, as Bears fans should know more than anyone.  After all, Alshon Jeffery took less money on a one year deal just so he could get out of Chicago.  I’ve little doubt that the Peterson situation is similar.

Numerous reports indicated that Peterson wasn’t particularly happy in Minnesota, especially during the time when he was accused of  reckless or negligent injury to a child when he didn’t feel like he got enough support from the Vikings.  His price to go to another team that he felt was a good fit is undoubtedly another thing altogether.  For instance, the guess here is that Peterson could be had for a song in his hometown of Dallas, where he has reportedly always wanted to  play.

Don’t be surprised if Peterson finds a good, competitive team that wants him after the draft, when such teams often find that the selection process didn’t fall their way and that they didn’t get one on the players they were looking for.  And don’t be surprised if its for a lot less than he demanded to stay with the Vikings.

 

Jimmy Garoppolo Won’t Be Moved. Maybe.

Albert Breer at the MMQB.com makes two points in his First and Ten section:

5. I’d expect the Browns to make a real run at Patriots QB Jimmy Garoppolo. I also know other teams have come away with the impression he’s not being moved.

6. One sign Garoppolo won’t be moved? There are coaches and front-office staff in Chicago who love Garoppolo. And the Bears moved on and signed Mike Glennon.

This is kind of true and kind of not.  Both Chicago and San Fransisco had to look at the realities of the Garoppolo situation.

New England didn’t want to move him.  I don’t doubt that’s true and that was a factor.  Having a good back up quarterback in the NFL isn’t an option.  It’s a must and for obvious reasons.    So Bill Belichick ends up asking himself one relevant question:  “How much is risking another Super Bowl run worth?”  Answer:  “Priceless”.

It’s entirely possible that the Browns won’t take “No” for an answer here where the Bears had to – the Browns could out bid them easily with an unprecedented collection of draft picks in the first three rounds of the next two drafts to offer.

Could the Patriots be bowled over with an offer for Garoppolo that’s so rich that they would actually risk having to play Jacoby Brissett as their back up in the middle of a Super Bowl window?  Well, it depends on how they feel about Brissett.  That was always going to be the primary factor determining Garoppolo’s status.  The question was never, “How good is Garoppolo?”  It was “How good is Brissett?”

In any case, they are almost certainly going to have to be overwhelmed with an offer and the Bears were in no position to respond competitively.

It’s not New England’s stated refusal to trade Garroppolo that caused the Bears to give up the ghost.  Garoppolo was a non-starter the minute they knew the Browns were seriously interested.  That’s why they moved on to Glennon.

As The League and Free Agency Moves On, the Bears Have Yet to Address Their Most Underrated Need

NFL Network reporter Tiffany Blackmon says that former Kansas City defensive tackle Dontari Poe will be visiting  with the Jaguars along with former Raider Latavius Murray:

The Jaguars are going all out to win in March while continuing to lose during the season.  They have also spent lavishly to sign cornerback A.J. Bouye and defensive lineman Calais Campbell.

Last year they out bid the world to sign the top defensive lineman on the market, Malik Jackson.  They finished last in the AFC South at 3-13.

The report reminded me that the Bears haven’t yet addressed a very under rated need this offseason.  Whenever nose tackle Eddie Goldman was lost to injury, the Bears were lost for a replacement.  Will Sutton did his best to hold down the fort but he’s a weakness in the middle that could be, and was, exploited.

Poe, of course, was never going to sign with the Bears.  He’ll be far too expensive to sign and put in as a rotational player.  But there’s little doubt that the Bears could use some depth in the middle of their defensive line and a decent player should be available for the signing as the league enters the latter part of free agency.

Bears Will Give Wright the Freedom to Succeed. Or Enough Rope to Hang Himself.

Of all of the Bears signings in 2017, the one that fascinates me the most is wide receiver Kendall Wright.

Wright is an enigma.  Drafted in the first round of the 2012 annual player selection process, the 5’10” 191 lb receiver had his best year under former Titans offensive coordinators  Chris Palmer and Dowell Loggains.  And then, after a wonderful 2013 season where he recorded 94 catches for 1,079 yards in a breakout season, Wright’s role gradually diminished as the Titans went through Ken Whisenhunt, Jason Michael and Terry Robiskie as play-callers.

A high maintenance player, Wright couldn’t hold back his frustrations.  For example, after a particularly disappointing loss to the Bills in 2015, Wright cut loose.  “I’m beyond frustrated,” Wright said. “I don’t feel like I’m being able to do what I can do until late in games. I feel like I’m a good receiver and I feel like I’ve been open and I can beat the DBs or whoever is (covering) me, but I haven’t really been given the opportunity I’ve been looking for.”

“I just want to be relevant again. I don’t feel like I’m being relevant at all.”

Asked if he was the primary target on Mariota’s final throw, which was intercepted, Wright said: “I don’t know. I can’t remember the last time I was the primary option on anything. He threw it and I tried to make a play on it.”

What exactly did Wright mean when he said that he didn’t feel like he was being allowed to do what he can do?

As it turns out, Wisenhunt, Michael and Robiskie all shared one common characteristic that Wright felt restricted him.  While Wright was given a little more room to “freelance” on his routes under Loggains, the later offensive coaches all had rigid offensive systems where they insisted that Wright stay on script.  Robiskie was particularly blunt last summer as he entered his first year as Titan’s offensive coordinator when he said that neither Wright nor anyone else was going to “freelance” in his offense.

“We’ve got 11 guys that are going to be on the field,” Robiskie said. “We’ve got 11 guys that we say, `This is your job and here is your responsibility,’ and I think Kendall is like everybody else — realizing those other 10 guys are counting on Kendall to be where he’s supposed to be and do what he’s supposed to do.”

To top it off, Wright was the number 3 receiver in 2016 in a system under Robiske that ran fewer three receiver sets than any team in the league.

For what its worth, Wright himself objects to the term “freelance”.

“I would say I was put in position on choice routes to make plays on linebackers and safeties,” Wright said. “I wouldn’t call it freedom. I don’t really know a coach who will go out there and say, ‘Kendall, just get open.’ It was choice, option routes. I don’t know where freedom came from. I’m sure somebody made that up, took it and ran with it.

“They was making it sound like … the quarterback was just saying `Kendall, you go do whatever you want and I’ll find you.’ I do what I’m told. I run the route I’m told.”

Whatever you call it, Wright couldn’t wait to get out of Tennessee and into a system where he felt more comfortable.  Wright said after becoming a free agent that he finally feels “free”.

“I’ll be glad to see what I can do,” Wright said, “and make a team fall in love with me and go and do what I know I can do.”

Wright obviously believes that re-uniting with Loggains will get him more of those option routes where he’s lined up on a guy and told to just go out and beat him.  And that, he hopes, will put him back into a groove.

We shall see.

I’ve seen situations like this before where players think a change in system will improve their play.  More often than not, they are making excuses for their own failures and these changes rarely work out.

A great example is that of Mario Williams’s move from the Bills to the Dolphins last year.  Williams let it be known that his poor 2015 performance was due to a move to outside linebacker in the 3-4 scheme that then Bills head coach Rex Ryan was running.  As it turned out, it wasn’t the scheme.  It was Williams and he had a miserable 2016 with his hand on the ground in the Dolphins 4-3 scheme.

If Wright has the same kind of season this year that he did the last three years of his career, watch out.  It won’t be great to be inside the Bears locker room but will be a fun place for fans looking in from the outside.  History tells us that Wright isn’t the kind of guy to suffer in silence.  I think we’ll be able to count on him for at least one good eruption during the year.

On the other hand, it will be fascinating to watch and see if Loggains can extract more out of Wright when other coordinators couldn’t.  He takes a lot of abuse from the local media.  If he pulls this off and makes Wright into the number 1 receiver he seems to think he is, Loggains will definitely have earned some respect.

I’m just not holding my breath.

Marcus Wheaton Is a Good Signing But He’s Not Alshon Jeffery

The Bears had what I would call a decent day yesterday as free agency opened at 3PM.  One of the more interesting signings was that of former Steelers wide receiver Marcus Wheaton.

Wheaton is exactly  the kind of player that general manager Ryan Pace likes to sign.  He’s a 26 year old player coming off of his rookie deal who has shown that he’s a good player but who still has upside.  Wheaton had his best season in 2015 when he had 44 receptions for 749 yards and five touchdowns.

But Wheaton shouldn’t be seen as an Alshon Jeffery replacement.  He has good speed and he played primarily on the outside but he was a number three receiver for the Steelers.  As it stands, the Bears probably hope Kevin White can stay healthy this year and replace some of Jeffery’s production (or lack there of).  They certainly are hoping he will develop into the guy they thought he’d be when they drafted him.

But Wheaton at 5’11”, though speedy, won’t be Jeffery.  If he’s a replacement for anyone, its probably Eddie Royal, who s supposed to earn a base salary of $5 million in 2017.  With Wheaton in the fold, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Royal was cut.  Its a move that’s been expected for some time and is probably only being held up by the fact that he has to pass a physical first.  Royal had surgery in December to repair a toe injury.

Mike Glennon Might Be the Future Rather Than a Bridge to a Better One

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions.  And mine:

Mike Glennon seems to be getting lost in the midst of all of the [Jimmy] Garoppolo love. What are the odds the Bears go in his direction? — @bearingthenews

“Glennon is going to be an unrestricted free agent and there will no doubt be some interest in him. Will the Bears go in his direction? I don’t know about that. But I do know the Bears cannot reach the opening of free agency without having thoroughly evaluated every single quarterback that could potentially be available. There seems to be more love for Glennon now than there ever was when he was starting for the Buccaneers. He last took a meaningful snap in the 2014 season before the Bucs acquired Jameis Winston with the No. 1 overall pick. Glennon has started 18 games in his career so there is a lot more tape to evaluate than there is with Garoppolo. Glennon has completed 374 of 630 passes (59.4 percent) for 4,100 yards, 30 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. The 27-year-old was has been sacked 56 times and at 6-foot-6, 225 pounds, and he’s not particularly mobile. He’s going to have a chance to play for someone but most of the scouts I talk to are lukewarm on him. He’s a little robotic and I tend to believe the buzz surrounding Glennon is partially a result of skepticism people have for the crop of quarterbacks in this draft class. No one can say with certainty that there is a big-time franchise quarterback on the horizon.”

I wrote this question in early February and it was published on February 9.  It was motivated by the fact that for the two previous offseasons, speculation about whether the Bucs would trade Glennon was an annual rite of spring.  He was behind Winston on the depth chart and, as Biggs said, given the supply and demand for quarterbacks, he was seen as a young, viable prospect that at least some teams evidently felt could still be developed.  Since then, Biggs has reported that the Bears have interest in signing Glennon in free agency and it really came as no surprise to me.  Despite the lukewarm feeling you get from Biggs’s response to the question, there’s a lot there to like about him.

The Bears are reportedly very interested in the intangibles when it comes to determining their future at quarterback.  In this respect, Glennon is hard to judge.  He was known as a calm, collected leader who had the respect of his teammates when he came out of North Carolina.  Not a red flag but not really a strength, either.

Having said that, I went back and looked at some of the tape of Glennon with the Buccaneers in 2013.  He’s a big, tall player at 6’7” and throws the ball on a rope with a really big arm.  Furthermore, he’s accurate and, as the statistics indicate, he takes care of the ball, throwing it with anticipation but usually only where the receiver can catch it.

That last aspect of his game, the ability to protect the football, cannot be understated.  Everyone once in a while, a Bears fan will write in to express his or her love of Matt Barkley.  I can state with surety that you can forget about the Bears ever re-signing him.  Last season, Barkley threw 3 interceptions against the Packers in week 15.  Knowing that he needed to improve that aspect of his game and not let it happen again, he came back the next week and threw 5 against the Redskins.  He followed that with 2 more in just over 3 quarters of play against the Vikings in week 17.  At that point, Barkley’s future with the team was sealed and the Bears had to know that he was a hopeless case.

John Fox is a defensive head coach.  He can live with mediocre quarterback play such as that which Brain Hoyer displayed in relief of Jay Cutler last year.  But he absolutely cannot have a turnover machine at the position.  Whether its Barkley or Cutler, who is all but gone, no one will be playing quarterback for the Bears unless he can protect the football.  Glennon does that.

As Biggs points out, Glennon is a statue in the pocket and that’s probably the biggest reason why the Buccaneers felt that they had to draft Winston.  But I’m not so sure that means that Glennon should simply be classified as a “bridge quarterback” on the way to something better should the Bears sign him.  My gut tells me that there’s a lot to work with there.  The Bears probably have a better offensive line than the Bucs did, particularly up the middle, and they may do a better job of protecting a less mobile quarterback.  Furthermore, the work that Dowell Loggains did with Hoyer and particularly Connor Shaw last year before injuries derailed them seems to have convinced the Bears that he might get more out of a guy like Glennon than the Buccaneers did.

Even if the Bears sign Glennon, they still have to draft a quarterback.  They have to reverse the trend that they’ve established in recent years by starting to take swings at the position and drafting real potential starters in the first three rounds.

But based upon what I’ve seen of Glennon, if they can get him to step up, shuffle his feet and move around just a bit more inside the pocket, the Bears might surprise some media and fans locally by getting more than is generally expected from him.  I’m not at all convinced that Glennon doesn’t still have a future as a very good NFL starter and if the Bears sign him, you can bet that they probably see what I see.  That along with the potential development of Shaw and a good, solid draft pick could quickly put them in a good spot at a position that up until now has been a neglected, barren wasteland for the franchise.

Letting Go of Cutler Sooner Rather Than Later? I Still Doubt It.

Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune addresses the Jay Cutler situation:

While the Bears have no contractual deadline forcing a move, adding Cutler to the league-wide supply of quarterbacks — either by trade or release — could help their search, hoping another quarterback-needy team fills its vacancy with him instead of dipping into the draft pool.

I have to confess that I didn’t consider this aspect of the situation. It would, indeed, be helpful if another team picked up Cutler before the draft. But I don’t think it will help that much.

Cutler is a veteran that might be in a position to help you win now if you are a quarterback short. But those teams probably don’t want to draft a quarterback in the first three rounds, anyway. They’re going to be focused on filling needs not planning for the future with a project at quarterback.

The Bears are obviously ready to move on from Cutler. But I’m still going to maintain that in the absence of a trade, that the Bears hang on to him until they are absolutely sure that they won’t need him.