30 Years Later Loss of the Honey Bears Is No Loss

Another day, another complaint from another set of NFL cheerleaders over working conditions. This time three former cheerleaders filed a class-action lawsuit against the Houston Texans franchise and its director of cheerleading. They allege that team officials forced them to work extra hours without compensation, exposed them to abusive, shaming behavior by the director and failed to protect them from physical abuse from fans.

“Twitter direct messages, which two cheerleaders and their lawyer provided, show examples of cheerleaders being pressured to lose weight themselves or to urge teammates to lose weight. One unnamed plaintiff spoke to on the condition of anonymity. , who goes by her initials in the lawsuit, requested her last name not be used out of fear of retaliation against family members in the industry.

“Paige G. said all Texans cheerleaders had to work hours for which they were not paid. She said she experienced no personal rebuke for her physical appearance and was never physically hurt. But she said she attached herself to the lawsuit and spoke out after growing disillusioned with behavior by Alto Gary, the director of cheerleader programs and cheerleader coach, that she either witnessed or teammates reported to her.

“’I feel like it’s part of my duty as a human being to protect my friends,’ Paige G. said. ’I want to stand up people too afraid to stand up for themselves.’”

Former New Orleans Saints cheerleader Bailey Davis alleged in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint that the Saints had discriminated against her. Former Miami Dolphins cheerleader Kristan Ann Ware filed a complaint in April alleging Dolphins officials turned against her after she revealed she was a virgin.

If that wasn’t enough, anonymous former Washington Redskins cheerleaders alleged, first to The New York Times, that they had been forced to pose topless in front of sponsors at a 2013 Costa Rican swimsuit calendar shoot and then serve essentially as dates for suite holders at night on the trip.

For 30 years I’ve heard gumba fans complain about the loss of the Honey Bears in 1986. But I am personally so glad they had the wisdom to not reverse that decision.

These cheerleaders add nothing to the game but a (very) little bit of sexist titilation. You can’t even argue that they compete to see which team can perform the best, as they do in college.

Add that to the fact that they get paid practically nothing and it’s a bad situation waiting to happen, as these complaints show.  It’s time for cheerleading to disappear from the NFL.  Kudos to the Bears for being ahead of the curve.  Way ahead.

Posted in Chicago Bears, Houston Texans, Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints, Washington Redskins | Leave a comment

Is the NFC North the Toughest Division in Football?

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“Best case scenario if everything goes right and the Bears stay healthy this year … what does that look like and translate into around wins and playoffs? — @illini_loyalty

“The over/under on victories for the Bears opened at 6.5 in Las Vegas, meaning the oddsmakers aren’t as bullish about the new Bears as many fans. Certainly I see a chance for the Bears to hit the over and, yes, they will probably need better fortune when it comes to injuries. They’re going to have to be significantly better than 6.5 to play in January when you figure it generally takes 10 wins to get in. The first thing to focus on is how many teams the Bears can pass in the division. They’ve been terrible in the NFC North, and getting better in the division is the first hurdle to clear. Is there a division foe that is due to backslide? Are there two division foes due to backslide? It’s going to be interesting.”

First of all, lets get this out of the way, first: Unless Mitch Trubisky turns out to be Peyton Manning – and I mean every bit that good – there’s no way the Bears smell the playoffs.

Having said that, the reason is three fold. Though they are getting better in both areas, the first two are obvious. First, they lack impact players. Second, they lack depth.

The third is a bit of a surprise, at least to me: they play in the toughest division in football. You wouldn’t actually think so. For one thing, the Bears are in it. For another, the Lions are in it. Both teams were bad enough to have switched head coaches at the end of last year and both now have rookie head coaches who are learning on the job.

But here’s the thing: the people who are actually in the business of predicting these things don’t agree with me. The over-unders for win totals for each team is in the table below along with the average for each division.

The NFC North leads the pack with the NFC South a close second. No one else is within half a game.

So I suppose the next time we point out that the Bears were (cough are cough) winless in the division, we should remember what division they’re in and cut them a little slack. A very little slack.

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Will Bears Have a Pro Bowler? It Will Take More Than Being Popular to Accomplish It.

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“Will the Bears finally have a Pro Bowl player this year? Seems like there are some defensive guys who could make it. If the offense performs better, I think that also helps the defense become a top-five defense. — @mdprice79

“Pro Bowl voting is done by fans, players and coaches, with all counting one-third in the process. Players on winning teams generally fare much better in balloting. Players on winning teams get more exposure. They’re talked about more. They do better at the polls. If the Bears can reverse their pattern of losing, they will likely have some more popular players when it comes to the Pro Bowl.”

This is, of course, quite true, especially in the fan balloting. But as Biggs knows, this isn’t the whole story.  It’s just that only cynical bloggers attack football organizations during the optimistic, rainbows and roses months like May.

The Bears once again this year have not a single player in the NFL Network’s top 100. This is based strictly upon player voting and though I’m sure being on a winning team helps, you can’t tell me that if you are on one of the 13 teams that studied and played the Bears that its going to influence you that much. If there’s a player that you are game planning around during the season and he’s not a total jerk, he’s going to make your list.

The last Bears player to make this list was Matt Forte in 2016 coming in at a lack luster #90. Since 2015 when he arrived not a single Ryan Pace draft pick or free agent signing has made the list.  Like this year, no one at all made it last year.

That’s not just lack of popularity, my friends. That’s flat out lack of talent and no matter how you cut it, the responsibility lies squarely in Pace’s lap.

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The More I Think of Daniels at Guard the More I Like It

New Bears rookie offensive lineman James Daniels talks about why it may be better for him to play guard this year:

“’(Guard) is hard, but you don’t have to make the calls and you don’t have to snap, which are two things centers do that people don’t realize how hard it is,’ Daniels said. ’So I’m not saying (guard) is easier, but it’s just different from playing center.

“’(Friday), I barely knew the calls myself, so I could find the Mike (linebacker), but that’s about it. I couldn’t make any of the blocking combos or anything like that.”’

My first instinct was to assume that this move to guard for Daniels was permanent. And maybe it still will be if he turns out to be really good there. But even if that isn’t the case, the reasons why putting him at guard is a smart move are becoming clear.

I like the way the new Bears coaching staff is thinking these things through.

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Who Will Enter Camp as the Starting Wide Receivers?

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“Who do you project to be the Bears’ starting three receivers Week 1 vs. Green Bay? Personally, I see Allen Robinson and Kevin White starting on the outside, Anthony Miller in the slot and a separate package designed for Taylor Gabriel. — @jjlaplanteeee

“Provided he is healthy, and there is no reason to believe he will not be, Robinson will be starting. After that, the Bears have a whole lot of time to sort through their options at the position. Gabriel’s four-year contract is for $26 million with $14 million guaranteed, and to me that means a greater role than being a gadget player or having a separate package. To me, that kind of money means he has a big role in the scheme. I think Gabriel will be able to play the slot and inside and Miller will have a chance to work into the mix as well. Let’s see how things come together over the summer.”

First I agree with Biggs about Gabriel. There’s too much money involved here. He’s going to be the slot receiver entering training camp.

Second I note that Biggs tactfully didn’t address the assertion that White will start. We’d all like to see this happen. He’s big and he’s ideally suited to a role on the outside opposite Robinson. But my advice is to not hold your breath.

The reports indicating that White is working hard in the offseason are encouraging but the truth is that White didn’t look good in training camp last year even before he was injured. The Bears aren’t counting on him for anything at this point.

Lastly, the fan has a point about Miller starting in the slot. Miller isn’t very big at 5’11” and I’m not a huge fan small receivers on the outside. I like what the Packers did in the offseason, drafting a group of trees to set up mismatches against smaller cornerbacks, a lot better.

Having said that, Antonio Brown is 5’10”. So it isn’t like Miller can’t start and do a good job on the outside or like he can’t be schemed to play to his strengths to excel. It will be interesting to see how he does.

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Lamar Jackson Could Be Great. But Don’t Hold Your Breath.

Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com comments on Ravens first round draft pick Lamar Jackson:

“Before the draft, the NFL’s media company pushed this opinion from an unnamed offensive coordinator regarding quarterback Lamar Jackson: ’He will not be able to play [quarterback] in this league — mark my words. When he throws, he hopes.”’

“One guy who may already be ready to unmark the words of the unnamed assistant coach is Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who praised Jackson’s throwing skills nine days after making him a first-round draft pick.

“’The thing that I was really impressed with is I thought he was accurate,’ Harbaugh told reporters on Saturday. ’You read the reports and stuff like that but he’s a naturally talented thrower. He’s got natural arm talent. And that’s something that I think people were questioning. So to see him out here throwing the ball naturally and very accurately I thought was a big plus.”’

There are a lot of people in the NFL media who are very openly rooting for Jackson. Part of this is that with his mobility he could make for an exciting player to watch. Part of it is almost certainly also the deep suspicion that despite all evidence to the contrary, the NFL is resistant to the idea of a black quarterback.

In watching the league over the past decade or so, I don’t think the latter of these factors affects NFL scouts all that much anymore. Scouts simply report the facts and they report what they see. Is it completely unbiased? No. If you let those biases take you too far out of line, you lose both your games and your job.

And here are the facts. Yes, Jackson’s accuracy is a concern. But the biggest problem he faces is that he combines that with a lack of arm strength. Jackson’s ball velocity was tied for dead last among all quarterbacks when measured at the NFL Combine. That’s below a whole host of quarterbacks that weren’t drafted and, indeed, will not even have the whiff of a hope of making an NFL roster.

This is a fact. It isn’t just an impression or some kind of fluffy quote from a coach who has no reason to be anything but positive after a guy’s first practice. It’s a measurement.

Lamar Jackson wasn’t asked to workout as a wide receiver because he’s black or because of some inherent remaining bias in the NFL. It’s because there are real doubts about whether he can make all of the throws. Whether he can get the ball outside the numbers throwing from a dead stand still without hanging it up like a weather balloon. And these doubts are rooted in cold, hard facts.

One of these days, one of these mobile quarterbacks is going to drop back and show that he can throw the ball all over the field consistently and accurately from the pocket. When it happens he’s going to change the game. If Jackson is that guy, more power to him. We can all hope that’s the case.

But don’t hold your breath.

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Bears Thoughts on the Second Day of the 2018 NFL Draft

A couple thoughts on yesterday’s second round haul:

  • What I liked: The James Daniels pick.

    I’m a “football games are won and lost at the line of scrimmage” guy and I always love to see offensive linemen taken reasonably high because they benefit everyone on the field in so many ways.

    I think the decision to play Daniels at left guard is smart. Daniels had trouble as a center handling big linemen at the point of attack. This is common in centers who have to snap the ball in addition to firing out to handle these mammoths. See Hronis Grasu for a perfect example. Even though Daniels has supposedly gained quite a bit of weight to get up to 305 pounds, I think allowing him to play guard may help solve this problem.

    At the same time it allows Cody Whitehair to stay put at center, where he has been doing extremely well. Hopefully this settles Whitehair and right guard Kyle Long into their spots, stabilizing the offensive line and allowing them to work at a single spot to become the best that they can be in their roles.

  • What I didn’t like: Trading a second round pick in next years draft to pick up wide receiver Anthony Miller.

    Every time the Bears do things like this it feels like robbing Peter to pay Paul. It seems like every year general manager Ryan Pace something to the effect of “It’d be nice to recoup that BLANK round pick that we gave up earlier.” How about staying put and allowing yourself to catch up?

    I suppose if Miller works out, no one will remember what they did to get him. But I get wary when teams seem to be spending their entire draft strictly chasing their immediate needs rather than the best player available. Hard to believe there was a guy so good that you absolutely had to have him and who, at the same time, just so happens is a receiver.

    When I look around the league it just seems to me like the smart organizations are the ones that collect picks, not trade them away.

    Former Bears general manager (and the last decent one they had) Jerry Angelo used to stress that you as a GM you should never fall in love with prospects. PAce comes from a different type of background with the New Orleans Saints. Former Eagles team president Joe Banner explains. Via Don Banks at The Athletic.

    “Banks: The win-now Saints arguably made the boldest, riskiest move of the night in moving from No. 27 to No. 14 to take UTSA pass rusher Marcus Davenport, giving up their 2019 first-round pick to Green Bay in the process. Your assessment of what they gave up and if it’s worth that for a pass rusher who is promising but seen as somewhat of a work in progress?

    “Banner: Historically, the Saints have been kind of over-aggressive and short-term focused and gotten themselves into really deep cap trouble. The last of couple years, they seemed to have learned the better way was to be somewhat aggressive but to balance it in the short term in terms of value in a way they hadn’t been. I looked at this as kind of falling back into their old bad habits. And I happen to like this player, though I’m not sure he’ll be an impact player right away.

    “So again you have to get the right value because you’re trying to build a whole roster, and there’s no player other than maybe a difference-making quarterback that compensates for being weak in other areas. I think they dramatically overpaid. I think they got a good player, but I wonder if he’ll actually be ready to contribute in a major way in the time frame they’re hoping.”

    I think Pace falls in love with these prospects too easily. He did it with Mitch Trubisky and it forced him to trade up in a scenario where it was reportedly unnecessary. He did it with Leonard Floyd before him. Every once in a while, maybe its OK. But every year? If this continues, it’s going to hurt the organization. It’s arguably hurting it already.

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Roquan Smith a Good, Not Great Pick for the Bears

When media experts describe Roquon Smith, the Bears first round selection of the 2018 NFL draft, one word comes up time and again: “instinctive”.

Instinct. It’s a magical word suggesting that a player has this mystical quality that can overcome all other obstacles that a flawed prospect might face. It’s often said that it’s more valuable than any other characteristic because it’s something that you can’t teach. And it almost automatically goes with another word that all fans with all of their own flaws associate themselves with: “underdog”. Which is probably why this was such a popular pick for the Bears before the draft even began.

“Roquan Smith is the truth, man,” Louis Riddick, former NFL personnel executive and current ESPN analyst, said April 16. “The kid is a player in every sense of the word. He should be a Pro Bowler very quickly.”

Riddick wasn’t the only one. I’ve heard and read a number of local reporters and fans slobber over the prospect of the Bears drafting Smith. They conjure up images of Mike Singletary’s awareness with Brian Urlacher’s sideline to sideline speed.

However scouts and coaches whose careers are on the line can’t afford to let their hearts rule their heads. Underdogs have no place in the game until they prove themselves. At which point they aren’t underdogs any more. That’s why this pick is only so-so in my book.

Because you know what else you can’t teach? Size. Roquon Smith may have gotten himself up to 235 pounds but he’s got a small frame that played last season at 225. All that instinct stuff is great until a 310 pound offensive guard that moves like an angry rhino lays his body on you in the middle of the defense and blows you out of your hole.  That’s when reality sets in.  And I’ll take reality over the ephemeral and mystical any day of the week. And it’s something that happened to Smith more frequently than anyone would like just at the college level. When it happens to you with any frequency in the NFL, you’re still an underdog fighting to survive the odds. And you might always be one right until you find yourself out of the league.

In fairness to the Bears, there were no really excellent picks for them in this spot. This was a terrible draft for first round talent. The three no brainers, Saquon Barkley, Bradley Chubb and Quinton Nelson, were all gone and all they had left to choose from was a group of deeply flawed players, any one of whom could have been taken anywhere between 7 and 15. Even with Smith’s lack of physical upside he was as good as any of them and I’m fine with the pick.

And I can imagine a scenario where the Bears compensate for Smith’s weaknesses. Put some big linemen in front of him like nose guard Eddie Goldman and defensive end Akiem Hicks, maybe they occupy the blockers and leave Smith free to roam. It should be interesting to see what defensive coordinator Vic Fangio does and I’m looking forward to it.

But don’t tell me Smith is something he’s not – elite, clean selection who is sure to bring the defense to the next level. He’s not. That’s your heart talking. He’s just another dirty, underdog prospect in a 2018 draft that is full of them. Unless and until he shows otherwise.

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Interesting Points From a Well-Done Mock Draft

As I wrote earlier in the month, I participate in a yearly mock draft with representatives from the 31 other teams. Though not any better than most mock drafts in terms of the specifics, this draft has annually done a pretty good job of predicting general trends in terms of what kinds of players will go where.

The initial draft was run in late March just before my post and indicated that four quarterbacks would go before the Bears pick at #8 overall. This would have been an ideal scenario for the Bears. Unfortunately, die to events that took place just after that time, it was decided to re-draft. Although the results weren’t quite as good for the Bears, it is still of interest to take a good look at what happened. Here’s the way the first 7 picks broke down:

1. Cleveland Browns Samuel Darnold QB USC
2. New York Giants Saquon Barkley RB Penn State
3. New York Jets Baker Mayfield QB Oklahoma
4. Buffalo Bills Josh Rosen QB UCLA
5. Denver Broncos Bradley Chubb Edge NC State
6. Indianapolis Colts Quenton Nelson OG Notre Dame
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Derwin James S Florida State

This did not leave me with a lot of palatable choices.

The way I see it, this draft has three really good players: Barkley, Chubb and Nelson. The best of all worlds is if one of these guys falls to the Bears. That’s unlikely to happen, even if four quarterbacks do go in the top seven, which didn’t happen here. The best chance the Bears have is that the teams in front of them decide they don’t value offensive guard enough to take one that high and Nelson drops to them. I’m not holding my breath.

The rest of these non-quarterbacks from about the 4th best player to about the 15th best are the same guy – talented but very flawed.

I considered three players at this pick. Ultimately I went with Tremaine Edmunds. Edmunds is big and athletic and, at only 19 years old, he has a ton of upside. With a father that was an NFL All-Pro tight end, he also has the blood lines. The drawback is that he wasn’t all that productive in college, having only 5.5 sacks last season. That’s a little disturbing if you are drafting him as an outside pass rusher, which I am.

Many will argue that I should have taken Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith here and I did think about it. Smith has good speed and good instincts and he’s a particularly popular pick amongst members of the local media. What few of those media members point out is that Smith played last year at 225 pounds. That’s really small and it showed in his play as he had a hard time taking on blocks against the run. And that was in college. In fairness, he’s gotten himself up to 235 pounds but he’s still going to be very under-sized and I couldn’t bring myself to take a risk on him.

The third guy I considered was Alabama safety Minka Fitzpatrick. Not taking Fitzpatrick may have been a mistake on my part because I like him a lot. He played at Alabama with current Bears safety Eddie Jackson and, like Jackson, is probably as pro ready as you can be. I think Fitzpatrick has the highest floor of the three players I seriously considered.

There were two drawbacks:

  1. Like Jackson, he’s really a free safety. I still think either he or Jackson would be an upgrade over strong safety Adrian Amos. But Fitzpatrick isn’t a perfect fit.
  2. He’s not known for having good ball skills, having had only one interception in 2017.

I had something special in mind when I considered Fitzpatrick – the big nickel defense. This is a nickel defense but with a third safety instead of a third cornerback. Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio had good success with this formation when he was with the 49ers. At the time he had Jimmy Ward to play that third safety spot but he really hasn’t had anyone like that since he’s been with the Bears. Fitzpatrick might fit this defense to the as the versatile third safety.

In the end, I kept it simple and went with the best player at a position of need: Edmunds. But it wasn’t a slam dunk.

Other interesting things to come out of this draft that fans might want to keep an eye on Thursday night:

  1. Our reps avoided drafting quarterback Josh Allen like he had the plague. He dropped to the Redskins at #13 overall. I get it. The lack of accuracy is scary. But I’ll be surprised if this guy doesn’t go in the top 6 picks.There is a reason guys like Allen rocket up the board the minute coaches start to get involved in the draft process. The scouts look at the whole package and evaluate what they see. But there’s no doubt about the fact that there are all kinds of coaches in the league who are saying, “Look at that arm! I’m a great coach and I can fix the rest.” In fact, if I read Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson right, he’s pushing for Allen as we speak. I can’t see general manager John Dorsey letting him have his way with Sam Darnold on the board, though.

    Football coaches are not known for their humility. Four quarterbacks in the first six picks. It may take at least one trade for it to happen but it still looks to me like it’s practically a lock.

  2. Five guards went in the first round, which is practically unheard of. Admittedly the position has become increasingly important as coaches have given more value to the idea that quarterbacks have to be able to step up into a clean pocket. I’ll be interested to see if Isaiah Wynn, James Daniels and Will Hernandez find their way into the first round. It seems to be a high position of need for a lot of teams.
  3. Only two defensive tackles, no tight ends and, even more surprising, only one offensive tackle in the first round. Again, practically unheard of. These are evidently extremely weak positions in the draft along with wide receiver. Lots of teams with big needs here are going to come up short unless there’s a lot of talent in the later rounds that I’m not seeing.
  4. It’s going to be really interesting to see where Denzel Ward falls. Out mock has predicted the Packers at 14. That’s pretty low. Most seem to think he’s going in the top ten. I have my doubts. At 5’11″ you’d really like him to be a couple inches taller.It says here Josh Jackson goes before Ward. We’ll see.
  5. Courtland Sutton went ahead of Calvin Ridley, who dropped to the Seahawks at #35 overall. This is going to be another interesting situation to watch. At one point, Ridley was going to the Bears at #8 in a lot of mocks. I wonder if his fall in our mock reflects how our respective teams actually feel.The wide receivers in this draft are really weak. It doesn’t look like any of them really has the stuff to be a #1 guy. I think we’ve valued them correctly and some people are going to be surprised.
  6. Vita Vea went to the Dolphins at 11. For the Dolphins that’s a reasonable pick because they’re going to need a run stuffing defensive tackle without Ndamukong Suh. But having said that, he brings very little pass rush having made only 3.5 sacks in 2017. I wonder how many teams are going to want to draft a guy like that in the first round. He’s going to be a guy to watch.
  7. Marcus Davenport fell to the Lions at #20 overall. I saw him going earlier than this. He’s raw and from a small school but see my comment about coaches in comment #1 above. I’ll be surprised if he gets that far.

Should be a great night.

Posted in Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts, Miami Dolphins, New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Leave a comment

Bears Draft Party a Good Time for Everyone Except the Players Who Attend

Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune quotes defensive end Akiem Hicks on what he thinks of the NFL draft:

“Asked Tuesday whether he at least takes a glance at the ubiquitous prognostications of whom the Bears might select with the No. 8 pick, Hicks shook his head.

“’I hate the draft,’ he said. ’Somebody coming to replace me? No. I haven’t watched the draft since I was in it (in 2012). Let’s put it that way.’

“So no thoughts, Akiem, on what the Bears can add in the draft to enliven the defense?

“’I don’t like the draft, dude,’ Hicks reiterated. ’I always like to see the same faces. I’m superstitious, but I also like things to stay the same to an extent. I like to see the same faces and have that camaraderie already built up.”’

Hicks’ attitude is hardly surprising and the only real mystery to me is why anyone would would expect anything else.

Hicks’ comments reminded me of the minor disaster that took place last year when quarterback Mike Glennon was invited to attend the Bears Draft Party last year only to see his eventual replacement taken #2 overall. It was quite a shock to Glennon who, up until that point, thought the team was 100% committed to him. It arguably was such a blow to his confidence that it practically doomed him to suffer a miserable start to the season and the eventual loss of his job.

So you’d figure that the Bears learned their lesson from this debacle and that they’re done inviting current Bears players to the party only to see their eventual replacements drafted, right?

You’d be wrong.

Among the invitees this year are back up running back Benny Cunningham, linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski and linebacker Roy Robertson-Harris. All could be sitting and watching their eventual replacement either in the lineup or on the roster be drafted. Not that anyone is safe. Glennon’s situation certainly proved that as no one expected the Bears to draft Mitch Trubisky. These are just the invitees who are in the most immediate danger.

I think Hicks is 100% right. It’s cruel and unusual punishment to ask players who have had their bodies used up by the NFL to watch the Bears select younger, healthier, cheaper players to replace them.

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