By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
The NFL off-season is in its final quiet point for the rest of the current calendar year and into February of 2020. Within a month’s time all training camps across the league will open for business.
Rumors, speculation, fantasy drafts and a general media obsession over the NFL will begin once the camps get started. Media analysts are underway hard at work trying to map the upcoming season and how it will unfold. Parody in the league makes it very difficult to accurately tell who the good teams will be but that doesn’t stop the rampant speculation.
For example, former Bears head coach John Fox and co-host Damien Woody on ESPN’s NFL Live made a questionable assessment of the Bears recent moves last week. A red challenge flag is on the field and this writer would like to go under the hood and further review the question posed by the folks at NFL Live.
WORST Off-season of 2019???
The clip above shows the part of Monday’s NFL Live where Damien Woody followed by John Fox asked and answered the question of “Who has had the worst offseason?” — both picked the Chicago Bears.
My first reaction was to brush the comments aside as hot take bull****.
Seriously, the Bears came from a 2018 season without many holes and still managed in the past several months to solve most of the lingering questions marks from a division-winning roster. Plus, after the Khalil Mack trade last year, the Bears didn’t have many draft picks or money. But I decided to follow down the rabbit hole and really wonder if their claim holds any merit.
First, let’s look back on some of the checklist items for the team this off-season. The free agents of note heading were cornerback Bryce Callahan, safety Adrian Amos. The kicker position had to be filled after Cody Parkey was released. Another area of the team that needed to be addressed was the running back position, especially after starting running back Jordan Howard was traded.
Finally, the coaching staff had a hole to fill when prolific defensive coordinator Vic Fangio left for a head coaching job. The rest of the Bears team can be judged positively or negatively depending on the individual, but keep in mind the team is returning nearly all its division winning coaches and players for this upcoming season.
So what were the terrible or questionable moves the Bears made this offseason to deem them the worst you ask?
They bring in a playmaking safety at his best on a “prove it” year contract in HaHa Clinton-Dix after Amos left. To replace the often injured Callahan, nickel corner Buster Skrine was signed. Callahan was a terrific playmaker when he stayed healthy but he has yet to play in a full season in his four year career. Money may have played a factor as well in both of these moves since the Bears had to balance spending in the now as well as preserving money for future contracts of guys like Mitchell Trubisky and Eddie Jackson.
Skrine is over $4 million dollars cheaper than Callahan, add that with the $11 million saved this year by swapping for Clinton Dix at the safety position. The kicking position is completely unresolved and can be looked at as a failure in this off-season. Bringing in a bunch of guys with a starter yet to be named leaves doubt right now to the position being resolved, which was the reasoning for Fox’s comments. Its just too bad that Fox didn’t mention how he was the driving force behind getting ex-Bears kicker Robbie Gould off the team.
Bears No. 3 On NFL.com List Of Most Talented Teams (Bears Wire)
Looking at the running back position, the Bears acquired two players in Mike Davis and David Montgomery that fit head coach Matt Nagy’s scheme much better than previous lead back Jordan Howard. Every analyst should expect a different running attack this year. As for the coaching replacement, this was Woddy’s biggest contention with the Bears off season. Brought in was respected defensive mind Chuck Pagano, and he’s kept many of the defensive coaches from last year’s staff.
Sure, Pagano isn’t Fangio but that doesn’t mean his different style won’t translate to similar defensive success this year without Fangio because all the talent is still on the field. Its difficult to see how anyone can look at the Bears as having the worst off-season in the League.
Kicking position aside, the Bears have a revamped running attack which ranked 11th last year, a defensive coordinator with a history of coaching for elite defenses, and filled all the holes on the defensive side of the ball with cost effective free agents that have the ability to ball out. Now the money saved can be used next off-season to resign some key young players before they hit the open market.
At least NFL Live co-host Dianna Russini had a credible answer in the New York Giants to counter the weird Woody-Fox bandwagon. Perhaps the bitterness of losing the Bears job has clouded Fox’s judgement, I am still trying to understand why Woody thinks the loss of a coordinator, which happens all the time, makes for the worst off-season.
You’d think Woody would have put more focus onto two of his former teams — the Lions and the Jets — neither of whom had the benefit of coming into this off-season with a division title to their name yet still found new ways to deepen their relative dysfunctions.
Sure, the Bears might end up not being as good last year, but should that be the case it would have nothing to do with their off-season. Then again this is the hot take network we’re talking about, and its a really slow time of year for football, and sports in general, with the NBA Finals concluding. Might as well line up the crazy theories and get them out of the way before the start of real, more-fact based football speculations can be made.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR