By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
What an NFL weekend it was that just passed at the draft combine in Indianapolis. Smoke season has already been under way but this weekend did a lot in fanning the flames to create even more sky-bound signals.
Rumors are hot league-wide with debates about where draftees like quarterback Tua Tagovailoa might go in the early part of the draft, and of course the vets can’t let the future draftees have all the attention — more rumors are arising daily concerning quarterback Tom Brady’s future. Even your Chicago Bears made some news for themselves.
Concerning the Bears, in Indianapolis both head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace spoke for the first time since season’s end with most of the media’s questions directed towards the quarterback position. Nagy and Pace both voiced support and preached patience with current quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
Still, while the Bears brass voice that they are in Trubisky’s corner, there is an underlying desire to give the shaky signal-caller serious competition entering the 2020 season, something he hasn’t dealt with in his three years in Chicago.
To significantly improve the resources around the quarterback position is likely job No. 1 for the Bears in this off-season. The team’s actions to do so started with new coaching staff hires, soon free agency will make veteran QBs available to entice the club. If they don’t bite in that period they will almost certainly resign themselves to find a young challenger to the job in the soon-to-follow draft.
What the Bears say compared to what they will do in terms of the current roster, free agency and the draft remains an intriguing mystery. In trying to get a hold of what’s possible, let’s look at what we know so far.
As noted earlier, the Bears are surely sounding and looking like they want a competitor this training camp for Trubisky. Reports and rumors out of the combine was that the Bears would like to add a veteran quarterback with extensive starting experience, a quality backup quarterback Chase Daniel did not possess.
Names that have primarily circled in the rumor mill have included Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton — at the moment he is under contract and would require a trade for another team to acquire him — as well as free agent quarterback Case Keenum. A few significant things stand out with these reports. First, its great great news if the Bears are serious about making the quarterback position a competition.
Though it seems most likely they still want Trubisky to be the starter this year, if the Bears are at least opening up to the idea of a true competition then that’s great for the team. Past acknowledging that, you also have to admit that neither Dalton and Keenum lights the world on fire and both would be among the easiest competition for Trubisky to face in camp compared to other free agent quarterbacks like Jameis Winston, Teddy Bridgewater or Marcus Mariota.
The Bears are trying to walk a fine line with expressing interest in QBs that can win games in case Trubisky gets hurt (or simply stinks) while also not being so obviously better than Trubisky that the fan base is calling for a permanent change after the first organized practices at Halas Hall this spring.
Obviously so much depends on how determined the Bears are to keep Trubisky as the starter. We will get a good idea of the Bears intentions based on who they sign or possibly draft. Lastly, there are some rumors about the Bears looking at quarterbacks to draft, with reports that they met with Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm emerging from the Combine. Fromm is looked at as a project guy that could be available come day three of the draft.
But the Bears have fewer draft picks this year than they’d like. With a lesser number of draft picks than usual it will be interesting to see if competition for Trubisky could actually come in the form of a rookie taken with a precious draft pick. Pace loves to make big splashes in the draft, could he be looking at a quarterback with either of their second round picks? It would be quite the statement from the Bears GM if he were to make that bold of a move.
Smoke season is a confusing time of the year by design and Bears fans will have to wait to see how the Bears address their most pressing need.
QB Need No. 1: A Reliable Safety Valve
Solidifying the quarterback position should involve a multi-faceted approach from the Bears point of view, one that extends to other positions beyond it.
Sure, getting Trubisky jump-started is a priority but so is making life easier on him or whoever else settles in that position. Way too often last season did the rest of the offense look pathetic even when Trubisky would rarely execute. Outside of wide receiver Allen Robinson, every offensive position group was bad because of one reason or another but regardless still bad. Pace and Nagy will be aggressively trying to improve each part of the offense.
Tight end jumps out as probably the biggest area of need on offense outside of quarterback. In total the entire tight end group had 46 receptions in 2019, a sad for that position compared to the receivers and running backs groups, which all had over a hundred receptions. The Bears got virtually nothing out of tight end, a position group is so vital to today’s football offenses. Nagy’s whole offense is predicated on feeding the ball to the tight end. From the sound of it, the Bears are looking to completely revamp the room. First they added a player familiar with Nagy’s system in Demetrius Harris.
Improvements at the position may not stop with Harris. Rumors are floating that the Bears are looking to add a more flashy tight end signing in free agency such as Austin Hooper or Eric Ebron. This year’s draft class for tight end isn’t particularly deep but there could be some good options in the second round for the Bears to get. But again, the Bears are limited on draft picks and salary cap space, so they must be smart in addressing the tight end group prior to it. The newest rumors are that the Bears are looking to trade for a tight end, which could be a cost-effective solution that even creates added salary cap flexibility.
Tight end and once promising free-agent signing Trey Burton will likely be in the mix for any deal because of his contract while former second round pick Adam Shaheen is on his last legs to prove his value. Production out of the tight end position is a huge priority so its safe to say more guys will be added to the current mix in order to facilitate some sort of spark.
Strength of the Draft
As far as the combine was concerned, an impressive display by the wide receiver group highlighted the proceedings. That position is emerging as the deepest source of talent in the entire 2020 draft.
Lots of draft experts believe plenty of first-round caliber receivers will go deep into the draft because there are just so many talented guys each with different skill-sets, which brings up an interesting possible dilemma for the Bears in the draft.
Certainly the Bears would like to fix some of their obvious needs like tight end, offensive line, corner-back and placing a young starting safety opposite Eddie Jackson, but how many times do you hear from experts and remember in hindsight the draft axom, “pick the best player available regardless of your needs.” There is a very good chance the best player on the board will be a receiver when the Bears have their first pick in the draft, which currently is No. 43 overall.
Maybe its not the position they want to draft but the Bears could use an explosive play-maker on offense any way they can get it. Here’s another curve-ball to consider: a few highly-touted running backs like Jonathan Taylor could be available too when the Bears draft in the second round.
Last year the Bears drafted David Montgomery in hopes the shifty Iowa State running back would fix the run game. Montgomery flashed some good potential during his rookie year but the entire run game was almost as ineffective as the tight end group throughout 16 games. To blame Montgomery for that makes little sense — Nagy clearly didn’t commit enough to the run with his play calling and the blockers up front didn’t block well enough.
Yet, adding another play-making running back is an interesting draft scenario as the Bears need their run game to dramatically improve. Backup running back Tarik Cohen had a disappointing season last year and there are some questions regarding whether he can be counted on as a No. 2 back. No matter if its a runner, receiver or blocker the Bears need to invest some of their prime draft resources on an instant NFL caliber starter at minimum.
Remember, the Bears offense is starved for play-makers and any rookie that can seriously help fix that void would be most welcomed regardless of position.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR