Though still a tad sore, the Bears soul-crushing exit from the playoffs has steadily worn off as the rest of the playoffs around their corpses heat up. Forgivingly, a heartwarming presence from eight total Bears at the annual Pro Bowl signify and solemnly wave goodbye to this undoubtedly spectacular season. Now with radars set to the offseason, we can fairly assess what holds the Bears back from a fabled Super Bowl berth. So today, let’s examine the deepest holes that need filling this offseason for the Bears and who could be some potential options.
We all goggled at the memes and gifs so obviously the difficulty that comes with discussing the placekicker position for the Bears is quite glaring. It may be near impossible to look past the double doink embarrassment that prematurely ended the postseason for the Bears but Cody Parkey’s pink slip results from far more than a singular poorly timed missed kick. Most of it, probably out of his control.
The playoff environment shrinks talent gaps between rosters massively and in turn, the decision between teams doesn’t conclude with on-paper talent. Instead, teams live and die by the subtlest of details in the football realm. Since squads can’t win based on straight talent anymore as, like the regular season, facets like the extra-mile defensive game planning or, say, kicking can and will decide contests instead of overbearing skill levels.
In all reality, a single point separated the Bears and Eagles. The unsung triviality of dependable kicking simply can’t be overlooked in the playoffs. And after witnessing the unbelievable gift of a reliable kicker during the Greg Zuerlein-fueled Rams run, the urgency of fulfilling the placekicker position blares louder and louder. This notion triggered the Bears’ immediate hunt, mercifully beginning by trying out six different kickers and subsequently settling on former Tulsa kicker Redford Jones.
Even assuming that Parkey found a way to nail the game-winner, finishing the season as the third least accurate kicker in the entire league would have probably been enough to consider a change regardless. Factor in Parkey also irrevocably plunged himself into Matt Nagy´s doghouse after a self-indulgent appearance on the Today Show that Nagy considered “not too much of a we thing”. As of right now, even though the players deny the disdain, his relationship with the coaching staff is a tenuous and rocky one, but more pressingly, irreparable.
Though the obvious swap will be necessary for the Bears to reach their sky-high ceiling, the contract Parkey signed disallows any cutting of him post-June 1st, unless the Bears want to sink $4,062,500 into the placekicking position. Going for a high-priced vet like, say, a certain Robbie Gould in free agency would also be an avoidable mistake since any headlining free agent kicker would expect a similar price tag to Parkey’s. Rather, the Bears must either stick with the promising Jones or decide on an undrafted rookie after training camp.
A competition between multiple young and cheap kickers will be inevitable but either way, Parkey shouldn’t be involved (but probably will be thanks to his irritant contract).
Options in the draft include LSU’s Cole Tracey, who went 25 for 29 in field goals with all but one of those misses coming from beyond fifty yards and not a single missed extra point or the 15 for 17 Oklahoma product Austin Seibert. With only four slots in this upcoming draft, there really won’t be a point to officially draft either of them, so the Bears will be just fine picking them up after the seventh round ends.
Also, don’t forget about the aforementioned Jones. The former Tulsa kicker kicked a decent 50 for 67 clip between his 2014 to 2017 tenure in college and began training with John Carney, a fellow kicker and fifth-leading scoring in NFL history. As of right now, Jones should the prime option unless an undrafted rookie (or God-forbid Parkey) really impress the coaches.
After resigning Bobby Massie to a long term deal, the tackle position needs no extra aid. However, that can’t be said for the offensive guard spot. While not too pressing, the consistent season-enders from veteran Kyle Long usually spell disaster for the interior line the rotating door of Bryan Witzmann and Eric Kush (both who are free agents themselves) does the offense no favors. Rookie James Daniels had an expectedly fantastic year and will a staple in the Bears line for years but with not much behind him, the Bears will need to dig for added depth.
Long may among the league’s elite guards when healthy but hasn’t started a full season since 2015. With a ledger of foot, ankle, shoulder, and more scarily, neck injuries, the likelihood he stays on the field for extended periods of games drops by the ailment. Though the deserved starter for the foreseeable future, risking another season without reliable pieces behind him to take over in case of emergency will be dicey.
The Bears should really try sniffing out Long’s longterm replacement in this upcoming draft but under the stretching assumption he can stay healthy, a plug-and-play veteran out of free agency would be enough to solidify the necessary depth for now, at least. Long recently hit thirty and after such a slew of injuries, the Bears will need to be sleuthing for his eventual heir sooner than later. This season, however, coaches should gift him the benefit of the doubt in terms of staying power. Either way, quality depth pieces behind him will be imperative.
In the draft, Boston College’s Chris Lindstrom’s deceptive athleticism and adept combo blocking could slide nicely into the Bears offensive line, but he could potentially end up going as high as the first round. Later rounds could see Penn State’s Connor McGovern, a surprisingly speedy guard with high IQ and strong open-field blocking.
Free agency offers veteran Zane Beadles, who started five games this season for the Falcons, Andy Levitre, who missed almost all of this last season with a tricep injury but proved to be incredibly reliable prior, or Rodger Saffold, a key cog in the Rams Super Bowl run. Without a pick until the third round, there will be no guarantee the Bears could grab a starting caliber guard in the draft. Add in the relatively shallow guard class this draft and free agency may house the safest options.
After settling on Massie, the Bears will more than likely let pending free agent Adrian Amos Jr. test the open market, resulting in a sizable hole at that classic roll-down safety position. Though a difficult style of play to find in a safety, the elite secondary will need a boomer to replace Amos’ role on the defense
Also, in the pretty unlikely event the Bears let Callahan walk, the hole at nickel would need filling. After a breakout year before an ill-timed foot injury ended his season, his production will be difficult to match by anybody on the roster. Now-sophomore Kevin Tolliver impressed in preseason and probably could handle the promotion but either way, the position lacks the necessary depth.
Draft-wise, thumper Johnathan Abram from Mississipi State should be the top target. Recording 195 tackles and 15.5 tackles for loss in his career, Abram, like Amos, can roll down into the box and lock down the run defense. For corners, Ohio State’s Kendall Sheffield has breathtaking speed on top of solid open-field tackling. He could have a rangy sideline-to-sideline ability with some upgrades to his frame. While his footwork and man coverage probably will hold him back from being a true number one corner, he could be a brilliant nickel.
Free agency offers the Patriots’ corner Eric Rowe, who while ended his season on the IR, earned Bill Belichick’s trust as one of the keyest of cogs in the Patriots Super Bowl defense. A physical player in the slot, he would fit well culturally. The safety class is highlighted by All-Pro HaHa Clinton-Dix and, given Pace wouldn’t mind throwing a little extra dough his way, could be opportunity for the Bears to add another superstar on the defensive side of the ball.
Though a little needy to say, especially when considering the two Pro Bowl caliber
Free agency presents a few quality options, the most polarizing being the troubled Kareem Hunt. He already has ties to Nagy going way back to his rookie year and his abrupt release from the team presents the opportunity for a reunion of the two. Talent-wise, slotting him into the offense would be a home run. As the league’s leading rusher pre-cut, he easily ranks as a top three runningback in the league and would immediately provide an entirely new dynamic to the Bears offense.
However, this would undoubtedly go back on Ryan Pace’s ideals of only pursuing high character men for the Bears. Though one moment does not define someone, it will be difficult to look past his incident in a such a prominent role with one of the most popular teams in the league.
So if not Hunt, fellow former Chief Spencer Ware could be an attractive option. Ware may have missed all of this season, but last season proved himself to be a fine pass catching back. Also, he will already come in familiar with Nagy’s system. The Falcons’ Tevin Coleman similarly could fit the bill but would come at a higher price tag. Nearly a thousand-yard rusher, he can be used as a full-time starter in the backfield while his five receiving touchdowns highlight his duality.
In the draft, stud Rodney Anderson out of Oklahoma would be a stellar pickup. With exceptional size and an explosive first step, he could be the three-down back the Nagy is dreaming of. He also displayed spectacular pass-catching abilities, both in pure catching and in route running. However, three out of his four seasons in college ending due to injury will cost him dearly. As most teams would probably write a player off with such a disasterous injury history, he will drop deep into later rounds and, hopefully, right into the Bears lap.
While the Bears pass rush ranks as top three in the league due largely to the production from megastar Khalil Mack, the Bears will for sure need some bolstering to the edge position. Leonard Floyd does just about everything except getting to the quarterback and as the only viable edge on the roster, the Bears will need somebody opposite of him. Though going in-house will be possible, depending on how ready former sixth-rounder Kylie Fitts is, finding extra depth will be imperative to sustain the gaudy sack numbers, especially if the Bears allow Aaron Lynch to walk.
Mack’s unmatched versatility allowed the Bears to get around not having another viable edge outside of Floyd but loading up the firepower with a disruptive pass rusher would be absolutely destructive for opposing offenses. And considering freshly added defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano aims to be as aggressive as he can with the defense, adding a new toy for him should be the next step in the Bears world domination scheme.
In terms of free agency, the Bears won’t have a surplus of cap space to toss around, with only around 13 million dollars and still have yet to resign breakout star, Bryce Callahan. A team friendly vet will probably be their best option unless Jadeveon Clowney decides to DeMarcus Cousins his way to the Bears.
Though not too many options available, the Broncos’ Shaq Barrett could be a solid pickup. The twenty-six-year-old Barrett put up 75 quarterback pressures between 2016 and 2018 but fell off a tad last season trapped behind All-Pro Von Miller and rising star Bradley Chubb in the depth chart.
In the draft, there will be some elite pass rushing prospects near the top but without a first or second round pick, the Bears will have to rummage a little deeper into the pile. Oregon’s Jalen Jelks may go a wee high for the Bears to scoop him up but he has some of the highest upside in this incredible edge rush class and could be an utter fleece if he falls.
Jelks brings great athleticism, combined with the strength to put tackles on their backs. The Ducks often tried him at nose for how destructive he can be off the edge. Powerful and lengthy, he has the perfect build for an edge rusher in the NFL. Though the pass rush instincts haven’t developed yet, he could blossom under the right coaching.