The best part about hiring Matt Nagy to be the new head coach of the Bears seems to be his influence over the roster and perhaps the confidence that general manager Ryan Pace feels now that his contract has been extended by the Bears. The Bears have finally embarked on a housecleaning and youth movement that should’ve occurred at the start of Pace’s tenure, which is now in its’ 4th year.
Of course the downside of this better late than never roster purge has been the mass quantities of season ticket holder dollars that have been set on fire, as documented here in several recent articles. But it seems as though the Bears top brass of chairman George McCaskey and team president Ted Phillips is on board with all of the recent moves and they especially like the hire of Nagy, calling him an innovator of offense. Bears nation can only hope he becomes an innovator on offense, but his track record of being a coordinator is only one season, and he only called plays for a total of 6 games. As usual, the enthusiasm and confidence of the Bears top brass is based on more wishful thinking and potential, rather than a proven track record.
The retention of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has widely been hailed as a great move by media around the league. Nagy has largely received equal credit with Pace, for helping to convince the gruff Fangio, one of the few men at Halas Hall with a proven track record, to stay.
As a result of the coaching changes and roster purge, Bears are a much different team than they were 3 months ago. There were obvious holes at the end of the season at positions like wide receiver, tight end, offensive line, defensive line, and linebacker. Some holes were filled with the $64 million in cap space money the Bears had to spend, but some were not. The Bears signed receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel, along with pass catching tight end Trey Burton. But they did not fill guard Josh Sitton’s spot and signed no impact defensive players.
Last article I graded the acquisitions in free agency and the way the Bears retained their secondary from last years 5-11 team. The retention of last years cornerbacks means they either believe Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller are top flight already or will prove to be worth the money they are getting, with Fuller’s contract averaging the top 5 at cornerback in the league. A year ago Amukamara and Fuller played for about $12 million, this year their average salary’s will total $23 million.
Yes the Bears defense was ranked in the top 10 a year ago, it was something I predicted before last season started. I thought the Bears would challenge for a playoff spot with the defense being healthier, and having improvement, based on being in Fangio’s system for the third year with a veteran group. But the offense was terrible, trying to get their rookie quarterback up to speed, and the Bears didn’t get enough wins out of their top 10 ranking. Injuries, quarterbacks, the offensive line, no receivers, there was plenty of blame to go around for the multiple failure’s of last season
Fangio’s inability to blitz and put pressure on opposing offense’s is equally to blame. No one talks about that big shortcoming. Then in the off-season you cut every defensive veteran with an injury, but the Bears biggest loss this year was losing linebacker Christian Jones, during free agency to Detroit.
I think this was a big mistake on Pace’s part to let Jones walk away. Jones clearly had his best year with the Bears, as he moved inside during the season to become the defensive play caller when Danny Trevaithan missed games with injuries. Jones was the Bears best combination of experience, size, strength and speed at the position. During the Bears best game of the season against Carolina, Jones and Trevaithan dominated Cam Newton and held the Panthers to 3 points, in their first game together that season.
Fangio’s defense has a lot of nuance to its’ scheme, and requires years of experience to get the reads of the offense’s right. Problem now is that half of that veteran group is now rightfully gone, and with it, any chance for the Bears defense to continue to climb the ladder of the league’s defensive rankings
That’s why fans should temper their expectations for this years defense. It’s bad enough that the defense of a 5-11 team was rife with problems in player personnel talent, scheme, injuries and speed. Now half the talent responsible for last years top 10 ranking has been cut or moved on. Defensive End Mitch Unrein was signed by Tampa Bay, the Bears cut outside linebackers Pernell McPhee and Willie Young, and the Bears also cut middle linebacker Jerrell Freeman and lost Jones. The Bears, did sign a backup linebacker from San Francisco, but for the most part, chose not to pursue replacements in free agency, because these areas obviously will be addressed in the draft in a few weeks.
The Bears are hoping to fill the loss of Unrein from within, with the promotion of Jonathan Bullard, Rashaad Coward and Roy Robertson-Harris, but wouldn’t pass up a chance to draft a top defensive end if one fell to them. The top defensive player in the draft, North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb, is expected to be long gone before the Bears pick at #8.
With an expected run on quarterbacks though, one of the top linebackers in the draft will probably fall right into their lap. The Bears will need defensive players after concentrating so heavily on the offensive side in free agency. With only two picks in the top 100 because of the Trubisky trade a year ago, the Bears must make their picks at #8 and #39 count. With Chubb expected to be gone by #8 it only makes sense to grab either the best inside or outside linebacker available. Tremaine Edmunds of Virginia Tech and inside linebacker Roquan Smith are both expected to be there when the Bears pick. Smith is an inside player only, but would represent a big upgrade in talent over current inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkowski.
Edmunds is THE defensive player the Bears need though. At 6 foot 4 inches tall and 253 pounds, he would be a perfect fit for the Bears. He has been compared to Brian Urlacher for his combination of size and speed, after running the 40 at the draft combine in 4.54 seconds. Only 19 years old, he has more talent than Jones and youth on his side. He has perhaps the highest ceiling of any defensive player in the draft, and even if you gave him 3 years to learn Fangio’s system, by age 23, he could quickly become the best defensive player in the Bears division. His physical tools are undeniable and he could change the trajectory of the Bears franchise and be a possible defensive MVP candidate someday.
Edmunds will probably make an easily seen impact in regards to his athleticism, but will need time to digest the intricacies of Fangio’s system. In the best case scenario the defense will probably rank between 12-16 next year, because even with the Bears needs on defense, Pace and his new head coach will probably draft more for the offensive side in this draft than they should.
The Bears hierarchy believes the defense is still top 10, not caring about the recent subtractions in talent. They won’t be ranked that high next season, especially without a change in Fangio’s philosophy in blitzing and bringing pressure. But if they draft Edmunds, there will certainly be a lot of optimism for the future.