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Shutdown Corner is previewing all 32 teams as we get ready for the NFL season, counting down the teams one per weekday in reverse order of our initial 2017 power rankings. No. 1 will be revealed on Aug. 2, the day before the Hall of Fame Game kicks off the preseason.
The most important thing in the NFL is to have a quarterback. The most difficult job a team has, if it doesn’t have a franchise quarterback, is finding one.
When Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace got a little creative and pretty aggressive to fix that problem this offseason, he was roundly criticized. He can’t win.
The Bears have a surprisingly awful quarterback history. Amazingly, the last time Chicago had a first-team All-Pro quarterback was Johnny Lujack in 1950. They’ve tried every way of finding a star quarterback and nothing has worked.
So Pace signed free-agent Mike Glennon for $45 million over three years, and everyone flipped out. No matter that it’s practically a one-year deal that won’t seriously affect the cap after this year. Then the Bears traded up from No. 3 to No. 2 to draft Mitch Trubisky. Everyone really freaked out then.
The Bears haven’t had a truly top-of-the-line quarterback in almost 70 years. Maybe Glennon and Trubisky won’t break that streak, but it’s worth the gamble.
First, the Bears spent money on Glennon. They didn’t use picks or any other capital. Unless you’re the accountant for Bears ownership, it’s weird to care how they spend their fortune. It didn’t preclude any other moves; the Bears are sitting on more than $29 million in unused cap space. To repeat: It’s just money. Glennon played well as a rookie for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He sat after Tampa Bay picked Jameis Winston first overall. He has displayed some good pocket skills, and it’s worth spending some cash to see if he can play.
Then the Bears doubled down on Trubisky. What’s lost in the widespread criticism of Pace for the draft-day trade (which is partially a byproduct of the desire to praise media-friendly John Lynch for his brilliance) is that he could not know if the Cleveland Browns or someone else was trying to move up to No. 2 to take Trubisky (“I didn’t want to sit on our hands and have some team jump us or not work out when we were this close,” Pace explained). The 49ers didn’t even know for certain until the pick if the Browns’ were taking Trubisky or Myles Garrett first overall; asking Pace to have a crystal ball on everything going on with every team is a bit much. Pace clearly believes Trubisky is a franchise quarterback. He’s not alone in thinking that. Maybe we should see if he’s right before excoriating him for dealing some mid-round picks.
Combining the two big moves at quarterback brought on a separate wave of criticism. Because after almost seven decades of futility at the position, people apparently wanted Pace to just keep doing things the same way they’ve always been done. There’s nothing wrong with investing in both options. Glennon will presumably begin this season as the starter. If he’s bad, the Bears will cut him and they haven’t affected their salary-cap situation. If he’s good, there will be chances to trade him. If he’s great, maybe the Bears keep Glennon and trade Trubisky. And let’s be clear: If Glennon is great, it’s a problem the Bears haven’t had since Vince Lombardi was an unknown assistant at Army. There are worse problems to have.
Pace’s plan, especially to move up and get Trubisky, was aggressive. That’s OK.
“If we want to be great, you just can’t sit on your hands,” Pace said. “There are times when you’ve got to be aggressive, and when you have conviction on a guy, you can’t sit on your hands. I just don’t want to be average around here; I want to be great. And these are the moves you have to make.”
Pace put his career on the line with the Trubisky pick, but he presumably knows that. It will be interesting to see how the quarterback situation plays out through this season. At least there’s something interesting to track with the Bears.
Since losing the Super Bowl at the end of the 2006 season, the Bears have one playoff appearance. Rock bottom came last season, with a 3-13 record. They haven’t done well in the draft (though, running back Jordan Howard in the fifth round last year was a true home run) and few of their big free-agent additions have paid off. It won’t be a quick fix. Coach John Fox will probably find himself on the hot seat.
And depending how the quarterbacks look this year, Pace will be on the hot seat too. At least he was trying to finally fix the problem.
The quarterback situation aside, Pace took some heat for relying heavily on small-school players in the draft. The Bears had five picks, and three were from Ashland, North Carolina A&T and Kutztown. Plenty of great players have come from small schools, but people will always be more skeptical of players outside of the FBS. It puts Pace in an even harsher spotlight. Free agency should offer some help, though $6 million per season for tight end Dion Sims and $5.5 million for receiver Markus Wheaton seem like overpays. The secondary got a much-needed boost with cornerbacks Marcus Cooper, Prince Amukamara and safety Quintin Demps. The loss of top receiver Alshon Jeffery with nothing in return doesn’t help the grade though. Grade: C
Jordan Howard was overshadowed by Ezekiel Elliott last season, but Howard wasn’t far off Elliott’s production. Howard, who didn’t start until Week 4, finished with 1,313 rushing yards. His 5.2 yards per carry was better than Elliott’s mark of 5.1, and Howard wasn’t running behind one of the best offensive lines ever. Howard wasn’t Elliott’s equal, but he was really good too. The fifth-round pick is a great blend of power and speed, and he’s capable in the passing game. The Bears have a clear offensive star.
The Bears have a problem. Two, really. They turn the ball over too much. And their defense is terrible at turning opponents over. That’s a bad combination, and that’s how you end up with a turnover margin of minus-20, tied for the worst in the NFL. The Bears weren’t a total debacle on a per-play basis (they were in the top 20 in yards per pass, yards per rush, yards per pass allowed and yards per rush allowed), but the difference between winning and losing in the NFL is often razor thin and we all know many games are decided by turnover margin. The Bears defense has just eight interceptions each of the last two seasons. Chicago needs some playmakers to emerge on defense.
The assumption is Mike Glennon will start Week 1. Theoretically, the Bears would be fine with him starting all year as the inexperienced Mitch Trubisky learns.
“It was made clear to me about 10 minutes after [Trubisky was drafted] — from a call from [general manager Ryan Pace] — and the next morning again that the 2017 season is my year,” Glennon said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “I’m not worried about the future. I’m not worried about the past. I’m worried about the present.”
Glennon repeated some version of “this is my year” a few more times in that news conference.
The problem is, rookie quarterbacks don’t sit anymore.
From 2006 through last year, 25 of 27 quarterbacks picked in the first round started at least one game as a rookie. Jake Locker in 2011 and Brady Quinn in 2007 are the only exceptions. It’s fine to claim a rookie will sit all season, but 93 percent of them since 2006 haven’t. Trubisky, the second overall pick, is unlikely to be the exception.
Glennon will spend all season looking over his shoulder. The Bears’ plan at quarterback made sense, but it made a quarterback controversy inevitable.
The Bears let Alshon Jeffery walk in free agency, and it would be great if 2015 first-round pick Kevin White replaced him as a legitimate No. 1 receiver. The problem is White has played in just four games because of injuries. He has 187 career yards and no touchdowns.
“It’s got to happen now,” White told the Chicago Tribune. “I’ve got to turn it up.
“You know, even in Year 1, Year 2, I always want to turn it up and show what I can do. So to me, Year 3, it’s time.”
This is a huge year for White, and he understands that. The Bears could really use a breakout from him.
From Yahoo’s Andy Behrens: “For fantasy purposes, the Bears are basically Jordan Howard and a collection of bad ideas. Don’t tie yourself to teams with terrible quarterback play and bleak offensive outlooks. Howard was a revelation as a rookie, but the miserable team context limits his scoring upside. He should be drafted near the turn between first and second rounds; no other Bears skill player should be selected until everyone is between their third and fourth beverages.”
The Bears have a trio of unlucky stats that should be due for a correction. According to Football Outsiders, the Bears were the most injured team in the NFL last season, leading the league in their adjusted games lost metric by a wide margin. Losing a ton of games to injury is unlikely to repeat. The Bears were 1-6 in games decided by seven points or less, and those are generally coin-flip games. That should regress back to the middle. And the Bears forced 13 fumbles and recovered only three, another stat that should be closer to 50-50. With a little bit more luck in those areas, there should be a few more wins.
CAN CAMERON MEREDITH BUILD OFF A SURPRISING 2016?
Meredith had a nice season in 2016 with 888 yards, all but 52 coming in the Bears’ final 12 games. His emergence was one reason Alshon Jeffery’s departure might not be that big of a deal. Meredith is big (6-foot-3) and proved himself capable of making big plays. However, sandwiched in between four 100-yard games was a seven-game stretch in which he didn’t top 72 yards. Of course, mediocre quarterback play didn’t help. The Bears can’t depend on Kevin White until he shows he can stay healthy, so they really need Meredith to be a dependable target for whoever plays quarterback. There’s no reason to believe he can’t at least replicate what he did last season.
The Bears were 3-13 last season, but they probably weren’t that bad. In the second half of the season they lost by less than a touchdown to the New York Giants, Tennessee Titans, Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers, and all four those teams finished with winning records. The Bears were unlucky with injuries and in close games. The Titans loss was especially brutal, with Jay Bellamy dropping a sure touchdown in the end zone in the final minute, one of 11 Bears drops in the game. It’s hard to see a huge leap, but if the quarterback situation gets settled, the secondary additions pay off and some luck goes their way, they might post a much better record than anyone expects.
If both quarterbacks are bad, look out. GM Ryan Pace clearly couldn’t survive that. Coach John Fox probably wouldn’t survive another losing season after going 9-23 his first two seasons. And then what do the Bears do? They’re invested in Trubisky for the next few years. They bet big on their quarterback plan, and they can’t go 0-for-2.
There are three terrible, practically hopeless teams in the NFL and we previewed them already. The Bears seem a tier ahead of the gruesome threesome. However, there’s another significant gap between the Bears and the teams above them in these rankings. It’s hard to know exactly what to expect from the Bears, because who knows what to expect of the quarterbacks? Mike Glennon has thrown 11 passes since 2014 and Mitch Trubisky had just 13 college starts. The Bears should improve but we won’t know until we see more from the quarterbacks.
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