Have The Bears Moved Out Of The Basement Of The NFC North?
This is the second installment in a series that will look at the offseasons for all of the teams in the NFC North and form a hypothesis about whether each team improved or regressed. Today is the Chicago Bears.
2016 Season Recap
Record wise, the Bears are coming off of one of the worst seasons in the history of their franchise. Chicago went 3-13 in 2016. They lost seven games by at least two possessions. One of their wins came against the 49ers, who are one of the few teams with a worse record than Chicago last season. The biggest bright spot for the Bears was that two of their wins came against divisional rivals, one against the Detroit Lions in week four, and the other against the Vikings on Monday Night Football in week eight.
The main other positive thing of note for the Bears from 2016 was the emergence of rookie runningback Jordan Howard. Jordan Howard started only 13 games as a rookie, but still finished second in the entire NFL in rushing yards with 1313 and 5.2 yards per carry. He is by far the Bears biggest weapon. Other rookies who looked good last year were outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, center Cody Whitehair, and linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski.
Biggest Needs Going Into The Offseason
The Bears had big issues at quarterback for the entire 2016 season. Three different quarterback saw significant time for the Bears. Brian Hoyer was by far the best quarterback for the Bears last season, starting five games and throwing six touchdowns with no interceptions. Jay Cutler also started five games, throwing only four touchdown passes and five interceptions. Matt Barkley started the remaining six games and, although he showed potential by leading the Bears with eight passing touchdowns, he also threw 14 interceptions and had a 68.3 quarterback rating. Going into the offseason, the Bears needed to find a quarterback.
Ever since the departure of Charles Tillman in 2014, the Bears have struggled to find a replacement for him at cornerback. Last year, the Bears saw Tracy Porter, Kyle Fuller, Sherrick McMannis, Deiondre’ Hall, Cre’Von LeBlanc and others give up lots of big passes. Some of these guys have looked alright in spurts, but none of them are long term solutions at the cornerback position.
With the departure of Alshon Jeffery, the Bears desperately needed to find receiving options this offseason. The only decent receiver on the Bears roster going into the offseason was Cameron Meredith, who is coming off of an 888 yard season. Other receivers on the roster were 2015 first round pick Kevin White, who has only managed to play in four games through his first two seasons, and Josh Bellamy who has 506 yards over the last two seasons.
Arguably the biggest hole on the Bears roster in 2016 was safety. After a nice rookie season in 2015, Adrian Amos regressed in 2016. The rest of the Bears safeties were a rotating cast of no names and undrafted free agents. Without any notable players to protect deep passes, the Bears gave up a lot of big plays in 2016.
Quintin Demps (Houston)
Signed a three year $13,500,000 contract
Quintin Demps was quietly a very good signing by the Bears this offseason. He fills a major need for the Bears at safety, and was quietly a big cog in the best defense in the NFL last year with the Houston Texans. Demps had six interceptions last season along with nine passes defended and 55 tackles. He is a playmaker at the safety position that the Bears desperately needed.
Prince Amukamara (Jacksonville)
Signed a one year $7,000,000 contract
Prince Amukamara is an above average cornerback. He isn’t a playmaker as he doesn’t force many turnovers, but he is very sticky in coverage and doesn’t allow a lot of deep passes to be caught. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 25th best corner in the NFL last year. He is a really solid player who fills another need for the Bears and will start from day one.
Marcus Cooper (Arizona)
Signed a three year $16,000,000 contract
The Marcus Cooper signing was kind of a head scratcher. The Bears signed him to a three year deal for $5,333,333 per year even though he was ranked as the 101st cornerback out of 112 qualifiers in the NFL last year. He had a solid rookie season with the Kansas City Chiefs, but has since played in Arizona where he has regressed. Cooper did make four interceptions last season, but he also gave up many plays.
Dion Sims (Miami)
Signed a three year $18,000,000 contract
Dion Sims is another player that the Bears overpaid for, but he is still a very solid tight end. He was underutilized in Miami’s offensive scheme that doesn’t throw to tight ends a lot, and he is also a more than capable blocker. However, the Bears are still paying $6,000,000 per year to a guy who has averaged 18 receptions for 174 yards and 2 touchdowns per season in his career.
Kendall Wright (Tennessee)
Signed a one year $2,000,000 contract
Kendall Wright is a really good slot receiver. He is a former first round pick who got off to a quick start in his NFL career, totalling 2420 yards in his first three seasons. However, Tennessee’s offensive philosophy shifted over the last two seasons, and Wright has only had 824 yards over that time period. Wright is looking to get back to where he was in his first three seasons for Chicago.
Mike Glennon (Tampa Bay)
Signed a three year $45,000,000 contract
Mike Glennon has not started a game since 2014. In 2013, his rookie year, he started 13 games for Tampa Bay. He started five games the following year and has not made a start over the past two seasons. Glennon has started 18 games in his career, throwing for 4100 yards with 30 touchdowns and 15 interceptions while only completing 59% of his passes. Glennon was a solid spot starter for the Buccaneers, but they were never confident in his ability to be a franchise quarterback, prompting them to draft Jameis Winston. Glennon will be the Bears week one starter in 2017, barring injury or other unforeseen circumstances.
Alshon Jeffery (Philadelphia)
Signed a one year $9,500,000 contract
Alshon Jeffery is by far the Bears biggest loss of the 2017 offseason. Over his five years with the Bears, he was arguably their biggest playmaker. Over the last four seasons, he has 4182 yards and 23 touchdowns, including a 1421 yard campaign in 2013. At his best, he is a dominant number one receiver. However, part of the reason why the Bears let him walk is because injuries and suspension have gotten the way of his availability over the last two seasons, causing him to miss 12 games.
Brian Hoyer (San Francisco)
Signed a two year $12,000,000 contract
Hoyer was the best quarterback to play for the Bears in 2016, but that isn’t really saying a lot. Although he played alright, the Bears knew they weren’t interested in bringing him back in 2017. Hoyer left to become the presumed starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers.
Cornelius Washington (Detroit)
Signed a two year $5,825,000 contract
Washington has been a rotational defensive end for the Bears in his four year career. 2016 was the best season of his career, as he made 20 tackles and two sacks and he also started two games. Washington joined the Detroit Lions this offseason.
Mitchell Trubisky, Quarterback from North Carolina (Round 1, Pick 2)
The Bears originally had the third selection the first round of the 2017 NFL draft, but they traded away four draft picks to move up one spot, where they selected quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Trubisky has only started 13 games in his college football career, but he showed a lot of potential in them. He is considered a very raw player who should sit behind Mike Glennon for at least a year before he can start.
Adam Shaheen, Tight End from Ashland (Round 2, Pick 45)
Adam Shaheen is a big tight end who comes from the small college of Ashland. He has Gronk like size, standing at 6’6″ and weighing just under 280 pounds. Shaheen produced a lot at Ashland, but going from their to the NFL is a big jump. A lot of people like Shaheen’s potential, but taking him in the second round should be considered somewhat of an overdraft.
Eddie Jackson, Safety from Alabama (Round 4, Pick 112)
Eddie Jackson had a solid career at Alabama before a leg injury knocked him out for the season during his senior season. He is good in man coverage and offers special teams value as a punt returner. He is a solid player, but had a somewhat easy job at Alabama because there were so many other talented players around him. Eddie Jackson is a high ceiling low floor prospect.
Tarik Cohen, Runningback from North Carolina A&T (Round 4, Pick 119)
Tarik Cohen is a unique running back, standing at only 5’6″. He earned his nickname “The Human Joystick” because of his elite quickness and ability to create space with spin, juke and other finesse moves. Beside rushing the ball, he excels at catching passes out of the backfield. Cohen has potential to be a big playmaker for the Bears.
Jordan Morgan, Guard from Kutztown (Round 5, Pick 147)
Jordan Morgan was a four year starter at left tackle in college who is transitioning to guard in the NFL. He is a very good run blocker, but struggles with balance in pass protection. He has potential to be a decent NFL player, but has a lot of development to go through to get there.
Did They Get Better Or Worse?
On paper, there is no doubt that the Bears improved this offseason. They added playmakers in their depleted secondary and have two new options at quarterback. They added an effective slot receiver in Kendall Wright, and a high potential tight end in Dion Sims. In the draft, Eddie Jackson, Tarik Cohen and Adam Shaheen also all have potential to be big playmakers.
The Bears took a big gamble trading up to draft Mitchell Trubisky. If he pans out, he could be a true franchise quarterback for the Bears. However, there is an equally likely chance that he doesn’t pan out, and the Bears need to continue their search for the first true franchise quarterback in the history of their franchise.
However, the Bears did not address their Alshon Jeffery sized hole at the outside receiver position. They simply do not have a very good receiving corps going into 2017. Much of their passing production will need to come from tight ends and runningbacks.
The Bears got better, but did they improve enough to move out of fourth place in the NFC North? At this point, I think the answer to that question has to be no. On paper they have a really solid team headed into 2017, but they still look like a six win team to me, with a ceiling of potentially winning eight if everything goes right. However, injuries happen and everything doesn’t always go right. The Bears appear to be heading in a good direction though, and the success of the franchise over the next few seasons rest upon the shoulders of Mitchell Trubisky.