On Covid-19 and the Potential Impact on the 2020 NFL

| April 2nd, 2020

For those of you who don’t know, I live in Woodside, Queens (NY). That’s less than a mile from Elmhurst Hospital, the current epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic. This thing has pretty much consumed my brain and kept me from seriously sleeping for weeks. Thankfully, I have this site. So here’s what all this craziness could mean to the NFL season.

  • The schedule release is delayed until May 9th. Normally the schedule release is one of my favorite days of the year, as it sets a lot of my travel schedule for the coming fall and winter. But there is a 0% chance the NFL will know what it’s looking at for this summer and fall by May 9th. (The peaks or apexes of the virus won’t be reached in several areas of the country until late May, early June.) It’ll be the latter by the time the league knows when the season will start and – most importantly for them – when it will finish. How can anyone make travel plans with any confidence? How can teams do any kind of serious prep?
  • There’s no way the NFL season will begin without an off-season program. What that off-season program will look like is another conversation. Nobody in the league would bemoan the cancellation of the entire preseason. But without a several-week practice period, how are coaches expected to get teams ready for action? Says a league insider I often refer to as [REDACTED], “We can’t do anything with less than three weeks.”
  • Like many of you, I have consumed more information about Covid-19 than a non-epidemiologist should. And I have yet to find a single doctor who believes the virus will NOT be coming back this fall/winter. (Dr. Fauci confirmed so much at a briefing this week.) What does that mean for the league? What will their contingency plans be? Are they really going to pile thousands upon thousands of people into tight buildings and just hope the virus stays away? We’re all hoping there are medical and testing advancements by this period. But that’s all this is: hope.

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Where Does the Bears Roster Stand Today?

| April 1st, 2020

The free agency dust has mostly settled, so let’s take a minute before attention shifts to the draft to evaluate where the Bears’ roster currently stands. Taking stock of who they have will help identify the largest remaining needs for the draft (and small free agent moves that can still be made).

The Roster

The table below is my best guess at Chicago’s depth chart right now.

A few quick notes:

  • Don’t worry too much about who’s listed as starter/2nd string (especially Foles/Trubisky and Burton/Graham). That’s just my best guess at who I think is better if everybody is healthy.
  • I included players who have not officially been announced, and there’s always a slim chance something could fall through with one of them. This includes Isaiah Irving, and Robert Quinn (and honestly maybe more that I didn’t realize).

The Financial Situation

We don’t actually know Chicago’s exact cap situation right now because of Nick Foles. Adam Schefter reported the Bears and Foles agreed to a restructured contract, but nobody has seen details yet (update: details are starting to come out, and it looks like Foles has an $8M cap hit for 2020, which would give the Bears about $8-9M in cap space before the Ifedi signing). We also don’t know exactly what the cap hit for Germain Ifedi will be.

Spotrac and Over The Cap, the two main NFL cap sites, are both operating under the assumption that Foles’ Jacksonville contract transferred over, and they both list the Bears with under $2 million in cap space right now. Restructuring Foles could clear up to $10 million, and there are other moves the Bears could do to push cap money to the future, but Ryan Pace has already aggressively moved money to the future this off-season. So the Bears still have a little bit of wiggle room, but probably aren’t handing out any big free agency contracts at this point.

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ATM: Does Foles Trade Put Nagy on the Hot Seat?

| March 31st, 2020

When the Chicago Bears traded for Nick Foles, they finally acquired a quarterback who can run their offense. Now, we should get answers about the man coaching it.

Because Foles knows exactly how this offense is supposed to operate.

Prior to the 2019 season, his last 18 games had come with either Andy Reid or Doug Pedersen calling the shots. In the 14 games in which he threw more than 15 passes, he completed nearly 68 percent of them for 3,661 yards, 24 touchdowns, 9 interceptions and a passer rating of 97.2.

Those aren’t regular season MVP numbers, but with the Bears defense, they’d get the job done.

(And it shouldn’t be forgotten that five of those games came in the playoffs, including two against what were considered to be the league’s top defenses in those given seasons.)

Much has been said and written about what Foles did in Philadelphia, but it sure appears as if the Chiefs debated a quarterback change a year earlier. When Alex Smith was injured, Foles came in and threw two touchdowns off the bench to lead the team to a win. Reid wasted no time in naming Foles the starter for the following week and Foles put together an efficient outing for another win. The Chiefs ultimately stuck with their starter, however, as Smith returned and led them to the playoffs again.

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Three Questions with a Bears Fan, Episode V: “Through the Bookcase” with NoahBrier.com

| March 30th, 2020

I first met Noah Brier in the fall of 2000. And then a bunch of stuff happened in the 20 years since, including him starting this site to stop me from ranting and raving. He drunkenly proclaimed a bathroom was “through the bookcase” in London. We shared a Honeymoon Suite for the Oscars in Frankfurt (because he booked the wrong flight home). We were on a train that split in half in Poland, and ended up befriending the drunkest bowling alley proprietor in Eastern Europe. In Dublin we learned one of life’s great traveling lessons: never start with a finale.

He has a new company.

He has a blog.

He has a newsletter.

He has a Twitter feed that’s become very Coronavirus-specific these days.

DBB: December 2nd 2001. Bears/Lions. Your first experience as a Bears fan. (And one of the great sessions in the history of Ditka’s Restaurant.) I know I feel like I was born into this life but you made the conscious choice as an adult to join the Bears fan parade. Do you regret that decision? If not, what’s been the best part of being a born again Bears fan?

Noah: Well, I can’t say there aren’t moments where I think I should have just become a Giants or Pats fan (growing up in Connecticut both were reasonable options). They’ve put away a collective eight Super Bowls since 2001. But that just seems … boring? Also, compared to the Knicks, who are my only other serious rooting interest, the Bears are a model franchise. So do I regret it? No, not at all. I think the only way to be a sports fan is to believe that all the agony will only make the victory that much sweeter. Plus, I’ve collected some completely absurd memories on trips to Chicago over the last 20 years with you (watching the Bears get destroyed in a literal blizzard, the guy sitting behind us at the playoff game last year giving the worst commentary any person has ever given during a football game, and Joey Harrington—JOEY HARRINGTON!—beating us at Soldier Field in 2006) and there’s no way I would have more fun road-tripping to Foxboro. 

DBB: Our seats for the Cody Parkey game were basically at the exact spot of his double doink. We then went to Lou Malnati’s for dinner and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen you that depressed. Where does that experience sit on your depression landscape?

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Bears Need a Pissed Off Offensive Lineman.

| March 26th, 2020

There are very few positions on the Bears 2020 roster where there is not, today, a surefire starter. Might there be a battle at quarterback? I doubt it. Will there be a lot of jostling at tight end? Sure, but the Bears are still internally holding out hope for Trey Burton. The one position where there isn’t a starter on the roster? Right guard.

Cody Whitehair, James Daniels, Charles Leno and Bobby Massie are starting in four of the five spots.

The remaining offensive linemen on the current call list: Alex Bars, Dino Boyd, Corey Levin, Sam Mustipher. Three of the four are about to enter their second year in the league. Sports books are pretty bored this days but I’m betting the odds are about 50-1 that any of these four guys is in the starting lineup come the beginning of the season.

(Yesterday the Bears signed Germain Ifedi to a one-year deal.)

The Bears need to add a guard. But more than that, they need to add an attitude to this unit. Kyle Long was not only a terrific player when healthy. He was also the temperamental leader of the group. He brought the pissed off. Brought the angry. In many ways, without playing the same position, he was the emotional heir apparent to Olin Kreutz. (Right down to controversial physical altercations.)

It’s not necessarily a quantifiable quality. They don’t test for anger in Indianapolis. So I went through the NFL draft profiles of some players I thought fit this bill and looked for buzz words, catch phrases…etc. And I found some!

Kyle Long‘s draft profile on NFL.com: “Plays with attitude, backs up his teammates on the field, cleans up piles.”

Richie Incognito was described by ESPN as “fiery”.

Nick Mangold report from FootballFuture: “He’s tough and will not back down from anyone.” This was generally a pretty critical write-up of Mangold physically. He turned out to be a terrific player.

Cleans up piles.


Will not back down.

That’s what the Bears need up front.

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Light, Fast & Explosive: Looking at TE Fits in the 2020 Draft

| March 25th, 2020

It’s no secret that the Bears are looking to upgrade the tight end group this offseason, after the position gave them historically bad production in 2019. If past positional overhauls are any indication (RB in 2018 offseason, WR in 2017 offseason), Ryan Pace will likely look to add players both in free agency and the draft.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The Bears have added Jimmy Graham to this group in free agency on what is essentially a one-year deal.]

Last year, I looked at the Combine performance of every tight end drafted for a Reid offense in Philadelphia (1999-2012, 2016-present with Doug Pederson) or Kansas City (2013-present) to see if any patterns emerged.  Three traits stood out:

  • Light: every tight end was 258 pounds or less, with an average of less than 250 pounds for the group as a whole. That is appreciably lighter than the NFL average of 255 pounds.
  • Fast: the average NFL tight end runs a 40 in around 4.70 seconds. 8 of 10 in this sample size were faster than that.
  • Explosive: explosiveness is usually measured through jumps, and the average vertical jump for tight ends is just under 33″. 8 of the 10 in this sample beat that, with an average of 34.3″.

This then gives us a rough profile of a tight end who would be targeted as a pass catcher in this offense. They should be under 260 pounds, run a sub 4.70 40, and have a 33″ or better vertical jump. These all make sense. The main purpose of a TE in this offense (at least for the U TE) is to be able to catch passes. They need to be athletic and able to challenge defenses down the field.

I’ll note these test results are not a way to say how good or bad a tight end will be, but simply if they match the physical characteristics of previous players who have excelled in this offense. Think of it as a way to identify what players are a priority for evaluation.

Now let’s look at which tight ends in the draft this year fit the profile. The table below shows all of the tight ends from the Combine, sorted by how many thresholds they hit. Misses are highlighted in red, while measurements that player did not provide are in purple.

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ATM: Don’t Sleep on Jimmy Graham Signing

| March 24th, 2020

Although the Chicago Bears signing Jimmy Graham was largely seen as one of the strangest free agent signings of the early period, don’t be surprised if he makes a big impact. Too many are judging the big tight end on his raw stat line in 2019, without looking at context. Even more people are using lazy narratives. Yes, Graham’s statistics were down. The 38 catches and 447 yards he had in 2019 were both the second-lowest totals of his career. But Graham’s decreased production was more about a lack of opportunity.

Outside of maybe quarterback, no position was more impacted by the scheme change the Packers underwent last year than tight end. TEs have certainly had success in the style of offense Matt LaFleur runs but they’re also asked to block more. If there is one knock on Graham that has followed him his whole career it’s that he’s a horrendous blocker. As a result, he went from playing 74 percent of the snaps in 2018 to 58 percent in 2019. Blocking tight end Marcedes Lewis saw an increase from 18 percent to 45.

Graham caught 63.3 percent of the passes thrown his way in 2019, which is in line with his career average, as was his 11.8 yards per catch.

The narrative that has been spun is that Graham can no longer run.  While he’s certainly not as fast as he was when the New Orleans Saints essentially used him as a wide receiver, he can still get down the field. According to Sharp Football, the Packers had 12 explosive plays from the tight end position, accomplishing them at the eighth-best rate in the league (the Bears were 32nd with one explosive play from the tight end position). Of those 12, Graham had nine and had the ninth-best rate at the position.

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Three Questions with a Bears Fan, Episode IV: Quarantined with Sarah Scully of The Recount

| March 23rd, 2020

Sarah Scully and I have shared a home and cats for many years. And because I’m not supposed to have direct human contact with anyone else on the planet currently, she’s our guest this week! Is she an actual Bears fan? Well, yea. She kinda doesn’t have a choice.

She’s also in political news business, currently serving as one of the top dogs at The Recount. You should check it out their awesome content both on the website and on Twitter. Their brilliant Trump calendar video has taken over the internet and can be viewed RIGHT HERE.

DBB: You live with me. That seems like a crazy decision. Why do you do it?

Sarah: To me, you hung the moon and the stars. You are the person who brings me more joy than anyone else in the world. You are handsome, clever and very funny. You are human Prozac. Yes, it’s true that I am a neat freak and it sometimes feels like living with a wild animal. A bear, if you will, when it comes to cleanliness and order.  Still, you never roar and you give great hugs. You are also a hell of a cook. 

[Editor’s Note: Yep. All true.]

DBB: Do you notice an emotional change in me based on the Bears winning and losing? 

Sarah: One of the things I love most about you, that distinguishes you from past romantic interests, is you do not let a sports loss completely ruin your mood. If anything, you seem to gravitate towards seeking out positive things that can make up for the disappointment. For a long time, I hated football, driven by memories of my dad screaming at the Broncos during playoff games (“Damn you, donkeys!”), scaring the dog, scaring us. I saw nothing positive about a thing that could send my otherwise calm, thoughtful, psychiatrist father into hysterics. 

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Why Nick Foles.

| March 20th, 2020

About five years ago I was on the boardwalk at Point Pleasant Beach, NJ and noticed they had a game where you had to chip golf balls into a hole for big prizes. One of those prizes was a throwback Walter Payton jersey. Authentic. I remember thinking, “I’m a damn good chipper of the golf ball. I can get three of these in and win that jersey for about ten bucks.” Thirty bucks later, no jersey. (No golf balls in the hole either.)

So I walked over to the candy wheel at Jenkinson’s Pavillion, threw a few bucks down on my usuals: blue 2, white pop, Bob both ways. I won on the first spin and took home a box of red Swedish Fish.

In many ways, this is what the Bears just did at the quarterback position. They tried to get the Payton jersey. They took a financial risk on promising ability. But they ended up wasting time, wasting money, and settling on a reliable candy experience.

Nick Foles isn’t a sexy choice to be quarterback of the Chicago Bears. He isn’t going to sell tickets or jerseys. He isn’t going to be the focal point of the 2020 marketing campaign, or a promotional weapon for the television partners. Foles’ arrival in Chicago does not increase the chances – thank sweet Jesus – of the team appearing more prominently on primetime television over the coming season.

What Foles does is stabilize things. He calms the waters. The Bears looked at their 2019 and determined the quarterback was costing them games. They went and found someone who wouldn’t.

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