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Pertinent Off-Season Dates

| February 16th, 2018

Full disclosure: I rarely visit ChicagoBears.com. It used to be a vital site for post-game pressers and game highlights but there are literally dozens of better locations for both of those things now, especially the former, which now go directly from the cell phones of media members to the fans in a matter of seconds.

But in January, the site’s lead writer Larry Mayer posted a collection of pertinent off-season dates and that is something I’m constantly searching for this time of year. Here they are:

February 20: First day for clubs to designate Franchise or Transition Players.

February 27-March 5: NFL Scouting Combine, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana.

March 6: Prior to 3 p.m. (CT), deadline for clubs to designate Franchise or Transition Players.

March 12-14: Beginning at 11 a.m. (CT) on March 7, clubs are permitted to contact, and enter into contract negotiations with the certified agents of players who will become Unrestricted Free Agents upon the expiration of their 2017 player contracts. However, a contract cannot be executed with a new club until 3 p.m. (CT), on March 14.

March 14: Prior to 3 p.m. (CT), clubs must exercise options for 2018 on all players who have option clauses in their 2017 contracts.

March 14: Prior to 3 p.m. (CT), clubs must submit qualifying offers to their Restricted Free Agents with expiring contracts to retain a Right of First Refusal/Compensation.

March 14: Prior to 3 p.m. (CT), clubs must submit a minimum salary tender to retain exclusive negotiating rights to their players with expiring 2017 contracts who have fewer than three accrued seasons of free agency credit.

March 14: Top 51 begins. All clubs must be under the 2018 salary cap prior to 3 p.m. (CT).

March 14: All 2017 player contracts will expire at 3 p.m. (CT)

March 14: The 2018 league year and free agency period begin at 3 p.m. (CT).

See the rest of the year’s dates after the jump…

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Backing It Up: Should the Chicago Bears Draft Luke Falk as 2nd String QB?

| February 15th, 2018

The Chicago Bears have found their answer at starting quarterback, but that doesn’t mean they’re completely set at the position. It remains to be seen who else will be in the quarterback room with Trubisky this year, backing him up.

We know for sure one guy who won’t be there: Mike Glennon. Glennon’s a fine backup, and I’m sure he’ll land somewhere in 2018, but it won’t be Chicago. Then there’s Mark Sanchez, who undoubtedly proved an excellent mentor to Trubisky, and is someone I’d like to see stay with the organization in some capacity. I just don’t know if I want him out on the field if Trubisky gets injured. (Actually, I’m pretty sure I don’t.)

So what are the Bears to do?

Certainly there is never a shortage of veteran backups looking for a landing spot and the hot rumor has Matt Nagy looking at Chase Daniel this March. But there’s also another option: a rookie quarterback later in the draft.

When Ryan Pace was first hired as Chicago’s GM he was quoted as saying he wouldn’t be opposed to drafting a quarterback every year. Well he didn’t take any in years one and two, so maybe he’s due for another QB in year four?

One quarterback prospect expected to go in the later rounds, who has gotten a fair amount of press coverage due in part to making a positive impression on multiple teams during Senior Bowl week, is Washington State University quarterback Luke Falk.

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Across The Middle: Bears Should Think Bigger Than Chiefs

| February 14th, 2018

When Matt Nagy was hired as Bears head coach, comparisons to Kansas City – both their talent and approach – were immediately made by fans and media alike. How would the Bears find their version of Chiefs Player X? Who would the Bears target to run Chiefs Concept Y? But the Bears should be thinking bigger — literally and figuratively.

As exciting as Kansas City’s offense was last year, they were relatively easy to defend when the field shortened and their speed became less of a factor. The result was a shockingly bad red zone team. After ranking 30th in red zone scoring % in 2016, the team only increased to 29th last year. These were the two seasons Nagy has had at least a share of the offensive coordinator tittle.

In those two years, Kansas City scored on just 43.8% of their red zone trips. And it wasn’t like they had a bad kicker — their kickers made 47-of-51 attempts from 39 yards or less. They just couldn’t get into the end zone.

Over the same stretch under Dowell Loggains, the Bears scored on 55% of their red zone attempts. While the Bears had 23 fewer trips inside the red zone, they only managed one less score.

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Data Entry: What Passing Targets do the Bears Need?

| February 13th, 2018

There has been and will continue to be a great deal of talk about how the Bears need to add at least one stud wide receiver to their roster this off-season. Everybody wants a Julio Jones or Antonio Brown, with good reason, and the Bears are in desperate need of an upgrade in talent at the position after a season in which they finished last in the NFL in both passing yards and touchdowns, 25th in yards per attempt, and 26th in passer rating.

The Bears are going to add more talent at WR. But what exactly do they need? Should they look for one great player, two good players, or three plus capable players?

In an attempt to answer this question, I looked at how top passing offenses split their production among targets in recent years. After all, that’s the ultimate goal for the Bears, right? They want to become one of the top passing offenses in the NFL.

Accordingly, I looked at top 10 passing teams according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA for each of 2015, 2016, and 2017 and tracked how many receiving yards each of their top 5 leaders in that category had for the season. While this DVOA stat is not a perfect metric, it is an attempt to measure the efficiency of a passing attack instead of volume, which you would get from just looking at passing yards. The full list can be seen here.


No Clear Pattern

The first thing that jumps out is that there is no single defined way to have a top 10 passing offense. Some teams did it with one clear stud and a bunch of secondary weapons. Others had two dominant targets. Some had no clear dominant target at all.

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Final Thoughts on the 2017 NFL Season

| February 12th, 2018

The season has been over more than a week so I thought I’d throw a bunch of thoughts on the entire league into one semi-coherent post.


(1) It was a bad season for the NFL and it all stems from mismanagement at the top. The fallout from injuries/head trauma, player protests, rules issues…etc. were manageable and fixable. But Roger Goodell once again showed himself to be the most flaccidly ineffective commissioner in the history of professional sports.


(2) The “catch rule” has been the mostly thoroughly debated issue in the NFL and the Super Bowl seemed to be a turning point for its legislation, with two touchdowns actually being ruled touchdowns. (This despite the utter confusion of the commentary box, where Michaels and Collinsworth acted like they were asked to call a three-day test cricket match on forty minutes notice.) Possession. Two feet down. That’s it. If you have possession of the ball and two feet on the ground, you have caught the ball. For the first time in a long time, it feels the NFL is headed back in that direction.


(3) Ryan Pace took over the GM job in Chicago prior to the 2014 season.

  • His first year? Low expectations.
  • His second year? Three quarterbacks played, one of whom was benched for C.J. Beathard in 2017 and another didn’t approach an active roster.
  • Year three featured the drafting a quarterback with the second pick and nobody should put win/loss expectation on a rookie quarterback.

Now we enter year four. Pace has his coach. Pace has his QB. And if the latter stays healthy, the Bears should be expected to win games in 2018.

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Sunday Data Entry: Understanding Where the Bears Currently Stand with the Salary Cap

| February 11th, 2018

The questions…

  • Where do the Bears now sit relative to the cap?
  • How much money do they have to work with?
  • How much can they create with cuts?
  • What players of their own do they have to re-sign before looking for improvements elsewhere?

I know the salary cap can be confusing, so I try to break it down step-by-step as much as possible here. If you’re not interested in the specifics, you can just jump to the end for general numbers. All salary data comes courtesy of Spotrac.


Current Cap

The table below shows the Bears’ current cap situation.

Every line is important for the math, but the bottom line, highlighted in yellow, tells you they have roughly $32.1 million to spend after accounting for the likely contracts of their upcoming draft picks.

If you care where that number comes from, I’ll explain below the table. If not, just keep that $32.1 million in mind and jump to the next section.

The gray areas up top are the current cap expenses the Bears have.

  • Their 51 players under contract have a combined cap hit of $143.8 million.
  • They have $1.2 million in dead cap (money previously paid to cut players that didn’t count under previous caps).
  • Their draft picks are estimated to use up $7.6 million of cap space.

This all adds up to $152.6 million. Those numbers are broken down on a player by player basis here.

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DaBearsPod: The Brian Urlacher Edition [AUDIO]

| February 9th, 2018

On this week’s special edition of DaBearsPod:

  • Jeff finishes off the Josh McDaniels/Bears discussion, monologue-style.
  • Former Urlacher teammate Cam Worrell tells us all what made Lach special on and off the field. (There’s a great story here about a banquet Cam attended years after playing with Brian.)
  • A should-be-more-famous clip of Urlacher defending Cutler after the 2010 NFC title game.
  • Reverend Dave sings 54’s praises from eastern Africa.
  • Music from Monty Python & Henry Mancini!

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Film Review – ’85: The Greatest Team in Pro Football History is an Amateurish Disaster

| February 8th, 2018

There are two ways I evaluate documentaries, my second favorite genre of film behind the movie musical. (1) Is the content compelling? (2) Is the presentation of the content compelling? There are plenty of documentaries that satisfy one and not the other. There are hours of Holocaust footage assembled into difficult-to-watch “documentaries” but that content isn’t presented with any artistry, most likely because it doesn’t require any. Andy Warhol’s docs are studied in film schools for their approach to the form (and Jonas Mekas’ camera work) but try sitting through Empire. Seriously. Try.

When the content and presentation are both compelling we find documentary genius. Usually this kind of work is reserved for artists like Errol Morris, Agnes Varda, Alex Gibney, Frederick Wiseman and D.A. Pennebaker. It yields films like Harlan County USA, How to Survive a Plague, Grizzly Man and, of course, Hoop Dreams.

And sports have always been a fertile playground for documentary as that last film mentioned proved. Sports lends itself perfectly to reflection, especially when additional insight from those who experienced the game is added. There are game histories; NFL Network’s America’s Game series was breathtaking. There are moments in history; the Bill Simmons-led 30-for-30 series on ESPN has popularized the art form for a whole new audience. And there are high art masterpieces; Hoop Dreams and The Two Escobars are probably the best sports docs ever made because like all great sports movies they are not about sports.

’85: The Greatest Team in Pro Football History, a documentary by Scott Prestin, is a terrible piece of filmmaking (with a stupid title). It is incoherent, boring and endlessly redundant. There is not a single new moment, not ONE piece of new information, in its entire, bloated 1:41 run time.

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Across The Middle: Alshon’s Inflated Contract Could Prohibit Bears From Attacking Receiver in FA

| February 7th, 2018

Whether they did it knowingly or not, by giving Alshon Jeffery a huge extension during the season, the Philadelphia Eagles made their success model next to impossible to duplicate.

The Eagles gave Jeffery the kind of contract the Bears would not, especially coming off his shaky-at-best 2016. AJ will average $13 million per season for the next 4 years, with a total guarantee of roughly $27 million. The Eagles are the champs so every move looks golden but what they actually did was inflate the wide receiver market by paying a premier contract to a non-premier player.

The Bears have come under constant criticism for not bringing Jeffery back but:

  • He hasn’t had 1,000 yards or 10 touchdowns in a season since 2014.
  • This year he caught less than half of his targets for the Eagles.
  • After the Patriots switched Stephon Gilmore on to Jeffery in the Super Bowl, he became a ghost. It looked like it would be easy to point to Sunday and say the Bears should’ve paid him, but that game is exactly why Ryan Pace didn’t. What happened to Jeffery doesn’t happen to number one receivers and now Jeffery is paid like one.

And other receivers will want to cash in.

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Data Entry: Self-Scouting Chicago’s 2017 – Defense

| February 6th, 2018

Chicago’s defense was generally good in 2017. We all know this. They finished 10th in total yards allowed and 9th in points allowed.

Let’s take the same approach we took with the offense.

Rushing Defense

Chicago’s overall run defense was solid in 2017; they finished 11th in rushing yards against, 12th in yards per carry allowed, and 9th in touchdowns given up. Now let’s break it down by different areas of the field.

Here’s the data for Chicago’s rushing defense in 2017. The line at the bottom is the line of scrimmage, runs are split into 7 zones, and attempts and yards per carry are listed for each zone, with ranks relative to the rest of the NFL in parentheses. The height of the bar is proportional to yards per carry, and bars are colored green for top 10, red for bottom 10, and yellow for middle 12. Note expected yards per carry varies by region, so the colors are relative to their peers in that region.



A few thoughts:

  • There were some clear changes here from what this looked like at the bye, when the Bears were halfway through the season. That makes sense given all of the injuries that forced different personnel to play down the stretch. A few noticeable shifts include runs to left end and the middle, which I’ll expand more on individually.
  • At left end, the Bears improved a good bit in the 2nd half of the season. Halfway through, they were giving up 5.4 yards per carry there, and their work in the 2nd half dropped by a full yard per carry. Some of that might be due to a small sample size (only 18 runs in the first half), while others might be due to personnel. Cornerback Prince Amukamara largely played on that side, but he missed a large part of the first half. Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee also played less there down the stretch, and replacing his lack of speed with somebody else might have helped.

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