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Analyzing Chicago’s Roster Needs Heading Into the Draft

| April 22nd, 2019

The draft is this week so it’s time to think seriously about what positions the Bears need to address with their limited picks. Let’s start by taking a look at their current roster so we can see what positions they might need more help at. My best guess at an approximate depth chart if they played a game this week is shown below.


 


A few thoughts:

  • This list has 48 names on it. Teams dress 46 players for game day. Remove one of the kickers and probably Nick Williams and that’s your 46 man active roster.
  • Honestly, where are the holes on that roster? Kicker is one, but otherwise running back is the weakest spot, and even that isn’t completely terrible. Outside of those two positions, it’s hard to see a spot where a rookie is going to beat out the veteran ahead of him for a spot on the active roster.
  • Combine the caliber of this roster with the lack of high picks for the Bears, and Chicago is probably not looking at rookies making instant impact in 2019 outside of running back and kicker (barring injury).
  • One exception to this might be on special teams. The Bears lost core special teamers in Josh Bellamy, Benny Cunningham, and Daniel Brown this offseason, and only brought in one veteran to replace them in Marvin Hall. There are snaps to be earned on special teams in training camp, and rookies at positions like TE, LB, CB, and S could be in that mix.

Draft for the Future

But in terms of offense and defense, what you see is basically what the Bears are going to have to work with for 2019 (besides at running back). This means the draft priority shifts from drafting for the present to drafting for the future. Once he has taken his running back, Ryan Pace should be thinking about potential roster holes in 2020, and drafting guys who might be able to fill them.

With that in mind, let’s look at where those holes might be a year from now.

  • Edge Rusher: 3rd edge rusher Aaron Lynch is back on a 1 year deal, and Leonard Floyd is technically a free agent after this year as well (though Ryan Pace has stated he will exercise Floyd’s 5th year option). Even if he is back for 2020, Floyd will be expensive to sign long-term, and the Bears might decide that’s more money than they can afford to spend. Isaiah Irving (who will be a restricted free agent) and Kylie Fitts have shown nothing in the NFL so far to suggest they might be starting-caliber players, and this is a position that is very difficult and expensive to address in free agency. Add in that this year’s edge rusher class is supposed to be really talented and deep, and the Bears would be wise to add one at some point in the draft. They met with Christian Miller, a projected day 2 pick, earlier this month, indicating that point might be sooner in the draft than people think.
  • Safety: Eddie Jackson is the only safety on the roster who currently has a contract that runs beyond 2019. HaHa Clinton-Dix, Eddie Bush, and DeAndre Houston-Carson are all free agents after this year. Houston-Carson will be a restricted free agent who is thus easy to bring back, but he’s a former 6th round pick who has shown nothing besides special teams ability through two years. Assuming Leonard Floyd gets his 5th year tag, this is the biggest hole on the 2020 roster as of right now.
  • Inside linebacker: Danny Trevathan is a free agent after 2019, and the Bears might not be able to re-sign him due to cap concerns. According to Spotrac, they are currently projected to have just over $1 million in cap space for 2020, and that’s before you factor in a likely Cody Whitehair extension or Leonard Floyd’s 5th year tag. Nick Kwiatkoski will be a free agent too, leaving 2018 4th round pick Joel Iyiegbuniwe – who has only really played on special teams so far – as the incumbent starter next to Leonard Floyd. It’s hard to know if Iyiegbuniwe will develop into that caliber of player, so finding somebody who can play special teams in 2019 and compete for a starting spot in 2020 would be ideal.
  • Cornerback: We’re now moving to the point where players who might be cap casualties after 2019 start to factor into the thought process. At cornerback, that is Prince Amukamara, who could offer $9 million in cap savings if he is cut next offseason. Amukamara is a good player, but the Bears are tight against the cap, and those are the type of difficult decisions that sometimes have to be made. The only notable reserve right now is 2018 UDFA Kevin Toliver, who admittedly looked decent when filling in last year, but more developmental talent on the roster would be a good idea. This is also true inside at nickel, where backup Sherrick McManis will be a 32 year old free agent next year.
  • Interior Offensive Line: The cut candidate here would be Kyle Long, who can be cut to save $8.1 million on the 2020 cap. Long is a good player, but his injury history is substantial and he’ll be 31 next offseason. There is no notable young backup on the roster right now, so getting a player to groom to either replace Long or be a key interior backup would be great. Of course, the Bears could wait to address this need using one of their two 2nd round picks in 2020, as Ryan Pace has drafted 2 interior OL in the 2nd round who played quite well as rookies in Cody Whitehair and James Daniels.
  • Wide Receiver: Taylor Gabriel is a good but not great player who will likely be the Bears’ 3rd leading WR this year, and 4th or 5th in terms of targets and yards for the team as a whole. That has value, but the $4.5 million in cap space they could save by cutting him might be more useful to the Bears next offseason. If you really want to get bold, Chicago could save $13 million by cutting Allen Robinson. The Bears won’t cut both, but one is likely, and Gabriel is the more expendable player. Javon Wims is a promising young backup who could possible develop to step into a bigger role, but he is not the same style of WR as Gabriel. Drafting a speedster to develop would be a good idea, and I took a look at possible draft fits for that role a few weeks ago. The Bears have met with players who could fit that bill like Terry McClaurin and Emanuel Hall, both of whom would require Chicago to spend their top pick (if they’re even still around then).
  • Tight End: Speaking of good but not great players who are overpaid, Trey Burton is Chicago’s lead tight end. We saw in 2019 that he’s not really a top-shelf player, and looking at Philadelphia and Kansas City makes it pretty clear that this offense works best when it has a tight end who is. Burton’s contract basically means he’ll be here for two more years (it only saves about $1 million to cut him after 2019), but finding a young player who can push him by 2020 would be good. I looked at potential fits in the draft here too, and judging by Chicago’s recent meeting with Josh Oliver, they’re thinking along those same lines.

The Bears are in a great position in that they don’t have many pressing needs for 2019. They could walk into the season with the roster they currently have and feel good about their chances of making the playoffs and competing for a title. That’s a fantastic spot to be before draft weekend, especially when you don’t pick until late in round 3.

But as you can see from the list above, the potential needs increase dramatically when you look a year to the future. The Bears will have plenty of picks next year to work with, but should be looking to fill some of those holes already in the draft this year.

When analyzing the Bears’ picks after this weekend, don’t think about their value in terms of how they fit in 2019 (with the obvious exception of running back). Look instead at how they might fit on the roster in 2020 and beyond.

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