Data Entry: A Realistic Best-Case Scenario for the Bears Future.

| March 9th, 2018

As everybody knows, it’s been a rough stretch for the Bears. They’ve won a total of 14 games in the three years since Ryan Pace took over and lost at least 10 games in each of those seasons.

Now many fans, myself included, see a young quarterback in place and a new coaching staff designed to help him succeed. Better times are on the horizon. After all, teams with a good QB on a cheap rookie contract are usually pretty good for most of that deal. If you believe Trubisky will be even an average NFL QB, things should be looking up for the Bears.

But before I get too carried away planning a downtown parade route, I want to look at recent history to get a sense of a realistic best-case scenario for what the Bears’ next few seasons could look like. Again, I want to emphasize this is not what the Bears’ next few seasons will look like. This is an historically realistic, best-case scenario.

But hey, free agency is starting next week and we’re all dreaming big, so let’s have some fun.


The first goal has to be making the playoffs, so let’s start there.

Since the Bears are on a bad three-year run, I looked at all playoff teams since 2007 and tracked their performance in the three years before making the playoffs.

The table below shows averages and low values for wins each season, plus the number of teams (out of 132) who had marks the same as or worse than the Bears. Full data can be seen here.

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Data Entry: Outlining My Ideal Free Agency

| March 6th, 2018

The Combine just ended and NFL free agency is about to kick off. Teams and agents were already talking in Indianapolis, and the official legal tampering period starts next Monday.

With that in mind, I’m going to lay out both positions and players I think the Bears should target. I’ll explain my rationale for each, detail why they are a good fit, and try to provide a contract estimate. I’m not going to address smaller depth needs – backup QB, 3rd RB, etc. Just the main contracts that will take up most of the cap room.

Salary Cap

The Bears are currently projected to have around $80 million in cap space after accounting for their eventual draft picks, so they have plenty of money to work with. They could also clear up to another $15 million by cutting Dion Sims ($5.7 million), Markus Wheaton ($5 million), and Marcus Cooper ($4.5 million).

As we’ll see below, however, they have a number of significant needs to address, and that’s before you begin to consider extensions for in-house candidates like Eddie Goldman, Adrian Amos, and Cam Meredith, which GM Ryan Pace said at the Combine were being discussed.

The Bears have money to spend. But they can’t just throw it around willy-nilly because that money won’t go as far as many might casually think from looking at the large number.

Wide Receiver

I’ve already spent a lot of time talking about wide receiver this offseason, so this discussion is going to be short. I think the Bears should try to add two players, one to be a WR2 and one as a WR3. There are plenty of FA options available for both roles who fit their new offense well.

As I stated before, my ideal targets would be Marqise Lee as the WR2 and Albert Wilson as the WR3. Lee has proven to be reliable, while Wilson knows the offense, and seemingly has a strong relationship with Matt Nagy. Both are fits.

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Data Entry: Projecting Contracts For Possible Receiver Targets

| February 27th, 2018

In the last two weeks, I’ve outlined both what the Bears need to add at WR this off-season and what players in free agency should fit that profile/the new offense. At the end of that work, I came up with the following two lists, suggesting that the Bears work to sign one player from each group.

Tier 1 (750+ yard receivers)

Marqise Lee, Jordan Matthews, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders (if cut)

Tier 2 (500+ yard receivers)

Albert Wilson, Kendall Wright, John Brown, Taylor Gabriel, Paul Richardson, Jaron Brown

Now I want to look at what types of contracts those players should expect in free agency to see how expensive these moves would likely be for the Bears. In order to do that, you need to compare the contracts signed by similar players (in both age and past production) who hit free agency in recent years. This gives you a general baseline for the ballpark a new contract should probably be in, though of course there are no guarantees this is exactly how it works out.

In an effort to be as accurate as possible, I also accounted for inflation, since the cap keeps going up every year. It’s jumped by about $10 million a year every year since 2015, and is expected to do the same again this year. Thus the comparable contracts were multiplied by the following scaling factors to get the predicted value, depending on when they were signed (some slight adjustments were made for greater/worse production):

  • 2015: 1.24
  • 2016: 1.15
  • 2017: 1.07

Let’s look through each target 1 by 1, with a few brief comments. Full data for production of targets and free agent contracts can be seen here. All contract information is from Spotrac.

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Data Entry: Building a WR Profile for Chicago’s New Offense

| February 20th, 2018

The Combine approaches in a few weeks in Indianapolis, and with it an obsession over everything that can be measured. Height. Weight. Hand size. Three-cone. Jumping ability. Speed. Everybody will soon be discussing 40 times like they make the difference between a good and bad football player.

Before we get a bunch of data from the Combine, let’s take a look at which measurables might matter, specifically at wide receiver.

New head coach Matt Nagy comes from the Andy Reid offense in Kansas City, so I took a look at the Combine stats of WRs the Chiefs invested in  -either in the draft or free agency  -since Reid came to Kansas City in 2012. Basically, I wanted to find a physical profile for well-performing wide receivers in that offense that the Bears might look to follow this year. This can help us identify what wide receivers at the Combine might make sense as targets for the Bears in the draft.

Building the Profile

There were 8 Chiefs WRs identified that were drafted by them, signed to a substantial deal in free agency or earned a meaningful role with the team as an undrafted free agent since Reid took over in 2012. These players were Tyreek Hill, Jeremy Maclin, Albert Wilson, Chris Conley, Jehu Chesson, Demarcus Robinson, Da’Ron Brown, and De’Anthony Thomas. I used Mock Draftable to look up their Combine data (or found data from their pro day when the Combine was not available) in every category I could find, and compared it to the average WR mark in each of these categories that Mock Draftable has compiled. Full data can be seen here.

Many of the measurables didn’t show any clear pattern, but I identified three where players consistently scored well: 40-yard dash, vertical jump, and broad jump.

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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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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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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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Data Entry: Self-Scouting Chicago’s 2017 Offense

| February 6th, 2018

Chicago’s offense was generally bad in 2017. We all know this. They finished 30th in the NFL in yards per game and 29th in points scored.

Those types of basic stats are easy for anybody to look up, and they can help paint an overall picture of how effective a unit performed. They do not. however, tell a complete tale. It can be useful to look deeper and see in what areas the Bears might have struggled, as well as where they might have done well. This can be useful to help identify specific areas of strength to build on going forward, as well as areas that need to be addressed through personnel and/or scheme improvements.

In an effort to do this, I used the NFL Game Statistics Information System to look at Chicago’s offensive stats in a bit more detail. I broke down rushing and passing attempts by areas of the field to see where they target the most and how successful they are. Let’s have a look.

Rushing Attack

Chicago’s overall run game was solid in 2017; they finished 16th in rushing yards, 11th in yards per carry, and 11th in touchdowns. Now let’s break it down by different areas of the field.

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Data Entry: Bears’ Contract Options for Kyle Fuller

| February 1st, 2018

As we all know, Kyle Fuller had a breakout season in 2017 after missing all of 2016 with a knee injury. He led the NFL in passes broken up and ranked 17th among all cornerbacks in both completion percentage and passer rating allowed, per Pro Football Focus. Now general manager Ryan Pace has to decide what to do with Fuller, who is set to enter unrestricted free agency as one of the top cornerbacks on the market.

Let’s take a look at his options.

Franchise Tag

One weapon at Pace’s disposal is the franchise tag, which would guarantee Fuller the average of the top 5 cap hits at the cornerback position in 2018. Right now, that would look like a one year, $15.3 million contract that is fully guaranteed (per Spotrac). Pace can choose to apply this tag at any point between February 20 and March 6, and it seems likely to happen unless the Bears and Fuller can reach a long-term agreement first.

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Data Entry: Searching for Stats to Contextualize Trubisky’s Rookie Season

| January 30th, 2018

I recently looked at Trubisky’s rookie performance in “quarters” – four-game sets – and found that he showed continual growth in both usage and efficiency (in all areas but throwing touchdowns) as the season progressed.

Now I want to look at how that growth compares to other recent quarterbacks in their rookie seasons. Do quarterbacks who are going to be good show more growth during their rookie season? Do those who stay the same, or get worse, tend to bust?

The Set-Up

I looked at all QBs drafted in the 1st round who played at least twelve games of their rookie season within the last 10 years and tracked their progress in four-game samples. All data was compiled using the Pro Football Reference game play finder. Allow me a brief explanation of my 3 limits:

  • 1st Round Picks. I wanted players similar to Trubisky, who were drafted with the expectation of playing early. Later round picks often have to earn the job so I didn’t want to include them and skew the data.
  • In the Last 10 years. The NFL passing game continues to evolve, as does the college passing game that prepares them for the NFL. Comparing rookie QBs now to rookie QBs from 20 years ago just isn’t reasonable. Heck, even comparing now to 10 years ago isn’t great, but cutting it much shorter than that really limits the sample size, which is already pretty small.
  • Who Played Twelve Games as Rookies. I’m tracking growth in four-game samples, and two sets of data isn’t really enough, so twelve games gives some sort of growth trend through at least 3 sets.

These stipulations gave me a sample size of 16 quarterbacks: Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Mark Sanchez, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden, Andrew Luck, Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Carson Wentz, and Mitch Trubisky.

Before doing this study, it seemed fairly logical to me that most rookie QBs would naturally improve as the season wore on. After all, they’re brand new at this and facing a steep growth curve. And you usually get better at your job within the first few months, right?

Also, take into consideration that most of these quarterbacks were starters from day one of training camp, let alone the regular season. Trubisky faced the unique scenario of not seeing first-team reps until after the first quarter, as the Bears prepared to face what was then the league’s best defense.

Nevertheless, we look at the numbers.

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