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Sam Mustipher Answers Big Question for Bears

| March 10th, 2021


The Chicago Bears seem to have answers on the interior of their offensive line, thanks to a former undrafted rookie. Both Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy went out of their way last week to compliment Sam Mustipher as being a calming presence on their offensive line and essential to the improvement they showed down the stretch.

“I can’t say enough about Sam Mustipher, we’re so lucky to have him,” Ryan Pace told Jeff Joniak and Tom Thayer last week. “His leadership, his intelligence, his ability to calm everybody down. It’s infectious. He’s the guy sprinting 20 yards down field, picking up the ball carrier, leading the whole group.”

In an interview with Dan Wiederer and Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune, Matt Nagy offered similar remarks.

“Things really got calm,” Nagy said about when Mustipher entered the lineup. “He proved to use that he is more than capable of being a starting center in the NFL. The number one thing he brings is leadership. He’s such a multiplier.”

That last line from Nagy is crucial.

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Bears Need to Force Action on Russell Wilson

| March 2nd, 2021

Once Russell Wilson has been dangled in front of the faces of Bears fans, little else will do. And recent reports out of Seattle make two things clear:

  • Wilson doesn’t want to keep beating his head against the wall in Seattle.
  • Seattle doesn’t want a QB who publicly speaks his mind.

None of that would matter except, shockingly, the Chicago Bears just so happen to need a quarterback and Wilson listed them on his list of teams to which he would accept a trade. Like the Texans with Deshaun Watson and the Packers with Aaron Rodgers, the Seahawks seem to have little interest in trading their star quarterback right now. Doing so would actually cost Seattle $39 million in 2021; keeping Wilson would cost them $32 million. Paying $7 million to get rid of a franchise quarterback is bad business, no matter how upset they might be with him.

So, what can the Bears do? Well, there is an unconventional way in which the Bears and Seahawks could work out a trade.

The teams would have a handshake agreement to finalize the trade after June 1, and doing so would mean trading Wilson is only a $13 million cap hit for Seattle in 2021 and they’d save $19 million — that math is much better for them. The teams couldn’t necessarily exchange draft picks in 2021, but — in theory — the Bears could make a pick with the idea that they’d be trading that player to Seattle. The cleaner way would be to not include any draft picks until the 2022 season, but the Bears have to be flexible.

The problem, however, is that Seattle couldn’t use any assets they would get from the Bears to make trades. If they’re trading a franchise quarterback, they’d surely like to get one in return and there’s no telling if that could happen with the 20th pick. The Bears would surely want to know if they have the 20th pick to use or if it’s traded before then. Then again, Seattle doesn’t ever want to pass anyway, so maybe Nick Foles would be good enough for them.

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ATM: Trading Robinson Could Help Bears Land Franchise QB

| February 23rd, 2021

It certainly doesn’t seem as if the Chicago Bears are going to be re-signing Allen Robinson to a long-term extension, which means they have to find a way to make his exit a positive for the future of the franchise. The best way to do that is by moving him in a deal that would help the team draft the next franchise quarterback.

As I wrote last week, the team’s options at quarterback are relatively limited and trading up would cost them more picks than most GMs would be comfortable with unloading. Their most valuable asset could be Robinson through a tag and trade scenario.

In recent years, worse receivers have been traded for first round picks, so that’s where the bidding could start for Robinson. Last year, Stefon Diggs was traded for the 22nd pick and some change after a season in which he caught just 63 passes. Considering he’ll be on the franchise tag with a hefty raise coming, it’s not unreasonable to consider Robinson as having the same value as Diggs.

Trading Robinson makes the Bears future prospects at least a little more interesting.

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ATM: Wentz Might Be Best Option for Bears

| February 17th, 2021

The carousel.

While many are expecting the 2021 offseason to be a busy one when it comes to quarterback movement, it’s worth wondering if the current pause in the carousel just might be permanent and if the Chicago Bears need to find their guy soon.

The pause is because of Deshaun Watson.

While he has requested a trade and, reportedly, insists he won’t play for the Houston Texans anymore, the Texans are still without a real good reason to trade him. Perhaps refusing to trade Watson would look bad for Houston but in the long run, if they refuse to move him, Watson will have to either show up or retire. The latter option would likely mean repaying some of his signing bonus. All signs point to Houston not budging, at least for the foreseeable future.

If Watson isn’t moved soon, Derek Carr surely won’t be. The Raiders would be idiotic to move Carr without a surefire upgrade in place and it certainly appears they don’t see Marcus Mariota as that upgrade. The 49ers are also likely to stand pat with Jimmy G, though the latter likely wouldn’t be seen as a surefire starting option anyway, given his injury history.

You can bet Russell Wilson won’t be traded and the Packers have insisted they won’t move Aaron Rodgers. (He wouldn’t be available to the Bears anyway, but could cause another domino to fall.)

So, where does that leave teams like the Bears and the Colts?

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Deja Vu: Bears Need to Be More Explosive

| February 16th, 2021

I’ve been tracking explosive plays for a few years now because they have a strong relationship to points scored. To put it simply, good offenses produce plenty of big plays. Let’s look at how Chicago did in this department in last season.


Basic Overview

The table below shows how many explosive passes, runs, and total plays the Bears produced in 2020, as well as how those results ranked compared to the rest of the NFL. Explosive passes are those that gain 20+ yards, while explosive runs gained 15+ yards. All data is from Pro Football Reference, and explosive play data is from the Game Play Finder.

A few thoughts:

  • If these results look awfully familiar, it’s because they are. The Bears were the least explosive team in the NFL in 2019 with 49 explosive plays. If you want to look on the bright side, this year actually showed a slight improvement, though they were still one of the least explosive offenses in the league.
  • You can view the full results here, but Chicago’s totals put them right in line with teams like the Washington Football Team, Giants, Jets, and Bengals. Yuck.
  • I found last offseason that there is very little year-to-year correlation for explosive plays. Based on this, you could argue that finishing horribly in this category 2 years in a row is random bad luck, but I’m more inclined to think it’s an indictment on the personnel and/or scheme.

Explosive Players

I also want to look briefly at who produced the explosive plays. I want to caution that I’ve found there is very little year-over-year consistency in these results, so a player having an explosive or non-explosive 2020 doesn’t necessarily guarantee it will repeat in 2021.

Let’s start with a look at the quarterbacks, and I want to note that passes here include sacks for a more accurate reflection of total pass plays.

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ATM: Draft Changes Make Picks Less Valuable

| February 9th, 2021

The NFL Draft is always a crapshoot, but in 2021 the odds of hitting are even lower, making the picks – at least the early selections – less valuable.

We’ve heard the story hundreds of times. A team likes a player’s tape, brings him in, puts him on the whiteboard and falls in love. In some instances, teams fall in love at dinner meetings in which the player made the reservation under a fun name and then walked them back to his crappy Toyota.

Same old story. But that won’t happen this year.

According to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, all teams are prohibited from timing, testing, interviewing in-person or giving medical exams to any draft prospects outside of a school’s pro day or an all-star game because of concerns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. There is a ban on all private workouts, facility visits, dinners and film sessions with prospects.

Communication can be done virtually or at structured events, but teams don’t like that. They want to get prospects in their building, have them speak to position coaches and work them out to see if they can do the specific thing the team wants the player to be able to do.

This is particularly important for quarterbacks.

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Five Steps the Bears Can Take to Accelerate Their Super Bowl Timetable (Or, Get Deshaun)

| February 3rd, 2021

If it’s simply a matter of what team can offer the most, the Chicago Bears have no shot at getting Deshaun Watson. Thankfully, that’s not the case. “The player” can pick his next team and the Bears have to sell him on the Bears being that team.

As of last week, the Texans strongly insisted they would not trade Watson. But it’s the quarterback who actually holds the power, if he wants to use it. Playing hardball and forcing Watson to either retire or pay hefty fines for not reporting to training camp is the kind of move that could kill a Texans franchise already on life support. He has made it clear he wants out and the best thing the Texans can do is move on and start thinking about the future. (And it makes their sales pitch to the fans – “he wanted out” – far easier.)

While there should be at least 30 teams trying to make a move for Watson, the Bears are situated better than many think. They have almost all of their draft picks going forward and salary cap space is easy enough to create, especially with Watson only costing roughly $11 million against the cap in 2021.

We know the Bears can’t put together an offer full of top five picks but if they can appeal to Watson, the Texans just might have to take what they can get.

Five steps to do just that.


Step One. “I F@#&ed up.”

Ryan Pace has to talk man-to-man with Watson and explain the 2017 draft.

The most important thing: he can’t insult Watson. He must find a way to explain why he took Mitch, without offending Watson even more than he already has. He must tell him he’s every bit as good as the team thought, but they fell in love with Mitch. It was a mistake.

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Numbers Prove It: Losing Robinson Not An Option

| January 29th, 2021

After yesterday’s piece highlighting the Bears’ need to prioritize keeping Allen Robinson around this offseason, today will build on that with a closer look at Robinson’s value to the Bears. I’ll start with examining his individual performance, and then look to the importance of that performance in context to building a roster.


High Volume

To start with, Robinson is the team’s highest volume pass weapon by a wide margin. More than 1 in 4 passes the Bears threw last year went Robinson’s way, and he finished 3rd in the NFL in targets with 151 (9.4/game). Nobody else had more than Darnell Mooney’s 98 (6.1/game). Replacing that kind of volume would be difficult.

However, you could reasonably argue that high volume is not indicative of quality. In fact, if Robinson drew a lot of targets but had limited production with them, it could be argued that distributing those targets elsewhere is a good idea. And at first glance, Robinson was not a terribly efficient target.

  • Although Robinson was 3rd in the NFL in targets, he was 6th in receptions and 9th in yards, which means other players around the league out-produced him while needing less volume to do so.
  • Of the 42 players who saw 100 targets in 2020, Robinson ranked 21st in both catch % and yards/target, meaning he was middle of the pack in efficiency.

It is important to remember, however, that a pass catcher is dependent on their quarterback, and Robinson was working with bad quarterbacks last year. The players who caught more passes than him were catching balls from Josh Allen, Kyler Murray, Aaron Rodgers, Derek Carr, and Patrick Mahomes. Those who finished with more yards caught passes from those QBs plus Russell Wilson, Kirk Cousins, and Matt Ryan.


High Efficiency

With that in mind, let’s compare Robinson’s efficiency to the rest of the team’s pass catchers. The table below shows the basic statistics for every player with at least 10 targets in 2020.

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ATM: Bears Can’t Afford Half Measures at Quarterback

| January 27th, 2021

If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have proved one thing, it’s that the risk is always worth the reward at quarterback.

It’s easy to look back and say that signing Tom Brady was a no-brainer but tell that to the San Francisco 49ers, the team Brady wanted to go to. There were times when Brady looked flat out washed up over the last two years, but Tampa Bay still took the chance and gave him a two-year $50 million deal. If the decision didn’t work out, every person involved with making it would be finished in Tampa.

Signing Brady gave the Bucs hope. They went from 7-9 to the Super Bowl, with a 43-year-old quarterback who threw 40 touchdown passes during the regular season and seven more in the playoffs.

When it comes to acquiring quarterbacks, there are very few sure things. Jay Cutler looked like it as a 25-year-old Pro Bowler who had what was considered a magnificent season at the time. That 2009 trade didn’t work out quite the way the Bears wanted to, but its “failure” is no reason to be gun shy now.

While he had success, Cutler’s acquisition was as much about potential as anything. When it comes to Deshaun Watson, there is no wondering what he could become because he is already one of the five best quarterbacks in the league. If it takes four first-round picks, the Bears have to offer that. Quarterbacks of his caliber, at his age, don’t become available. Ever.

The other options are more uncertain. Dak Prescott likely won’t be available. Neither Aaron Rodgers nor Matt Stafford will be available to the Bears. Yet the quarterback carousel could still give the Bears an opportunity to grab a good player. Derek Carr and Jimmy Garoppolo are two quarterbacks who are proven to be good, though the latter would require a solid backup as he simply can’t stay on the field.

We still don’t know for sure what the draft will offer the Bears, but if they miss out on Watson, Prescott or Carr, there’s a very good chance the Bears will be spending their first pick on the position. What they can’t do, however, is hope that a quarterback they like drops to them.

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ATM: Ten Best Fits for Defensive Coordinator

| January 19th, 2021


10. Ed Donatell

Vic Fangio’s defense is well-known because he mixes up coverages so well and Donatell is the guy who has long run his secondary. The Bears had the opportunity to hire him in 2019 but seemingly passed.

After losing out on the Bears’ job, Donatell went to become Fangio’s coordinator, but he doesn’t have full autonomy. If that’s what he wants, Fangio might allow him to leave.


9. Aaron Glenn

The former Pro Bowl cornerback has become a highly thought-of coach, even taking an interview to be the New York Jets head coach before they hired Robert Saleh.

Glenn coached defensive backs with Cleveland, where he helped both Tashaun Gipson and Buster Skrine have career years in 2014. He moved on to New Orleans, where he has been credited as a major reason the Saints have had one of the best defense in the league the last four years.


8. Mark DeLeone

DeLeone coached with Nagy in Kansas City and was one of Nagy’s first actual defensive hires, with most of the staff being coaches who previously worked with Fangio.

DeLeone’s work as inside linebackers coach has been impressive. In addition to the high level at which he has Roquan Smith playing, he helped get Nick Kwiatkoski paid and got Kevin Pierre-Louis a solid one-year deal.

(He could bring longtime defensive coordinator Bob Sutton with him in an advisory role, as Sutton helped bring DeLone into the NFL with the Jets and then brought him to KC.)


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