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Roster, Cap, Future: An All-Encompassing Primer for the 2021 Off-Season

| January 14th, 2021

The 2020 season is behind us, and now it’s time to start thinking about what changes are coming in the offseason to prepare for next year. We will focus on the roster, examining the salary cap situation, looking at who’s still under contract vs. a free agent, and exploring potential options for freeing up money.


Salary Cap Situation

The 2021 salary cap is currently projected to be somewhere between $175 and $195 million. I’ll use $185 million, right in the middle of that, as our estimate for now. As you can see in the table below, the Bears are fairly tight up against the cap right now (bottom row). All numbers come from Over the Cap.

The Bears have very little cap room, and it’s worth noting this is with only 45 players under contract. The Bears will have to fill to 53 for a full roster, and the NFL minimum salary is $660k. Even if they fill out with minimum-salary players, that adds another $5.3 million, which puts them over the salary cap (or very close to it, depending on where exactly it ends up). That’s not to mention their draft picks, which will add a few million to that; the Bears pick 20th in round 1, and last years’ 20th overall pick had a $2.4M cap hit.

I’ll note these numbers are current as of about 10 PM Chicago time on Wednesday, January 13. They might have changed if the Bears sign more practice squad players to futures contracts (which basically adds in guys at that minimum $660k level).


Depth Chart

So the Bears are currently a little over the salary cap, though there are always options to free up more money (more on that later). Who do they have under contract making all that money? The table below shows the current depth chart for all 45 players currently signed for 2021 (again, might be a little out of date as the Bears sign their practice squad players in the upcoming days).

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Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy Will Return in 2021.

| January 13th, 2021


Both men will meet the media at 10:00 AM CT Wednesday (my birthday). Stay tuned to this space for a response to that press conference.

A few notes:

  • George McCaskey made clear what many of us have known: this ownership group loves Ryan Pace and trusts him to right the ship. (Do they love Nagy? I’m not sure but they trust Ryan on him.)
  • No contract extensions for either doesn’t automatically mean next season is “win or gone” but it will increase the pressure.
  • George: “We need better production from the quarterback position to be successful.” Bingo.
  • George suggested he’s more confident in Pace selecting the next franchise QB because Nagy will be involved in that process. It is very obvious ownership wants this group to succeed and is going to give them every chance to do that.
  • Weird moment when Ted wouldn’t answer how long the Nagy/Pace contracts are. Not sure I get why that would be privileged information but it does suggest these guys might not be expiring after 2021.
  • Pace made it very clear that this entire offseason is about the quarterback position.
  • Prodded about the 2017 draft by Dan Wiederer, Pace would not take the bait and kill Trubisky. Nagy was pressed as well, and passed. There’s no reason to do it.

One thing is very clear from today: Mitch Trubisky will not be on the Chicago Bears next season.

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ATM: Pace Should Need Playoff Miracle to Keep His Job

| January 5th, 2021

Recently, The Athletic‘s Mike Sando published a list of NFL GMs, along with their winning percentages. Of the 18 GMs who have been in the league at least five years, Ryan Pace ranked 14th in terms of winning percentage. Two of the guys behind him have been fired. One owns the Bengals, where winning isn’t that big of a deal. The fourth? Well, how does Jason Licht still have a job?

The truth about what needs to happen with Pace was painfully obvious on Sunday. He was hired largely because of two lopsided losses to the Green Bay Packers in 2014, wherein the Packers outscored the Bears 93-31. He has closed the gap a little, but in 2020 the Packers still outscored the Bears by a combined 35 points that would’ve been more if not for a couple of garbage time scores in October. Pace has had six off-seasons to eliminate the gap between these two rivals. He has failed to do so.

Yes. Pace inherited a tough job, but was it more difficult than what Les Snead was thrown into with the Rams or Steve Keim with the Cardinals? Doubtful. Heck, Jon Robinson inherited a team that just used the second pick on Marcus Mariota and has still managed to turn the Titans into a winner.

The tricky part about Pace is that he clearly has an eye for talent.

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I Was Wrong: Tectonic Shift Proves Pace, Nagy and Trubisky Should All Return in 2021

| December 21st, 2020


The Bears scored 30 points again.

The Bears gained 400 yards again.

The quarterback, with the exception of a couple throws, pitched another stellar rating and looked a different player.

There has been a tectonic shift at the crust of the Chicago Bears organization. Matt Nagy, Bill Lazor and Mitch Trubisky have figured it out. Don’t ask me how, but they have. Suddenly the offensive line is a cohesive, powerful unit. David Montgomery is one of the best running backs in the league. Allen Robinson is a bona fide number one. Cole Kmet and Darnell Mooney are two of the more exciting rookie skill guys in the sport. This scattered collection of puzzle pieces has been put together and the picture is a thing of beauty.

Perhaps most importantly, the Bears are playing an exciting, entertaining brand of football. They are a threat to score every single time they get possession. They are a joy to watch.

And guess what? I was wrong.

Yep, someone in sports “media” is saying it.

I was wrong.

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Bears at Vikings Game Preview Volume II: The Stakehouse.

| December 18th, 2020


Why Do I Like the Chicago Bears This Week?

I always like the Chicago Bears…

…and after a few weeks in the darkness of Quitsville, I’m back!


The Stakes

The Bears are 6-7. And this might be the most important game ever played by a 6-7 team.

If the Bears win Sunday, they’ll be 7-7, with Jacksonville on deck. (8-7) That’ll bring the Packers to town, with Tim Boyle likely starting, and a playoff spot likely on the line. If the Bears win Sunday they will be playing meaningful football for 17 weeks at a minimum. That’s how the late Giants owner Wellington Mara defined a successful season. And knew a bit about football.

But winning, especially with another superior offensive effort, would also continue to change the narrative around the head coach. Nobody is firing a head coach who is eight games over (minimum) in his first three years. And if the quarterback pitches another triple-digit quarterback rating? How could the narrative around him not alter slightly as well? Wouldn’t the Bears have to start considering a 2021 prove it deal?

Now if the Bears lose Sunday, their season ends. If they lose Sunday and deliver another lackluster offensive effort against the Vikings, Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky go back under the bright interrogative lamps of media and fans. (Hard to imagine Ted Phillips and Ryan Pace won’t be there regardless of these final games.) A loss flips the fourteen-day hourglass and the sand shuffles through on January 4th. That’s when we’ll find out who among the leadership is coming back in 2021.

It’s all at stake Sunday.

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As Bears Sit in No Man’s Land, Three Possible Roads for George McCaskey

| December 9th, 2020


Welcome to No Man’s Land.

That’s where the Chicago Bears organization resides on December 9, 2020. They’re not a talented, aging team with a closing championship window. They’re not a young, rebuilding side with their eyes on the future. They’re nowhere. They don’t exist.

Two years ago that was not the case. Coming out of the 2018 campaign the defense was stacked. The head coach was a breath of fresh air. The quarterback had shown enough promise under the new regime to make fans believe he could be “they guy”. Now the defense is fading before our very eyes. The head coach has relinquished play-calling duties and any sense of job security. The quarterback will be looking for a job come March.

And there are only three possible roads forward. (For the sake of argument, let’s assume Ted Phillips is re-assigned away from football operations. It’ll likely happen as a symbolic gesture, if nothing else.)


Road One. Do That To Me One More Time.

Ryan Pace would be entering the final year of his contract. Matt Nagy would be entering the penultimate year of his contract; a de facto final year as coaches rarely work on a “final” year for some reason no one has ever clearly explained to me. The factors that could lead to George McCaskey bringing both back:

  • The defensive contracts. Kyle Fuller has voidable 2022-23 seasons. Akiem Hicks is off the books after next season. Per Sportrac, Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn have “outs” after next season. The guys on this defense in 2020 are likely to be the guys on this defense in 2021. But the unit could look ENTIRELY different in 2022.
  • As Andrew pointed out yesterday, Nagy could argue two things: (a) the offense is improving and (b) he needs better players, including a quarterback. (Where that quarterback would be coming from is a different matter entirely.) He could also make a needed change at defensive coordinator to reinvigorate that side of the ball.
  • The post-Covid salary cap. The new GM’s role this off-season would be a complete tear down because there’s not going to be any money to enhance the current roster. Do the Bears really want to try and send Fuller, Mack and company out of town this spring and commit to a 2-3 win 2021? Can the organization afford to have an apathetic fan base in September? (They would.)

Road Two. Go Your Own Way.

Would the Bears fire one and not the other? It’s possible.

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ATM: Before Worrying About the 2021 Bears, Maybe Let’s See How 2020 Plays Out

| July 29th, 2020

The voices clamoring to replace Ryan Pace have grown louder this off-season, but the simple truth is this: we have to see what 2020 brings before making any determination on whether or not the GM should be employed beyond this season. Some of Pace’s recent moves haven’t been popular and some of his past moves simply haven’t worked out. But the criticism of the Bears has gotten out of control, especially considering they are coming off their best two-year stretch since Lovie Smith and Jerry Angelo were in their primes.

Like pretty much every Bears GM since the beginning of time, Pace missed at quarterback. Those who believe Pace should be fired for drafting Mitch Trubisky over Patrick Mahomes won’t be dissuaded. It is harsh but not entirely unfair.

Where the anti-Pace argument gets out of control is when he gets criticized for what most would consider good moves. Roquan Smith is a very good linebacker. Drafting him ninth wasn’t a bad move. Pace deserves credit for pulling the trigger on the Khalil Mack trade and for building one of the elite defenses in the league. (Especially considering he inherited the worst defense in franchise history.) While drafting Adam Shaheen in the second round was bad, getting something for a player who had no shot to make the roster was a good move.

Pace has found good players late in the draft and as bargains in free agency.  He has made many good moves, enough that the team has won 20 games the past two seasons and has a roster that should contend for a division title in 2020.

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Should Pace Get Another Shot at QB? History Shows Patience with Young GM Has Value.

| June 30th, 2020

As the fate of the Bears franchise rests on their ability to find a franchise quarterback, it is easy to question a general manager who has missed at the position so often. But history suggests Ryan Pace has as good a shot at finding the team’s first franchise quarterback in more than 50 years as anyone else does. Because if there is one thing that can be gleaned from studying how some of the best franchises in the NFL have obtained their leading signal callers, it’s simply that finding quarterbacks is an inexact science that can have many misses before a big hit.

The gold standard team in the NFL is the New England Patriots. They built their dynasty on the back of a sixth-round quarterback from Michigan named Tom Brady. But, before we give them too much credit for some secret they knew but the rest of the world didn’t, we should probably ask why they didn’t take Brady earlier.

The Patriots have more hits than Brady. They took Matt Cassel in the seventh, Jimmy Garoppolo in the second and Jacoby Brissett in the third. All three eventually became valuable trade pieces. But there’s also Zac Robinson in the seventh in 2010, Ryan Mallett in the third in 2011 and, if they really had that much faith in 2019 fourth-rounder Jarrett Stidham, they wouldn’t have signed Cam Newton on Sunday. Because they hit on Brady, they have had the benefit of letting other players develop and play in a consistent offensive scheme while they have continued to win games. It’s easy to develop talent at a position when those players never have to contribute.

And, of course, we can look at Green Bay.

Can you imagine the outrage we’d see today if a team traded a current first round pick for a player who was drafted in the second round and barely made the roster the year before? That’s how Ron Wolf grabbed Brett Favre. And he deserves credit for finds like Mark Brunell in the fifth, Matt Hasselbeck in the sixth and Aaron Brooks in the fourth — although that one is debatable. Wolf also drafted guys you’ve never heard of like Jay Barker and Kyle Wachholtz.

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Ryan Pace Has Gone All-In on the 2020 Season

| June 24th, 2020

After a disappointing 8-8 season, Ryan Pace moved aggressively this off-season to revamp the Bears for 2020.

On defense, he re-signed Danny Trevathan, upgraded Leonard Floyd with Robert Quinn, signed Tashaun Gipson as a cheap replacement for HaHa Clinton-Dix, and drafted Jaylon Johnson to replace the aging Prince Amukamara.

On offense, he traded for Nick Foles to compete with upgrade Mitchell Trubisky, replaced oft-injured veterans Taylor Gabriel, Kyle Long, and Trey Burton with Ted Ginn, Germain Ifedi, and Jimmy Graham, and drafted Cole Kmet to hopefully give Chicago their first long-term solution at tight end since Greg Olsen was shipped out of town a decade ago.

That’s an impressively long list of moves for a team that entered the off-season with surprisingly low amounts of cap space and draft capital. And it has left the Bears with what appears to be a pretty solid roster, at least on paper, though it’s fair to say that questions at quarterback certainly limit the optimism.

But things start to look much more questionable when you gaze beyond 2020. You see, the only way Pace could spend money this off-season was by borrowing from the future salary cap, and he did that quite heavily. Several players have had their contracts restructured within the last year+ to clear up immediate cap space by moving money to 2021 and beyond. This totaled around $20M from a combination of Khalil Mack ($7.8M), Kyle Fuller ($4.5M), Charles Leno ($4.2M), and Cody Whitehair ($3.2M).

On top of that, most contracts Pace handed out this off-season were absurdly back loaded.

  • Robert Quinn has a $6M 2020 cap hit on what is essentially a 3 year, $43M deal (a 2020 savings of over $8M from the average cap hit for the deal). The downside is he will still have total cap charges of $37M remaining in 2021 and beyond, and will likely only play in Chicago for 2021-2022. To make matters worse, those will be his age 31 and 32 seasons, when his play will likely start to slip. He’s a speed rusher that relies heavily on that one skill, so it’s possible that decline will be very pronounced.
  • Danny Trevathan has a $4.2M 2020 cap hit on what is essentially a three-year, $21.7M deal. That saves about $3M in 2020 cap, but means the Bears will still have $17.5M on cap charges for his remaining 2 seasons, in which he will be 31 and 32 and likely start to see his play decline.
  • Jimmy Graham has a $6M 2020 cap hit on what is essentially a one-year, $9M deal. That saves $3M in 2020, but means the Bears will have that cap hit in 2021 when he is likely not on the team (if he is on the team, he’ll have a $10M cap hit, which is not ideal for a player who will turn 35 during that season and has already started showing signs of decline).

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Nick Foles Will Be the Starting Quarterback

| June 1st, 2020


For the Bears, there is no more important issue looming than which man will be under center receive the shotgun snap when the Bears take the field against Detroit in Week One. Today I want to dig into the stats to see what we can learn about Foles vs. Trubisky, as well as what to expect from whoever wins that derby compared to other QBs around the NFL.

The table below shows basic efficiency statistics for Trubisky and Foles in the Reid offense (so Trubisky in 2018-19 in Chicago and Foles in 2016 in KC and 17-18 in Philadelphia), plus the other three notable recent Reid QBs (Smith 13-17, Mahomes 18-19, Wentz 16-19). I’ll note I included playoff stats for everybody because otherwise Foles’ sample size is just so small (less than 350 with just regular season, just over 500 with playoffs included). I also included the NFL average for 2018-19 as a frame of reference for what’s roughly normal around the league. I split up the data into short and long passes (targeted more than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage) using Pro Football Reference’s game play finder.

That’s a lot of information to digest, so let’s look at short and deep passes separately.


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