The NFL’s off-season is dying down as teams gear up for their final off-season programs and training camp. Are there still moves the Bears can make to get better? All of those questions and more in this edition of the Windy City Gridiron mailbag.
As the NFL off-season continues to ramp down, training camp and preseason football are quickly approaching. The Chicago Bears will finish out their final round of their off-season program next week with their mandatory mini-camp where all players are expected to report to. Then the five-week lull of nothingness will consume football fans around the country as we all wait for the kickoff of training camp.
Just because the season is approaching does not mean the Bears still don’t have questions to answer, even post-draft. Whether that’s a surprise free agent signing or two or maybe even an extension? Can Justin Fields win the starting job? what can we expect from this team before camp?
I am surprised that AR hasn’t been extended in order to free up cap space. When is the due date for this and have you heard of any progress?
— Corey Bohler (@CoreyBohler) June 8, 2021
In an ideal world, I think the Bears would absolutely prefer to extend Allen Robinson. Not only can it save them some cap space in 2021, but it would also lock down their best offensive weapon for the foreseeable future. The issue? Their stalemate continues to be exact that and there’s been zero movement for close to a calendar year now.
Now, it’s possible that the July 15 deadline could spur some action. A lack of talks for this long doesn’t exactly bode well for any hopes of an extension, though.
Deadlines do spur action and the closer we get to the July 15th deadline, the more interesting things will become. In the past, most deals start to materialize around the final week or two before the cut off date. So, I wouldn’t expect much until then. Make no mistake though, Robinson needs to be locked down because his importance with a young quarterback cannot be overlooked.
Haven’t heard anything on the Moses visit. Are the Bears interested?
— Robert tomkins (@rrtomkins) June 8, 2021
Last week, both ESPN’s Adam Schefter and NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that the Bears were bringing in Morgan Moses for a visit. That visit was in the midst of their first week of OTAs, but not much has been said since.
Moses also took a visit to the New York Jets the week prior and it has been reported that he is expected to take another visit or two before making his decision. On Tuesday, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported that the Bears were one of “multiple teams” still in on Moses. It sounds like there are offers on the tables but fit is also important.
If I had to guess, this will come down to the highest bidder winning his services. Whether that’s the Jets (who have about $27 million in cap space) or the Bears (who have close to $10 million in cap space) has remained to be seen. The Jets clearly have more flexibility, which leads me to believe they’d win any bidding war. My expectation is that Moses likely gets a one-year, $4-to-$5 million deal when all is said and done. A deal like this would force the Bears to get creative with their cap situation if he chose to sign in Chicago.
We saw a similar situation with Bashaud Breeland last week, when he ultimately ended up signing with the Vikings for a maximum of $4 million. The reality is, the Bears don’t have a ton of space to work with unless they want to borrow more cap space from future years. Considering they have somewhat hit the reset button with Justin Fields at the quarterback position, I think they’d be wise to stay within their budget this year & have more flexibility in the future.
So, ultimately, there hasn’t been a ton of movement (at least publicly), but I wouldn’t get my hopes up with Moses simply due to the team’s current financial restraints and Moses’ reported high interest around the league.
If Morgan Moses signs, are you comfortable starting Fields week one? Offensive line would look solid enough to protect him somewhat vs the Rams
— Justin Fields is my QB #VoteYoYo (@coreyeldiablo) June 8, 2021
I would absolutely be comfortable with the Bears starting Fields with Moses at right tackle. I would also be comfortable with the team starting him even without Moses. Both of these feelings are purely hinged to one simple thing — Does Fields look ready?
That’s something I’ve talked about quite a bit since he was drafted. In 2017, most (including myself) were more focused on Mitchell Trubisky looking better than Mike Glennon, rather than actually looking ready to start an NFL regular season game. In reviewing my overall evaluation of Trubisky and what went wrong, that stands at the top of the list.
Fields doesn’t need to just be better than Andy Dalton, he needs to look like he’s an NFL quarterback. Obviously all rookies will struggle in certain areas, but for me to feel comfortable with Fields starting, I want to see most of what I saw from him at Ohio State. A strong presence on the field, command of the huddle (this will be new for him), making the proper reads and him understanding (to a certain degree) what defenses are throwing at him top the list for me. The latter is something that Trubisky still struggles with and speaks to a lack of mental development.
All in all, I believe the Bears got the full package with Fields. He’s a strong-armed, athletic quarterback that is extremely focused and very smart. I personally believe he’ll be ready Week 1 (although I don’t believe he’ll start Week 1), but he still needs to pass the eye test. The offensive line will play a part in that, but the mental development is my biggest key in comfort with Fields.
If you had to bet today, who (presently on or off the roster) starts week 1 at LT for the Bears?
— DerRinkCaster (@jaeckel) June 8, 2021
Looking at the team’s current roster, it’s quite hard to see how anybody other than rookie Tevin Jenkins would be starting at left tackle in Week 1. After cutting Charles Leno Jr. to save $9 million in cap space, they took away any mystery to the position. At least for the time being.
If they signed somebody like Moses that would give them some flexibility, but the Bears’ plan seems to be pretty clear in terms of giving Jenkins the first (and maybe) only swing at the most important position on the offense not named quarterback. I believe it’s a sizable gamble to make. Again, though, the Bears are working with limited funds and clearly liked what they saw with Jenkins at left tackle when he spent time there at Oklahoma State.
Russell Okung is another name to keep an eye on if he doesn’t sign before training camp, but my guess is that if they wait to actually see what Jenkins can offer, their options will be almost non-existent. There’s plenty of risk in this line of thinking, but this is also the position they chose to put themselves in when they cut Leno. Justifiably or not.
Do you put any credence into the Sims negativity towards Fields?
— wolf man Jack (@gerry60981300) June 8, 2021
I think it’s safe to say that the Fields pick was widely regarded as a very good one. There weren’t many detractors, but one of those not as high on Fields was indeed Chris Simms.
First off, I’ll say that I don’t agree with his assessment. As a whole, my evaluations on this quarterback class did not lineup with his in multiple ways and that’s completely fine. Welcome to draft season and frankly, it is what it is. That’s part of what makes the draft process so fun. Right, wrong or indifferent, differing opinions on subjective evaluations should always be embrace, not slammed.
I think that it’s also worth noting that while Simms’ rankings seemed a bit wild to some, his track record hasn’t been as bad as some may believe. Has he been 100% right on each quarterback class? Absolutely not because no one ever is. Even so, he has nailed quite a few evaluations over the years. The 2018 class stuck out to me as one where he nailed the top two quarterbacks in the class when no one else really did.
No class can be graded equally and things change on a year-to-year basis, though. So, while I don’t agree with his evaluation of Fields, I also don’t think it’s fair to discount it. Simms’ track record is worth-while and again, everybody is going to have different opinions. Either way, his opinion on Fields shouldn’t change anybody else’s views or excitement of the Bears’ new quarterback.
How do you see the split of carries at RB working out?
— Daniel Muncaster (@Speaks99) June 8, 2021
For the first time in quite a while, it feels like the Bears have a quality running back room with multiple options at their disposal. Is this finally Matt Nagy falling in line with Andy Reid’s philosophies? Maybe so or maybe they just realized they needed better depth at the position after stating multiple times they “loved” their running back room last season.
I still 100% believe that David Montgomery is going to be the team’s lead back. With that being said, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for rotational players and different game plans. Tarik Cohen will be back after missing the majority of last season with a torn ACL. They also brought in former Chiefs running back Damien Williams and added a pair of runners in this year’s draft class with sixth-rounder Khalil Herbert and undrafted rookie C.J. Marable.
My guess is that Montgomery’s touches won’t drastically change and that Williams will also have a quality role as the first back off the bench in spell-situations. I also believe that Cohen is going to play more of a role as the team’s swiss-army knife like he did in his first two years in the league. Whether that’s him lining up in the backfield, at receiver or even as the primary returner on special teams.
Call me crazy but I think there’s plenty enough work to be had where Montgomery’s production will continue to go up, while also giving teams different looks with different faces. As long as their offensive line continues to improve, the Bears could have a top rushing attack in 2021, which will really help out either quarterback under center.
Aside from Quarterback which position battles have you most intrigued?
— Jake Melvin (@StephenThaa) June 8, 2021
A few weeks back, both Ryan Pace and Nagy said they really liked the depth they had on the roster. I’ll be honest and say that I’m not sure I agree with that assessment. Mainly because there isn’t a lot of proven depth on this roster. With that all being said, it should make for multiple interesting training camp battles.
Cornerback is probably the most interesting one to me because of how much turnover there was during this off-season. Both Kyle Fuller and Buster Skrine were cut as cap casualties, leaving just Jaylon Johnson as the lone returning starter. They did add veteran Desmond Trufant, but as a whole this group is either going to have some pleasant surprises or going to be an outright disaster. Duke Shelley, Kindle Vildor, Thomas Graham and even Tre Roberson are all names to keep an eye on.
Receiver is another spot that should be fun to watch. Both Robinson and Darnell Mooney are returning as starters. Anthony Miller and Javon Wims are also expected to make the team’s final 53-man roster and return for their fourth seasons, respectively. The team also went out and added Marquise Goodwin, Damiere Byrd and Daz Newsome this off-season. There’s still plenty of questions about the quality of depth behind the top two names, but there’s no question that the overall depth is better and the competition for those final spots should be a fun battle to watch.
Lastly, it’ll be very intriguing to see how this offensive line plays out. The Bears went the “bold” route in attempting to replace both starting offensive tackles in one off-season. They also have to figure out which interior configuration works the best for them. In terms of depth, there’s some quality names, but their starting five is still very much up in the air. The only thing that could make it more interesting would be a quality free agent signing at the tackle position.
How do you predict Bears depth at CB lining up/who makes the team? And who starts at NB?
— Max Markham (@MaxMarkhamNFL) June 8, 2021
Cornerback is a very interesting spot. A few weeks back, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune reported that the Bears had interest in signing a proven veteran. Unfortunately, Breeland signed with Minnesota last week, but there are still some quality names out on the market. What it tells me is that they aren’t exactly comfortable with the top-end of their depth chart and I think that’s pretty justifiable. Out of all the positional groups on this roster, cornerback brings one of the biggest unknowns.
As of now, I would guess we’ll see a three-way competition between Trufant, Vildor and Artie Burns for that final starting spot on the boundary. The Bears really liked Burns last year before losing him for the year in training camp. I’d say he’s my sleeper to win the outside job, especially if Trufant can’t stay healthy.
As far as the nickel spot goes, it’ll probably be another three-way battle between Shelley, Roberson, and Thomas Graham Jr. Roberson was someone they liked a lot out of the CFL, but much like Burns he went down with an injury and didn’t make it to the regular season. Shelley showed flashes last year, but Graham Jr. is the one I’m keeping my eye on. He was widely regarded as one of the best defensive backs in the Pac 12 in 2019. It’s also possible that Vildor could compete at nickel, but I do believe they like him better on the outside.
All in all, there’s a lot of competition, but if I had to guess right now, I’d give the starting spots to the obvious names in Johnson, Trufant and Shelley. With Vildor, Graham Jr. and Burns taking the final 3 spots on the depth chart.
If Rodgers holds out or is traded, assuming Jordan Love experiences growing pains, who should be the favorite in the North?
— Bear Neccessitakes (@neccessitakes) June 8, 2021
A few weeks back, the staff at Windy City Gridiron did our yearly Top 50 NFC North player rankings. Within those rankings, I believe that a lot of us were surprised to see as many Green Bay Packers listed as we did. Objectively speaking, the Packers have (far and away) the most talented roster within the division.
With all of that being said… If Aaron Rodgers doesn’t play for the Packers again, the NFC North is about as wide open as it gets. As Bears fans have learned over the years, your roster can only be so good without a quality quarterback. Without that, everything else is an afterthought.
In regards to the Packers, they would be going from the league MVP in 2020, to either a quarterback who has never been on an active NFL game roster in Jordan Love or Blake Bortles. Regardless of how anybody tries to spin it, that’s not a good quarterback situation to have. So, if Rodgers were to stay gone, both the Minnesota Vikings and Bears would all of the sudden have a real shot to win the division.
My money would be on the Vikings in that spot, but I do believe that the gap between the Bears and Vikings is much smaller than the Packers (with Rodgers) to any other team within the division.
For Bears fans hoping to see a team that can win enough to get into the playoffs, the best road for that to happen is through a Rodgers-less Packers team. Plain and simple.