Can the Bears Find Free Agents to Help Leonard Floyd?

By Adewale Apata

Ryan Pace decided that Willie Young and Pernell McPhee were too old, injured and expensive, so he released them to accumulate more salary cap space.  According to Over The Cap, Ryan Pace will have over $77 million dollars in cap space to spend after Mike Glennon is released.  The problem with that is; talented, healthy and young edge rushers rarely avoid that franchise tag.  Free agent sack artist Ziggy Ansah from the Lions and Demarcus Lawrence from the Cowboys both received franchise tags and won’t hit free agency.

2016 9th overall Bears draft pick Leonard Floyd is an emerging edge rusher to build around.  He has contributed with 11.5 sacks in 22 regular season games.  However, his durability will be questioned since he missed 10 games in his 1st two seasons due to a concussion and neck injury in 2016 and sprained MCL and PCL in 2017.

Sam Acho is an unrestricted free agent that the Bears should bring back to provide veteran leadership off the bench.  Lamar Houston is also an unrestricted free agent but the Bears are unlikely to re-sign the injury prone 30 year old vet.  Isaiah Irving is coming off his rookie year as an undrafted free agent and showed some promise in the 2017 preseason with 3 sacks.

But the Bears brain trust has got to find Floyd much more reliable long term help on his opposite side.  Unfortunately, this year’s edge rusher free agent class is so bleak, Pace may want to seriously think about bringing back Pernell McPhee or Willie Young.  If not, he may have to get creative with a trade. Don’t be surprised if the Bears draft 2 OLBs and never rule out the possibility of Ryan Pace signing a salary cap casualty during training camp or the preseason.

Will the Bears Replace Josh Sitton Through Free Agency?

By Adewale Apata

Apparently, Ryan Pace thinks Josh Sitton was too old and expensive.  He released the soon to be 32 year old (June 6th) and saved just over $8 Million in salary cap space.  The problem with that is; according to Pro Football Focus (PFF) Josh Sitton was the Bears best offensive lineman.  3-time Pro Bowler Kyle Long has been ravished by injuries in his last couple seasons and Bear fans can only hope that his injury woes are behind him.  The 2-year pro Cody Whitehair is a natural guard but has been forced to play center due to the injured or ineffective Hroniss Grasu.  Grasu has the look of a 2015 3rd round draft miss by Ryan Pace.  He’ll have a tough time surviving roster cuts during training camp.  Another option at guard is soon to be 29 year old (May 10th) Jack of All Trades O-lineman Tom Compton.  He’s a offensive tackle who started 5 games at guard for the Bears last season but he is just a ‘next man up’ kind of guy and an unrestricted free agent.

The release of Sitton implies that Pace believes in 28 year old backup guard/center Eric Kush.  Kush played solid in his 4 starts in 2016 while filling in for the injured Kyle Long but he tore a hamstring in training camp which kept him out for the entire 2017 season.  Jordan Morgan is an intriguing backup guard for the Bears.  He was a 2017 5th round pick from little known Kutztown University in Pennsylvania and He practically red-shirted his rookie year as he was placed on injured reserve due to shoulder surgery.  Chicago is hoping that Morgan is a diamond in the rough but Pace must try and write a huge check to an interior offensive lineman during free agency.  There are 2 unrestricted free agent offensive linemen that Pace must pursue in order to fulfill that hole he created when he released Josh Sitton.

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#1) Andrew Norwell Carolina PanthersDuring the 2014 draft, Norwell never heard his name called.  He signed to the Panthers as an undrafted free agent, survived roster cuts, took over the starting left guard position and has held it down ever since.  Andrew Norwell continues to ascend as he was voted 1st Team All-Pro by the Associated Press and Pro Football Focus for the 2017 season and he’s only 26 years old.  It’s a no brainer, Ryan Pace has to put forth maximum effort to get Andrew Norwell into a Bears uniform.  If Pace pulls this off, he’ll look like a genius for replacing Sitton for a player who is younger and better.

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#2)Ryan Jensen Baltimore Ravens – If the Bears are unable to score big with Andrew Norwell, Jensen should be next in line.  Ryan Jensen played his 1st 3 seasons as a reserve guard but changed his position to center last season and started all 16 games for the Ravens.  According to Pro Football Focus, Jensen was the 9th best center in the NFL last year, which is 2 spots above Cody Whitehair.  Whitehair was drafted to play guard, so plugging Jensen in at the center position would be a solid solution to the Bear’s O-Line puzzle.  Ryan Jensen would also be a long term solution; he turns 27 on May 27th.

Will the Bears find a Challenger or Replacement for Mitch Unrein via Free Agency?

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By Adewale Apata

Akiem Hicks was one of the biggest Pro Bowl snubs last season and Eddie Goldman is a Solid 24 year old nose tackle who should hold down that position for several years.  However, 2016 3rd round pick Jonathan Bullard has been underwhelming off the bench.  He’s trying to avoid the label of being a draft miss by Ryan Pace next season.

Roy Robertson-Harris is an intriguing player who was a 2016 undrafted rookie free agent and initially signed on to play outside linebacker.  Unfortunately, a heat illness kept him out for the 2016 season.  Before the 2017 season, he put on 40 pounds and changed his position to defensive lineman.  With his high motor at 6’7” 295 lbs, he has the potential to replace unrestricted free agent Mitch Unrein.  If Pace is not totally sold that Bullard or Robertson-Harris can become solid starters, he must search through free agency before the draft begins.  Which unrestricted free agents can replace Mitch Unrein or challenge him for his starting position?  There’s only one guy worth negotiating with.

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Sheldon Richardson Seattle Seahawks – This 27 year old, 5 year pro had an incredible 2 and a half year start to his NFL career.  In 2013, he earned the Associated Press defensive rookie of the year and he had no sophomore slump as he was selected to the 2014 pro bowl.  In the first 10 games of his 3rd season, he continued to build on his success with 5 sacks but a hamstring injury kept him out and ineffective for the rest of the 2015 season.

After a mediocre 2016 season, the Jets traded Richardson to the Seahawks for WR Jermaine Kearse and a 2nd round pick.  In Seattle, he did not return to his Pro Bowl form with 27 tackles and only 1 sack.  However, Sheldon Richardson is still young and Ryan Pace could give him a 1 year ‘prove it’ deal to see if he can resurrect under Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defensive scheme.  If the Bears decide not to take a chance on him, they should definitely re-sign Mitch Unrein and gamble on Bullard and Robertson-Harris as legitimate challengers to that 3rd starting defensive line position to compliment Goldman and Hicks.  April’s NFL draft may also provide a solution but the Bears have major holes at WR, OLB, OL and CB.

Are the Bears Offensive Tackles as Bad as You Think?

beargoggleson.com

By Adewale Apata

Bobby Massie and Charles Leno Jr takes a plethora of heat from several mainstream Chicago media guys but do they really deserve the constant criticism?  There’s one quality about Massie and Leno Jr that their haters cannot deny and that’s durability.  Since Leno Jr took over the starting left tackle position in week 4 of 2015, he has not missed a start and Massie has only missed 4 games in the last 4 seasons.  That’s saying a lot for a team that is use to digging deep on their depth chart due to terrible luck in the injury department.

According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Charles Leno Jr is much better than most Bear fans think.  PFF ranked him as the 15th best out of the 64 starting tackles in the NFL for the 2017 season.  The Bears were 11th in the league in rushing yards per attempt and in the middle of the pack at 17th in the NFL in sacks allowed per game with Mike Glennon and a rookie QB.  The Bears organization clearly does not believe the hate for Charles Leno Jr is warranted.  They signed the 26 year old to a 4 year contract extension before the 2017 season that runs through the 2021 season.  However, gripes Bobby Massie is justifiable as he is the 39th ranked offensive tackle on that PFF list.  Leno Jr is not going anywhere but are there any unrestricted free agent offensive tackles that can replace Bobby Massie?  There’s only one guy that may get some consideration from Ryan Pace.

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Nate Solder New England Patriots– He has started the last 7 years for the Patriots and the soon to be 30 year old (April 12th) has contributed to an offensive line unit that has kept Tom Brady clean over the years but Pro Football Focus ranks him as the 32nd best offensive tackle in the NFL.  Plus signing Solder would create complications for the Bears offensive line structure because he has played left tackle his entire career, which is the same position Charles Leno Jr plays.

Bear fans can forget about Massie being replaced this off-season through free agency.  However; since Massie will be a free agent after the 2018 season and Bears backup swing tackle Tom Compton is an unrestricted free agent, Pace will search for his backup and/or replacement through the draft.

Bears Need Another Edge Rusher

Everybody and they mama knows the Bears biggest need this off-season is wide receiver.  Bear fans are going to constantly hear about how bad their current crop of WRs are and how to rectify the problem through free agency and/or the draft.  But not in this article.

It’s time to focus on another position of need, which is Outside Linebacker/ Edge Rusher.  Leonard Floyd looks to be a rising star, Pernell McPhee and Willie Young are solid vets but it has been difficult to keep these guys off the injured reserves list.  Lamar Houston has a high motor but has suffered a torn ACL injury twice within the last 3 seasons and he’s an unrestricted free agent.  Sam Acho provides depth but he’s not a game changer.

Ryan Pace has got to be looking deep into free agency which begins March 12th and the NFL draft which begins April 26th to address this need.  So, who are the impactful OLB/Edge rushers currently available in free agency?  There will be 2 pro bowl caliber unrestricted free agents out there, if they can avoid that franchise tag.

#2 DeMarcus Lawrence 6’3”, 251, 25 years old(4/2/92) – Lawrence just completed his 4th and best season of his career by finishing 2nd in the NFL in sacks with 14.5.  In his 2014 rookie season, he did not play much but he showed plenty of potential in 2015 under the tutelage of defensive coordinator Ron Marinelli by recording 8 sacks.  However, 2016 was a tumultuous season as he missed 7 games due to back surgery and a suspension for using amphetamines (usually used to treat depression and to decrease one’s appetite), which violated the league’s substance abuse policy.

He bounced back in a big way after having back surgery again before the start of the 2017 season and earned a 1st ballot pro bowl selection.  Lawrence is young and talented but has dealt with back issues.Cowboy’s owner Jerry Jones is a big spending risk taking type of guy and you better believe that he’s going to open his wallet wide to keep a defensive edge rusher that keeps QBs on their backs.  Jones probably should franchise tag Lawrence to make him prove that his back issues are a thing of the past.  I’ll be shocked if Bear’s General Manager Ryan Pace steals Lawrence from the Cowboys.

#1 Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah 6’5”, 271, 28 years old (5/29/89) – The only negative thing I can say about this guy is that he played 13 games in 2016 and recorded only 2 sacks.  But guess what?  He suffered a high ankle sprain during week 2 of that season and decided to play through that injury rather than sitting out on the injured reserved list.  He proved his unfortunate 2016 season was just an aberration by finishing 8th in the NFL in sacks with 12 in 2017.  In 2015, he was 3rd in the league in sacks with 14.5.  Ryan Pace and Vic Fangio has got to team up, find Ziggy, sell that Bears top 10 defense and throw the bank at Ansah.  Starting edge rushers of Ansah and Leonard Floyd with vets Young and McPhee as backups would be ideal for Vic Fangio’s emerging defense.

But if Ryan Pace can’t score big on OLB’s in free agency, he’ll most definitely attempt to address their edge rusher need through the draft.  There’s 6 OLB/Edge Rushers with overall 1st round grades for the 2018 NFL Draft.

Player School Ht Wt Projected 1st Rd        Draft Position
1.      Bradley Chubb NC State 6’4” 275 3 – 6
2.      Tremaine Edmunds Virginia Tech 6’5” 250 6 – 13
3.      Arden Key LSU 6’5” 260 13 – 19
4.      Marcus Davenport UTSA 6’5” 260 19 – 23
5.      Harold Landry Boston College 6’3” 250 23 – 28
6.      Sam Hubbard OSU 6’5” 265 28 – 32

 

The only way Chicago can draft the projected best edge rusher Bradley Chubb is by trading up for the 3rd consecutive year in the 1st round.  Chubb is not falling to the Bears at pick #8.  However, there are 4 QB needy teams (Browns, Giants, Jets and Broncos) picking ahead of the Bears and dynamic RB Saquon Barkley is expected to be a top 5 overall pick.

Therefore, there’s a good chance the athletic OLB Tremaine Edmunds will be still available at the 8th slot.  NFL scouts are infatuated with his excellent size and speed combination and can’t wait to get a closer look at him during the NFL Combine.  Edmunds had 18.5 tackles for loss with 4.5 sacks as a sophomore and 14 tackles for loss with 5.5 sacks last season as a junior.

He also comes from solid gridiron bloodlines.  His father Ferrell Edmunds was a 2-time NFL pro bowler as a Tight End with the Dolphins, his oldest brother Trey Edmunds is a RB for the Saints and his other brother free safety Terrell Edmunds has also declared for the NFL draft from Virginia Tech.  Tremaine is the youngest of the 3.  NFL defensive coordinators are also excited about his potential to get much better.  Tremaine Edmunds is only 19-years-old.  But Tampa Bay picks at #7 with huge needs at offensive line, safety and edge rusher.

If Edmunds is off the board when the Bears are on the clock at pick #8, they should seriously think about taking a chance on an intriguing player, Arden Key.  Key had an explosive 2016 sophomore season by recording 14.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks.  Heading into the 2017 season, he was projected as a top 5 overall draft prospect.  But his stock has declined for 2 main reasons.  In the spring of 2017, Key left the team for personal reasons.  Professional scouts and the press was not informed about any specifics of why he temporarily left the team.  This caused the general public to question his work ethic and overall passion for the game.  Key has also fallen down draft boards due to missing 5 games for offseason shoulder surgery, mid-season finger surgery, a knee injury and his sack total dropped down to 4.

However, his 2017 season wasn’t a total disaster.  During a 3 game stretch towards the end of the season versus a few Associated Press top 20 schools (Auburn, Mississippi State and Alabama), Key recorded 20 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.  When healthy, Arden Key is a legitimate top 3 edge rusher draft prospect.

The big question mark that Ryan Pace must answer about Key is the off the field concerns.  Before the NFL Draft, Pace must interview Arden Key and get in touch with his family, coaches, teammates, etc… in order to find out if Key’s off the field issue was overblown or something that could jeopardize his NFL career.

If the Bears think Key is too risky, they could reach for Marcus Davenport or trade back to catch him.  The knock on Davenport is that he’s from the small University of Texas at San Antonio.  He recorded 6.5 sacks as a junior and 8.5 sacks as a senior.  He also had a solid performance at the Senior Bowl with a sack and fumble recovery for a touchdown.  Ryan Pace selected 3 small school guys during the 2017 draft but will he take it even further by selecting one in the 1st round this year?

After compiling an astounding 16.5 sacks as a junior in 2016, Harold Landry decided to not declare for the NFL Draft and returned for his senior year.  That decision turned out to be a big mistake.  In 2017, Landry’s sack number drastically dropped to 5 and he did not play in his teams last 5 games or the Senior Bowl due to an ankle injury.

Sam Hubbard is a big OLB that the Bears could also trade back for or snag in the 2nd round.  He didn’t produce gaudy stats at OSU by recording 8 tackles for loss with 3.5 sacks in 2016 and 13.5 tackles for loss and 7 sacks in 2017.  He played in the shadow of NFL pro bowler Joey Bosa’s little brother sophomore OLB Nick Bosa.  However, scouts have recognized Hubbard as a mid to late 1st round prospect.

What should the Bears do to address their need for an Edge Rusher/OLB?  They’ve got to find a viable side kick to Leonard Floyd and keep McPhee, Young and Acho for some solid veteran depth.  Like I said earlier, Pace must make a strong push for Ziggy Ansah but the Lions would be foolish not to franchise tag him.  If Ansah stays put in Detroit, Pace has to forget about reaching for a WR with the 8th pick and draft an edge rusher.  The Bears should draft the big, speedy, versatile and really young Tremaine Edmunds or Arden Key who may have some off the field issues to untangle.