Bears Rumors

Extension Candidate: Bears G Cody Whitehair

The Bears are one of only a few NFL teams projected to bring back their entire starting offensive line in 2019, and with good reason: the unit was extremely effective at pass-blocking last season. Chicago’s front five gave up just 33 sacks (tied for eighth in the league), and ranked seventh in the NFL in adjusted sack rate.

Cody Whitehair has been a key factor in the Bear’s offensive line success over the past three seasons, but despite earning a Pro Bowl nod in 2018, he’ll be asked to change positions next year. Chicago plans to insert 2018 second-round pick James Daniels at center, meaning Whitehair will need to shift to left guard.

Whitehair has experience moving between positions. At Kansas State, the now-26-year-old spent his first two seasons at guard before moving to tackle for his junior and senior campaigns. In the NFL, Whitehair has mostly stuck at center, although he did line up at both guard positions for a bit in 2018. The results have mostly been spectacular, as Whitehair graded as a top-10 center last season while ranking top-six in pressures allowed (min. 50% playtime), per Pro Football Focus.

Now entering the final year of his rookie contract, Whitehair and his representation are now likely looking for an extension. Chicago’s front office, historically, has been more than willing to pay up for offensive line talent. Right guard Kyle Long inked a four-year, $40MM extension in 2016, left tackle Charles Leno received a four-year, $38MM deal in 2017, and right tackle Bobby Massie re-signed on a four-year, $32MM pact earlier this year.

But how will the Bears approach negotiations? Will they view (and pay) Whitehair as a center or a left guard? It’s a critical question, because there a pretty wide gap in top salaries between the two positions. The top of the left guard market reached $13.3MM per year when Andrew Norwell signed a massive contract with the Jaguars in 2017. The center market, however, only hit $11.125MM annually this past offseason thanks to Mitch Morse‘s deal with the Bills.

Whitehair could potentially bet on himself, hoping that he posts another stellar season before cashing in as a left guard — potentially at $14MM or more per year — in 2020. Chicago isn’t likely to use its franchise tag on a guard, especially given that franchise tenders for offensive linemen don’t differentiate between guard and tackle. Therefore, Whitehair really only has to worry about the prospect of an injury tanking his value.

Alternatively, Whitehair and the Bears could split the difference between guard and center salaries and agree to a deal in the $12MM/year range. He’d be making more than any center, but come out just shy of Norwell’s pact with Jacksonville. At present, it’s unclear if Whitehair is willing to trade some of his contractual upside for financial security, but it could be a deal that would satisfy both he and the Bears.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFL Supplemental Draft Order

The NFL’s Supplemental Draft order does not go by the inverted win/loss records of clubs. Instead, the order is dictated by a weighted lottery that uses a team’s win percentage as just part of the equation. Here, via Tom Pelissero of NFL.com (Twitter link) is the complete order of the supplemental draft:

1. Lions
2. Broncos
3. Jets
4. Cardinals
5. Giants
6. Bills
7. Raiders
8. 49ers
9. Jaguars
10. Packers
11. Bengals
12. Bucs
13. Falcons
14. Vikings
15. Redskins
16. Titans
17. Dolphins
18. Steelers
19. Panthers
20. Browns
21. Ravens
22. Patriots
23.Cowboys
24. Seahawks
25. Eagles
26. Texans
27. Bears
28. Colts
29. Saints
30. Chiefs
31. Chargers
32. Rams

The supplemental draft is conducted via email. If multiple teams submit a pick for the same player in the same round, this order dictates which club gets the player. Of course, any team picking a player in the supplemental draft will sacrifice the corresponding pick in the 2020 draft.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Which 2018 Playoff Team Will Miss The Postseason?

It happens every year. A handful of top-tier teams will inevitably miss the playoffs. In 2018, a staggering seven teams who made the postseason in 2017 missed it the following season. So which of the 2018 playoff squads will underperform and miss the tournament in 2019?

The Patriots, the reigning Super Bowl champions, haven’t missed the postseason since 2008, when Tom Brady missed most of the season with an injury. The team has also produced double-digit wins in every campaign since 2002. Though they seem like a lock to extend that streak, the aforementioned Brady isn’t getting any younger, Rob Gronkowski retired following 2018 and the team’s defensive coaching staff is being headed by head coach Bill Belichick after the departure of Brian Flores to Miami and a deal with Greg Schiano fell through. Though the AFC East is perennially one of the worst in football, the Bills, Dolphins and Jets all have young quarterbacks who could take the next step and challenge New England in 2019. 

The Ravens surprised in 2018, using an opportunistic defense and an unorthodox rookie signal-caller in Lamar Jackson to roll to a 10-6 record and a spot in the postseason. With an offseason to build the offense around its young quarterback, the Ravens could take another step in 2019. Or they could take a step back as opposing defenses catch onto the team’s run-heavy schemes. The Steelers are also due for a bounce back and the Browns have overhauled their roster in recent years to make a push not only for the playoffs, but for a Super Bowl run.

The Texans, the AFC South division champions, and the Colts, a Wild Card squad, have squads loaded with young talent. Houston boasts a loaded offense behind Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins, and a strong defensive unit led by J.J. Watt. The Colts caught fire down the stretch, winning nine of their final 10 games to advance to the postseason. The team also fields the reigning Comeback Player of the Year (Andrew Luck) and Defensive Rookie of the Year (Darius Leonard). Though both teams should be strong again in 2019, only one can win the division, leaving the other to compete for one of the two Wild Card spots.

A pair of Super Bowl favorites, the Chiefs and Chargers both won 12 games in 2018 and are stacked with talent to inflate that number in 2019. Though the field the league’s MVP in Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs have had a tumultuous last few months that has seen the departure of running back Kareem Hunt and legal troubles for Tyreek Hill. Though stacked on both sides of the ball, the Chargers have posted just one double-digit win season since 2009. Again, only one squad can win the division.

In the NFC, both the Cowboys and Eagles appear to be the class of the East, with solid quarterbacks in Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott leading the charge. Both squads field excellent defenses and have plenty of talent at the skill positions. The question in Philly, however, is if Wentz can stay healthy. An MVP candidate when on the field, Wentz has missed eight regular season games and every postseason outing in the last two seasons. Though a strong unit in 2018, the Cowboys defensive front is not a deep one after Demarcus Lawrence and could be the weak link in 2019.

The Bears improved from a 5-11 squad in 2017 to a 12-win team in 2018. With a young quarterback at the helm and a loaded defense, Chicago is in good position for another division crown. However, how much will the team miss defensive coordinator Vic Fangio? The new Broncos head coach oversaw a unit that allowed the fewest points and third-fewest yards in the NFL. Chicago also plays in a strong division that features a Vikings squad poised to bounce back and an Aaron Rodgers-led Packers team.

In 2017, the NFC South placed three teams in the playoffs. In 2018, only the Saints escaped the tough division. Atlanta and Carolina look ready to challenge for a postseason berth and a Bruce Arians-led Bucs squad could surprise. New Orleans is sure to be a Super Bowl favorite, but a tough division could see them underperform a hair and miss the tournament.

The NFC representatives in Super Bowl LIII, the Rams are still led by Sean McVay, a high-powered offense and a stout defensive front. The question with Los Angeles is an easy one, however, how will Todd Gurley fare in 2019? The NFL leader in touchdowns in each of the past two season, Gurley was a non-factor in the postseason and his health is a mystery. The Seahawks returned to the postseason following a one-year hiatus but can they do it again in 2019? The teams has to replace Russell Wilson‘s top target in Doug Baldwin, who retired in the offseason. How quickly DK Metcalf assimilates into that offense could determine Seattle’s postseason fate.

If you had to plant your flag on one of these teams missing the 2019 playoffs, which one would it be? Vote in the poll and give us your reasoning in the comments.

Revisiting The 2018 Free Agent WR Class

The 2018 free agent class of wide receivers reshaped the market in a number of ways and set the table for lucrative extensions for players like Odell Beckham, Brandin Cooks, and Stefon Diggs. But even allowing for the premium that teams often have to pay in the first wave of free agency, the size of the contracts that the 2018 FA wideouts landed raised a lot of eyebrows throughout the league. As we look ahead to Year 2 of some of those contracts, let’s examine the early returns.

Sammy Watkins‘ three-year, $48MM deal with the Chiefs topped the class in terms of total value, average annual value, and guaranteed money at signing ($30MM). And while his talent certainly merited that type of payday, his injury history was a concern, as he had missed 10 games over the prior three seasons. He ended up missing six games during his first year in Kansas City due to a foot injury, though he did manage to suit up for both of the club’s postseason contests. His raw numbers obviously don’t look too impressive as a result of the missed time, but he did rank fifth among all qualified wideouts in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric, meaning he was very valuable on a per-play basis. He also tallied 10 catches for 176 yards during the Chiefs’ two playoff games, and while injury problems may always plague him, he continues to be a factor whenever he’s on the field. KC is likely not regretting Watkins’ deal at this point.

The Bears doubled up at wide receiver by signing Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel last March, which allowed them to part ways with Cameron Meredith. Chicago brought in Robinson on a three-year, $42MM pact, even though he suffered a torn ACL in Week 1 of the 2017 season and had only posted one elite season in his career (which came back in 2015). And after his first year with the Bears, Robinson is still looking for his second 1,000-yard campaign.

There is some reason to hope that he can get there, especially with a fully-healthy offseason and a year of building chemistry with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky under his belt. A-Rob played in just 13 regular season games last season but was targeted 94 times, and he was brilliant in the Bears’ lone playoff game, posting 10 catches for 143 yards and a score. Football Outsiders’ metrics didn’t love him, but Pro Football Focus assigned him an above-average grade that made him the 28th-best WR in the league. He may not have quite lived up to expectations, but there is still time for him to get there.

Chicago signed Gabriel to a four-year, $26MM deal in the hopes that he could become a big-play threat for Trubisky. But while Gabriel played in all 16 games for the club and saw 93 targets, he managed a fairly modest 10.3 yards-per-reception and two touchdowns. Advanced metrics weren’t overly fond of his work either, and he will be hoping for a bounce-back year in 2019.

It’s still too early to evaluate some of the other significant contracts given to 2018 wide receivers, because the signees saw their seasons derailed by injury. Marqise Lee, who re-upped with the Jaguars on a four-year, $34MM deal, missed the entire 2018 season due to a preseason knee injury, and he is not expected to be back until the end of this year’s training camp. The Dolphins were thinking highly of their three-year, $24MM accord with Albert Wilson, who was performing well for Miami until he landed on IR in October with a serious hip injury. He is expected to be ready for the start of the 2019 regular season, but he may not see the field until then.

Likewise, Paul Richardson showed flashes in the first year of the five-year, $40MM contract he signed with the Redskins last March, but he landed on IR in November with a shoulder injury.

But at least the aforementioned players are still on their respective teams. Michael Crabtree signed a three-year, $21MM deal with the Ravens after being cut by the Raiders, but he disappeared from Baltimore’s offense when Lamar Jackson became the starter, and Baltimore sent him packing in February (as of this writing, there has been no reported interest in his services). And Donte Moncrief signed a one-year contract for a surprising $9.6MM with the Jaguars, but his mostly disappointing performance in Jacksonville had him searching for a new team this offseason. He ultimately caught on with the Steelers.

All in all, then, the 2018 class of free agent wideouts was a mixed bag. None of the contracts those players signed look like a home run at this point, and while that could change in 2019, those who were surprised by the amount of money thrown at WRs last March were right to be a little skeptical.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

This Date In Transactions History: Jimmy Clausen Signs With Bears

When Jimmy Clausen‘s tenure with the Panthers ended in 2014, it was uncertain if the quarterback would have a chance to continue his NFL career. However, on June 6th, 2014, the former Notre Dame standout inked a prove-it deal with the Bears, and Clausen ended up parlaying that gig into an additional NFL contract.

Back in 2010, there was hope within the Panthers organization that their second-round rookie quarterback would eventually unseat Matt Moore and lead the organization back to the playoffs. Fortunately, part of that ended up happening; unfortunately, the results were less-than-stellar. The quarterback started 10 games as rookie, but he only managed to complete 52.5-percent of his passes for 1,558 yards, three touchdowns, nine interceptions, and a whopping nine fumbles.

The Panthers’ 2010 season was filled with plenty of turmoil, including an incident where veteran wideout Steve Smith was caught screaming at the rookie quarterback. The team ended up finishing the season was a 2-14 record, and the organization used their subsequent first-overall pick on quarterback Cam Newton. As a result, Clausen was relegated to a backup role, and he continued to slide down the depth chart following the Panthers’ signing of Derek Anderson.

Clausen didn’t see the field during the 2011 or 2012 campaign, and he was waived by the Panthers following the 2013 season (he eventually landed on Carolina’s injured reserve). That effectively ended the quarterback’s stint with the Panthers, and it appeared that his NFL future was on life support.

However, on this day five years ago, Clausen was given another chance. Thanks in part to his previous relationship with Bears head coach Marc Trestman, Clausen earned a contract from Chicago. The quarterback was set to compete with Jordan Palmer and David Fales for the backup spot behind Jay Cutler, with Clausen eventually winning the competition. He ended up getting one start during the 2014 season, as he completed 23 of his 39 pass attempts for 181 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception in a loss to the Lions.

The Bears were apparently happy with Clausen’s performance as a backup, and they re-signed him for the 2015 season. However, with Chicago struggling, the organization decided to give Fales a longer look, so the organization waived the journeyman. However, Clausen ended up getting claimed by the Ravens, where he got a pair of starts during the stretch run of the season. Clausen ultimately finished the 2015 season having completed 57.6-percent of his passes for 739 yards, two touchdowns, and four interceptions.

Following that two-year run as a solid backup quarterback, Clausen’s career ended unceremoniously. However, if it wasn’t for the transaction five years ago today, there’s a good chance that the quarterback’s career would have ended even earlier.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Poll: Who Is The 2019 NFC Favorite?

Unlike the AFC, where the same team has been the annual favorite for a few years now, the NFC has featured different Patriots opponents over the past three seasons. Since the Packers’ back-to-back Super Bowl appearances in 1996-97, only the 2013-14 Seahawks have repeated as conference champions.

When determining who should be considered the 2019 NFC favorite, we should first look at conference’s two best 2018 teams. While the Saints have one of NFL history’s greatest arguments for being the team that should have gone to a Super Bowl, the Rams did. Both teams bring back most of their core players.

The Rams lost more than the Saints this offseason, with their big-spending 2018 helping lead to the departures of Rodger Saffold, Lamarcus Joyner and Ndamukong Suh. Los Angeles brought back Dante Fowler and added Clay Matthews, giving the two-time reigning NFC West champions much bigger names on the edge than the ones that opened the ’18 season as starters, and signed Eric Weddle to replace Joyner. The Rams will trot out two new offensive linemen, likely 2018 mid-round picks Joseph Noteboom (at left guard) and Brian Allen (center). Cooper Kupp is also on track for Week 1. But Todd Gurley‘s status overshadows the rest of the Rams’ lineup; the team has kept information about its two-time All-Pro running back’s knee injury close to the vest.

Lagging just behind the Rams in Super Bowl LIV odds, the Saints lost Mark Ingram but added Latavius Murray. Max Unger retired, but New Orleans added both free agent Nick Easton and second-round pick Erik McCoy. The 2018 trades the Saints made left them without first-, third- and fourth-round picks this year, limiting their ability to enhance their roster cheaply. Drew Brees heads into his age-40 season, and while his arm strength may not be what it once was, he broke his own completion percentage record and was Pro Football Focus’ top-graded QB last season. The cogs chiefly responsible for the Saints’ No. 6 weighted DVOA defensive ranking also return.

The next tier, per Vegas, features the double-doink game’s participants. The Eagles were again active this year, bringing back DeSean Jackson and replacing Michael Bennett with Malik Jackson. Zach Brown also headed to eastern Pennsylvania on a low-cost deal. Philadelphia brought back Brandon Graham and Ronald Darby and extended Jason Kelce. Carson Wentz‘s extension will hit future Eagles caps harder, but his 2019 number ($8.393MM) helps Howie Roseman‘s ability to fortify the roster. After a busy 2018 free agency, the Bears had a quiet offseason. They lost DC Vic Fangio, the NFL’s assistant coach of the year, and may be in line for changes under replacement Chuck Pagano. Scrutinized quarterback Mitch Trubisky (No. 3 in 2018 QBR, No. 18 in Football Outsiders’ DYAR metric) obviously has the biggest say in where the Bears go.

Two out of the past three NFC champions missed the playoffs the year prior, and Vegas places the Packers as the top such candidate for 2019. Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur have expressed a difference of opinion about Green Bay’s offensive structure, but the Packers enjoyed their most active offseason in years. Brian Gutekunst spent wildly on edge rushers, with both Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith now each a top-five highest-paid 3-4 outside linebacker, and brought in Adrian Amos for $9MM annually. Did they do enough to get back in the Super Bowl mix?

While the Cowboys re-routed their season after their Amari Cooper trade, Las Vegas is not bullish on their chances. Dallas sits at 25-to-1 Super Bowl odds, the same as Seattle, Minnesota and San Francisco. Despite their NFC East title, the Cowboys ended last season as the No. 21 DVOA team.

The Seahawks lost one of the top receivers in franchise history, with Doug Baldwin retiring at age 30, and traded their best pass rusher. Ziggy Ansah and first-round pick L.J. Collier represent the team’s top edge options. Minnesota is all-in on this nucleus, with the Anthony Barr deal furthering Rick Spielman‘s massive financial commitments to the core he built. Do the Vikings (ninth in weighted DVOA last season) have enough talent to justify these expenses?

Will a team emerge unexpectedly? The 49ers have Jimmy Garoppolo set to suit up again and, after acquiring Dee Ford and Nick Bosa, boast their best edge corps in years. Are the Falcons (40-1) being undervalued? Vote in PFR’s latest poll (link for app users) and weigh in with your NFC assessments in the comments section.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Bears Had "Insider Information" On UDFA

The Bears had some “inside information” on undrafted lineman Alex Bars, leading to the rookie’s signing. As Adam Jahns of The Athletic writes, Bears offensive line coach Harry Hiestand was Bars’ position coach at Notre Dame.

The Bears brought Bars along slowly during their offseason workouts. However, assuming he gets fully healthy, the lineman will have a chance to earn a roster spot.

[SOURCE LINK]

Bears Notes: Montgomery, Burton, Miller

The Bears drafted running back David Montgomery in the third round back in April, not long after they traded away Jordan Howard. Montgomery has the opportunity to earn a large role this offseason, and so far it sounds like he’s been seizing it. Per Adam Jahns of The Athletic, Montgomery was lighting up the Bears’ OTAs and minicamp. Jahns writes that the Iowa State product “led the rookies, if not the entire team, in highlights made during the offseason program.”

Montgomery was somewhat of a bruising runner at Iowa State, so there was some concern coming out of college about how he’d fare in the passing game. That hasn’t been an issue so far, as Jahns writes that he “excelled in running routes and catching passes,” and that he “looked like a problem for the Bears’ defense.” Per Jahns, Montgomery has both teammates and coaches excited. Tarik Cohen will play his usual role, but he’s never going to be able to handle a full allotment of snaps with his frame. It’s early, but it sounds like Montgomery could take over a featured role as a rookie.

  • The Bears sound pleased with Montgomery’s development, and that isn’t the only good news Chicago fans are getting. In the same piece, Jahns reports that the team expects both tight end Trey Burton and receiver Anthony Miller to be ready for training camp. Burton underwent offseason sports hernia surgery, while Miller had surgery to repair a torn labrum. Both players had missed the team’s recent minicamp and OTAs. Burton’s first year in Chicago was a bit of a disappointment after the big contract that he signed, while Miller showed a lot of flashes in a rookie season that was limited by recurring shoulder issues. Both players could be in for a big 2019 if they can stay healthy.

Bears Wrap Draft Class

On Thursday, the Bears announced the signing of sixth-round cornerback Duke Shelley. With Shelley in the fold, the Bears have now wrapped up their entire 2019 NFL Draft class. 

[RELATED: Champ Kelly To Stay With Bears]

Shelley, a 5’9″ Kansas State product, will compete for time as a slot corner and special teams player. He might not see a ton of defensive snaps in 2019, but he showed future promise for the position with three interceptions last year.

Here’s the full rundown of the Bears’ draft class, via PFR’s tracker:

After Shelley’s signing, there are just 15 unsigned draft picks remaining in the NFL.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Champ Kelly To Stay With Bears

On Wednesday, Bears assistant director of player personnel Champ Kelly announced that he’ll be staying in Chicago. Kelly previously interviewed for the Jets’ GM job that ultimately went to Joe Douglas and there was talk that he still might join Gang Green’s front office.

[RELATED: Josh McCown Retires From NFL]

“I’m blessed and grateful to continue the pursuit of the Super Bowl trophy with the most storied franchise in NFL history,” Kelly tweeted.

Kelly joined the Bears in 2015 after spending eight years with the Broncos. He’ll return for a fifth season in Chicago while the Jets will move ahead with Phil Savage, Rex Hogan, and Chad Alexander as the new lieutenants under Douglas.