If Roger Goodell decides that Kareem Hunt has an anger-management problem and not a habitual criminal problem, Hunt is going to play in the NFL again.
In the wake of the Bears leaving the door open for a run at Hunt should he regain eligibility, the battle lines have quickly been drawn over the only video evidence of a Hunt incident of violence. On one side, it was an inexcusable assault on a woman — with Hunt shoving and kicking an innocent victim. On the other side, it was an altercation, with an allegedly drunk woman allegedly provoking Hunt by calling him a racial slur. It’s the era of polarity of public discourse — you see what you want to see.
To one side, any violent incident, especially against women, is indelible and character-defining — an event that labels him a “woman-beater” and disqualifies him for life. On the other side, there are degrees of indiscretion — a distinction between the Ray Rice video and Hunt video; a difference between a bad guy and a good guy involved in a bad moment. Or a good guy who might have an anger-management issue.
The McCaskeys would have to OK the Bears’ interest in Hunt. But this is largely Matt Nagy’s call. He coached Hunt and knows him the best out of anyone at Halas Hall. And having covered Nagy for a full season, this much is certain: Nagy will not sell his soul to sign a bad guy who can help him win football games. If he doesn’t think that Hunt is capable of redemption and worthy of a second chance, he’s not going to take the risk.
Nagy arrived as a virtual unknown, but he has built up a sizable amount of trust in his first season as a head coach who seems to have a pretty good touch when it comes to running an NFL team. He’s eager but patient, level-headed and aggressive without being impulsive. He’s driven to succeed, but not blinded by ambition.
There’s still much to be sorted out before the NFL determines when — or if — Hunt is eligible to return. And there’s no doubt the Hunt decision — if it comes to that — will be controversial. The only argument I would make is that Nagy has earned the right to make that call.
2. The second-best argument against pursuing Hunt: If a third-round pick from Toledo like Hunt could come out of the weeds and end up being a perfect fit for the Reid/Nagy offense, there’s more out there.
“We didn’t really, truly, 100 percent know how he was going to be as a player,” Nagy said when Hunt replaced the injured Spencer Ware in the 2017 preseason.
3. Regardless of the Hunt situation, it seems likely that Nagy will be looking for a better fit for his offense than Jordan Howard, who had career lows of 935 rushing yards and 3.7 yards per carry (with a career-high-tying nine touchdowns) in 2018. Asked about his faith in Howard, Nagy didn’t even mention his name in his response.
“Everyone talks about the run game. It wasn’t as good as it should be,” Nagy said. “The offense can be better, without a doubt. I’m not there yet, but I’m excited to get with the coaches in the next couple of weeks and start evaluating these guys and understanding the ‘why’ part.”
4. The Bears appear likely to cut kicker Cody Parkey, but general manager Ryan Pace’s insistence that there will be competition in training camp next season all but rules out a Robbie Gould-caliber signing.
Either way, there is almost sure to be uncertainty heading into camp, if not the regular season. It’ll either be Parkey vs. a rookie/low-cost free agent or a rookie vs. a low-cost free agent battling it out in Bourbonnais in the summer.
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5. An early red flag of the John Fox era was when Fox did not hire a veteran offensive coordinator to replace Adam Gase. Fox ended up promoting Dowell Loggains, who was certainly earnest but only had one full season as an NFL coordinator.
Nagy appears to have easily trumped that with his first hire, former Colts head coach Chuck Pagano to replace Vic Fangio. Pagano has a lot better hand to play — a Bears defense that ranked first in points allowed in 2018. But his experience increases the chances of the Bears’ defense taking a step forward without Fangio.
6. It might have been a little unbecoming, but Bears fans had every right to cheer Alshon Jeffery’s incompletion that clinched the Eagles’ loss to the Saints on Sunday. Since leaving the Bears, Jeffery has done a poor job of showing respect for Bears fans — and the organization — that almost universally supported him in Chicago. Taunting them after Parkey’s missed field goal in the wild-card game was the final straw.
7. Tarik Cohen made the All-Pro team as a punt returner (12.5-yard average, second in the NFL), but this was an uneven year for special teams under Chris Tabor. The Bears were last in the NFL in average drive start after a kickoff (23.4-yard line).
“I’m more than happy with what [Tabor has] done,” Nagy said. “We had an amazing collaboration this year, both in practice and during the game. I love having him here. He’s done a great job. And he more than anybody wants to improve. We’re gonna help him in any way we can.”
8. Nickel back Bryce Callahan should be the top priority among the Bears’ free agents. He was among the league’s best at his position, and nickel back is becoming more and more of a starting position in the NFL. With other free agents — including safety Adrian Amos and tackle Bobby Massie — the Bears have options for upgrades if they don’t re-sign.
Among the non-starters, outside linebacker Aaron Lynch bears watching. The Bears need pass-rushing depth, but Lynch could opt to follow Fangio to Denver.
9. Cole Tracy Watch: The 5-11, 188-pound LSU kicker won the Fred Mitchell Award (given to the best kicker in FCS, Division II or NJCAA) with Division II Assumption College in 2017.
When scouts wondered about his ability to kick in front of larger crowds, he transferred to LSU (which had 11 missed field goals in 2017) as a graduate-eligible and hit 25 of 29 field-goal attempts, including a 42-yard game-winner to beat Auburn 22-21. He made three kicks of 50-plus yards, with a long of 54. He made big kicks in tough conditions at Assumption. He hit a 50-yarder in overtime in front of 101,501 at Texas A&M, a 74-72 loss.
10. Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Week Award: Eagles nickel back Cre’Von LeBlanc intercepted Drew Brees on the first play from scrimmage, leading to a touchdown drive that gave the Eagles a 7-0 lead in their divisional game at the Superdome.