1st-and-10: Bears can use Larry Warford, but can they afford him?

The three-time Pro Bowl guard, who was cut by the Saints in a salary-cap move Friday, would be a plug-and-play starter and an immediate upgrade for the Bears.

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New Orleans Saints v New York Giants

Right guard Larry Warford (67) made the Pro Bowl in all three seasons with the Saints (2017, 2018 and 2019) after signing a four-year, $34 million contract as a free agent in 2017. He played his first four seasons in the NFL with the Lions.

Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

The availability of three-time Pro Bowl guard Larry Warford is intriguing for a lot of NFL teams, but especially so for the Bears, who just happen to have a vacancy at right guard.

The Bears signed former Seahawks first-round pick Germain Ifedi in free agency, but he’s on a one-year deal and still might have to beat out Rashaad Coward, who started 10 games last season in place of Kyle Long.

Warford, who was cut by the Saints in a salary-cap move Friday, would be a plug-and-play starter and an immediate upgrade. He was rated the 11th-best guard in the NFL by Pro Football Focus, and his strength is run blocking — a particular focus of coach Matt Nagy’s offseason.

Conflicting reports have the Bears interested and not interested in Warford. With high interest anticipated for a quality player who will turn 29 next month, the Bears might not be able to afford him.

And moves such as this aren’t always the no-brainers they appear to be. The Saints have a knack for letting offensive linemen go at the right time. Last season wasn’t Warford’s best. He struggled against the Vikings in the playoffs (though the Saints in general appeared ill-prepared for the Vikings’ strategy of pressuring from inside more than the edge), and long-term cost efficiency might be an issue.

In 2016, Pace’s second year with the Bears, he signed former Packers Pro Bowl guard Josh Sitton, who had been cut at the 53-man roster deadline. Like Warford, Sitton was not old (30) and still was playing at a high level when he was cut. He was rated the fifth-best guard in the NFL by Pro Football Focus in 2015.

Sitton made the Pro Bowl with the Bears in 2016. But after missing two games in six seasons as a starter with the Packers, he missed seven in two seasons with the Bears, who declined his 2018 option. Sitton played one more game in the NFL and retired at 32.

With cap space tight, rookies to sign and receiver Allen Robinson due for an extension, the Bears aren’t in a position to splurge. But if they could, Warford would be a cherry-on-top finish to Pace’s offseason refurbishing of the roster.

2. If the 2020 season takes place as planned, the Bears’ early schedule looks promising. Looks, however, can be deceiving. Though their first seven opponents were non-playoff teams in 2019, the Colts with Philip Rivers and Buccaneers with Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski could be vastly improved. The Rams, a year removed from a Super Bowl appearance, could bounce back. And the Lions with Matthew Stafford back from an injury might be tough to beat at Ford Field. The Bears had a chance to start 6-1 last season. Instead, they opened 3-4 — and never recovered.

As the Bears know all too well, the fickle finger of fate makes strength-of-schedule difficult to determine. In 2018 and 2019, the Bears’ strength-of-schedule was the same: Their opponents had a combined .520 winning percentage the previous season. But those opponents finished with a .442 winning percentage in 2018 (104-132-4, excluding games against the Bears), and the Bears went 12-4. Their opponents had a .508 winning percentage (121-117-2) in 2019, and the Bears finished 8-8.

The bottom line: Predicting the Bears’ record without seeing what the offense looks like in a real NFL game is almost pointless. If the offense clicks, the Bears might be a Super Bowl contender with their defense. If it’s 2019 all over again, 8-8 will be a challenge.

3. Here’s an even better example of how difficult it is to predict the NFL: In 2018, ESPN.com’s beat writers — who predicted game-by-game results of the teams they cover — had the Bears going a composite 0-16; they went 12-4. Last season, they had the Bears going 11-5; they went 8-8.

So take it for what it’s worth that ESPN’s beat writers have the Bears going 6-10 this season, beating the Giants, Panthers, Vikings (at Soldier Field), Lions (at Soldier Field), Texans and Jaguars.

4. The list: Outlets that had Mitch Trubisky rated ahead of Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes before the 2017 draft: Mel Kiper (Trubisky-Mahomes-Watson), Todd McShay (Trubisky-Watson-Mahomes), NFL.com (Trubisky-Watson-Mahomes), PFF.com (Trubisky-Watson-Mahomes) and WalterFootball.com (Trubisky-Watson-Mahomes).

5. A good point by Tom Waddle of ESPN 1000’s ‘‘Waddle & Silvy Show’’: If offseason preparation continues to be affected by COVID-19 restrictions — with a possible abbreviated training camp and preseason — defenses likely will be ahead of offenses whenever the NFL season begins. That figures to benefit the Bears, who have one of the most established defenses in the NFL.

6. If the season finale against the Packers already looks ominous, it’s for good reason. The last time the Bears finished with the Packers at home was in 2013, when they lost 33-28 on a 38-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to Randall Cobb with 38 seconds left, costing them the NFC North title and a playoff spot.

The time before that was in 2010, when the NFC North champion Bears had a chance to keep the Packers out of the playoffs and lost 10-3 at Lambeau Field. The Packers ended up beating the Bears in the NFC Championship Game that season. In fact, the Bears have lost their last five season finales against the Packers, also losing in 2006, 2005 and 1998.

7. Latest lines: The latest projected Bears victory total after the release of the schedule is eight. The Bears are 1œ-point underdogs against Lions in Week 1.

8. The Bears might have their best chance to beat Brady since 2006, when the Patriots rallied late to beat the Super Bowl-bound Bears 17-13 at Gillette Stadium. The Bears are 0-5 against Brady. Ken Stabler is the only other Hall of Fame quarterback (or presumed Hall of Famer) the Bears have faced more than twice but have not beaten. They were 0-6 against Stabler.

Brady, for what it’s worth, is 12-1 with a 106.0 passer rating (28 touchdowns, six interceptions, 296 yards per game) in Thursday games since 2001.

9. Josh McCown Ex-Bears Player of the Week Award: Quarterback Mike Glennon signed a one-year contract with the Jaguars, who — to the surprise of many — chose the journeyman over 2015 NFL most valuable player Cam Newton. The Jaguars will be Glennon’s fifth team in the last five seasons, following the Raiders (2019), Cardinals (2018), Bears (2017) and Buccaneers (2016).

10. Bear-ometer (9-7): at Lions (W); vs. Giants (W); at Falcons (L); vs. Colts (L); vs. Buccaneers (W); at Panthers (W); at Rams (L); vs. Saints (L); at Titans (L); vs. Vikings (W); at Packers (L); vs. Lions (W); vs. Texans (W); at Vikings (L); at Jaguars (W); vs. Packers (W).

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