What does Bears’ OTA bust tell us about Matt Eberflus?
Last month’s practices were either a sign of Eberflus’ early struggles to run a proper workout or his willingness to inch past the line of acceptable protocol.
His team hasn’t played a game yet, but new coach Matt Eberflus already has suffered his first loss.
The Bears’ organized-team-activity practice originally scheduled for Tuesday at Halas Hall was canceled by the league as punishment for having contact drills during OTA practices last month, a source confirmed.
Another source said that an NFLPA staffer noticed OTA contact drills in May as part of a standard visit to Halas Hall and told the team to stop doing them. The union then looked at film of subsequent practices as part of its standard follow-up procedure and found the Bears had not ceased the forbidden activities.
The collective-bargaining agreement, which is agreed upon by owners and the NFLPA, expressly prohibits contact during offseason workouts. CBA rules mandate that teams record their practices for review. OTAs, which end later this week, are voluntary but well-attended.
The public reprimand is a bad look for Eberflus, who had never served as a head coach at any level until he was hired — by another first-time boss, general manager Ryan Poles — in January.
Last month’s practices were either a sign of Eberflus’ early struggles to run a proper workout or his willingness to inch past the line of acceptable protocol. Eberflus was unable to stop his team from running verboten drills or decided that a mild offseason penalty — the NFL equivalent of a speeding ticket for going a few miles over the posted limit — was worth the risk to establish a team mindset through increasingly physical offseason work.
Because he didn’t heed the original warning, it’s fair to conclude the latter. It’s not nearly as disqualifying as the former.
Eberflus certainly doesn’t want to be in the same company as Urban Meyer, who, in his first and only season as an NFL coach last year, oversaw OTA practices with contact. He and the Jaguars were fined, and the team had two 2022 OTAs stripped. Meyer had bigger problems, though, and was fired in midseason.
But veteran coaches — the 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan and the Cowboys’ Mike McCarthy — were fined and had their teams penalized for violations last year, too.
Two of the league’s most respected coaches have been, to quote the old “Chappelle’s Show” bit, habitual line-steppers.
The Ravens lost two OTA practices in 2018, three in 2016 and a full week in 2010 for offseason practice violations overseen by John Harbaugh, the third-longest-tenured coach in the NFL. Pete Carroll, who ranks fourth, ran OTA practices in 2016 that prompted the league to take away the Seahawks’ fifth-round pick and a full week of the following year’s OTAs. His team was punished in 2012 and 2014 for excessive contact during OTAs, too.
Those penalties didn’t portend trouble. All of the aforementioned teams, except for the 2021 Jaguars and 2016 Ravens, made the playoffs in the years they committed a violation. The Bears, who are rebuilding, probably won’t be in that company at the end of this season.
The day he fired GM Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy, Bears chairman George McCaskey said that the chief trait he wanted in his next hires was leadership. He then chose Eberflus and Poles, neither of whom had helmed a team before, with the belief that both would develop into high-level leaders.
Each has suffered missteps in his first offseason. Poles shouldn’t be blamed for big-money defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi failing a physical before he signed a contract, but it hurt the Bears’ free-agent class nonetheless. Wide receiver Byron Pringle, perhaps Poles’ most high-profile signing, was arrested in April for reckless driving with a suspended license — and a child in his back seat — while home in Florida. Poles, who worked with Pringle the last four years in Kansas City, said it was “not a reflection of who he is at all.”
Is pushing the limits of OTA drills a reflection of Eberflus and the way he runs his team? With time, the Bears will find out.
In the interim, they’ll discover how their new coach handles his first piece of controversy. Eberflus is expected to answer questions after the team holds its OTA practice — presumably without the contact — on Wednesday afternoon.