1st-and-10: It’s time for Jaquan Brisker to play football
Players deserve to cash in on early success more than the NFL currently allows. But holding out to get more in that first contract is generally counter-productive — for the player and the team. With an opportunity to start as a rookie, there’s value in being there from Day 1.
The Bears are giving rookie safety Jaquan Brisker the opportunity of a lifetime. He might want to take advantage of it.
Brisker, a second-round draft pick (48th overall) from Penn State, has all but been handed a starting job from the day he stepped foot on the practice field at Halas Hall.
He doesn’t have to serve an apprenticeship. There’s no veteran starter he’ll have to beat out. With Eddie Jackson starting at free safety, the only other safeties on the roster are special teams/fringe players — Dane Cruikshank (four career starts in four seasons, all with the Titans last year), DeAndre Houston-Carson (three starts in six seasons, all with the Bears last year), Michael Joseph (three snaps on defense in three years) and four rookies. The Bears have made it crystal clear: Brisker’s future is now.
Not only that, but Brisker has the advantage of joining Matt Eberflus’ defense on the ground floor, which puts him on a more level playing field with the veterans. He has less experience, but he also has less to unlearn. He really couldn’t ask for a better opportunity as a second-round draft pick.
It would behoove him to be there from the start and build on that momentum. Instead, he’s been an early contract holdout — missing the first days of rookie introduction because his agent is haggling with the Bears over non-guaranteed third-year money.
Welcome to the NFL, Jaquan Brisker. It’s an imperfect system of compensation. With the brevity of the average NFL career, players deserve to cash in on early success more than the NFL currently allows. But holding out to get more in that first contract is generally counter-productive — for the player and the team. The superstars often can get away with it. But Brisker is a second-round draft pick. There’s value in being there from the start — especially for a player who has the opportunity Brisker has.
It’s true that Roquan Smith’s 29-day rookie holdout in 2018 did not significantly alter his NFL arc. But he was the eighth overall pick in the draft. And you can also argue there was a cost. Had Smith been able to play more than eight snaps in the season opener in 2018, maybe the Bears’ defense doesn’t collapse in the second half of a 24-23 loss to the Packers. If the Bears win that game, maybe they finish 13-3 and get a first-round bye and don’t have to play the Eagles in the wild-card round and Cody Parkey’s double-doink never happens. Maybe.
Smith eventually fired the agent who held him out over an issue that — predictably — didn’t come into play: the possibility that the Bears could void the guaranteed money in his rookie contract if he were suspended for one or more games. Smith has not said why he dropped his agent. But it’s fairly certain that there were no winners in his holdout. There rarely are.
2. Roquan has been the Bears’ only holdout since the rookie wage scale was implemented in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement. Prior to that, the list of Bears rookies to hold out since the end of the Ditka era has a common thread — they all ended up with disappointing careers:
Cedric Benson (2005), David Terrell (2001), Cade McNown (1999), Curtis Enis and Alonzo Mayes (1998) and Rashaan Salaam and Pat Riley (1995).
In fact, from 1995-2001, four Bears first-round picks held out (Salaam, Enis, McNown, Terrell) and two did not (Walt Harris, Brian Urlacher). The five who held out ended up with a 82 combined starts in the NFL. The two who signed on time had 367 (Urlacher 187, Harris 180) — with Urlacher in particular making it a stated priority to be in camp on time.
Probably just a coincidence, but maybe not.
3. It remains to be seen how long Robert Quinn will be a Bear — assuming he shows up for training camp after sitting out the entire on-field portion of the offseason program.
Unless the Bears become a surprise playoff contender in 2022 — stranger things have happened in the NFL — the Bears are better without Quinn than with him. They’re clearly in rebuild mode after Ryan Poles cleared the roster of the most veteran players he inherited from Ryan Pace. And Quinn would take away snaps from developing players — perhaps intriguing rookie Dominique Robinson. And he might help them win games that drop them in the draft order.
And don’t kid yourself — while Eberflus officially is playing to win them all, getting a top-10 pick is almost as much a part of a rebuild as developing Justin Fields. An amicable divorce between the Bears and Quinn — eventually — likely is part of the plan.
4. All eyes will be on Fields when camp opens Wednesday, but also at left tackle — where rookie Braxton Jones was starting at veteran mini-camp, with Larry Borom at right tackle and 2021 second-round pick Teven Jenkins the odd-man out as the second-team right tackle.
“The best five will play” is a football cliche, but rarely has it been as legitimate as with this Bears team. Borom and Jenkins have played both tackle positions and either could end up at right guard. Center Lucas Patrick could play right guard. Right guard Sam Mustipher was the Bears’ starting center the past two years. Left guard Cody Whitehair — a six-year starter — made the Pro Bowl at center in 2018.
The Bears could open with Borom-Whitehair-Patrick-Mustipher-Jenkins from left to right. But every position is open, and don’t count out rookies getting a real shot.
5. “A breath of fresh air” is a common, almost cliche theme of any first training camp when a new regime follows a failed one, and that figures to be especially so in this one, as players embrace the change to Poles and Eberflus.
The Pace/Nagy era not only did not end well, but the vaunted culture they cherished seemed to wilt into a facade by the end of last season. Not much will be settled in this training camp — it’s Bears vs. Bears and preseason games are more shadow boxing than dress rehearsals these days. But when Week 1 begins, one Bears theme will carry the day — change is good.
6a. Just having a conventional quarterback dynamic will be a solid anchor for the new coaching staff to at least set a tone of competency in Eberflus’ first training camp as a head coach. Fields, the potential franchise quarterback, is No. 1. Trevor Siemian, a competent backup with starting experience in the NFL, is No. 2.
Awkward quarterback situations in training camp hampered the last two seasons under Nagy, on multiple levels. In the 2020 COVID-19 camp, Mitch Trubisky coming off a stagnant 2019 season competed with veteran Nick Foles for the starting job — with Trubisky an unconvincing “winner.” In 2021, Andy Dalton was the designated starter ahead of the rookie Fields in an ill-fated apprenticeship plan mistakenly modeled after the Alex Smith-Patrick Mahomes template with the Chiefs.
Fields still has to prove he’s the quarterback the Bears are looking for. But the path to success is as clear as it’s ever been.
6b. You can’t discount the importance of luck and timing in the success of any NFL general manager or coach. Pace’s tenure got off to a bad start in 2015 when his first-round pick, wide receiver Kevin White, started his first training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list with a shin injury he suffered in OTAs and ended up missing the entire season.
Every year, it seemed, the Bears would open camp missing a key player: Pernell McPhee (PUP) in 2016 and 2017; Roquan Smith’s holdout in 2018; Eddie Goldman’s opt-out in 2020; and Tarik Cohen (PUP) and second-round draft pick Teven Jenkins (back surgery/injured reserve) last season.
We’ll get an early indication of how Poles’ and Eberflus’ luck is running right from the start when training camp opens Tuesday.
7a. The Bears open this training camp with just 27 players remaining from the 63 players (active roster/injured reserve) Poles inherited from Pace — including 12 of 23 players who started eight games or more in 2021.
That’s a pretty aggressive turnover. When Pace was hired in 2015, he still had 42 of the 63 players he inherited from Phil Emery, including 16 of 23 players who started eight games or more in 2014.
7b. Starting from scratch: The Bears have three players with a combined six Pro Bowl berths — Quinn (2013, 2014, 2021), safety Eddie Jackson (2018, 2019) and Whitehair (2018). Pace’s first team in 2015 had 11 players with a combined 24 Pro Bowl berths.
7c. Only one of these players is not a Bear: Willie Wright, Jayson Stanley, Auzoyah Alufohai, Tyrone Wheatley, Jr., Lamar Jackson, John Rysen.
8. Pick to Click: Keep an eye on rookie wide receiver Kevin Schaa, a 5-10, 166-pound undrafted free agent from Liberty. Shaa ran a 4.38 40-yard dash with a 38-inch vertical jump and has good hands and a nose for the ball. He’d likely get lost in the shuffle in a more established wide receiver group. But he figures to get a pretty good look here, with only Darnell Mooney and Byron Pringle the only roster locks and a coaching staff with a wide-open mind on the entire roster.
Playing with quarterback Malik Willis — a third-round draft pick by the Titans — Shaa caught only 28 passes (for 516 yards) last season at Liberty — but six of them went for touchdowns and he averaged 18.4 yards per catch.
9. Josh McCown Ex-Bear of the Week: Packers safety Adrian Amos was named the 40th best player in the NFL in Pro Football Focus’ ranking of the top 50 players in the NFL entering the 2022 season.
Amos, a fifth-round draft pick by the Bears in 2015, was solid if not spectacular in four seasons with the Bears. He has been just as steady in three seasons with the Packers since signing a four-year, $36 million contract in free agency in 2019 — 25 pass break-ups and six interceptions and emerging as a team leader.
From PFF’s Sam Monson: “Amos is one of the most underrated players in the game and has a real argument … as the league’s best safety or at the very least, one of the best. He has never had a bad season in the NFL, recording seven pass breakups along with three interceptions this past year. He has missed fewer than 10% of his tackle attempts in each of his past three campaigns.”
Let the record show there were few tears shed when Pace let Amos go. The Bears signed Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to replace Amos in 2019 and it was deemed an upgrade.
10. Bear-ometer: 6-11 —vs. 49ers (L); at Packers (L); vs. Texans (W); at NY Giants (L); at Vikings (L); vs. Commanders (W); at Patriots (L); at Cowboys (L); vs. Dolphins (W); vs. Lions (W); at Falcons (W); at NY Jets (L); vs. Packers (L); vs. Eagles (L); vs. Bills (L); at Lions (L); vs. Vikings (W).
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