Back to business: What’s in store for Bears at NFL combine?
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The green magnets — general manager Ryan Pace’s indicators for roster needs — that once filled the depth-chart board have dwindled. A strong core of mostly young players is firmly in place. But there’s still plenty for Pace and coach Matt Nagy to take care of this offseason, especially with the NFL Scouting Combine officially opening Wednesday in Indianapolis. Here’s a look at what’s on the Bears’ agenda:
A kicking competition
Every agent with an available kicker will try to chase down the Bears’ brass in Indianapolis.
Cody Parkey’s double-doinking run with the Bears is over. His release is expected to become official by March 13, the first day of the new league year.
A Robbie Gould reunion makes sense, but Gould and Stephen Gostkowski are viewed as franchise-tag candidates for the 49ers and Patriots, respectively.
Is veteran Matt Bryant, 43, an option? He was released by the Falcons this month.
Pace said he wanted competition at kicker.
The Bears already started that process by signing Redford Jones to a futures contract on Jan. 28.
They must figure out how much salary-cap space they’re willing to commit to two kickers. Parkey was guaranteed $9 million when he signed his four-year contract. Some of that will remain on the Bears’ books for the 2019 season when they release him.
That said, a win-now window has opened. It’s imperative that the Bears find the right kicker.
LSU’s Cole Tracy, Oklahoma’s Austin Seibert and Utah’s Matt Gay are the kickers participating in the combine.
“We understand we need to get better, get more production out of that position,” Pace said on Jan. 14. “Matt talks about it all the time. There’s so much parity in our league, so many close games. The kicker position is critical. We know we need to get better there, and it’ll be an area of focus.”
In a recent interview with SiriusXM, safety Adrian Amos said the Bears have been talking “back and forth” with him and his agent about a new contract.
As with all negotiations, there’s a debate regarding his value. The combine, though, should provide some clarity on his market.
Amos, a fifth-round selection in 2015, is an example of the dangers of overvaluing ratings and grades from Pro Football Focus, which teams use in various ways.
PFF described Amos as a “secret superstar” after he graded out as its third-best safety and best overall Bear in 2017.
Amos is a reliable player, but he hasn’t been a consistent playmaker.
One prevailing problem with PFF’s analysis of Amos is that he had only one interception in 2017. It was his only one in his first 40 starts, and it came off a tipped pass from former Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.
Amos improved in 2018 with three interceptions in 17 games, including one in the playoffs against the Eagles. He’s only 25, which makes him attractive to other teams.
Man in the middle
Retaining nickel back Bryce Callahan is arguably more important than keeping Amos. In today’s NFL, it’s essential to have a viable slot cornerback.
“You have to have it,” Nagy said on Nov. 1. “If you don’t have a slot nickel, you’re in trouble. Gotta have it.”
That’s not meant to discredit Amos’ position or value. But the Bears did try to replace him as a starter before the 2017 season by signing Quintin Demps.
Replacing Amos might be an easier task than replacing Callahan, a favorite of former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Callahan had two interceptions in each of the last two seasons.
The Bears already have a potential replacement for Amos on their roster in Deon Bush, a fourth-round pick from 2016 who started in place of an injured Eddie Jackson last season.
Still, if the Bears were inclined to pick the more durable player, it would be Amos. Callahan, 27, has yet to play a full season because of different injuries.
The Ravens established a new market for nickel backs Thursday by signing Tavon Young to a three-year extension worth a reported $25.8 million.
Last year, the Bears used an original-round tender on Callahan, who was an undrafted free-agent signing in 2015.
Afterward, Callahan changed agents, hiring Creative Artists Agency’s Todd France, who also represents cornerback Prince Amukamara, inside linebacker Roquan Smith and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd.
The Bears’ decision to release tight end Dion Sims is only the start when it comes to their financial maneuvering.
The Bears don’t need to be as aggressive as they’ve been in the past in free agency. They have a strong core of young players, and nearly all of their starters are signed.
But Pace has an aggressive reputation for a reason. He built his team through bold, franchise-altering moves. His approach won’t change because he’s low on cap space.
The Bears also are viewed as a destination team after going 12-4 last season. Their arrow is pointing way up.
Releasing outside linebacker Sam Acho, restructuring guard Kyle Long’s contract or extending inside linebacker Danny Trevathan’s deal are a few of the options that Pace has if he wants to create more cap room.
After re-signing right tackle Bobby Massie, the Bears also have a long-term deal with center Cody Whitehair to work out.
Backfield in motion
Last year, a report during the combine had the Bears discussing a trade with the Dolphins involving running back Jordan Howard and wide receiver Jarvis Landry. It wasn’t true.
But things change. Howard’s future certainly looks precarious after he ran for 935 yards in 16 games and averaged only 3.7 yards per carry.
Statistically, it was Howard’s worst individual season in his three years with the Bears, but it was by far the team’s best in the same span.
Any improvements that Howard made as a pass catcher didn’t register statistically. He had only 20 catches on 26 targets last season after having 23 on 32 in 2017 and 29 on 50 in 2016.
Howard is under contract for one more season, but it’s apparent the Bears want to add more firepower around quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
That desire could lead to another tight end or a larger wide receiver. But it also could mean more punch in the backfield.
The Bears have options to consider in the middle rounds of the draft, including Kentucky’s Benny Snell, Iowa State’s David Montgomery and Stanford’s Bryce Love.