Posted: Thu Jun 13, 2019 10:07 pm
When can the Bears start pushing their chips in on free agency? What are key scouting dates? Don’t worry , the Bears are winning the Super Bowl ... eventually."It’s often said in sports that it’s better to either be bad enough to improve your draft position, or good enough to compete and contend for a championship. The middle ground, the no man’s land, is the worst place to sit in because it’s frequently the most difficult place to improve from. Your team isn’t awful enough to add a potential blue chip player in the draft and isn’t good enough to be playing late into a postseason. It’s not an ideal place to sit in as it can feel like time is merely passing on by without any meaning. The quintessential existential crisis.In the NFL, there’s another zone that only the most fortunate teams have the luxury of enjoying: contention with only minor tweaks needed. To have your ideal roster and coaching staff be largely set in stone before the acquisition period of the off-season has begun can be strangely anxiety-inducing due to the nature of a theoretical lack of productivity. That’s the place the Bears sit in: A launching pad of progress they’re more than allowed to revel in. Progress that says a lot more about their successful rebuild than it does about anyone chasing their efforts. In comparison to the previous four off-seasons, then, 2019 should pale in comparison to the heavy roster overhaul the Bears have previously undergone. The Bears don’t need a facelift with a luxurious spa day. Think about it, thanks to Khalil Mack, the 12-4 Bears were just seven wins away from an undefeated 19-0 season. They were so close to a remarkable achievement. They don’t need a wrench thrown into their plans of what isn’t broken. They need an opportunity to continue to mesh together and see where it takes them. Don’t mistake activity for achievement if the activity isn’t efficient or necessary. For the first time in what feels like decades, the Bears can slow play the spring and see where it takes them. They can throw out their archaic map, go against awkwardly asking a stranger once they get lost, and rely on GPS to get them to their (Super Bowl) destination. February 19th to March 5th: Window to franchise or transition tag club playersA reunion probably isn’t in store. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesThe NFL has an efficient player exploitative system in place that goes back almost three decades. A system designed to perpetuate a myth of true free agency allow players and teams a chance at compromise on the open market. A design that almost always starts and ends with franchise and transition tags. This year, barring a surprise with Bryce Callahan or Adrian Amos, I wouldn’t anticipate the Bears applying any tag to their pending free agents. Neither Callahan or Amos paints a picture of wanting to pay a player a top five salary for their position with the franchise tag, or go for a poison pill bidding war with the transition. The Bears either re-sign their rare players on expiring contracts, or let them test the waters.What will be something to watch for in Chicago is the status of 49ers kicker Robbie Gould. Early reports indicate the veteran kicker and Bears all-time leading scorer will receive the franchise tag from Santa Clara , sorry ... San Francisco. But nothing is official until the March 5th deadline. The Bears and Gould — who has his family reside in Chicago through the year — would likely like to reunite as kicker is one of the former’s only main needs to address this off-season. Neither party can do anything if the 49ers preemptively take the decision out of their hands. That screeching sound you hear is the cry of a million Chicago sports fans re-signing to further life without Gould. As if millions of voices screamed out in terror at once, and then were silenced.February 26th to March 4th: The annual Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IndianaRemember when this was a thing? Good times. Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY SportsAs much as I personally loathe the NFL turning it’s off-season into a second major industry of it’s own built on the premise and promise of mostly false hope, I’m impressed by the tenacious business imperative. To pray on the diehard sensibilities and emotional investments of sports fans in such a fashion takes a cold, ruthless calculation that only a morally impeccable league like the NFL could ever dream of. It’s such a turn of character for a normally clean entity. We’ve never seen the NFL go heel. Not once. One of the most fascinating portions of the off-season is the glorified underwear Olympics in the form of the Scouting Combine. to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game despite never having the opportunity to touch the ball in sudden death. I’m of the belief that both offenses should be guaranteed a possession no matter what, and if both teams are tied after the fact, you then move forward with a golden goal. After all, football is a game about points and who scores the most, not a game based on artificially limited opportunities. But hey, traditionalists screaming out the merits of good defensive play winning out might not agree. I’ll be shocked if the format isn’t adjusted toward the former sentiment as I’d imagine most around the league would like to see the Patrick Mahomes of the world get a chance to win in a playoff overtime. If you disagree, you might feel differently and only empathize when Mitchell Trubisky has this happen to him in the future. If you still don’t feel differently in that scenario, well ... I don’t know what to tell you. Deal with it. The game is supposed to evolve. April 15th: Teams with returning head coaches can begin off-season workout programsHow do you build a Coach of the Year resume? You start in the spring. Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY SportsThis year, everyone but the Bengals, Broncos, Browns, Buccaneers , Cardinals, Dolphins, Jets, and Packers don’t get to return to official team organized action until mid-April. A year after having the jump on the competition with extra preparation time and another week of training camp thanks to the Hall of Fame Game, the Bears are meshed in with everybody else on the same playing field. That’s the cookie way crumbles for the reigning Coach of the Year Matt Nagy. A common theme that’s repeatedly going to be espoused about the Bears this off-season is internal improvement, particularly on offense. The NFL’s 20th ranked offense in DVOA is, at the moment, bringing back all 11 starters. They’re not going to enjoy the luxury of a big-time addition like Robinson to help them improve and morph into an elite attack. Any jump they make to consistency will only come at the hands of increased chemistry and comfort together in Nagy’s complex scheme. An already tight-knit group will only have the capacity to become special by taking advantage of every spring and summer opportunity. It starts with the simplest of team workouts in April. It’s when the Bears begin their offensive installs from the ground up and eventually work their way toward the more nuanced intricacies of their playbook. It’s cliche, but if the Bears are going to have an offense more complementary of their great defense, it’ll start with the hard work and #grit of the off-season. The key will be differentiating between the positive and routine hopeful vibes as the Bears tell everyone everything is awesome in Lake Forest in two months, and actual meaningful progress. Heitman-USA TODAY SportsOne of the most hyped events of the year is set to happen at the end of this April. A bunch of freakish heroes will set about achieving a dream and reaching a culmination of years of work. People around the country will revel in their accomplishment, and some may get emotional in the process. On April 26th, 2019, the Avengers take on Thanos for the last time in Avengers: Endgame. I, for one, am ready to bawl my eyes out. Dread it. Run from it. My raw and embarrassing emotions over pop culture still arrive. Oh right , there’s also the NFL’s annual player draft happening that weekend. Ho, hum. Call me when Thanos gets drafted. He has an incredible first step, a versatile pass rush repertoire, and is definitely a Day 1 starter. The purple goon is what is colloquially known as a “football guy.”If I sound a little indifferent and unenthusiastic as to the draft process, it should be understandable: The Bears don’t have a first or second-round pick. For most of the NFL’s flagship event of the off-season, the Bears will be sitting back waiting their turn to select another impact player. A selection that won’t come until No. 88 overall in the third round. It’s a far cry from needing a pass rusher and versatile linebacker such as Leonard Floyd in 2016, a franchise quarterback like Trubisky in 2017, and the future face of your defense in Roquan Smith last year. Not only do the Bears not have an early draft pick this year, it could be considered downright irresponsible for them to trade up in the order unless there’s a player they absolutely love. You’d be hard pressed to tell me it’s worth it to trade up from the late third round to the early second as an example. When you’re as limited on resources as they already are, a patented Pace trade back makes far more sense if any trade is made. What you should keep an eye out for is what position the Bears look to attack with their third-round pick. I’m of the keen belief they should go after a multi-faceted running back in the mold of Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill or Florida Atlantic’s prolific touchdown machine Devin Singletary, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a versatile defensive back. That’s depending on the future of Callahan and Amos, though. Whatever the case, Pace has proven to be a bit of a draft wizard of whom isn’t afraid to throw around his capital willy nilly on one of the most important dates of the NFL calendar. Just when we think the Bears will be quiet, he’ll throw everyone for a loop. It’s that poker face that serves him better than most general managers. In the mean time, barring something unprecedented, I’ll be enjoying the end of corny Steve Rogers as a character. Whoops , I mean enjoying him saving the day. Yeah, that’s it.Robert is the Editor-in-chief of The Blitz Network (subscribe here!), the managing editor of Windy City Gridiron, and writes for many fine publications. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski. Those in Chicago know the value of the long snapper: by far one of the most important positions in football. A slot on any team roster that almost comes close to the same value as a franchise quarterback. I say almost because quarterbacks don’t share the same pressure that the man in the special teams middle does. So it’s now fully appropriate that the greatest long snapper of all-time in Bears legend Patrick Mannelly has created an award to honor the best collegiate long snapper. No one quite understands the components and inherent value of a long snapper like Mannelly: who played 16 years for the Bears, and was robbed of a Pro Bowl, All-Pro, and MVP selection in most of those seasons. The deserved future Hall of Famer is making waves to make up for it for those that aren’t in the spotlight, but should be. “Long snappers are the ultimate anonymous and unsung heroes of football,” Mannelly said to lead off his announcement of one of the most prestigious awards in college football. “No successful field goal, extra point, or punt can take place without an excellent long snap that gets it all started.”The award founded by Mannelly, Kevin Gold, and Chris Rubio aims to shine a light on these unnoticed but essential components of football. It’s high time we recognize the sport’s most valuable player as such. The only shame is that the big boys in the NFL haven’t yet followed the collegiate ranks’ high class example. Robert is the Editor-in-chief of The Blitz Network, the managing editor of Windy City Gridiron, and has a host of bylines for many fine publications. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.