Bears remain active in three get-better avenues as draft approaches

Bears remain active in three get-better avenues as draft approaches

First, truly sad notes...

On top of news that Gale Sayers is battling dementia and that Lance Briggs is talking of symptoms he links to CTE comes the very sad news that former 49ers tight end Dwight Clark has ALS. Clark, co-author of "The Catch" with Joe Montana, put the information out on Sunday night that he has the dreaded illness that has afflicted a number of former NFL'ers.

Take a moment before you read any further. Maybe hug your wife/husband/kids, call someone you haven't talked to in too long, something...

OK, now you can read some more...

After the initial crush of a less than spectacular 2017 free agency pool, the Bears have quietly continued to work at the task of upgrading themselves from the nightmare that was 2016. To wit:

Healing their own

How much better would the 2017 Bears be if they added a wide receiver with a top-10 draft pick, an emerging standout nose tackle at the center of their defensive line, a Pro Bowl guard, and they committed $24 million on a middle linebacker to anchor the defense?

Because those are among the projected starters the Bears anticipate getting back in 2017 from season-ending injuries: Kevin White, Eddie Goldman, Kyle Long and Danny Trevathan. Injuries were not an allowable "excuse" for the travails of 2016, but to critique the Bears without those four, plus the occasional Zach Miller, is silly.

The Bears' run defense allowed 4.8 yards per carry without Goldman, 3.8 with him, which would have ranked among the NFL's best. The Bears allowed 30 or more points in five games last season; four of those occurred when Trevathan was out injured.

And White, coming off season-ending bone breaks his first two years, leading the team after four games last season, is part of the plan, but how much is yet to play out. "He's rehabbed, been cleared medically," said coach John Fox. "He's a guy I think that's got good size, quickness, explosion, big hands. I think yards after catch can be a positive. But at the end of the day he has to go prove that. It's going to take some time. We've got time, and he's healthy."

Looking for new kids

Whether through the No. 3 or No. 36 picks or subsequent picks, or iterations spawned via trades, the Bears already are reportedly setting up some of their 30 allowed visits with prospects. The early names are on defense, and from Alabama: defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and linebacker Ruben Foster.

The process has been ongoing, obviously, involving the Senior Bowl, Combine, Pro Day's and soon the trips to Halas Hall. Notably, and not surprisingly, the Bears met at the Combine with Miami's Brad Kaaya, DeShone Kizer from Notre Dame, Pat Mahomes from Texas Tech, Nate Peterman from Pitt and North Carolina's Mitchell Trubisky. And that's not including the task force the Bears sent to watch the workout of Clemson's Deshaun Watson.

Also notably, according to WalterFootball.com, the Bears' Halas Hall pre-draft guest list last year included Leonard Floyd and Cody Whitehair, their No. 1 and No. 2 picks.

More, many more, to come.

Vet looks

The Bears signed a backup nose tackle (John Jenkins) last week and also had former Washington defensive end Ricky Jean-Francois in for a visit last weekend, first reported by ESPN's Josina Anderson last Thursday. Jean-Francois tweeted about getting used to cold weather again but was then off to Seattle for a visit with the Seahawks.

Visits don't always turn into signings, but just as he did with the addition of QB Mike Glennon, GM Ryan Pace is making moves that dramatically lessen pressure to draft for position need. With Jenkins in place and if the Bears could secure Jean-Francois, for instance, using the No. 3 pick on Alabama's Allen seems increasingly unlikely.

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Improvement typically comes in incremental steps, not leaps. And the Bears of 2017, based on what they have done at a handful of positions, the latest being Thursday’s signing of wide receiver Victor Cruz, fit that template.

The clear organizational commitment is to build through the draft, even if injuries have undermined some otherwise apparent upgrades to starting lineups on both sides of the football. But if there is a “theme” to what GM Ryan Pace is doing to muscle up a sluggish roster, it is that the Bears are willing to take flyers on veteran players – with additions like four veteran wide receivers with injury and issue histories – that arguably point to a win-now mindset while draft picks develop and contribute.

Jaye Howard and John Jenkins. Make the defensive line “better?” Than Jonathan Bullard and Will Sutton, probably. But “good?” Mmmmm…..

The game-one tight ends last year were Zach Miller-Logan Paulsen-Gregg Scruggs. Now they’re Miller-Dion Sims-Adam Shaheen (based on a second-round draft choice). “Good?” Maybe, maybe not. “Better?” Obviously, based on Sims alone.

Mike Glennon-Mark Sanchez-Mitch Trubisky. Bears “better” at quarterback? Than Jay Cutler-Brian Hoyer-Matt Barkley, probably. “Good?” Mmmmmm…..

The decisions to sign Glennon and Sanchez to the quarterback depth chart have sparked their shares of understandable cynical skepticism. But Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo were not available in trade, so the Pace decision was to gamble on upside with Glennon over the known quantity of Brian Hoyer (the preference of some coaches) and certainly Jay Cutler, for whom “potential” and “upside” no longer applied.

Add in the aggressive draft of Trubisky and the result was three possibilities of hits on a quarterback (Sanchez and Connor Shaw being combined here as a pair entry in the hit-possibility scenarios). All three were deemed an improvement over Cutler and/or Barkley.

The results may not vault the Bears all the way up to “good” at the pivotal position for any franchise. But “better” is sometimes all you can realistically manage.

Taking a wider-screen look at wide receiver in this context… .

Coach John Fox has cited the need for the Bears to establish the ability to get yardage in bigger chunks. Accordingly, all four of the veteran wideout signings this offseason – Cruz, Rueben Randle, Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright –  have posted yards-per-catch seasons of 14 or longer.

All four won’t be on the opening-day roster, but all four offer the promise of major impact. Cruz, Randle and Wright have had seasons of 70 or more receptions, and Wheaton topped out at 53 in 2015 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice weren’t available, so “good” was hard to achieve in an offseason in which Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal were expected departures long before their exits. But are Cruz, Randle, Wheaton and Wright, with Kevin White and Cameron Meredith, a “better” starting point than Jeffery, Royal, White, Bellamy, etc. of a year ago?

Obviously. But players with even moderately established NFL “names” (like Cruz, Randle, etal.) are typically available for a reason; teams do not routinely give up on talent. And none of the four come without significant shadows on their NFL resumes, whether for injury or other questions.

Cruz missed most of 2014 and all of the 2015 season, and hasn’t played a full season since his Pro Bowl year of 2012.

Randle was described as a head case by scouts and was so bad that he was let go in the Eagles’ cutdown to 75 last year, followed by disparaging comments from those in and around the organization.

Wheaton flashed promise in his 2014-15 opportunities as a part-time starter but played just three games before a shoulder injury landed him on IR last season.

The Tennessee Titans thought enough of Wright, their 2012 first-round draft choice, to pick up his fifth-year option going into las season. But by week 14 he was benched for tardiness and was a healthy DNP in game 16, announcing after the game that he already knew he was not in the Titans’ plans for 2017.

The prospect of the Bears going from 3-13 to “good” borders on fantasy. But if being among the NFL’s busiest this offseason hasn’t propelled the Bears to that level, the results point to “better.” At this point, that’s something,.

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

The Bears inked Victor Cruz to a one-year deal on Thursday, adding another receiver to an already crowded corps.

But it never hurts to add a veteran one to a young group, especially with a new starting quarterback.

Cruz is 30 years old and isn't the same Pro Bowl-caliber player he was before missing the entire 2015 season with a calf injury, but he surely has a lot left in the tank and can serve as a great mentor for the Bears receivers.

Just how big of an impact will he have on his new team? See what the SportsTalk Live panel had to say in the video above.