Bears Must Improve Fields' Protection

Chicago Bears QB Justin Fields
Chicago Bears QB Justin Fields
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Offseason - In these editions of Four Downs, we'll review the biggest hole on each team in the division and then give a short look at each team's major free agents for 2022.

Chicago Bears

Biggest Need: Offensive Line

Chicago is due for renovations along the offensive line. Forty-year-old left tackle Jason Peters and right tackle Germaine Ifedi are both free agents this offseason, and neither of them should be re-signed as starters. Teven Jenkins, a 2021 second-round pick, will replace one of them, leaving new shoes to be filled at the other spot. Guard James Daniels is an unrestricted free agent as well. The Bears should fight much harder to keep him in town than either of the tackles, but there is always the possibility Daniels is allowed to walk. An upgrade over a returning starter is a possibility as well. Center Sam Mustipher, though a fine run-blocker, was a mess in pass protection last season and the Bears would be wise to pair young quarterback Justin Fields with a more legitimate center.

Major Free Agents: Allen Robinson, WR; James Daniels, OL; Akiem Hicks, DL; Marquise Goodwin, WR; Alec Ogletree, LB; Bilal Nichols, DL; Andy Dalton, QB; Jason Peters, OT; Germain Ifedi, OL; Tashaun Gipson, S; Jimmy Graham, TE; Damien Williams, RB

The Bears are hemorrhaging talent. Some of these guys, such as Peters and Graham, are older players who needed to be phased out anyway, but others are set to be tougher losses, including Daniels, Robinson, and Hicks. While keeping Daniels (and, to a lesser degree, Hicks) should be a top priority, the Bears should let Robinson go. Robinson showed some decline as an individual, but the real issue is that his connection with Fields never blossomed at any point. It may be best for both parties to get a fresh start.

Detroit Lions

Biggest Need: Wide Receiver

The Lions were billed as the worst wide receiving group in the NFL heading into last season. They barely outplayed that expectation thanks to a surprise rookie year out of Amon-Ra St. Brown and decent production from free agent Josh Reynolds. St. Brown will stick around as a good possession option, but Reynolds is set to hit the market again, along with speedster Kalif Raymond. That leaves the Lions with Quintez Cephus, Trinity Benson, and Javon McKinley at receiver beyond St. Brown. Detroit will need to throw two or three draft picks and signings at the position to get to respectability. Ideally, the Lions would swing on a receiver with one of their draft picks in the low 30s while using the free-agent market to pick up a role player.

Major Free Agents: Tracy Walker, S; Alex Anzalone, LB; Josh Reynolds, WR; Kalif Raymond, WR; Jalen Reeves-Maybin, LB; Charles Harris, DE; Dean Marlowe, DB, Nicholas Williams, DL

The silver lining about being a bad team is that it hurts less to lose players in the offseason. None of Detroit's impending free agents are necessities to keep around, though it would be nice to hang on to a few for familiarity's sake. To that end, Reynolds can likely stay in town for cheap, given his connection with Jared Goff. Walker may also be a good candidate to re-sign. He has been a nice piece for Detroit's secondary for a few years now and probably will not cost much to retain. Detroit may also think about bringing back one of their free-agent linebackers to keep some continuity.

Green Bay Packers

Biggest Need: Linebacker

An NFL team should never be in danger of going into a season with Krys Barnes and Isaiah McDuffie as the only linebackers on the roster. As things stand now, that is where the Packers are at. One-year free-agent signing De'Vondre Campbell is set to hit the market again after his unexpected Pro Bowl season. Campbell was the best linebacker the Packers have seen in years, but with the team already well into a cap deficit and potentially having to deal with contracts for Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams, it's tough to find the money to re-sign him. Though mostly a nickel linebacker and special-teamer, 2018 third-rounder Oren Burks is also up for a new contract. The Packers are not typically a team to spend premium picks at linebacker, but given their cap situation, the draft may be the easiest way to address the position.

Major Free Agents: Davante Adams, WR; De'Vondre Campbell, LB; Robert Tonyan Jr., TE; Kevin King, CB; Rasul Douglas, CB; Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR; Lucas Patrick, OL

Aaron Rodgers or not, Adams likely sticks around in Green Bay on the franchise tag this year. Allowing the best receiver in the league to simply walk in free agency is not something that happens very often. What Green Bay does with their free agents beyond Adams is where it gets tricky. The Packers are already $28 million in the hole, according to Spotrac, so bringing everyone back will not be an option. Campbell could be a candidate to walk considering Green Bay never invests much at linebacker, while one of King or Douglas (likely King) will surely be sent out the door in favor of younger talent at the position.

Minnesota Vikings

Biggest Need: Cornerback

The Vikings need all sorts of cornerback talent. Young or old, starter or backup, the Vikings could use them all. Veterans Patrick Peterson and Mackensie Alexander are both set to hit the open market. The Vikings will need to either re-sign or replace both players. Alexander, who signed back with the Vikings for the 2021 season after a one-year stint in Cincinnati, may be willing to stick around for cheap again, but that alone does not solve the team's issues. The depth beyond Peterson, Alexander, and Cameron Dantzler last season was poor. The team used Bashaud Breeland for parts of the season before releasing him, while 2019 draft pick Kris Boyd got picked apart in limited action again. Former head coach Mike Zimmer's departure also brings about necessity for cornerback talent, both because the defense will be taking on a new identity and because Zimmer was often able to scheme up smart pressures to help out the secondary.

Major Free Agents: Anthony Barr, LB; Patrick Peterson, CB; Sheldon Richardson, DL; Xavier Woods, S; Tyler Conklin, TE; Mackensie Alexander, CB; Rashod Hill, OL; Dede Westbrook, WR

Many of the Vikings' key departures are on the defensive side. Conklin and Westbrook are up for new deals on offense, but those guys do not demand high-resource replacements. On defense, however, Barr, Peterson, Richardson, Woods, and Alexander are all significant contributors who must be re-signed or replaced. Given the coaching turnover and expected franchise reset, perhaps this would be the best time to let guys such as Barr walk, but the Vikings will need to attack defense in the offseason no matter what considering all the losses.

Comments

38 comments, Last at 03 Mar 2022, 3:10pm

#1 by ImNewAroundThe… // Mar 01, 2022 - 11:28am

Devondre was an all pro but not pro bowl. Would also prefer them to cash in on a comp pick since the void years deadline already passed. Chalk up the great, clearly outlier, year as a fluke. 

Also the Lions safety room is pretty barren consisting of an expiring Will Harris and a 6th rounder they (a bad team) already cut. 

Bears and Packers also need WRs. Idk your definition of premium but I would rather such a pick be spent on WR than LB in GB (can anyone name the SB LBs?) who only have Amari Rodgers (underwhelming rookie), RFA Lazard (overrated) and an likely cut candidate in Cobb. The Bears only have Mooney and a bunch of nobodies. S is pretty ghostly too.

Points: 0

#2 by Joey-Harringto… // Mar 01, 2022 - 12:42pm

"Also the Lions safety room is pretty barren consisting of an expiring Will Harris and a 6th rounder they (a bad team) already cut."

Was going to post exactly this (I assume the 6th rounder you mention is Brady Breeze, who was actually drafted and cut by the Titans, and was claimed by the Lions off waivers, and is still on the roster).

Safety is arguably a bigger need than WR.  Will Harris, who's play has been described by a scout as: "He looks like he's never even seen a football game, much less played in one."  cannot be one of the starters next year.  I wouldn't be opposed to Walker being brought back on a reasonable deal, but I really hope they make a run at Marcus Williams, who's younger and far better.

Points: 0

#3 by ImNewAroundThe… // Mar 01, 2022 - 1:07pm

In my defense, the Titans I guess arent the best team so...there's that. Not that it should matter (0 AV). Sounds like they're going to let Walker...walk. Things can change obviously but I'm close to locking in Kyle Hamilton in mocks. There's no way I could trust Breeze to start at safety. I might be able to get by with Amon and Cephus (although you definitely gotta draft some, but it's not as barren so you can trust the hit rate later)

Points: 0

#5 by Joey-Harringto… // Mar 01, 2022 - 1:37pm

Injuries and COVID forced Breeze into significant snaps in the Arizona game, and while he didn't embarrass himself....yea, he's depth/special teams at best.

It goes against conventional wisdom, but I wouldn't hate the idea of taking Hamilton at #2, if he truly is the best overall player in this year's draft....but they really do need pass rush help (R. Okwara coming of injury is pretty much only starting EDGE they have).

Cephus has been decent in a small sample, so him + St. Brown + mid-tier free agent + best available rookie at #32/34 wouldn't be the worst.  Not great, but at least non-laughable, unlike last fall.

 

Points: 0

#16 by ImNewAroundThe… // Mar 01, 2022 - 7:06pm

No real impact plays. Hamilton would make them and there's enough big boards out there that consider him a top 2 player. S is an undervalued position due to their coverage ability.

I know Flowers may be pricey but they're not desperate for cap space, so why not be patient? He was real good a year prior in Detroit under the dunce Patricia. Julian O. graded fine on more snaps than R.O. too actually. Austin Bryant is a former 4th rounder that's yet to be cut so there must be something there. Edge seems kinda fine actually imo with a mid/late round addition (also do you really want a Michigan native that rooted for the Patriots? Bleh)

Points: 0

#30 by LionInAZ // Mar 02, 2022 - 11:25pm

Agreed, Cephus was not a liability under a small number of plays. 

Points: 0

#6 by Joey-Harringto… // Mar 01, 2022 - 1:53pm

"Devondre was an all pro but not pro bowl. Would also prefer them to cash in on a comp pick since the void years deadline already passed. Chalk up the great, clearly outlier, year as a fluke."

Agree this is the right move,  As someone who's followed a bad franchise for decades, overpaying for one outlier year is a classic bad franchise move.  Already hearing Lions fans clamoring to make a run at Devondre Campbell *smacks forehead*. 

Points: 0

#17 by ImNewAroundThe… // Mar 01, 2022 - 7:16pm

Packer fans are still clamoring for him after the deadline. They don't really gain anything bringing him back when the best LB in this years SB was...Logan Wilson? Lol. Nor could they even recall our SB LBs. Well actually they can name Nick Barnett and AJ Hawk but they weren't anything special. The former which was hurt 4 games into the season yet they survived all the way to a ring. Unless you have a Wagner or Kuechly, most likely your LBs don't matter and are just gonna get abused anyway. Day 3 picks at it are generally fine unless you're super desperate.

Points: 0

#18 by Theo // Mar 01, 2022 - 9:08pm

In reply to by ImNewAroundThe…

The danger about not-very good linebackers is that they are sometimes awful. Bush on the Steelers levels of awful.

And then it is going to hurt you a lot.

I winder though if it would hurt you more than being awful at other positions.

Points: 0

#19 by ImNewAroundThe… // Mar 01, 2022 - 10:51pm

And there were 5 LBs graded worse than Bush this year. Pretty much every LB grades poorly. Rams probably had like the worst LB1.

Points: 0

#4 by BigRichie // Mar 01, 2022 - 1:28pm

Fields will always take sacks. Maybe should just accept that, and like with Burrow (and Russell Wilson, for that matter) find good deep ball receivers. Keep the safeties back anyway, and you'll then have more room to run the ball too.

Points: 0

#20 by Pat // Mar 02, 2022 - 9:05am

Fields took tons of sacks because he was too uncertain about what he was seeing, not because he wanted to chuck the ball deep.

The Bears specifically had a really weird receiver mix. No receiving tight end worth a damn, no serious pass-catching YAC-type RB. Even if Fields had dumped the ball off, no one would've done anything with it. They started integrating more RB passes later in the season, and Fields looked... well, OK, better, not good.

I'm really interested to see what happens with Fields next year. Don't have a ton of confidence, but who knows, maybe Nagy really was that horrible.

Points: 0

#7 by theslothook // Mar 01, 2022 - 2:59pm

If the Bears let Robinson walk, does that make them the worst receiving core in football?

The Bears look like they're in a Bengals situation from a year ago. Assuming two equally ranked receiver/ oline prospects are there for them( in the second round), what's the better option?

Points: 0

#8 by Joey-Harringto… // Mar 01, 2022 - 3:10pm

Darnell Mooney is okay....his DVOA/DYAR wasn't good, but that may be more a reflection of the Bears' passing offense than him as a player.  His PFF grade is pretty good.

Points: 0

#9 by theslothook // Mar 01, 2022 - 3:18pm

That's a good point. In complete fairness to the Bears their offense was such a disaster that it's probably impossible to know how good the individual components are. 

But as a fun exercise assuming that the entire offense requires a rebuild and you have a young quarterback, where do you go?

Points: 0

#12 by Joey-Harringto… // Mar 01, 2022 - 4:34pm

Kind of agree with takeabelieve below.  If both positions are black holes, then I would take the WR and try to duct tape the o-line together (aim for competence, not greatness there).

Points: 0

#15 by Noahrk // Mar 01, 2022 - 7:06pm

Pretty much depends. A guy like Chase? You should take him in a nanosecond. But it's more likely that the typical 1st round OL will have a greater impact than the typical 1st round WR. A WR that is open even when he's not open is the most valuable asset for a young QB, other than that a OL.

Points: 0

#10 by takeleavebelieve // Mar 01, 2022 - 3:44pm

The Bengals clearly don’t regret taking Chase over Sewell.

Recency bias aside, I think adding a stud WR to a corps full of scrubs will do more to elevate your offense than adding a stud LT to a corps full of scrubs. But it’s fairly rare to have the option of choosing between two studs at both positions. 

Points: 0

#11 by theslothook // Mar 01, 2022 - 4:12pm

True, but the next fun debate is...what if it's not between two studs but two solid prospects, which is what the Bears are facing. What's the right move then?

Points: 0

#13 by OmahaChiefs13 // Mar 01, 2022 - 5:00pm

...because the same reasoning holds.

 

One solid lineman on a terrible line still leaves you with a terrible line. One solid receiver in a terrible receiver room can actually accomplish something.

Points: 0

#14 by IlluminatusUIUC // Mar 01, 2022 - 5:12pm

The Bengals clearly don’t regret taking Chase over Sewell.

They surely don't, but I do find it funny that their final offensive snap from the Super Bowl was essentially "Option B" from the Pre-Draft Sewell/Chase meme made real:

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/FB7Cx1dXoAkAP_8.jpg

https://www.si.com/nfl/bengals/news/jamarr-chase-wide-open-bengals-final-offensive-play-super-bowl-lvi

 

Points: 0

#21 by Pat // Mar 02, 2022 - 9:18am

The Bears look like they're in a Bengals situation from a year ago.

The Bengals didn't just draft 1 highly ranked WR. They drafted two. Higgins was at the top of the second round and most draft big boards had him as a first-round prospect.

I feel bad for Higgins, everyone seems to be dismissing his second-year performance (which was great) as due to Chase. Yes, Chase had a fantastic rookie year, but Higgins put up over 900 yards last year in his rookie year. Putting up over 1000 this year is just expected.

The Bears don't have a prospect close to Higgins, so drafting one guy's not gonna put them in anywhere near that position.

Points: 0

#22 by TomC // Mar 02, 2022 - 9:23am

I think the "no connection between Fields and Robinson" angle is overblown. They had no off-season together (because Nagy is an idiot), and by the time Fields was getting starter reps in practice, Robinson was hurt. If Robinson wants to stay in Chicago, and his price is competitive with other FA WRs, the Bears would be nuts not to retain him. 

Points: 0

#26 by Pat // Mar 02, 2022 - 5:16pm

It'd be interesting if they do keep him, because Robinson is the kind of WR who can help Fields get better if he just tries. Robinson wins more with routes than athleticism, so he ends up not *looking* open... until he is, right at the end. Whereas Fields is super tentative: partly because he's a rookie, but he was in college too. If they do end up sticking together and work more, it could help Fields get more aggressive/confident.

Of course, if Fields doesn't, then Robinson'll be a total waste like he was last year (mostly).

Points: 0

#27 by theslothook // Mar 02, 2022 - 5:21pm

At this point, doesn't a team like Chicago have to overpay for receiver talent? I mean, what else are you selling them on? The Qb is erratic and desperately needs weapons and any receiver going there is probably not making the probowl even if he runs routes like Jerry Rice.

If teams like KC can bargain shop at receiver, then teams like Chicago and Jacksonville and the Jets need to be paying premiums. 

Points: 0

#32 by mehllageman56 // Mar 03, 2022 - 12:12am

All those teams need to do what Buffalo did with Diggs; get a guy with a huge catch radius for their erratic young QB.  Unfortunately Jacksonville and the Jets have a lot more resources for that kind of thing than the Bears do right now.

Points: 0

#36 by Pat // Mar 03, 2022 - 1:22pm

I don't know how much Fields was erratic versus just uncertain. Fields was really accurate in college - the few cases where you saw really errant throws it was because the receiver and him weren't on the same page (at least that's what it looked like). Allen, in contrast, definitely was erratic. The common knock on Fields was that he "held onto the ball too long" in some cases - which is just saying that he was too cautious or not reading defenses right. I always thought it was just excessively cautious, and I still think that after last year.

To me Fields really just wants a more dominant off-the-line receiver, someone who wins right away. I mean, as he was last year, obviously. Ideally he'd get less tentative and better able to see what can develop.

 

Points: 0

#38 by Steve in WI // Mar 03, 2022 - 3:10pm

It's a really interesting situation because 2021 had to have seriously hurt Robinson's value on the market, but it's also difficult to come up with anyone to blame for that besides the Bears organization. So on one hand, I doubt the Bears have to compete with any $20M/year offers, but on the other hand I could definitely see Robinson taking a little less money to go somewhere else because he feels that the Bears seriously wronged him. This feels like a situation where the human side of things, and whatever conversations Poles and company are having with Robinson and his agent, is going to be huge.

If the Bears felt like it made sense to franchise tag him again, I actually think that would be the most beneficial deal for Robinson assuming that the Bears actually use him like a #1 receiver in 2022. Of course there is the injury risk, but after his season in 2021 are there many teams who would offer him significantly more fully guaranteed money even over multiple years? Using the tag for the 2nd year would be about $22M fully guaranteed.

Points: 0

#23 by vrao81 // Mar 02, 2022 - 9:50am

Forget WR, Lions need a qb first. And packers may need a qb as well. 

Points: 0

#24 by Joey-Harringto… // Mar 02, 2022 - 11:24am

Goff, despite a horrific start to the season, ended up settling out at a DVOA and DYAR of 20th (for both), which isn't great, but not at the "we need a new QB now!" level.  None of the QBs in this draft excite me.  Maybe Willis for upside?  But taking him at 2 is a huge risk, and he probably won't be around at 32.  Everyone else seems to have a ceiling in the Wentz/Mayfield/Goff tier, and the Lions already have one of those.  They will likely be picking in the top 10 next year, so I'd rather wait till then.

Points: 0

#25 by TomC // Mar 02, 2022 - 4:27pm

Agree 100%. A great test of the new regime is whether they can resist talking themselves into taking a QB at 2 who should go in the 3rd round.

Points: 0

#28 by theslothook // Mar 02, 2022 - 5:24pm

The problem is, you are going throw away another season into the trash with Goff at QB. At this point, I think its pretty clear Goff's chances of being a difference maker are nill. The best realistic version of him is a tier 3 QB, which does very little for the Lions other than stop them from getting really embarassing.

I have often said that 2nd round picks are wasted on QBs, but what else can you do? If I were the Lions and the coaching staff wasn't put on some minimal win expectations, I'd probably try my hand on a bunch of low rounds rookies and hope someone pops. 

Points: 0

#29 by LionInAZ // Mar 02, 2022 - 11:18pm

Throwing away a pick on a QB that is unlikely to succeed is worse than taking a pick that can become the nucleus of a team. I think you're engaging in recency bias that Goff is worse than available draft QBs. The team has way more needs than a star QB. That barn door bar was barred when they traded Stafford.

Points: 0

#31 by ImNewAroundThe… // Mar 02, 2022 - 11:56pm

Goff is clearly limited and you don't even have a Kellen Mond or Jordan Love to back him up.

It's not that serious if you "waste" a pick with that QB room. If they aren't it's whatever. Underestimating the ceilings these young(er), more mobile guys compared to the 6 years of data we have on 28 year old Goff. We're 99% sure Goff isn't it. It's not nearly that high, even in this class. If you're not even getting at least a Zappe then you're just doing it wrong. Hoping you stumble into Stroud or Young (who knows, they might stumble like Rattler) all while getting core pieces to help that improve the rest of the team while staying in their range. 

Points: 0

#33 by Joey-Harringto… // Mar 03, 2022 - 5:23am

That’s where my head is at.  Unless they really, really believe in Willis, QB at 2 would be a reach (probably at 32, also, given all the QB-needy teams drafting ahead of that spot), but grabbing someone in the Zappe tier of prospects with mid-round pick is a good move.  You have a moderate probability of getting a cheap backup (they cannot go into next year with Tim Boyle as the backup), and a small but nonzero chance of getting the next Prescott or Wilson.  What you shouldn’t do is spend significant free agent dollars on a Trubisky type to hold the clipboard.

Points: 0

#34 by ImNewAroundThe… // Mar 03, 2022 - 8:41am

We're like 99% sure he's not it either (as much as it sounds like Washington is convincing themselves). Would be much more beneficial to "convince" yourself on a rookie whos more unknown in the league (and would be cheaper). Steven Montez and David Blough shouldn't be options to actually carry on any further other than being camp bodies this offseason. 

I think you could justify a 1st though too. Just like the 2018 Ravens. Except you don't have to trade up. Most would understand, even in this class.

Points: 0

#37 by Steve in WI // Mar 03, 2022 - 3:01pm

The reality is that the Lions are unlikely to make the playoffs in 2022 anyway, and they're even further away from contending for a championship. IMHO, being so desperate for an upgrade at QB that they fool themselves into burning a first round pick on a bust is what would make 2022 a lost season.

With the exception of Goff's cap hit (and even that is hardly relevant to the Lions because they can move on from him with reasonable dead money after this season), the Lions are pretty much in the ideal situation for a team that needs a franchise QB. For all of Goff's shortcomings, he's still a legit NFL QB. They can stick with him for 2022 and even 2023, if for some reason they don't envision one of the rookies next year as their guy, and use their first round draft capital to bolster other positions (and/or trade down to ensure that they can obtain that rookie QB in 2023 or 2024, if it takes a top 3 pick to do it). They can also take a flyer on a midround QB, which they should certainly do this year, and in the unlikely event that there's a Russell Wilson situation I doubt anyone affiliated with the team or rooting for them would bristle at the idea of Goff losing his job if the successor legitimately outplays him.

Maybe some teams are getting smarter about ignoring the sunk cost of bad 1st round QBs (the Cardinals certainly did when they dumped Rosen and took Murray), but I still feel like taking a disappointing QB in the high first round doubly dooms your organization: not only did you waste the high pick and still miss on a QB, but the team/coach/front office are probably going to center their plans around that QB way longer than they should...and longer than they would if they were a later pick or a veteran FA that didn't work out.

Points: 0

#35 by Aaron Brooks G… // Mar 03, 2022 - 9:02am

This draft looks like 2013 for QBs. But even if it's more like the comparatively-wealthy 2011, that means you're looking at an Andy Dalton as your best prospect. Dalton was a fine QB, but he's a wash compared to Goff.

The risk is missing on a Watt or a Julio or a Von Miller or a Peterson or a Sherman or...

Points: 0

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