Bears getting younger under new coach Nagy

By The Sports Xchange  |  Feb. 28, 2018 at 4:23 PM
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INDIANAPOLIS -- It's a young man's game, and Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace is acting accordingly.

The Bears dumped -- or are planning to trim -- enough veteran players to give their roster a completely different look, and in the process they turned at least one perceived strength into an area of need heading into free agency with almost $80 million of cap space available.

Outside linebackers Willie Young and Pernell McPhee and safety Quintin Demps all were cut, while the Bears made guard Josh Sitton a free agent when they declined to exercise an option for 2018. Pace also said quarterback Mike Glennon will be released after the new league year begins.

"I feel like we have a young foundation," Pace said. "Our best players are all young, ascending players. We feel like we have the most important position in place so now it's just kind of go and build on that foundation."

It's so young, 29-year-old guard Kyle Long is the oldest player under contract for 2018.

Mitchell Trubisky made the future at quarterback apparent over the final 12 games last year, but his backup will be an issue going into free agency because of Glennon's departure. The move has been anticipated since Week 5 last season, and Pace continues taking hits for the decision to pin last year's hopes on Glennon after signing him to a contract with $18 million guaranteed.

"We were going to be aggressive at that position," Pace said. "We were going to take swings at that position and be aggressive at the most important position, really, in sports. There are multiple factors that go into that.

"But really, what stands out, as I look back, was Mitch's acceleration, too. So, it was kind of two-fold. So I can sit back now and be happy that we have a guy that we feel good about, a young quarterback that we want to build around."

When the Bears retained defensive coordinator Vic Fangio following the hiring of head coach Matt Nagy, they seemed set to continue the success of last year's 10th-ranked defense. Instead, a pass rush ranked seventh in sacks (42) lost 30-somethings Young and McPhee, who combined for 30 sacks over the past three seasons.

It leaves the Bears with Leonard Floyd and a lot of questions at outside linebacker on the rush.

"I think again, it's part of the process for us for Ryan and myself and the coaching staff to just formulate, 'OK, what's the direction that we want to go and how do we want to do this?'" Nagy said. "For us, it just so happens to be a few guys that are higher in age."

And outside linebacker is now an area the Bears will have to target in both free agency and the draft.

"You can never have enough pass rush," Pace said. "So that's a position of need for us and it's something we're looking into."

Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks was the team's best pass rusher last year, but was an inside rusher.

"Akiem Hicks is going to provide a lot of pass rush, but as we go forward we're always going to be looking for pass rushers," Pace said. "Outside linebacker is an important position for this defense and it's something we'll be mindful of as we go through this process."

Dispatching Demps was also anticipated after Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson solidified the safety corps last year. But it's the other secondary position that remains a huge issue.

Talks with cornerback Kyle Fuller continue with hopes pointed at a signing prior to the start of free agency.

"The dialogue has been pretty aggressive and we'll see how it plays out," Pace said.

Fuller's status could depend on whether they sign cornerback Prince Amukamara to a new contract or retain Marcus Cooper. Skills aside, the loss of veterans like McPhee, Young, Demps -- and even linebacker Jerrell Freeman, who was released following a second PED suspension -- creates a team short on leadership.

"It's a young team," Pace acknowledged. "I feel like there are a lot of guys in the locker room who are kind of ready for that role.

"I think that has to organically happen as we go through this process. But this is a young team and I think those guys will naturally emerge as we go forward."

What also must emerge is talent at wide receiver, a position where the Bears have been lacking since last year. The team's most glaring need before dispatching veterans was receiver.

The type of players they sign or draft might be different from those still on the roster due to the style of Nagy's new offense.

"There's a lot of different alignments at that position, so we have to be mindful of football IQ as we go forward," Pace said.

This wasn't the case when Pace made his first draft pick in 2015 and took Kevin White, who has had trouble adjusting to a pro offense besides being unable to stay healthy.

Nagy is approaching White with hope, but the Bears have declined the fifth-year option for 2019 on the receiver's rookie deal.

"In regards to Kevin, Kevin is a guy you see who hasn't had a lot of games these past few years," Nagy said. "We understand that, but for me, that's the challenge as a head coach. You love to see those kinds of situations and you don't make any promises that anything's going to happen.

"But you see a kid like that, you know kind of his road and where he's at, and I look at that as a personal challenge to get him to a place where we want to get him."

Jacksonville's Allen Robinson is one receiver thought to be an ideal fit for the Bears in free agency, while Kansas City's Albert Wilson would be a match because he is a slot who knows Nagy's offense.

"I think that's an area where you can get better quickly through free agency or the draft," Pace said. "It's always a deep position, usually in both areas."

There will be numerous other personnel and roster challenges ahead for a team rebooting in a different direction under another coaching staff.

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