Work has begun in earnest for the 2022 Chicago Bears season with organized team activities underway this week at Halas Hall. Brad Biggs opens the weekly Bears mailbag to find questions about Justin Fields, wide receiver options and the possibility of joint practices this summer.
If you had to do your best to spin the Bears offseason positively for Justin Fields, how would you do so? — @theryanheckman
The first place you start is Fields has a year of experience with 10 starts under his belt. It doesn’t matter that he was in a system with coaches he no longer plays for. He understands the difference between college and the NFL now, the intricacies of reading defenses, preparing with a game plan and studying film. All of that is beneficial and should aid him in Year 2, when none of that will be new to him.
What is new is the coaching staff, led by offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, and the playbook. The hope is Getsy and quarterbacks coach Andrew Janocko can help unlock Fields’ immense physical talent and allow him to operate more efficiently out of the pocket. Fields proved last season he can be a magician extending plays, both running the ball and buying more time to make deep throws downfield. Now he has to raise his level of play in the pocket when the ball has to come out on time and on target.
The wide zone running scheme has benefited other quarterbacks around the league, and the Bears hope that will be the case with Fields. There are valid questions about the offensive line, the skill-position talent and more, but if Fields can take significant steps forward, his play can ease some of those concerns. His performance this season will heavily dictate what happens next offseason and shape expectations for the organization.
What is the likelihood the Bears add another veteran WR before camp? — @connor_riecks18
They signed a pair of veteran wide receivers — Tajae Sharpe and Dante Pettis — to one-year contracts May 12. Those names probably don’t move the needle for you because they haven’t had a lot of production the past few seasons. But wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert spent time with Pettis with the New York Giants, and Janocko was the Minnesota Vikings wide receivers coach in 2020 when Sharpe was with them.
If you’re asking about an available veteran such as Odell Beckham Jr., Cole Beasley or Will Fuller, that seems less likely. I wouldn’t rule it out, but it looks more and more like the Bears want to see how they can develop existing players on the roster — such as Byron Pringle, Equanimeous St. Brown and third-round pick Velus Jones — behind Darnell Mooney. I doubt they are scouring the market for an upgrade over Pringle. They signed him with the idea he could develop into a No. 2 or No. 3 receiver now that he will have more opportunities being out of Kansas City.
While much has been made about the Bears drafting a series of offensive linemen, they haven’t had a first-round offensive lineman in several years. What is the success rate of starting offensive linemen not drafted in the first round for the Bears? — @babydocdave
Since 2017, the Bears have used two first-round picks on quarterbacks and were without first-round selections in 2019, 2020 and 2022. The only other first-round pick in that span was linebacker Roquan Smith in 2018. Since 2000, the Bears used first-round picks on offensive linemen Kyle Long (2013), Gabe Carimi (2011), Chris Williams (2008) and Marc Colombo (2002).
We’ll have to see how 2021 draft picks Larry Borom and Teven Jenkins pan out this season as they have clear paths to win starting jobs. Cody Whitehair was a second-round pick in 2016 and has been a mainstay on the line since then. James Daniels was a second-round pick in 2018 and was solid when healthy. Before that, you have to go back to Phil Emery’s seventh-round home run in 2014 with left tackle Charles Leno.
With the Bears taking four offensive linemen in the fifth round or later this year, an absolute best-case scenario is that two of them pan out as starters down the road. It still would be a win if one of them is a solid starter in the future. It’s way too early to speculate who could pan out and where.
Out of all the wide receiver signings, which do you think will have the biggest impact for Justin Fields’ development? — @whitesquirrl11
Some might view it differently, but I believe a quarterback has a greater influence in helping develop a wide receiver than the other way around. If the quarterback is struggling to read defenses, understand coverages and process after the snap, I don’t care how dynamic the wide receiver is, he won’t have a huge impact week in and week out. The Bears don’t have the quality or depth at wide receiver that they ultimately want to achieve. That’s not news to anyone. They know they need to continue to develop the position, and that can be said about multiple groups on the roster.
Will the Bears have joint practices with another team during preseason? — Larry S., Elburn
That’s unlikely this summer but not because the Bears don’t have interest. Joint practices are difficult to schedule, and to a large degree teams are at the mercy of the NFL’s preseason slate.
“I don’t think we are,” coach Matt Eberflus said Tuesday when asked about the possibility. “I’m in a conversation with one of (the preseason opponents) right now and that might come up. I’m not going to say their name, but we could potentially do one. But I don’t foresee it happening right now.”
The Bears open the preseason Aug. 13 at Soldier Field against the Kansas City Chiefs and then play on the road Aug. 18 against the Seattle Seahawks and Aug. 27 against the Cleveland Browns. The quick turnaround from playing the Chiefs to flying to Seattle would make joint practices with the Seahawks difficult if not impossible to schedule. Typically teams want to have joint practices in the first or second week of the preseason. That leads me to believe the greatest chance is that Eberflus has talked with the Chiefs about the possibility.
Twenty-three teams participated in joint practices last summer, including the Bears but not the Chiefs. Chiefs coach Andy Reid has said he’s not a fan of joint practices in part because the preseason schedule was reduced from four to three games. The Seahawks also did not participate in joint practices in 2021. The Browns already have one practice partner lined up for this summer in the Philadelphia Eagles.
Is there a strong wide receiver free-agent class next year? The Bears will have money to spend. — @bigrafael76
It’s really early to start wondering about who will hit the open market in March 2023. A lot of players could be re-signed before then, and some could even be traded and signed by a new team. The franchise tag could be a factor. Deebo Samuel, Terry McLaurin and DK Metcalf top the list right now. After that, I don’t know if there is a receiver who would command the kind of huge contract I believe you are referencing.
Diontae Johnson, Jarvis Landry, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Hunter Renfow, Allen Lazard, Deonte Harris, Jamison Crowder, Mecole Hardman, D.J. Chark, Nelson Agholor, Jakobi Meyers, Marvin Jones and Cam Sims are among the receivers entering the final year of their contracts. You can add the Bears’ Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown to that list too. With any luck, they will play really well this season and the Bears will be motivated to retain them.
As I have written previously, what really would be great for the Bears is if they can find a top-flight wide receiver in the draft and take advantage of having that player on a cost-controlled rookie contract.
Does the new regime actually believe that this roster as currently constructed can compete for the division? Or is part of the master plan to be at the bottom of the league (where most project them) to get that higher draft pick? — @lastcalllesko
When referring to the roster, you have to understand nothing about it is static. I expect GM Ryan Poles and his staff to continually overhaul the roster with moves, and that process won’t end when the regular season begins. Before that point, they could be particularly active when teams cut down to the 53-man roster by making multiple waiver claims or even a trade.
As far as competing for the NFC North title, who thinks that’s realistic in Year 1 of a new regime with the Bears coming off a 6-11 season with one of the oldest rosters in the league? Poles has been busy clearing salary-cap issues for the future. The Bears did not have a first-round draft pick this year and are installing a new offense for a talented second-year quarterback who had a rookie season full of struggles. That makes an instant turnaround with a new staff difficult.
Will Eberflus believe the Bears can battle every week with a chance to win? Absolutely. Is the plan to tank? No. The Bears want to develop the young players on the roster. If a handful of inexperienced players blossoms in 2022, that would put them in a better position for success in 2023 than absolutely stinking for one of the top draft picks. It’s wise to consider all of the factors in play for Poles, Eberflus and Bears fans when looking ahead to this season.
How has the offensive line been set up this week? Curious if they still have Larry Borom at left tackle and Teven Jenkins at right tackle. — @widdison21
That’s how they were lined up Tuesday, and my best guess is the Bears will open training camp with that configuration. But they have two more weeks of OTAs and a minicamp to sort through options. The coaching staff won’t make any determinations for Week 1 until training camp and the preseason.
“Right now, it’s still way too early,” offensive line coach Chris Morgan said Tuesday. “It’s May. We’re not even in pads yet. Right now, we’re refining techniques, we’re introducing schemes, everything is fluid. Just moving guys around, that kind of deal, and more technical right now.
“I definitely did (pre-draft work on) both guys when they came out (last year), and a lot of the positives you see now. Both those guys are working really hard. They’re coming along. They want to win. They’re willing to do whatever. It’s been a nice surprise so far.”
Sign Akiem Hicks for one year at $7 million. Whatcha think? — @robinrichie2
If a team was willing to pay Hicks $7 million for this season, he probably already would have a contract elsewhere. Perhaps he will wind up getting that kind of money or can achieve that level with incentives. I doubt the Bears would entertain the idea of re-signing the 32-year-old.
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