Chicago Bears: Ranking needs heading into 2022 offseason

Matt Eberflus, bears

Lake Forest, IL— As the 2022 offseason heats up for the Chicago Bears, new general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus will attempt to reshape the Bears roster. With just 48 players under contract heading into February and just $28M in cap space, the Bears have a number of needs including cornerback, center, wide receiver, middle linebacker, defensive line, and safety. With just five picks in the 2022 NFL Draft, along with no first or fourth-round picks, the Bears will have to make the most of limited resources, especially with Poles looking to build primarily through the draft.

Before the flurry of roster moves begin for the Bears, how do the Bears needs rank heading into an important offseason?

1) Wide receiver

Chicago’s biggest priority this offseason will be investing in the offense and building around quarterback Justin Fields. Year one of the Fields era showed promise but the Bears WR core underperformed. Heading into the offseason, only Darnell Mooney and 2021 sixth-round pick Dazz Newsome are on the roster. With a second and third-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Bears will need to invest a high draft pick in a wide receiver to pair alongside Mooney. The Bears do have some options on the free agent market such as Chris Godwin, Devante Adams, Will Fuller, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mike Williams, and Zach Pascal as names to keep an eye on. Bringing back Marquise Goodwin wouldn’t be a bad idea considering he did begin to establish some chemistry with Fields and provide the position with a veteran presence.

2) Cornerback

CB is a need for the Bears, who need to decide whether or not 2021 sixth-round pick Thomas Graham Jr. can be Jaylon Johnson’s future running mate. Expect the Bears to look into an upgrade into adding a CB opposite Johnson while bringing in some competition at nickel CB with additional depth. When the calendar turns to July, guys like Marqui Christian, Xavier Crawford, Kindle Vildor, and Duke Shelley will likely be on the chopping block. While dipping into the free agent market to sign a name like J.C. Jackson sounds appealing, general manager Ryan Poles isn’t likely to overspend in the initial wave of free agency, instead opting to let the market settle and find cheaper options in both the second and third waves.

3) Center

Heading into the 2021 season, the possibility of Sam Mustipher becoming the future at Center seemed like a strong possibility for the Bears. Instead, Mustipher would draw mixed results, making an upgrade a priority this offseason. With Ryan Poles background being offensive line, the Bears could look at options to round out the interior in the NFL Draft but Chicago does have some options on the roster to replace Mustipher, including veteran Cody Whitehair or pending free agent James Daniels, both who have prior experience playing the position. One possible free agent option that could intrigue the Bears is veteran Ryan Jensen but set to be 31 years old in May, Poles may heavily weigh Jensen’s age as a reason to not sign the veteran, who will be looking for his third NFL contract.

4) Middle Linebacker

As the Bears transition back to a 4-3 defense, there’s some shuffling that needs to be at the linebacker position. Roquan Smith will likely transition to be being a WIll linebacker, which means the Bears will need a true Mike LB to anchor the middle of the defense. With Danny Trevathan and Alec Ogletree getting older, the Bears could look to find a stopgap solution instead of making a big splash in free agency. However, if Poles and Eberflus decide the need for a true Will LB is too great to pass up, Zaire Franklin, who played under Eberflus from 2018-2021 in Indianapolis could make an ideal free agent signing during the second or third wave of free agency.

5) Defensive Line

With the future of Akiem Hicks and Eddie Goldman uncertain, 2018 fifth-round pick Bilal Nichols is set to hit free agency, which means the Bears are set to have some turnover at defensive line. While Goldman is under contract through the end of the 2023 season, the Bears could make him a post-June 1st cut in 2022 and save $8.8M in cap space, and with a cap hit of $11.8M for the upcoming season, the Bears could opt to keep Goldman on the roster instead of reworking his contract, which would create just $3.8M in cap space. One aspect of Eberflus’ defense is a strong 3-technique at defensive tackle who can be a driving force behind a disruptive defensive line. Over the last two seasons, Eberflus’ 3-tech in Indianapolis was DeForest Buckner, who helped the Colts defense become one of the best in the NFL. One option would be bringing Hicks back but that would require the veteran taking a significant pay cut and the Bears likely only offering a one-year deal as a stopgap as the team searches for a true solution that can anchor down the position for the future. Overall, this is a position the Bears will need to address in 2022 but remain patient and not overspend.

6) Safety

Eddie Jackson may be under contract through the end of the 2024 season and while some have labeled Jackson as a true fit for what Eberflus likes to do, the Bears need to find a true strong safety to pair with Jackson. For what seems like the fourth consecutive season, the safety market has plenty of interesting names, including Tyrann Mathieu, Marcus Williams, Marcus Maye, Jessie Bates III, and Justin Reid. All of the aforementioned names started at one point during the 2021 season and some such as Bates, Williams, and Maye are due for contract extensions. This means the Bears will need to find a cheap solution or the team could possibly resign Deon Bush or Tashaun Gipson to another one-year deal before figuring out a long-term solution. Unless the Bears are confident that a good safety can be found on day three of the 2022 NFL Draft, this will likely end up being one of the last needs the Bears address during the offseason.

 

Chicago Bears: Breaking down Matt Eberflus’ defense in Indianapolis.

Matt Eberflus, bears

Lake Forest, IL— With the Chicago Bears officially hiring Matt Eberflus, the defensive mind will be tasked with getting the Bears back to prominence. With rookie quarterback Justin Fields on the roster, Eberflus already answered the Bears’ biggest question: Who would be the offensive coordinator to develop Fields and rebuild the Bears’ offense?

Eberflus opted to hire Luke Getsy, the Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator in 2021. But the question also has to be asked: Considering Eberflus was the Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator from 2018-2021, what will be expected of the Bears on the defensive side of the ball?

Looking at the Colts’ draft history and scheme, Eberflus runs a 4-3 defense with four defensive linemen, three linebackers, and four defensive backs. As the Bears look towards 2022, an aging defense will need to be rebuilt but with limited draft capital, the Bears will have to be cautious about how to go about rebuilding a defense that needs an infusion of young talent.

Let’s breakdown Eberflus’ time with the Colts and look at what to expect moving forward.

The Colts draft classes.

2018: Darius Leonard, Kemoko Turay, Tyquan Lewis, Matthew Adams, Zaire Franklin. – Four second-rounders and two seventh-rounders. All five are still with the Colts.

2019: Rock Ya-Sin, Ben Banogu, Bobby Okereke, Khari Willis, Marvell Tell III, E.J. Speed, Gerri Green. Three-day two picks and four-day three picks. All of these players, besides Green, spent 2021 with the Colts.

2020: Julian Blackmon, Robert Windsor, Isaiah Rodgers, Jordan Glasgow. One day two pick and three defensive players were selected on day three. All four names are still with Indianapolis.

2021: Kwity Paye, Dayo Odeyingbo, Shawn Davis. One first-round pick, one second-round pick, and a fifth-round pick. All three are still with the Colts.

So since 2018, the Colts have drafted 19 players on defense, with just one being a first-round pick. 18 of these 19 players are still on the roster and a majority of the Colts starters over the last four seasons have been mid-round picks. That alone should mean something to the Bears, who can only get younger by drafting and developing talent.

So what’s next for the Bears?

Under Eberflus, the Bears will transition to a 4-3 defense after having been in a 4-3 defense since 2015. While a change in scheme usually is met with overhauling the defensive side of the ball and acquiring new talent, players such as Robert Quinn, Khalil Mack, Roquan Smith, and Trevis Gipson are transcendent and will fit flawlessly.

For additional context, Quinn and Mack have played in 4-3 defenses during their times with the Rams and Raiders. Meanwhile, Gipson was a 4-3 defensive end in college who was forced to become an outside linebacker after being drafted by the Bears. Smith is a perennial off ball linebacker who can fly around and make plays, making him a perfect fit for Eberflus’ defensive philosophy.

The Bears do need to overhaul the secondary. While Jaylon Johnson and Eddie Jackson are the only projected starters in 2022, 2021 sixth-round pick Thomas Graham Jr. is a name to watch as an early starter in 2022. Eberflus’ background includes coaching defensive backs, so the Bears secondary should see an improvement heading into the 2022 season, especially with a complete overhaul likely on the way.

As the Bears continue to lay the foundation for the future under Eberflus, the defense should get back to playing faster and with more intensity, continuing to make impact plays, hopefully getting back to being of the NFL’s best.

New York Jets 2021 opponent report: Indianapolis Colts

The New York Jets’ lone scheduled prime time game for the 2021 season comes in Thursday night fashion against Indianapolis.

The Opponent: Indianapolis Colts
The Date:
Week 8, November 4, 8:20 p.m. ET, Fox/NFL Network (@ IND)
The Series: 
Colts lead 43-32 (last meeting: 2020, 36-7 IND)

Much like the original cast of another metropolitan staple, Saturday Night Live, the modern New York Jets could well be described as “Not Ready for Prime Time Players”.

The Jets’ only prime time game of the 2021 season (discounting a morning game against Atlanta in London) is a Thursday night contest against the Indianapolis Colts. Former division rivals will square off for the second straight season: the Jets will be seeking revenge for a 36-7 shellacking they endured at Lucas Oil Stadium, one that showed how far they had fallen since the 2018 trade that put Sam Darnold on a green path.

Both the Jets and Colts have made changes at quarterback since last season’s showdown: no trade was necessary for the Jets to choose Sam Wilson second overall in April while the Colts have opted for another veteran in Carson Wentz after Phillip Rivers’ retirement.

The Skinny On the Colts

The Colts have managed to make the most out of meandering in franchise quarterback purgatory after Andrew Luck’s infamous abrupt retirement. That’s been made possible by a reliable offensive line anchored by Quinton Nelson, one that has protected its stopgap throwers like Rivers and Jacoby Brissett. Running back Jonathan Taylor has likewise flourished, as the rookie broke through for 1,169 yards last season. A fearsome defense is headline by three-time All-Pro Darius Leonard.

Indianapolis has built its consistency through the draft, an endeavor that partly started through its fateful deal with the Jets. The picks sent to the Colts eventually yielded horseshoes for several vital contributors, including primary blockers Nelson and Braden Smith, defenders Kemoko Turay and Rock Ya-Sin. Rusher Jordan Wilkins, the final portion, has also proven to be a reliable depth option, working with Taylor, Nyheim Hines, and Marlon Mack (who missed nearly all of last season with a torn Achilles).

Eight Indianapolis starters have been acquired over the last three drafts prior to 2021. At least one more should be added to that tally with Michigan pass rusher Kwity Paye arriving at 21st overall last spring. NFL agents recently named Colts general manager Chris Ballard the best talent evaluator and in a poll conducted by Ben Standig of The Athletic. Both Ballard and head coach Frank Reich were recently granted contract extensions that will keep them in Indianapolis through the 2026 season, high honors for the first-time GM and lead headset man.

Colts owner and CEO Jim Irsay was proud to keep continuity in Indianapolis in addition to the sense of consistent stability that could’ve been lost in the wake of Luck’s franchise-altering departure.

“When you bring in two people like Frank and Chris who had never been general manager-head coach before, you invest in their growth,” Irsay said, per team reporter JJ Stankevitz. “You invest in the fact they’re going to mature and become better than they were when they started…that’s what continuity does, it brings the day where you can read the growth of a person’s professional track as they grow.”

“They’re outstanding men in our community, they’re the type of men that our players can look up to and truly see as mentors where they know their feet go where their words go. That means a lot to me.”

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

What’s New In Indianapolis?

The new hope for the Colts is Wentz, who’s seeking to reclaim the narrative on his NFL career after the good times in Philadelphia fizzled out. Indianapolis was perhaps the best place for him to land: the Colts have let up only 52 sacks over the last two seasons…in comparison, Wentz was sacked 50 times alone in 2020, and he missed four games after he was benched for Jalen Hurts.

Indianapolis lost of one of its blocking staples this offseason through Anthony Costanzo. The Colts made up for the loss through the signing of Eric Fisher, Kansas City’s top overall pick from 2013, but he’ll be out for the team’s Sunday opener against Seattle (1 p.m. ET, Fox). Paulsboro, NJ native and recent signee from Houston Julien Davenport is scheduled to take over. The rest of the group is otherwise the same. Both Nelson had late foot issues that were addressed, but each is scheduled to be a full-go for Week 1.

Right guard Mark Glowinski once against spoke about how important Colts chemistry and continuity was in another report from Stankevitz. It’s exactly what Wentz needs to gain some long-sought protection and for Taylor to keep up the momentum from his freshman campaign.

“We still find ways to learn from one another and make it interesting,” Glowinski said. “We’re still able to use the same jokes and still laugh and stuff like that. It’s kind of funny being able to be together for this long but we’re just working. Like I would say every year, you’re working on the same blocks and everything. You just find another way to get better at those and you can keep developing new ways to do your job. It’s pretty cool to be able to be with all those guys for that long though.”

While Reich was made a staple on the Colts’ staff, several assistants departed, some joining former offensive coordinator and new Philadelphia boss Nick Sirianni. Quarterbacks coach and three-time CFL champion Marcus Brady takes over in Sirianni’s wake, while the Colts were able to keep defensive boss and popular head coach interviewee Matt Eberflus. The arrival of Paye partly settles pass-rushing quandary: the departures of Denico Autry and Justin Houston cost the Colts 15.5 sacks from last season.

How To Beat Them

-Corral the Pass Rush

Indianapolis’ pass rush was hit or miss even with Autry and Houston in tow. DeForest Buckner fulfilled expectations in his first season in blue while inside man Grover Stewart played his way into an expensive extension. Mekhi Becton will likely get first dibs at the legendary Leonard. The group will have to step it up in the early going, as Rutgers alum Kemoko Turay will miss Sunday’s opener.

But even with the Costanzo-sized on the offensive line, the Colts felt that needed to address the area through the selection of Paye out of Michigan. Thus, it’ll be up to the Jets’ blockers to keep sowing doubt when they meet up for their nationally televised matchup.

“Kwity pops off the tape, one, with his athleticism and his speed, but also with his effort,” Ballard said of the choice to draft Paye over a lineman, per Joel A. Erickson of the Indianapolis Star. “This kid, he already plays the way we want to play. He’s going to fit in pretty quickly.”

-Wentz Turnovers Cometh

Part of the reason why Philadelphia moved on from Wentz was his increasingly troubling turnover issues: his 15 interceptions were a league-worst in 2020 and he fumbled 10 times…the latter mark was an improvement after putting 16 on the grass last season.

As with so many other areas of their horrid 2020 season, the Jets struggled to force turnovers, picking up only 19. Upping the pressure on Wentz could lead to those struggles resurfacing and the Jets have the front seven to do so, even with the oft-cited red flag of Carl Lawson forced out for the year.

This time around, Wentz’s turnover issues could be partially cast aside by the idea that the Colts have the additional weaponry to get by, namely the multi-pronged run game. The Colts were 1-3 when Taylor, Hines, and Wilkins were held to under 100 yards rushing

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Breaking down 3 confirmed head coaching candidates (part 2)

In the first part of the New York Jets’ confirmed coaching target breakdowns, I highlighted some of the top offensive coordinators reportedly being targeted for the job. This time, here are the three rumored defensive coordinator candidates and what they bring to the table.

Matt Eberflus, Indianapolis Colts Defensive Coordinator

Matt Eberflus is a rising coaching candidate in the league, and for good reason. The well-traveled coach began his coaching career as a student assistant at Toledo in 1992, he then spent eight years coaching at Toledo, holding the positions of graduate assistant, recruiting coordinator, outside linebackers coach, and defensive backs coach. Due to his success at Toledo, Eberflus was named defensive coordinator of Missouri in 2001, where he coached until 2008. He then signed on for two seasons as the linebackers coach of the Browns before he entered into the most crucial years in his coaching development. From 2011 to 2015, Eberflus coached under Rod Marinelli, super bowl champion coach. Marinelli taught Eberflus the Tampa 2 style defense, which has proved to be his staying power since then. Marinelli mentored Eberflus and developed him into a disciple, which led to him ultimately landing his current gig.

Eberflus was initially brought on to the Colts staff by the short-lived coach, Josh McDaniels. When he decided to return to New England and Frank Reich was hired, the team looked to Marinelli for his advisement on someone who could instill the Tampa 2 defense in Indy, and he let them know that guy was already on the staff. So, Eberflus kept his job, and in the time since, he has become an esteemed coach. The Indy defense has become a top one in all of football, but the way Eberflus has gotten the most out of his players is the true shining piece of his resume. Darius Leonard was not supposed to be a star in this league, he was out for most of his rookie camp, and he was a little known second-rounder. Now, Leonard is one of the best linebackers in football. The team also acquired Deforest Buckner this offseason, and he has had a monster season in the defense.

Eberflus’ only indictment is that he may not be that CEO type coach rumored to be the target. Eberflus does not have experience as a head coach, and just like most coordinators, there is no hardcore proof he could have success. Still, Eberflus is well connected in the league and could likely build a good staff and be a good leader. Eberflus is a true wildcard candidate; depending on his staff, he could be a solid hire.

Brandon Staley, Los Angeles Rams Defensive Coordinator

A year ago, Brandon Staley was a rather unknown coach, now, he has a shot to be a head coach rather quickly. Staley has bounced around the college ranks, starting in 2006 at Northern Illinois. From there, Staley went to various schools including, St. Thomas, Hutchinson Community, and Tennessee. Then, Staley got his shot as a D3 defensive coordinator at John Carrol University. From there, he went to James Madison and back to John Carrol. Then, he drew the eye of Vic Fangio and had been on his staff in both Chicago and Denver before getting his shot as a defensive coordinator this season in Los Angeles.

Brandon Staley succeeded esteemed defensive coordinator Wade Phillips after his retirement last season. He inherited a defense with two of the best players in the NFL, Jalen Ramsey, and Aaron Donald. Donald brings a ferocious ability to get into the backfield unmatched by anyone in the league. Ramsey is one of the best lockdown corners in the game and didn’t have a single game this season where he allowed more than 20 yards. Despite that, the talent they had was present in both Phillip’s time and Staley’s. So, in analyzing their defensive jump from the middle of the league to first, that makes what Staley was able to do all the more impressive.

Staley has earned quite a reputation quickly. He has drawn comparisons to the man that hired him, Sean McVay, and been labeled as the defensive carbon copy. Staley would be the younger, more flashier hire than Eberflus, but both are unproven. Staley has not been in the league long, meaning his staff hires could leave something to be desired. Staley is a bold choice, but the Jets have gone the successful defensive coordinator route once in the past 8 years, and it didn’t bode well, will they make the same choice again?

Robert Saleh, San Francisco 49ers Defensive Coordinator

Robert Saleh is a football guy. The former college tight end began his coaching career in 2002 with Michigan State. He then coached at Central Michigan and Georgia before going to the pros. Then, in 2005, Saleh was hired as an intern with the Texans, and he climbed through the ranks to the position of assistant linebackers coach before heading to Seattle. In Seattle, Saleh got to learn under Pete Carroll and coach on a Super Bowl championship-winning staff. Saleh coached there until receiving a shot to coach the linebackers in Jacksonville, where they had a large amount of success in his time there. His success across the board drew enough attention from Kyle Shanahan to earn him the defensive coordinator job in 2017. Since then, Saleh has become a household name.

Last season, the San Francisco 49ers went to the Super Bowl behind one of the most talented defensive lines I have seen in the past decade. Their defense was ranked in the top tier of the league overall, and although they were unable to pull off a win in the big game, they still showed major growth in 2019. This set them up as one of the most heavily feared defenses heading into this season, but when Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Richard Sherman, Javon Kinlaw, and Kwon Alexander are among the big names who missed multiple games, if not the entire season. The team was banged up but still managed to finish as a top defenses again, taking only a small step back.

Robert Saleh is that CEO type of coach Joe Douglas should target. Saleh is the middle ground of Staley and Eberflus. He has the connections of Eberflus and the youth of Staley. Saleh brings juice and energy to the defense. One rumored connection is with Mike McDaniel, a rising offensive mind in San Francisco, who some believe could follow him as an OC wherever he choses to go. He is so intense that he runs the stadium stairs in order to get mentally prepared before games. Saleh is a fantastic coach and near the top of my board for prospective coaches. Saleh is a hot commodity, though, and there is a hometown connection with the Lions that could prove to be too much for the Jets to overcome.