LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Bears general manager Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox put their disappointing 2016 season to bed Wednesday with a 45-minute press conference at Halas Hall. Here are “ten things” you need to know from a busy day in Lake Forest:
Intentional Grounding Podcast: What’s Next For The Bears?
1. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will be retained, but three other assistants are moving on. Pace and Fox both brushed off the idea that there is friction between Fangio and the head coach, as was reported during the season.
“John’s a former defensive coordinator so there’s constant communication (between he and Fangio). Their offices are side by side,” Pace said. “Hey man, you guys have been around football long enough. When you’re going through a tough season, of course there are going to be ‘debates’ that happen. It should happen. It happens in the draft room, it happens with coaches. But it’s a healthy productive relationship.”
As for Loggains, Fox doesn’t think he’s the problem with the Bears’ offense.
“Are we there yet? No. But I don’t think it’s play-calling or design that are issues,” Fox said. “(We just need to) remain consistent with our performance and with that comes wins.”
But while both coordinators will return, three assistants will be moving on. One day after running backs coach Stan Drayton departed for the University of Texas, the Chicago Tribune reported that offensive line coach Dave Magazu and assistant defensive backs coach Sam Garnes will not be retained. Both are longtime John Fox assistants. The report claimed that Magazu was not popular among the offensive linemen. Fox did not confirm the firings.
2. “Everything is on the table” at the quarterback position. Pace said he met with Jay Cutler on Monday and had a very candid and transparent conversation with the quarterback about the future.
“Once we make a decision as an organization, whatever it is, you know (Cutler) will be the first to know and his agent, Bus Cook will be the first to know and I made him that promise,” Pace said. “But those decisions haven’t been completely finalized yet. When they are, you know he’ll know immediately.”
Don’t expect any decisions soon. The Bears will likely try to trade Cutler first, which can’t happen until March 9. In the meantime, expect the Bears to look into every option as they search for their future franchise quarterback.
“I think everything’s on the table right now. It’s free agency, it’s trade, it’s draft, it’s current players on our team. Everything’s on the table, and we’ve got to analyze all that and the next two months are going to be huge for that. It’s critical that we get that right,” Pace said.
The general manager seems to understand that what happens at the quarterback position over the next 12 months will go a long way in defining his time with the Bears.
“Trust me, I understand the magnitude of that decision going forward,” he said. “That’s a critical, critical decision for me and this whole building.”
3. Another big domino this offseason is Alshon Jeffery… again. He remains the most talented wide receiver on the Bears — and perhaps a piece of the puzzle that Pace can’t afford to lose — but the wideout didn’t exactly answer any of the questions the GM had about him last offseason when he placed the franchise tag on Jeffery.
Pace said that Jeffery wasn’t able to get “into a rhythm” this season and cited the use of three different quarterbacks as a reason. Missing four games due to a PED suspension didn’t help either, and that suspension will certainly factor into the Bears’ decision.
“I think Alshon expects more. I think he’s a good player. And that’s a big decision for us,” Pace said.
4. While injuries are always going to happen in football, Pace and Fox seem to be determined to fix the injury bug that left 19 players on injured reserve this past season.
“I’ve been thinking about that constantly,” Pace said. “It was a significant thing for us. I think the wrong thing to do is for me to put our heads in the sand and say, ‘Oh, man, it was bad luck. Maybe better luck next year.’ We’re not going to do that.”
So what exactly are the Bears going to do to fix a chronic issue that impacts all NFL teams?
“We’re going to research and analyze,” Pace said. “We have meetings set up. We’re going to look at other teams, other sports, everything — from the training room to the strength-and-conditioning room, to what we do on the field, the practice schedules — everything’s going to be analyzed. Whenever you lead the league in something, or you’re close to leading the league, I mean, jeez, you better pay close attention. And there’s a lot of valuable assets that were on IR. I don’t want to make excuses for that, but I also want to understand the importance of getting that right.”
5. Speaking of injuries, there’s a good chance linebacker Danny Trevathan will not be ready for training camp. Pace admitted that Trevathan could start training camp on the Physically Unable To Perform (PUP) List after suffering a torn patellar tendon on Nov. 27.
6. Here’s a quick run-through of Pace’s thoughts on several key players:
On if Kevin White can still be the same guy who ran a 4.35 at the combine… “Yes. This is 100 percent recoverable. And it’s also, when you come off of a major injury like this, and you guys know this, it’s a matter of getting your body aligned — make sure your hips and your hamstrings are ready to play at that speed.”
On Leonard Floyd and his two concussions… “I think the sky is the limit for Leonard Floyd. I think you guys saw that. His athleticism, his quickness, he’s 100 miles per hour to the ball every play. He’s just refining his technique as a pass rusher, so his hand use, and that’s going to continue to get better. But he has some special things that we saw in the draft that you can’t coach. He’s the right kind of person too. He’s highly intelligent, so we can move him around. The injuries, really the concussions, he has no history of concussions prior to this, no history of concussions at Georgia. So having two concussions late in the year, we’re going to be smart about that. He really needs to learn to play with better technique and keeping his head up, especially when you’re running into Akiem Hicks. That’s not a good thing.”
John Fox added: “Bad matchup.”
On Pernell McPhee’s injury-plagued 2016, which now includes a shoulder injury he needs to rehab in the offseason… “There might not be a player I’m more proud of than Pernell and the way he’s responded from this injury and the changes he’s made, not just in the building but out of the building with his diet and his weight and his work ethic. He’s one of the top leaders on this team and people follow his attitude and his physicality. I think he was getting healthier and healthier as the season went on. I can think of practices when we were in the indoor (facility), I’d see him coming around the corner, with the speed, and that’s the Pernell I’m used to seeing. Unfortunately with the shoulder injury, pursuing the ball, he’s going to overcome that. Pernell is a professional. Pernell is a leader and I think he’s going to get healthier and healthier. To answer your question, he is worth the investment and I hope to see that more next season.”
On Kyle Fuller’s August knee scope that turned into a completely lost season… “You know I think he’s frustrated and we are too. I think we opened up that three-week window with the full expectation that by the end of that he would be ready to go. And he’s trying to get stronger and he is trying to do all of the little things right. I’m not giving up on Kyle Fuller. He was a high draft pick by this organization and it’s on us to do everything we can to get him playing back at a top level. You guys know it’s a position of need for us and getting him back where he can play would be huge for this organization. So, he’s got to have an important, big offseason. He knows that.”
On if they would consider moving Kyle Long back to tackle if there’s a logjam of talent in the middle of the offensive line… “That would be a concern, moving him around, back and forth, and we have to be conscious of that. Kyle’s coming off two injuries, so he’s going to miss a lot of time this offseason. So that’s on our minds, handling it the right way, reduce the situation where he’s getting moved around too much. Because he’s at his best when he’s focused on one position.”
7. The Bears will be spending their second straight offseason trying to find playmakers on defense who can take the ball away. That was a huge focus last year after a franchise-low 17 takeaways in 2015. The result? Just 11 in 2016.
“Obviously that’s a major issue,” Pace said. “I looked back where Vic Fangio’s been. In San Francisco and wherever he’s been, he’s ranked very high in takeaways. That’s his track record. Top five for a number of years in San Francisco.”
Expect the secondary to be a primary focus for Pace this offseason, perhaps both in the draft and free agency.
“I honestly think we need to add more playmakers to our secondary. We need to add more ball skills to our secondary. That’s on me and we’ll do that,” he said.
8. The Bears will get a jumpstart on the rest of the NFL in their draft preparation as they coach the North team in this month’s Senior Bowl. Pace was clearly fired up about the opportunity when asked about it Wednesday.
“So we are never going to be in this position again, but we better take advantage of it while we’re here,” Pace said. “We’re picking high in the draft. We better take advantage of that. We’re coaching the Senior Bowl. That’s a huge opportunity there. Our training staff, our equipment guys, our coaches, our scouts, our video guys, we’re down there the whole time. I went over the list of guys with John the other night of all players that were at the Senior Bowl, and there’s impact players, as you guys know, so now you’re not just on the field with them or we’re just not having some 15-minute formal interview where they’re coached up. We got him with our trainers. We got him with our equipment guys. We got him in environments where I can really tell what kind of people they are. And I think sometimes, you guys know, it’s not just identifying who you like, it’s identifying who you need to eliminate, and I think that week’s going to give us a real great opportunity to do that. I’m excited about it.”
Fox quickly jumped in: “I talked to (Cowboys head coach) Jason Garrett. They coached it last year, and they had a quarterback that I think they hit on late that did pretty good.”
That quarterback was Dak Prescott, who the Bears passed on three separate times in the fourth round of last year’s NFL Draft.
9. Perhaps the biggest mistake Pace and Fox made when they first arrived in Chicago two years ago was not being more transparent about this being a full rebuild. Maybe they didn’t know it at the time, but they were more open about that kind of talk Wednesday.
“I think when we came here, I think you realized, ‘Hey, there’s no quick overnight fix.’ There’s a lot of heavy lifting that’s going to take place,” Pace said. “And I look around the league. I think you see some teams that have older players, bad character — we’re the opposite of that. I feel like we’ve got a really good locker room with a lot of young guys that are arrow-up … I think this year we had the most starts among rookies and second-year players. That’s a lot of youth on the team and a lot of guys getting better.”
Still, it’s clear that Pace expects to see a significant jump in 2017.
“This offseason’s huge, man. And I think there’s a big responsibility with that much cap space (and a pick) this high in the draft. It’s a significant offseason for us. And we’ve got to get going in that direction. I was pleased with this year’s draft class. I think it’s going to take three years to really get a full picture of it. But there’s a lot of good young players that are ascending and we’ve just got to add to that group.”
10. Both Pace and Fox made promises to the Bears’ fanbase.
Pace: “My promise to Bears fans, and I really mean this: there’s not a moment that goes by that we’re both not consumed with getting this right. This is unacceptable. It’s painful to deal with. I get it. We’re going to get better. There’s a lot of young players that are going to improve. There’s a lot of players coming back that are going to help us. There’s a lot of things we can do this offseason to make us better. I knew this wasn’t an overnight fix. And I think you’ve got to be careful with that sometimes. Sometimes, hey, there’s a little bit of a panic, and oh, you start reaching for bad character guys or big contracts on wrong players. I think we’ve got to be calculated and measured why we’re going through this. And we will be. Patience is hard, and I get that, but we have to prove it on the field.”
Fox: “To Bears fans, I can tell you this: this is foreign territory for me as a coach and it is going to get better. We’ve got the best fans in the league. Even though it may not have been a full house (at Soldier Field), there were some late games there at the end, even though our record wasn’t great, they want a winner and they want it bad, and we’re here to deliver it to them, and I appreciate them, home and away, some of the best fans on the planet. Ryan said “show me,” I spent a year in Missouri and I understand and I feel the same about the fans, this won’t happen again.”
And with that, the 2017 offseason is officially here. Like Pace said, it’s huge.