Hoge’s Bears Offseason Notebook: NFL Combine Sets Stage For Wild Weeks Ahead

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Running back Leonard Fournette of LSU runs the 40-yard dash during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 3, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Running back Leonard Fournette of LSU runs the 40-yard dash during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 3, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS — With the NFL Combine pushed up against the free agency negotiating window this year, teams have been forced to balance their draft prep with last-minute contract negotiations for their own free agents, informal conversations about others’ free agents and trade inquiries with other teams.

The combine workouts end Monday. The “legal” negotiating window for free agents starts Tuesday. Teams have to be careful not to tamper, but let’s be honest, with the league moving the combine back a week, they’re encouraging more activity. It’s made the week more compelling from a news standpoint, almost giving it an MLB GM Meetings-type feel.

Technically, teams can only negotiate contracts with their own free agents, but nothing is really stopping a GM from listening to interest from other free agents who will hit the market next week. As one agent put it: “We do the talking. They just listen.”

Starting Tuesday at 3 p.m. CT, official negotiations can begin and numbers can be exchanged. But nothing can be signed until Thursday, Mar. 9 at 3 p.m. CT. That’s also when trades can be completed — and in the case of the quarterback market, everything starts there, including this offseason notebook:

Free Agency/Trades

If Bill Belichick is set on keeping quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, not many are buying it. Multiple rival general managers believe Garoppolo is still available for the right price. I read that as Belichick wanting a high first round pick. Would the Bears be willing to part with the No. 3 pick? If they believe Garoppolo is a legitimate franchise quarterback, then Bears general manager Ryan Pace should stick to his convictions and make the move. I’m skeptical that will happen though and if Garoppolo is moved, the Browns’ No. 12 pick seems like a more than reasonable compromise for New England.

The guess here is that Garoppolo remains at the top of the Bears’ quarterback wish list. Otherwise, multiple reports indicate that Mike Glennon is the backup plan. Let’s be clear: that’s a significant drop off in both talent and potential in my opinion. Glennon has only thrown 11 passes since 2014 and there’s a reason why the Buccaneers drafted Jameis Winston No. 1 overall and immediately gave him the keys to the franchise.

So where do Brian Hoyer and Jay Cutler stand in all of this? Hoyer is still in play for the Bears, but I don’t sense very much optimism. He appears to be Plan C or D right now. As for Cutler, the Bears still hope to trade him. On one hand, the weak quarterback market could help them successfully move Cutler. On the other hand, the weak quarterback market could make it hard to find a viable replacement.

In the meantime, Connor Shaw will be back in the mix for the Bears. He was a restricted free agent, but posted a photo of himself re-signing with the Bears Saturday morning.

The No. 3 pick

The Bears’ options at No. 3 have actually clouded up more than they’ve cleared up in Indianapolis. The revelation that Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen has two mildly arthritic shoulders is an important development. The Bears’ own medical evaluation of Allen could take him completely off the draft board depending on what their team doctors think. Allen has played at a high level despite the shoulder issues and could continue to do so in the NFL, but those shoulders aren’t going to get any better. He’s a very good player, one that might still be worth a first round pick, but the Bears can’t afford to miss with the third overall selection and using it on a player with arthritic shoulders seems like a risk not worth taking.

Meanwhile, a report that said the Browns are “seriously considering” taking North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky with the No. 1 overall pick could be franchise-altering for the Bears. If the Browns take Trubisky, that would put Texas A&M edge rusher Myles Garrett within one pick of the Bears. If the 49ers were crazy enough to pass on Garrett at No. 2, there’s no way the Bears could. Garrett might be the only “can’t miss” player in the entire draft and would form a pretty scary pass rushing duo with Leonard Floyd.

Listen Up

What exactly goes on at the NFL Combine? Former NFL safety Matt Bowen lived it. He shared some great stories on the latest episode of “Hoge & Jahns” (that’s right, the podcast has a new name). We also discussed Allen’s shoulder problems and why we all like LSU safety Jamal Adams. Listen below and/or subscribe on iTunes.

From The Draft Room

  • The Bears formally met with Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer Friday night. It’s just the latest formal meeting in Indianapolis as they get all the top quarterbacks on the whiteboard to test their football knowledge.
  • Kizer came off well at the podium Friday as he admitted that teams want to know why he went 4-8 at Notre Dame in 2016 after a strong 2015 season. “I didn’t make enough plays,” he said, showing accountability. But Kizer also fairly mentioned how the 2016 team was much different (his receiving options and offensive line play were much worse) and he said the two quarterback system Brian Kelly used earlier in the season caused him to look over his shoulder too much. He took responsibility for that and called it “his biggest regret.”
  • DeShaun Watson admitted that the beating he took in the National Championship Game against Alabama took a toll on him. It took him a while to recover, which impacted his decision to skip the Senior Bowl.
  • Watson also said the biggest concern teams have on him right is his ability to read defenses, change protections and make the right decisions. Every quarterback has to prove those things to a certain extent, but Watson’s tape leaves more questions in that area than some of the other prospects.
  • Western Kentucky offensive lineman Forrest Lamp is helping himself a lot in Indianapolis. After bench pressing a very good 34 reps, he ran a 4.99 40-time Friday. 40-times aren’t crucial for offensive linemen, but when I guy stands out like that, teams notice. Lamp already checked most of the boxes before the Combine (his most impressive tape was against Alabama), but I won’t be surprised if he sneaks into the first round now.
  • Another first round offensive line prospect, Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk, said he was given a five-month timetable from doctors after hip surgery. That makes OTAs questionable, but he believes he’ll be ready for training camp. Ultimately, his medicals with NFL teams will decide if he’s the first offensive tackle drafted. If Ramczyk somehow slips to No. 36 in the second round, he would be hard for the Bears to pass up.
  • After the Eagles won Friday’s coin toss with Indianapolis for the No. 14 overall pick, the draft order is officially finalized. Here are the Bears’ current picks:

1st round, No. 3 overall
2nd round, No. 4 (No. 36 overall)
3rd round, No. 3 (No. 67 overall)
4th round, No. 4 (No. 111 overall)
4th round, No. 10 (No. 117 overall from Buffalo)
5th round, No. 3 (No. 147 overall)
7th round, No. 3 (No. 221 overall)

Quick Hits

  • Two years after trading Brandon Marshall to New York and a year after trading Martellus Bennett to New England, both players are available again. The sad thing is, you could argue the Bears could still use both of them. It won’t happen — the Bears moved on from both players for reasons beyond football — but the optics aren’t great. Especially if the Bears lose Alshon Jeffery in free agency. After all, he was the guy who was supposed to replace Marshall.
  • The Boston Globe’s Ben Volin reported that not only are the Patriots still interested in bringing Bennett back, but there’s also mutual interest in Marshall. Makes sense. Marshall has never made the playoffs. And from the Patriots standpoint, it worked out with Randy Moss — why not try it again?
  • Take it for what it’s worth, but Wisconsin running back Corey Clement said a Packers scout told him they might draft two running backs this year.
  • Great quote from former Bears offensive coordinator and current Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase: “I hate free agency.”
  • Even better quote from Bears general manager Ryan Pace: “You can always recover from the player you didn’t sign. You can’t recover from the player that you signed at the wrong price.”

Wise words to live by in the coming weeks.

Adam Hoge covers the Chicago Bears for WGN Radio and WGNRadio.com. He also co-hosts The Beat, weekends on 720 WGN. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.