Bilal Nichols

Bears Notes: Desai, Robinson, Massie, Skrine

Earlier this week, Sean Desai met with the media for the first time since being promoted to the role of defensive coordinator. While the 37-year-old will take over a defense that has ranked as a top-10 DVOA unit in each of the past three seasons, they’ve also seen some regression since peaking in 2018. However, Desai doesn’t believe the defensive needs a significant overhaul.

“I’m not a big car guy, so my analogies may not be great, but this is like a tune up,” Desai said (via the team’s website). “We’re going to refine some things and we’re going to make sure our players are playing to their strengths on a consistent basis and they’re going to buy into the system and the whys and the hows of why we’re doing certain things. But we’ve got a good defense. We’ve got really good players here.”

“There was some regression, and we’re going to overcome that,” Desai added. “But we’re going to do it in a positive way and we’re going to do it where the players are going to be able to shine through that defense. So I think we’ll build some depth and we’ll continue with our tough, physical mindset of play and do that over a 16- to 20-week season.”

Some more notes out of Chicago…

  • CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora writes that the Bears are “prepared” to tag wideout Allen Robinson with the hope of eventually signing him to a long-term deal. Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune writes that it will be difficult to fit a franchised Robinson into a reduced 2021 cap, but the writer also admits that replacing Robinson would be a more daunting task.
  • Speaking of the cap, Biggs provided some cost-cutting options for the Bears. The team could move on from right tackle Bobby Massie, although that would open a spot on the offensive line. Cornerback Buster Skrine could also lose his roster spot, especially since he has a $500K roster bonus due in March. Finally, Biggs also whether the front office will be receptive to paying tight end Jimmy Graham $7MM this season.
  • As for restructured contracts, Biggs points to pass rusher Khalil Mack and safety Eddie Jackson, and he notes that the team could also extend cornerback Kyle Fuller. Alternatively, the team could look to retain free agents like Cairo Santos and Cordarrelle Patterson on low-money pacts.
  • Kevin Fishbain of The Athletic passed along a few Bears players who have increased their 2021 salaries via proven performance escalators (Twitter links): defensive end Bilal Nichols (from $920K to $2.183MM) and guard James Daniels ($1.437MM to $2.183MM),. Their new salaries are contingent on the final 2021 cap number.

Bears Sign 6 Draft Picks

Many NFL staffers responsible for hammering out rookie contracts are having a busy day Thursday. Numerous rookies are signing deals, and the Bears took care of their non-Roquan Smith draft contingent. Here’s the rundown of Chicago’s signings:

Miller adds to what’s been one of the more interesting makeovers any team’s done at the wide receiver position in recent years. The Memphis slot target follows Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Bennie Fowler and others — including the Georgia-trained Wims — to the Windy City. With Kevin White also still in the picture, the Bears will have a unique position battle behind Robinson this summer.

Daniels could step in as a Day 1 starter and relocate Cody Whitehair to guard, where he would line up opposite Kyle Long and fill Josh Sitton‘s old spot. However, the Bears view the Iowa product as a versatile player himself. While Daniels spent most of his time with the Hawkeyes as their starting center, the second-rounder began his college career as a guard.

Smith is the only Bears pick not to have signed his rookie deal yet.

NFL Draft Rumors: Griffin, Lions, Jets

UCF linebacker Shaquem Griffin did wonders for his draft stock by running a 4.38 second 40-yard-dash, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (on Twitter) reports. Griffin is getting considerable buzz in Indianapolis and one head coach remarked to Rapoport that Griffin may have put himself in consideration as a fourth-round pick. Teams were wary about Griffin’s ability to play at the next level because of his amputated left hand. They’re looking at him in a whole new light now, though Rapoport says that evaluators are now going back to the tape to see if Griffin plays as fast as he looked at the combine. Griffin’s 4.38 was the fastest recorded time for a linebacker at the combine in more than a decade.

Here’s more on the NFL Draft:

  • Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, and Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen are all on the rise after strong showings in the combine, Rapoport reports (on Twitter). Allen was once viewed as a second-tier QB in this year’s draft, behind USC’s Sam Darnold and UCLA’s Josh Rosen. There’s no longer a clear consensus on the order of this year’s top signal callers with talk that Allen and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield are climbing boards league-wide.
  • We’ve been hearing a lot about Vander Esch’s rise in particular in recent weeks. LVE’s 4.65 second 40-yard-dash was faster than expected and Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com hears that he could go as high as No. 14 when the Packers are called to the podium. Pauline’s understanding is that he won’t get past the Steelers at No. 28 and the Eagles, who pick at No. 32, have already come to the conclusion that he’ll be gone by then.
  • Delaware defensive tackle Bilal Nichols is a name to watch for the Jets and Lions, according to Pauline. Nichols tweaked his hamstring during the 40-yard-dash and was unable to finish the drill, but he should be ready to go before his pro day on March 20.