Bears Rumors

Biggest Roster Weakness: NFC North

The 2019 regular season is right around the corner, but every NFL team still has at least one position on its roster that could use improvement. And there’s still plenty of time to address those areas of need! Free agents are readily available on the open market, while preseason trades provide another avenue of player procurement. 19 NFL trades were executed between August 1st and September 1st of 2018, and that number could increase this year.

Let’s take a look at the weakest positional group — and a potential solution — for each NFL club. Today we’ll examine the NFC North:

Chicago Bears

  • Weakness: Kicker. This one is pretty self-explanatory. Cody Parkey finished third-to-last in the NFL with a 76.7% conversion rate in 2018 and had a game-winning kick blocked in the final seconds of the Bears’ Wild Card round loss to the Eagles. Chicago took on more than $5MM in dead money to part ways with Parkey earlier this year, and after the Bears waived Elliot Fry on Sunday, Eddy Pineiro is the only kicker remaining on the club’s roster.
  • Solution: Wait for a kicker to get cut or sign Matt Bryant. The Bears were reportedly in on ex-Ravens kicker Kaare Vedvik before the Vikings acquired him for a fifth-round pick, so Chicago is definitely attempting to upgrade its special teams unit. Carolina, for one, has a kicking situation to monitor: veteran Graham Gano can’t get healthy, leaving the door open for Joey Slye to go five-for-five in the preseason. The Bears could target either one of the Panthers’ kickers via trade, or hope that another veteran like Dan Bailey — who could be pushed out of Minnesota by Vedvik — is released. Meanwhile, the 44-year-old Bryant, who converted 95% of his kicks in 2018 (including four-of-five from 50+ yards), is still available on the open market.

Detroit Lions

  • Weakness: Offensive guard. Despite having something of a middling overall roster, the Lions don’t have a ton of true weak areas. Cornerback help could potentially be a focal point, but Detroit might need reinforcements at guard, where none of Graham Glasgow, Kenny Wiggins, or Joe Dahl are all that inspiring. The Lions are expected to use a run-heavy game plan in 2018, and supplementing the middle of their offensive line could help them improve from a No. 20 ranking in Football Outsiders‘ adjusted line yards.
  • Solution: Trade for Joshua Garnett. Like Burns, Garnett is a 2016 first-rounder who hasn’t exactly worked out thus far. The 49ers have already declined Garnett’s fifth-year option for 2020, and he’s not expected to start at guard ahead of Mike Person or Laken Tomlinson. Now 25 years old, Garnett missed the entire 2017 campaign with a knee injury and saw action in only seven games last year as a reserve, but he’s now thought to be fully healthy. The former Stanford Cardinal shouldn’t cost much more than a late-round pick to acquire.

Green Bay Packers

Minnesota Vikings

  • Weakness: Defensive tackle. Minnesota suffered a substantial loss to its defensive line when it failed to re-sign Sheldon Richardson, whom Pro Football Focus graded as the NFL’s No. 47 interior defender in 2018. To fill the void left by Richardson, the Vikings have reunited with Shamar Stephen, who finished as a bottom-20 defensive tackle in PFF’s rankings. While they have a few recent mid-round picks in reserve (Jaleel Johnson, Jalyn Holmes), the Vikings could look to bring in a veteran to pair with starter Linval Joseph.
  • Solution: Sign Corey Liuget. The 2018 season couldn’t have gone much worse for Liuget, as a suspension, pay cut, and season-ending knee injury littered what became a lost campaign. Cut by the Chargers in February, Liguet has since met with the Giants, Seahawks, Jaguars, and Cardinals but has failed to land a new deal. Always a solid run defender, Liuget could also give the Vikings an interior pass-rush boost.

More from this series:

Bears Restructure Charles Leno’s Contract

The Bears have converted $7MM of offensive tackle Charles Leno’s base salary into a signing bonus, according to Field Yates of ESPN.com (on Twitter). With that, the Bears have created $5.6MM in cap space, giving them flexibility as veterans get chopped from rosters around the NFL. The revision will also give the Bears $2.8MM in extra breathing room for 2020 and 2021. 

Leno, a 2014 seventh-rounder, inked a four year, $37MM extension with the Bears prior to the 2017 season. Over the course of his five-year NFL career, the 27-year-old (28 in October) has started in all 61 of his contests.

In other Bears news, the club waived Elliott Fry earlier this week, leaving Eddy Pineiro as the last remaining kicker on the roster.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Minor NFL Transactions: 8/19/19

Here are Monday’s minor moves, with the list being updated throughout the day.

Chicago Bears

Green Bay Packers

  • Released from IR via injury settlement: LB Kendall Donnerson

Houston Texans

Philadelphia Eagles

Tennessee Titans

Bears Waive K Elliott Fry

The Bears have waived kicker Elliott Fry, the team announced. That leaves Eddy Pineiro as the only kicker on the roster at the moment.

However, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune cautions that the decision to waive Fry, an AAF alumnus whom the the Bears signed in April, does not mean that Pineiro has won the team’s much-discussed kicking competition (Twitter link). Indeed, Biggs suggests that a to-be-released player from another organization is likely to open the season as the Bears’ kicker, and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com confirms (via Twitter) that Chicago remains in the market for kicking help.

The Bears’ kicking game issues in 2018, which ended in heartbreak in the wildcard round of the NFC playoffs, led the team to cast a wide net for answers. Chicago acquired Pineiro in a trade with the Raiders in May, and the club also signed Chris BlewittJohn Baron II, and Redford Jones since their playoff loss to the Eagles. All candidates but Pineiro have been waived.

Fry missed his only FG attempt in the team’s preseason loss to the Giants on Friday. Adam Jahns of The Athletic notes that both Fry and Pineiro have struggled with accuracy and consistency in spring practices and training camp, though Pineiro clearly has the stronger leg (Twitter link).

The Bears were reportedly interested in Kaare Vedvik, but he was traded to the division-rival Vikings last week.

Former NFL RB Cedric Benson Passes Away At 36

Former NFL running back Cedric Benson was killed in a motorcycle crash on Saturday, per Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune (citing reports from multiple outlets). Benson’s passenger was also killed, and two others were injured. Benson was just 36.

After a stellar collegiate career at Texas — he rushed for over 1,000 yards in all four years with the Longhorns, including an 1,834-yard effort in his senior season — Benson was selected by the Bears in the first round (No. 4 overall) of the 2005 draft. As Biggs reminds us, Chicago already had Thomas Jones on the roster when Benson was drafted, so the latter’s career never really took off in the Windy City.

The Bears traded Jones to the Jets in 2007, but Benson struggled in his first year as the Bears’ No. 1 RB, and he was cut in June 2008 after his second alcohol-related arrest in five weeks. He was not indicted on either incident, though, and he caught on with the Bengals in September 2008. He posted 747 yards on 214 totes for a mediocre 3.5 YPC in his first year in Cincy before finally showing off his first-round credentials in 2009. From 2009-11, Benson averaged 1,143 rushing yards and over six touchdowns per season.

He signed with the Packers in August 2012 but played in only five games for Green Bay before suffering a foot injury that landed him on IR. That would be his last year in the NFL, and he ended his career with 6,017 rushing yards and 32 TDs on 1,600 carries to go along with 833 receiving yards and a receiving score.

Benson also dealt with legal troubles stemming from DUI/DWI arrests over the past couple of years, though it is presently unclear whether the accident that claimed his life was alcohol-related.

We at PFR offer our condolences to Benson’s friends and family, as well as to the friends and family of his passenger.

Minor NFL Transactions: 8/13/19

Here are Tuesday’s minor moves, with the list being updated throughout the night.

Baltimore Ravens

Chicago Bears

Cincinnati Bengals

Green Bay Packers

Los Angeles Chargers

New York Giants

New York Jets

  • Waived: TE Nick Truesdell

Philadelphia Eagles

Seattle Seahawks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Packers Also Pursued Kaare Vedvik

It appears three NFC North teams discussed a Kaare Vedvik trade with the Ravens. While the Vikings ended up winning the pursuit, and the Bears were an obvious candidate to acquire a kicker, Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press tweets the Packers were also in the mix.

Green Bay is set for a 13th Mason Crosby season, but Vedvik has multiple roles. The Packers have used four punters in the past four seasons, with a different one — Tim Masthay, Jake Schum, Justin Vogel, J.K. Scott — spending a full season in that role. A 2018 fifth-round pick, Scott remains in place as the Packers’ punter. It would have obviously been curious to see the Packers trade a Day 3 choice for another punter.

Crosby, though, has one season (at $4.85MM) remaining on his contract. The career-long Packer made 30 of 37 field goal tries last season; four of those misses came on a rough day in Detroit. The soon-to-be 35-year-old kicker made 5 of 7 of his 50-plus-yard attempts in 2018.

The Vikings sent a fifth-round pick to the Ravens for Vedvik, a Norwegian-born specialist who kicked and punted at Marshall. Vedvik’s time as the Thundering Herd’s punter lasted longer than his stay as their kicker, and John Harbaugh used him in both capacities in the Ravens’ preseason opener last week. It remains unclear how the Vikings will deploy Vedvik.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jets, Bears Eyeing Ravens K Kaare Vedvik?

We heard earlier today that the Jets were auditioning a pair of kickers, but it sounds like the front office could instead opt for a trade. Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News tweets that the Jets could make a run at Ravens kicker Kaare Vedvik, a player the organization was eyeing last offseason. However, Mehta adds that the Jets are convinced that the Bears will ultimately pull off a trade for Vedvik.

As Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com writes, the 25-year-old Vedvik was a standout during last year’s preseason and this year’s training camp. The kicker was hospitalized last September after being assaulted in Baltimore, and Vedvik spent the rest of the season sitting on the non-football injury list. This year, the special teamer is healthy, but he naturally has no chance of winning the starting gig over Justin Tucker. Therefore, hearing his name on the trade block isn’t that much of a surprise, especially since coach John Harbaugh said back in March that the player would likely be dealt.

“I fully expect that he’ll kick well enough for us to trade him,” Harbaugh said (via ESPN’s Jamison Hensley). “That’s kind of the goal. He’s capable of kicking in the NFL. We probably could have traded him last year.”

The Jets are hunting for competition to current starter Chandler Catanzaro, who missed a pair of extra points during his team’s preseason opener. Meanwhile, the Bears are watching as a pair of unproven options, Eddy Pineiro and Elliott Fry, battle for the starting gig. The Bears were connected to veteran Robbie Gould before he inked an extension with the 49ers.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Minor NFL Transactions: 8/8/19

Today’s minor moves:

Chicago Bears

  • Signed: WR Joe Walker
  • Waived/injured: DB Josh Simmons

Cincinnati Bengals

Dallas Cowboys

Green Bay Packers

Kansas City Chiefs

Minnesota Vikings

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Signed: CB Trevon Mathis
  • Waived/injured: RB Ralph Webb

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • Signed: OL Salesi Uhatafe
  • Placed on injured reserve: S D’Cota Dixon

Ryan Pace Explains Aggressive Philosophy

The Bears have made some splashy trades since Ryan Pace replaced Phil Emery as GM in 2015. Deals that brought Khalil Mack and Mitch Trubisky to Chicago required major assets to complete. Fourth-year starter Cody Whitehair and second-round tight end Adam Shaheen also forced the Bears to surrender multiple mid-round picks. In a detailed piece by The Athletic’s Adam Jahns (subscription required), Pace summarized his aggressiveness on these fronts.

  • A knee injury Ha Ha Clinton-Dix suffered during Chicago’s offseason program resulted in the recently signed safety beginning his first Bears camp on the active/PUP list. The former Packers and Redskins defender has not missed a game since the 2014 season.
  • However, the Bears received good news on Trey Burton. The team’s second-year tight end starter has been cleared for camp work. The “Philly Special” quarterback underwent sports hernia surgery this offseason.