The University of Illinois football team will play its first game at Soldier Field since 2015, which means this guy is coming home:
When you see it… pic.twitter.com/IOUH4OsE2K
— Luis M. (@lcm1986) March 6, 2018
September’s game against South Florida will mark the first time Smith has coached at Soldier field since 2014, when a Josh McCown-led Buccaneers team were beaten by a Marc Trestman-coached Bears outfit by a 21-13 score. That actually happened.
- One year after declining to use the franchise tag to ensure Alshon Jeffery’s return to Chicago, JJ Stankevitz of NBC Sports Chicago highlights three tagging decisions that had a direct impact on the Bears’ offseason. We already know what the transition tag means for cornerback Kyle Fuller, and that it has brought a refreshing sense of optimism that was largely absent last offseason. Outside the walls of Halas Hall, the Jaguars’ choice to not tag Allen Robinson and the Rams’ decision to tag safety Lamarcus Joyner (and not wideout Sammy Watkins) meant that two top-tier free agent receivers are that much closer to becoming unrestricted free agents.
- For what it’s worth, Stankevitz expects the Bears to “make a push” for Watkins by selling him on the Bears being in a similar place to the Rams last year. And we all know how well that worked out for Watkins, quarterback Jared Goff, and the rest of Los Angeles’ offense. The Bears’ interest level regarding Robinson will be “fascinating to watch develop,” according to Stankevitz, who notes that Robinson is coming off a similar injury suffered by Cameron Meredith.
- The other player who didn’t get tagged who is worth watching is Panthers guard Andrew Norwell. The Bears opted not to pick up Josh Sitton’s option and might decide they are better off aiming for a top interior prospect in the draft. However, if the Bears were willing to pay $8 million for Sitton at one point, a $10-11 million average annual salary for a player who is healthier, five years younger, and has spent years playing with some college-style concepts in Carolina might make more sense.
- Let’s back-track for a moment and discuss Watkins, who Stephen Sheehan of FanRag Sports believes the Bears represent one of the three best team fits for the talented wideout. Based on his talent, skills, and potential, Sheehan sees Watkins as a No. 1 receiver option for a playoff contender. Unfortunately, he has yet to show consistency or durability during his four-year career. A lack of production might be disappointing, but it doesn’t mean he can’t improve if he finds himself as the top option in a new offense. Watkins would project to be the top receiver target for Mitch Trubisky if he signed in Chicago, which is something he wouldn’t be in Los Angeles’ system. Getting a second chance at being The Man could appeal to a former top-5 pick.
- While the Rams are on our mind, their busy offseason continues as ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports the team will trade linebacker Alec Ogletree to the Giants for a fourth-round and sixth-round pick. Ogletree signed an extension through 2021 earlier in the season, so I imagine the motivation behind this deal is to load up on picks that were dealt away last year when the team was maneuvering to improve its receiver corps and to clear space in an attempt to bring Watkins back into the fold. Trading Ogeltree now clears his $10 million cap hit. According to Spotrac.com, the Rams now have $47,269,308 in cap space, which is a nice enough amount to put keep them in the running for Watkins’ return.
- Let’s not forget about the receiver whose market is still developing and could ultimately land on the Bears. Jarvis Landry remains a tempting target for the Bears (and possibly Ravens), as Jordy McElroy of FanRag Sports points out. McElroy believes the juice will be worth the squeeze for Landry as long as whichever team acquires him doesn’t pay up desperately for his services – whether that were to come via draft picks, cash, or a combination of the two. Baltimore and Chicago are in similar situations with less-than-desirable receiving targets lined up to catch passes from quarterbacks each franchise believes in. No matter which way you slice it, Landry would upgrade both team’s pass-catching corps. It’s just a matter of where he lands that will decide which team gets a boost.
- Speaking of possible future slot receivers for the Bears, we should not lose sight that Albert Wilson would make a perfect fit on so many levels. Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus names Wilson as one of the league’s free agents who could use a change of scenery. Monson sees Wilson as a breakout candidate if given a bigger role in an offense, which is something that looked to be happening once Matt Nagy took over play-calling duties from Andy Reid. Perhaps that late-season stretch of games provided a sign of things to come? If anything, Wilson’s 75 percent catch rate among Chiefs receivers/tight ends with a minimum of 30 targets should be quite tantalizing after watching an offense that has been plagued by drops the last two years.
- The Bears don’t have to go hog-wild in free agency or give up the farm in a trade because they could always add talent in the draft. Even though there isn’t a clear-cut receiver option worth taking in the top-10 (Alabama’s Calvin Ridley is probably the closest to that), the depth at the position could provide a ton of value for a team that could certainly use it. Over at Pro Football Focus, Steve Palazzolo offers up 10 prospects who missed the cut in the site’s most recent draft. This group features four receivers, headlined by Ridley, who dropped out of the first round in PFF’s eyes altogether. Palazzolo writes Ridley is “still very much in the first-round mix” but his stock is sliding because of his combine performance. This presents an interesting situation of possibly taking Ridley in the second round or even trading back into the back of the first round to take him if his slide takes him far back enough. Just something to watch for.
- In the end, we find ourselves asking who’s the No. 1 receiver target who will be available this offseason? Well, let’s take it from a former NFL receiver:
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) March 7, 2018