Bears Have Key Business Waiting At NFL Combine

The Bears will be evaluating prospects and laying the groundwork for free agents.

Chris Emma
February 21, 2020 - 10:00 am

(670 The Score) The NFL Combine has become a primetime television event. The NFL Network is again set to broadcast the on-field drills, but that's just a small part of the week in Indianapolis. 

Bears general manager Ryan Pace and his league peers have business to handle. The combine offers teams the chance to conduct interviews with draft prospects and review in-depth medical records. The week also brings the beginning of contract negotiations for free agents -- even weeks before the legal tampering period.

As the Bears move forward from their disappointing 8-8 season of 2019 and into the offseason, the trip down to Indianapolis brings an important stage for the team's future. They have plenty to do when the combine starts Monday, so let's take a look at some of the key storylines.

Quarterback market

The time has come for Pace and the Bears to be honest with their quarterback position.

While Pace offered his public support of the struggling Mitchell Trubisky as the Bears' starting quarterback for 2020 in his season-ending press conference on Dec. 31, his true intentions remain to be seen. If the Bears plan to make a move for a proven veteran quarterback, it's time to ante up.

The combine will allow executives like Pace to make informal offers to free-agent quarterbacks. The open market will feature plenty of options for quarterback-needy teams, with established stars in Tom Brady and Philip Rivers and the likes of Teddy Bridgewater and Case Keenum available.

Another enticing option for the Bears would be on the trade market, which is expected to include the Raiders shopping Derek Carr and the Bengals eager to move Andy Dalton. Indianapolis could offer the site of a deal being reached for the Bears.

With the offseason nearly two months old, Pace's Bears must have decided whether Trubisky can be salvaged into a franchise quarterback or if it's time to establish competition. 

Tight end void

The Bears added to their underachieving tight end group by adding Demetrius Harris on a one-year deal earlier this week.

That's a start for Pace, but more key work remains at a position in which no individual eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the entirety of the season for the Bears in 2019. Harris' 15 receptions with the Browns would've made him the Bears' leading tight end, but he's considered more of a blocker who projects to fill the team's Y position.

Coach Matt Nagy needs a dynamic U tight end for his offense who can create mismatches and dictate the coverages of opposing defenses. Chiefs star tight end Travis Kelce is the gold standard in this regard, but what Nagy and the Bears are focused on first is a more productive fit at the position.

Trey Burton played just eight games last season, recording 14 receptions for 84 yards. The Bears couldn't fill the void with any number of players.

Burton is unlikely to be released by the Bears, with his contract structure offering little salary cap relief. It may be worthwhile for the Bears to cut the unproductive Adam Shaheen to open up more than $1 million in cap space.

The Bears could target a tight end in the draft, perhaps with one of their two second-round picks. Washington's Hunter Bryant, Dayton's Adam Trautman and Notre Dame's Cole Kmet could be options in that range, and the combine marks another step in the the Bears' assessment.

A-Rob extension

If Pace is looking for dinner partner at famed Indianapolis steakhouse St. Elmo, perhaps Roosevelt Barnes would be interested in joining him.

The former NFL linebacker Barnes is president of the ISE agency and will be representing Bears receiver Allen Robinson in contract negotiations. Robinson's deal is set to expire after the 2020 season.

Robinson performed like one of the NFL's top receivers in 2019 and positioned himself to be paid as such. With the Bears having struggled offensively, they would be wise to prioritize the stabilizing force of Robinson, who had 98 receptions for 1,147 yards and seven touchdowns last season.

Robinson, 26, could command a contract similar to the one that Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins signed back in 2017 -- a five-year, $81-million deal, with $49 million guaranteed. 

The Bears have preferred not to conduct business during the regular season, often locking players into contract extensions by late August or early September. If the Bears intend to lock in Robinson long term, it's time to start talking numbers and begin the negotiations.

Needs on D

The Bears will enter the 2020 season with one of the NFL's top defenses, but they still have several key voids to fill.

In taking inventory, the Bears should start with free-agent linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, who proved himself as a starter over the season's final seven games. The 26-year-old Kwiatkoski will likely be a top target for teams in need of an inside linebacker -- regardless of scheme -- and the Bears understand his fit with their defense.

The Bears are hopeful to re-sign Kwiatkoski, a source said, but they will have to bid for his services. The less likely alternative would be re-signing veteran Danny Trevathan, who turns 30 in March. 

The other key void for the Bears' defense is at safety, where Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is set to hit the open market again after signing a one-year deal last March. Clinton-Dix isn't likely to return to the Bears, who would be better off finding a natural complement to the ballhawk Eddie Jackson, who was sometimes forced to play in the box in 2019. 

Clinton-Dix was a low-cost option last offseason, and the Bears could again go that route after making Jackson the NFL's highest-paid safety with a four-year extension shortly after the season ended. That would mean seeking a cheap veteran in free agency or drafting someone to line up next to Jackson.

The Bears will also seek another edge rusher, with Leonard Floyd playing out the fifth and final year of his rookie deal. While the Bears could search for another free agent whom they believe has upside like they did with Aaron Lynch, it would make good sense to draft another outside linebacker and start his development.

The other key free agent on defense is lineman Nick Williams, who was second on the Bears in sacks in a breakout 2019 season. Williams, who turned 30 on Friday, should draw interest on the open market.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.