Emma: Bears Banking On More From Leonard Floyd

The Bears continue to display patience in hoping Floyd can reach his potential.

Chris Emma
November 06, 2019 - 7:58 pm
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- What have the Bears envisioned for pass rusher Leonard Floyd over these last four years? The speed, savvy and technique that led him to a sack of Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz on Sunday.

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On a third down late in the Bears' 22-14 loss at Lincoln Financial Field, Floyd went at the left side of rookie tackle Andre Dillard and opened him up. With Dillard off balance, Floyd used his quickness to beat him and sack Wentz.

"I feel like I'm starting to get into my groove," Floyd said Wednesday.

What will that mean for the Bears? When the team traded up to take Floyd at No. 9 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft, they pictured his speed combining with developing power to create a forceful pass rusher.

The 27-year-old Floyd has 18.5 career sacks over 46 NFL games. He's healthy after battling a number of injuries in his first three years. His sack of Wentz on Sunday was only his third this season and his first since sacking Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers twice in the season opener.

The production for Floyd hasn't matched what the Bears had hoped for, but it also hasn't properly reflected his importance in the minds of many.

"I've never coached a Sam (linebacker) like Leonard Floyd," Bears outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino said in October. "Leonard Floyd has done a great job of setting edges. He's done a great job of affecting the passing game in coverage. He's done a great job of knocking guys back into the launch point. We just got to figure out ways to get him clearer and get him to finish as a rusher."

The Bears need a bigger impact from Floyd now more than ever. Their defensive identity has taken a hit recently. The absence of Pro Bowl defensive lineman Akiem Hicks has allowed foes to focus their attention on star edge rusher Khalil Mack, who has one sack in the four games without Hicks. After leading the NFL in takeaways in 2018, the Bears are tied for 16th in the league with just 11 turnovers forced over eight games. Floyd could be the X-factor this defense needs.

His long-term future with the organization is also in question as the Bears (3-5) balance their present realities with future decisions. The Bears picked up his fifth-year option for 2020, which projects to make him the fourth-highest paid player on the roster with a $13.222 million cap hit, according to Spotrac. That number also leaves him shy of only the Broncos' Von Miller, the Cardinals' Chandler Jones and Mack for 2020 base salary earned by an edge rusher.

"I feel like Leonard is still (trending upward)," general manager Ryan Pace said in January when he announced the team would pick up Floyd's fifth-year option.

As Pace acknowledged, the Bears were still banking on Floyd's potential being fulfilled. They've stood by Floyd during the ebbs and flows of his first four NFL seasons. Now, they're prepared to pay him like an elite pass rusher as their cap situation reaches a boiling point. 

Pace and his Bears brass will use the remaining eight games of this spiraling season to take inventory. They have decisions to make on the future of key young players and in doing so will weigh perceived potential against the actual production.

The hefty commitment to Floyd ties up the Bears for 2020, but will he remain with the team long term?

That's a looming question the Bears hope Floyd answers himself.

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.