There are times in the life of an NFL GM where an opportunity becomes available when you least expect it. A GM like Joe Douglas has spent the entire offseason self-scouting his team, evaluating college players and signing NFL free agents. He had great fortune (in his eyes at least) in his free agents and in the NFL draft. It was a monumental task to bring together the right mix of talents to make his team better. Now he can sit back and watch how things develop for his team in the early days of training camp.
Other teams did not have as much good fortune. Some teams made drastic changes to their front office as well as the coaching staff. They didn’t have the luxury of having multiple drafts and offseasons to bring in their type of players. The Chicago Bears are a team in just that situation. Gone are GM Ryan Pace (7 years as GM and 1 winning season) along with head coach Matt Nagy and his coaching staff. Enter new GM Ryan Poles, who brought in the Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus as head coach.
The city of Chicago is a football town, always has been a football town since the beginning of the NFL. Chicago fans aren’t hungry for a winner, they are starving for a winner. The Bears are known for some of the most iconic, Hall of Fame type players. They have no desire to sit back and wait on a 6 year plan. They are not going to be patient like they were with Ryan Pace. Sadly the roster is not full of playmakers and their depth chart has more holes than a New York City street.
So how do you transform a team in short order in today’s NFL? The best way to do that is through smart drafting along with wise investments in free agents. Draft picks and cap space are the quickest way to turn a roster around. Fortunately for the Bears they are in a situation where they can do that with some clever maneuvers. Trade a few players, let go of some expensive players, and the Bears could be on the way.
This is where the Jets and Chicago can help each other out by improving both teams at the same time. Let’s take a look at how.
Smith is a 6’ 1” 232 lbs inside linebacker who has never received enough credit for his play because he is on a poor team. Smith is a fast (4.51/40) run and hit LB who is still getting better. In 4 years he has missed only 4 games total while starting 59 of 61 games (he didn’t start his first two). He has never had less than 100 tackles in a season and had 163 total tackles in 2021. He has amassed 524 total tackles, 43 TFL, 14 sacks and 5 INTs in 4 years.
Now you might ask who in their right mind would get rid of such a player? Well Smith is currently on the PUP list. Chicago put him there because he wants a new contract so he is holding out while he is holding in. What that means is Smith is in camp but not practicing. He goes through team meetings but he is not on the field. It’s the NFL’s new type of holdout.
The reason the Bears are not signing Smith to a new contract is that Smith (according to Albert Breer) is not Matt Eberflus’ type of linebacker. Eberflus likes longer linebackers, like Darius Leonard or Bobby Okereke who both have 34” arms. It’s not like Smith has short arms at 32”, but it’s enough to cause Eberflus to move Smith to weakside linebacker. Breer explained “Roquan Smith (not great length) is a departure from that. It’s going to be interesting to see where the Bears value him versus where his league-wide value would be.”
Coincidentally, Roquan Smith is exactly the type of linebacker Robert Saleh likes. Fred Warner became an All-Pro under Saleh, and Warner’s measurements are 6’ 3” 236 lbs, 32” arms and 4.64/40 speed, compared to Smith who is 6’ 1” 232 lbs, 32” arms and 4.51/40 speed.
Smith wants to be paid but Chicago might not want to give Smith the type of money he is looking for. Smith could probably be signed for about $17 million a year over 4 years. The highest linebacker salaries are Darius Leonard and Fred Warner at $19.7 million a year. The Bears have a great chance of having a boat load of cash to spend in the 2023 free agent market. They probably don’t want to spend that much money on a player their coach doesn’t really think is ideal for them.
The Bears currently have more than $57 million of cap space tied up in dead money (thank you Ryan Pace) with $24 million of that going to Khalil Mack. Next year that total drops to only $8.8 million, with over $95 million in cap space.
Robert Quinn (32 years old) is an edge rusher who had 18.5 sacks last year for a 6-11 team. He is owed a whopping $39.9 million over the next 3 years for a team that may well finish last in their division. Cutting Quinn would save over $8 million this year (to carry over to next year) and almost $10 million next year. It is improbable that Quinn would be able to match that production in 2022. He had only 2 sacks the year before in 15 games. The problem is the Bears would need a replacement, preferrably someone younger and cheaper.
The Bears also have a problem with a draft choice made by the prior administration named Teven Jenkins, an offensive tackle out of Oklahoma State. Jenkins was horrible last year and the new regime wants nothing to do with him. The 4th tackle on the depth chart has been taking first team reps over Jenkins. If there was ever a player in need of a new home it is Teven Jenkins.
So how do you rectify this if you are the Bears? You start over and bring in players that fit your mold while you trying to develop your young QB, Justin Fields. Eberflus took this job knowing it was a reclamation project but he must have believed in Justin Fields. You want to make sure you protect Fields the best you can and the Bears have a decent offensive line in recently signed LT Riley Reiff, LG Cody Whitehair, C Lucas Patrick (signed from the Packers), RG Michael Schofield and RT Braxton Jones.
The problem is that Lucas Patrick just hurt his hand in practice and is out indefinitely. You have to have a competent center for your young QB. Also the WR group is highlighted by a young star in Darnell Mooney, a little guy with great speed. The Bears also have rookie Velus Jones who is just under 6’ and a castoff from the Chiefs in Byron Pringle. What that group lacks is size.
The proposed deal
The Jets trade for Roquan Smith, a player they agree (before the trade) to a contract of $85 million over 5 years ($17 million a year) with a $20 million signing bonus and $50 million in guarantees. Smith is a perfect fit in the Saleh system and his $17 million per year will be a bargain in a couple of years for a top level LB. Smith will be 25 this year so you have him during his prime years of production. He is exactly what Robert Saleh loves in a LB and Saleh can make him better than he already is. With fancy salary cap moves he could easily fit under the salary cap. A few restructurings should do the trick.
After this year the Jets can trade or release CJ Mosley, who would still be owed $32.5 million at age 31 and if released only incur a dead money charge of $1.5 million over the next 2 years. Until then they have 4 high quality LBs to make their defense great. Combined with the revamped secondary the Jets will have a defensive revival.
Chicago throws in Teven Jenkins who failed at left tackle but could be worked into the system to see what he has or converted into a center/guard. Jenkins is only owed $4,2677596 on his contract over the next three years so it’s a worthwhile gamble.
Jenkins has good size at 6’ 5” 310 lbs with good length 33 1/2” for a guard but not a tackle. He has very good body control with great power. I think his makeup screams center position to me so I would work with him at that position throughout camp. He could also be an emergency guard prospect as well. The Jets have a little more wiggle room with Ross Pierschbacher on the roster who could come in if the Jets have an injury to McGovern at center early in the season
Chicago will also throw in a 5th round pick as an incentive to the Jets to trade a higher pick.
What do the Jets give up?
First of all the Bears get huge salary cap relief for not signing Smith, especially after they also release Quinn.
The Jets will trade some workable cheap assets to the Bears who could improve the team. The Jets will give up 5 assets as follows:
Dan Feeney- A backup center/guard who is not elite but capable. He is only 28 years old with a meager $1.035 million cap hit. He will be an insurance policy. Lucas Patrick was injured in practice so the Bears need a solution in case Patrick can’t make it back from injury. There is no timetable for his return. The key here is to protect Justin Fields.
Conor McDermott- A backup tackle who would not make the Jets roster but may be a better fit for the Bears. He gives the Bears a veteran presence on the offensive line at a small price of $1.3 million.
Jacob Martin- Martin is a 27 year old who the Jets signed in free agency before they knew they would fall into Micheal Clemons and Jermaine Johnson. With those two picks plus Bryce Huff, Vinny Curry and Jabari Zuniga the Jets were going to have to cut an asset or two. Martin can fill the role that Robert Quinn had, while providing some youth.
Denzel Mims- Mims came to the Jets as a 2nd round pick but seemed to be cursed from the start. He has size and speed. Maybe Mims just needs a new address to succeed. He has the size/speed element Chicago desires so it’s a good fit. Bears new receivers Byron Pringle and N’Keal Harry are injured and out indefinitely. In the meantime the Bears are trying to develop Justin Fields, but he needs receivers. Mims has looked good so far in Jets camp but he probably would be receiver #5 on the Jets. Mims could move into the #2 role with the Bears and give them some size at the receiver position as the Bears try to replace Allen Robinson.
I like Mims. I wrote a glowing article about him when he was a senior, but he has had terrible luck with the Jets. I still think he has the ability to become a great performer, but with the Jets investing heavily in their top three receivers of Elijah Moore, Corey Davis and Garrett Wilson, I see few opportunities for Mims with the Jets. Also Jeff Smith (who I also liked out of Boston College and wrote another glowing article about) has a lot of value. Then you have Calvin Jackson, Irvin Charles and Rashard Davis as developmental projects. I think Mims is expendable if the Jets can get some value for him in a trade when you have a multitude of players who can be 4th, 5th or even 6th receivers.
2023 2nd Round Pick - A 2nd round pick in the 2023 draft gives a rebuilding team like Chicago 3 picks in the first two rounds and a chance to rebuild quickly.
The Bears basically get a lot of low salaried players who can help them, substantial cap relief, and a valuable 2nd round draft pick.
The Jets get LB Roquan Smith and OL Teven Jenkins + 5th round pick
Dan Feeney OC/OG
Connor McDermott OT
Jacob Martin DE
Denzel Mims WR
2nd round pick
This gives the Bears a high pick, a couple of young players to hopefully build with and some needed depth on the offensive line. They give up an over-drafted player from the prior regime and they get substantial cap relief when they don’t have to spend big on Roquan Smith, who doesn’t fit the head coach’s system.
This gives the Jets a solid linebacking corps without decimating the team. Roquan Smith is a special player and will be even better with Saleh and the players in front of him. This also makes it easier to move on from C J Mosley (if the Jets decide to do so) after this year without having to rely on a rookie to fill his spot in 2023.
This is how you build a team with young talent. You find players who don’t fit in other schemes then take them to new highs in a system they can dominate in.
Imagine the Jets defense with
Lawson and anyone of JFM, Bryce Huff, Curry, Clemons, J Johnson, J. Zuniga
or others on the edges?
Thomas, Williams, Smart, Rankins, Shepherd, Marshall
inside as run stoppers
Now you have Mosley, Kwon, Quincy Williams and Roquan Smith (only 3 will play at one given time at most) roaming all over, into passing lanes, blitzing into the offensive backfield or just dominating the 2nd level of the defense. They can cover, pound the line of scrimmage or play in zone coverage.
Also you actually have some great defensive backs that have been absent since the days of Darrelle Revis. You now have Sauce Gardner (who is going to be a star) along with D. J. Reed who are great cover corners but can work in zones as well.
This is the start of something great on defense, which the Jets haven’t had since Rex Ryan’s 2nd year. It would be a nice change to have a near dominant defense (this will evolve over time) as the Jets continue to add players to the defense. It’s a process to build a winning squad so let’s get to it.
What do you think?