Justin Fields is entering his second season as quarterback of the Chicago Bears. Unfortunately, his franchise has failed to support him in every way.
If the Chicago Bears want Justin Fields to have a miserable sophomore year, they’ve done a splendid job.
Fields struggled through a rookie campaign marked by a horrid offensive line with limited weaponry, throwing for seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions with a 58.9 completion rate in 12 games.
However, the offseason started out with hope as head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace were relieved of their posts, replaced by Matt Eberflus and Ryan Poles, respectively. Poles then smartly began a rebuild by trading aging edge rusher Khalil Mack for second- and sixth-round picks.
After the Mack deal, Poles entered free agency and promptly did nothing. While the Bears shouldn’t be taking on long-term deals with high-priced stars at most positions, they could have been fortifying the offensive line and provided Fields with a few capable weapons.
Instead, Chicago signed Buffalo Bills guard Ryan Bates to an offer sheet, which was matched. Then, star receiver Allen Robinson left for the Los Angeles Rams. He was replaced by Byron Pringle, who in late April was arrested and charged with reckless driving while on a suspended license, all with a child in the vehicle.
In the draft, Poles again decided to do little for his franchise quarterback early on. The Bears had two second-round choices and went defensively on both. Finally, in the third round, receiver Velus Jones from Tennessee landed in Chicago, before Poles wrapped the festivities with a running back and four offensive linemen on Day 3.
All of this leaves the following as a potential starting lineup for Week 1:
QB: Justin Fields
RB: David Montgomery
WR: Darnell Mooney
WR: Byron Pringle
WR: Equanimeous St. Brown
TE: Cole Kmet
T: Teven Jenkins/Larry Borom
G: Dakota Dozier/Cody Whitehair
C: Lucas Patrick
An easy argument can be made that’s the worst situation for any quarterback in football, and it’s certainly in the top-three alongside the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans.
Furthermore, think about Fields’ perspective. In his draft class, there were four other first-round quarterbacks taken.
Trey Lance sat his first year and is surrounded by an offensive guru in head coach Kyle Shanahan, and has tight end George Kittle, receiver Deebo Samuel and an excellent front.
In New England, Mac Jones has coach Bill Belichick, fantastic blocking and a quality defense. With the New York Jets, Zach Wilson has been given receivers Corey Davis and Garrett Wilson, tight end C.J. Uzomah and rookie running back Breece Hall.
Trevor Lawrence dealt with hell in his first year, but now has a Super Bowl-winning coach in Doug Pederson, an improved line, and weapons in receivers Laviska Shenault, Christian Kirk and Marvin Jones, and running back James Robinson.
In comparison, Fields has been given nothing but the pressure and expectations which come with being a first-round quarterback in a city starved for talent at the position. After all, the Bears are the only franchise to never have a signal-caller go for 4,000 passing yards or 30 touchdowns in a single season.
Finally, does Poles believe he gave Fields an upgraded team? And if he does, will the Bears be impatient if they crater in 2022 and can potentially draft Bryce Hall or C.J. Stroud next spring?
It all sets up for Fields to fail, and for the Bears to remain adrift alongside him.
Top 10 non-division games of 2022 (limit two games per team)
1. Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs
2. Green Bay Packers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
3. Los Angeles Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
4. Kansas City Chiefs at Cincinnati Bengals
5. Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens
6. Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Chargers
7. Los Angeles Chargers at San Francisco 49ers
8. Denver Broncos at Baltimore Ravens
9. Cincinnati Bengals at Dallas Cowboys
10. Denver Broncos at Seattle Seahawks
“When Mark was confronted about these issues, he was dismissive and did not demonstrate the warranted level of concern. Given this, I informed the NFL of these issues and of Mark’s unacceptable response. Soon thereafter, I was fired in retaliation for raising these concerns. I firmly stand by my decision to elevate these issues to protect the organization and its female employees.”
– Former Las Vegas Raiders team president Dan Ventrelle in a statement on his firing
Last offseason, the Raiders saw four executives resign from the club in mysterious fashion. Now, after 19 seasons in the organization, Ventrelle is out, and there’s little known as to why, other than his statement. Team Owner Mark Davis has provided no clarity, and considering he rarely addresses the media and fans, don’t expect much from him in the coming days.
Between all the above incidents and last season’s resignation from head coach Jon Gruden following leaked emails, the franchise appear a mess internally even after the coaching staff and front office was overhauled.
It only leaves one man as the common theme, and that’s incredibly troubling for Raiders’ fans.
For 43 years, the longest field goal in NFL history belonged to Tom Dempsey, who in Nov. 1970 kicked a game-winning, 63-yard field goal to lift the New Orleans Saints over the Detroit Lions.
The most amazing part? Dempsey only had half his foot due to a birth defect.
Info learned this week
1. NFL schedule release is Thursday, and the changes will be notable
It’s the final piece before we can look ahead to the 2022 season. The schedule release.
This year, expect the Thursday night slate to be fantastic. We already know the Week 2 game features the Chargers visiting the Chiefs. Now that Amazon is paying for the package, the NFL will make sure to keep a new partner happy. In the past, Thursdays have been a way to get every team on primetime. Now, the focus will be better matchups and starting the week with a marquee event.
What’s interesting is how the Sunday slates will be impacted. Instead of having an average or even weak tilt, there will be excellent games put as standalones. Inevitably, if the league isn’t careful, Sundays could be somewhat bland compared to previous years, especially around midseason when bye weeks are in full force.
Lastly, a quick plug. Each year, yours truly goes through an absurd process of picking every game, all the way through the Super Bowl. It’s been a tradition now going on five years. It will post on Friday morning, and I hope you’re insane enough to read it, and then comment your picks. Let’s have a fun time with it all.
2. Despite talk, Giants still holding onto James Bradberry
At this point, James Bradberry being made a free agent appears a formality. Yet the New York Giants are still employing him, perhaps in hope of a trade unlikely to come.
Bradberry, 28, has one year and $13.4 million remaining in base salary on his deal. If released, New York saves $10.1 million against his $21.8 million cap figure. If he’s released with a post-June 1 designation, the Giants recoup $11.5 million while taking a small cap hit in 2023.
Bottom line: Bradberry is gone barring a miracle, but the paperwork hasn’t been filed yet.
Once he’s released, watch the AFC West. Both the Raiders and Chiefs are obvious fits, with the former being the more desperate. Las Vegas has questions everywhere on its defense save edge rusher, while Kansas City could use a corner but added five defensive backs in the draft including first-round cornerback Trent McDuffie.
Bradberry is only one year removed from a Pro Bowl campaign, and he’ll be a nice spring gift for a team trying to bolster its defensive backfield.
3. Ryan Tannehill comments on role with Malik Willis were honest, not wrong
We always want honesty from our athletes, until their honesty doesn’t match certain expectations.
Last week, Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill spoke at a presser to reporters, and said he isn’t responsible for mentoring rookie Malik Willis. Tannehill continued by stating if Willis learns from him along the way, all the better.
While Tannehill may not go into the Teammate Hall of Fame alongside Alex Smith, he’s in the majority far more than he’s been made out to be. Joe Montana wasn’t helping out Steve Young. Ben Roethlisberger was open about not being a tutor for Mason Rudolph. On and on it goes.
Put yourself in Tannehill’s shoes for a minute. He’s got two years remaining on his contract, but Tennessee saves $17.8 million by releasing Tannehill after this season. Additionally, a good campaign would make trading Tannehill not only profitable, but helpful in adding draft ammo to build around Willis should the coaching staff like what it sees in practice and preseason games.
This is essentially a contract year for Tannehill after finishing last season with a three-interception loss to the Bengals.
Don’t expect anything but Tannehill trying to win, and if he makes that happen, it’s enough. Leave the mentoring to the coaches.
4. Justyn Ross is latest intriguing play for Chiefs, who keep swinging big
You’d be forgiven if you’re wondering who Justyn Ross is. Quickly, a refresher:
Ross went to Clemson as a four-star recruit and immediately dominated as a freshman in 2018, going for 1,000 yards and nine touchdowns on 46 receptions. In the College Football Playoff, Ross torched Notre Dame and Alabama for a combined 12 catches for 301 yards and three scores en route to a national title. Had Ross been eligible for the draft, he would have been a first-round pick.
Unfortunately, little has gone right since for Ross. As a sophomore, the Alabama native posted 66 receptions and 865 yards with eight touchdowns, before needing surgery on his neck and spine prior to 2020. Last year, Ross returned but dealt with a stress fracture in his foot, limiting him to 524 yards.
Now, after failing to get drafted, Ross signed as an undrafted free agent with Kansas City, saying his choice was because of Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid. He couldn’t find a better spot. The Chiefs need long-term receivers. Only second-round pick Skyy Moore and Marquez Valdes-Scantling are signed past 2022. If Ross proves healthy, he’s a steal for a team who can use him to the best of his considerable abilities.
Finally, signing Ross follows a pattern for Kansas City and general manager Brett Veach. While Ross isn’t a big financial or draft-capital gamble, he’s a big name with significant upside. The Chiefs have consistently taken shots on players with first-round talent who failed somewhere else for myriad reasons, or fell in the draft due to health concerns.
Last year, Kansas City selected Tennessee guard Trey Smith in the sixth round, a top-50 talent who slid with concerns over blood clots. As a rookie, Smith played at a Pro Bowl level.
It’s possible Ross can’t stay healthy or is a shell of his former form. But if Ross is right, the Chiefs might have struck it big again.
5. Chargers sign defensive vets, bolstering previous additions
Los Angeles isn’t sitting still. After adding edge rusher Khalil Mack and corner J.C. Jackson earlier, the Chargers were aggressive this past week, signing linebacker Kyle Van Noy and corner Bryce Callahan to one-year deals.
While both Van Noy and Callahan are on the wrong side of 30 and declining athletically, they add savvy and leadership in a locker room trying to win for the first time. Van Noy is a particularly intriguing addition, having won a pair of Super Bowls in New England. The two-time champ also provides stability at the second level, easily the weakest group of the unit.
On paper, the Chargers have all they need to challenge the Chiefs in the AFC West. They’re loaded on both sides of the ball. The big questions are whether Los Angeles can finally win the big games — take the defeats against Kansas City and Las Vegas down this stretch last year as examples — and if the stars can stay healthy.
The Chargers have a plethora of key players who have dealt with injuries in the past, including Mack, defensive end Joey Bosa, safety Derwin James, and receivers Mike Williams and Keenan Allen among others.
The rookie wage scale was one of the best things to ever happen for the NFL.
For starters, there are rarely rookie holdouts anymore, something which was commonplace before the scale took effect on the 2011 class. This past week, we saw a slew of first-round picks sign their deals, including corners Sauce Gardner (New York Jets) and Trent McDuffie (Kansas City Chiefs).
For decades, players who hadn’t played a professional down were leveraging their draft position for ungodly sums, while veterans lost a portion of the salary cap to it. Now, veterans get paid the vast majority of the cap, while rookies are compensated based on their draft slot.
While rookies would certainly love the old system, it truly benefits both teams and the NFLPA. A rare win-win in a league where that’s nearly impossible to achieve.
Inside the league
Every summer, we look around the league for possible quarterback battles. This year, there’s a real possibility there’s only going to be one.
The Pittsburgh Steelers will hit the field in Latrobe, Pa., and all eyes will be on rookie signal-caller Kenny Pickett to see how quickly he unseats Mitchell Trubisky as the starter. Pickett was the lone first-round quarterback and although Pittsburgh will likely try to tamp down immediate expectations, that’s nonsense. The Steelers know Trubisky has minimal upside and Pickett was a five-year man at the University of Pittsburgh. Next month he turns 24 years old.
It’s obnoxious to say Picket must start as a rookie or face the label of bust, but considering his situation, it wouldn’t be a good sign if he’s not starting quickly.
The Cleveland Browns entered the NFL in 1950 after winning four consecutive All-America Football Conference (AAFC) titles. However, many believed they’d be overwhelmed in their new home, and in Week 1, met the two-time defending champion Philadelphia Eagles.
Instead of wilting, the Browns flexed in a 35-10 blowout on the road. Cleveland quarterback Otto Graham torched the Eagles, throwing or 346 yards and three touchdowns, prompting Philadelphia head coach Greasy Neale to say “(Brown) would make a better basketball coach, because all he does is put the ball in the air.”
On Dec. 3, the teams met again in Cleveland. Brown, determined to make a point, led the home side to a 13-7 victory without throwing a single pass.
It remains the last time an NFL team won a game without a single pass attempt.
For once, the Washington Commanders made a wise off-field decision.
After missing two years during COVID, Washington is bringing back its marching band, which has been a staple since 1937. It’s an old-school piece of football Americana, and a welcome one.
Looking around the league, we need more such decisions. For years, the most recognizable thing about the Baltimore Colts, aside from Johnny Unitas’ high tops, was the marching band, something kept alive after the team relocated to Baltimore and eventually, when the Ravens came to be.
While the current landscape is covered with sound systems blasting music at ear-splitting levels, there’s nothing memorable about it. Bring back the bands, and create a few memories along the way.