Audibles From the Long Snapper: The Post-Free Agency (First Wave) Edition

| March 22nd, 2024

NOTE: Robert and I intended to start doing our weekly Spaces sessions on Twitter a few weeks back, but I have been battling one of the worst bronchial infections of my life. I’m finally returning to normal existence, and we’ll be live this Saturday (3/23) at 1 PM ET. A lot to talk about. 

Thoughts on what has transpired in the early days of free agency, starting in Chicago.

  • Do I believe Ryan Poles had second or third-round offers on the table for Justin Fields? No, I do not. If you have followed my commentary on the Fields trade market, you know that I’ve been consistent in my reporting: there has been no Fields market. If a second-round pick had been on the table, Poles would have absolutely jumped at the opportunity. This revisionist take on the market, created by the Fields camp, is an attempt to save face, to pretend his journey to Pittsburgh was self-directed. Atlanta didn’t want him. Sean Payton doesn’t think he’s very good. Minnesota preferred Sam Darnold. As we close the book on the Justin Fields era in Chicago, it’s time to be honest. He was an underwhelming performer and the league recognized that.
  • The Keenan Allen acquisition should have no influence on Poles’ draft strategy. Allen is going to be 32 years old this season. And while he is coming off his best year, the Bears can’t expect more than 2-3 seasons from him at a top-line performer. If these three wide receiving prospects – Harrison, Nabers, Odunze – are as good as many believe, the Bears shouldn’t hesitate to stand pat at number nine and bring one of them to Chicago. Always. Be. Adding. Weapons.
  • The center position is still intriguing as we look ahead to 2024. Ryan Bates is a $4 million player. That’s not backup money, especially on the interior of the offensive line. It’ll be surprising if Bates is not one of the five starting linemen in September, and I think that position is going to be center.

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First Week of Free Agency Reveals Continued Prudence, Patience of Poles

| March 16th, 2024

He doesn’t really care about you, Mr. Meatball.

He doesn’t care about your voracious desire for big-ticket free agent acquisitions.

He doesn’t care about your “we want Fields” chants on a blustery Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field.

You wouldn’t pay a running back? He will.

You wouldn’t pay an off-ball linebacker? He’ll pay two.

You’re obsessed with the nonsense that has come to be called “good process.” He’s concerned with only one process: his.

Ryan Poles has a stubborn vision for how he intends to build the Chicago Bears into a contender and that stubbornness is why it feels like the Bears are finally in the right hands. It is a stubbornness that requires an ability sorely lacking since Jerry Angelo was unfairly chased out of town: self-awareness. When Poles interviewed for this job, he spent most his time with George McCaskey and Ted Phillips explaining all the deficiencies in the roster. He was not kind about his predecessor, and he did not sugarcoat what he believed was required to clean up the mess. In year one, he tore it all down. In year two, he began to reassemble. Many would argue that a general manager’s third year is when pressure to contend surfaces, but Poles knows that is not where the Chicago Bears currently sit in the NFL landscape, especially because they are about to take a quarterback with the first pick in the draft.

Would Christian Wilkins and Danielle Hunter have made the Bears better in 2024? Sure. But neither would make the Bears title contenders, and both would eat up sizable cap space in the future. Poles values flexibility. It’s a word he must have used 300 times in his post-season presser when discussing potential offensive coordinator hires. He’ll use this off-season to improve the roster and expect that improved roster to be playing January football this season. Then he’ll put the finishing touches on his rebuild next off-season, and expectations will rise.

In the meantime, the Bears will continue filling holes with cheaper veterans (Coleman Shelton at center) and hope those cheaper veterans become indispensable, requiring extensions (Andrew Billings). And they’ll wait and see if they can finally get correct the most important position in team sports: quarterback.

UPDATE: On Thursday evening, Ryan Poles executed the trade for Keenan Allen. 

Once again, prudence and patience won the day for Ryan Poles.

Having to part with only a mid-round pick, the Bears will now roster their best receiving duo since Marshall and Jeffery. DJ Moore and Keenan Allen will provide the incoming quarterback two of the most reliable outside targets in the sport, and arguably change the expectations level for the coming campaign.

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Audibles From the Long Snapper: What I’m Hearing Pre-Free Agency

| March 8th, 2024

The “legal tampering” period begins Monday, and a lot is set to change around the NFL. Here are my thoughts on everything.

First, the Bears.

  • Buffalo did not want to lose Ryan Bates, but his cap number would not be sustainable for 2024. Said one Bills executive to me, “You got a good one.” Ryan Poles wanted Bates to anchor his offensive line at center two years ago, and that still could be the strategy.
    • The Bills salary purges on Wednesday were devastating in their building. Some aging veterans, sure, but a lot of leadership left that organization.
  • Don’t fret about Jaylon Johnson. The Bears will get a long-term deal done. Johnson isn’t going anywhere.
  • There were Justin Fields-to-Atlanta rumors when the Falcons were running Arthur Smith’s offense. Those rumors continued, even as the Falcons switched to Zac Robinson’s offense. In what world does Fields fit both of these offenses, especially the latter? Is this hypothetical trade based entirely on geography?
    • Most of the top-level NFL scoopmeisters believe Kirk Cousins will be the next QB of the Falcons. If that’s the case, that would further limit potential trade destinations for Fields.
  • I’ve heard some of the names on the edge linked to the Bears. I’ll continue to pound the drum for the best pure pass rusher on the market, Bryce Huff. (I would argue the 9th pick should be used on whichever position the Bears don’t fully address in FA, edge rusher or wide receiver.)
  • I’ve been wondering if the Bears would be in the market for a backup quarterback but folks I trust believe the Bears trust Tyson Bagent in that role, even with a rookie quarterback.

Around the League…

  • The specter of Bill Belichick is now haunting Brian Daboll in New Jersey.
  • Rumors have Saquon Barkley as a primary target for DeMeco Ryan and the Texans. As someone who fantasy owned their entire backfield a season ago, it is a giant hole in their roster. If Barkley stayed healthy in Houston, he’d have All Pro potential.
    • There are also rumors of Barkley to Chicago, and I think he’d have even greater potential here.

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Bears Must Look to Their Own History and Prioritize the Center Position

| March 1st, 2024

Here’s what I don’t want to hear/read as the Bears prepare for training camp this summer: “Player X is a natural guard but the Bears are planning to use him at center.” No. No more. Enough.

The Chicago Bears have had two periods of play at or near the top of the sport in the Super Bowl era: one under Mike Ditka and one under Lovie Smith. What did those two periods have in common? From 1985 to 1991, the Bears had a Pro Bowl center in Jay Hilgenberg. In 2006, the last time the Chicago Bears made the Super Bowl, their center, Olin Kreutz, was voted first-team All-Pro. These are not coincidental facts. Centers are the anchor of the offensive line, and the offensive line is the most important “unit” within a professional football operation. Offensive lines don’t need to be collections of top talent. It helps, but it’s not necessary. Offensive linemen need to be resilient and versatile. Offensive lines need to play with cohesion. That resiliency emanates from the center position. Cohesion derives from the leadership in the middle.

The Bears are building something impressive up front, despite what the Justin Fields devotees want you to believe. They will more than likely enter the 2024 season with Braxton Jones (25 this season) at left tackle, Teven Jenkins (26) at left guard, Nate Davis (28) at right guard and Darnell Wright (23) at right tackle. Those are four solid options up front, especially if Davis rebounds from a complicated 2023. (Folks who think Davis suddenly can’t play ignore the myriad of personal complications that drowned his campaign.) Can they perhaps upgrade at a spot or two? Potentially, but none of those four players need to be actively replaced this off-season. None of that matters, however, when the center position is consistently occupied by veteran turnstiles on their last legs in the league, all of whom seem to be incapable of executing a shotgun snap.

It seems to have been an organization mandate to de-prioritize the center position. And there are options available to buck the trend.

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For Sanity’s Sake, Here’s Hoping this is My Last Justin Fields Column

| February 23rd, 2024

When the Bears drafted Cade McNown in 1999, I didn’t care.

But do you remember the first game of the 2000 season? Against a very good Vikings team, McNown opened 27-41-290-2 and 10 carries, 81 yards and a TD on the ground. From my lounger at the now defunct ESPN Zone in Times Square, I got excited.

When the Bears drafted Rex Grossman in 2003, I didn’t care.

Reverend Dave and I watched that selection, thoroughly intoxicated with some British Browns fans, at a sports pub in Piccadilly Circus. It was a surreal and hysterical experience, but nobody celebrated anything. Yet by early in the 2006 season, there were few doubting Rex could be a top player at the professional level. 

When the Bears drafted Mitch Trubisky in 2017, I didn’t care.

Well, I cared a little, as this was the first real scoop I had been given and was able to break on Twitter. I also won quite a bit of cash off the skeptical patrons of Mother Hubbard’s. (That ripped us off that night and I never returned.) I picked the Bears to go to the Super Bowl in 2019 specifically because of Mitch’s final drive against the Eagles in the Cody Parkey game; a drive I watched in the building. 

When the Bears drafted Justin Fields in 2021, I didn’t care.

While the Robert Mays’s of the world got giddy on their podcasts (why is he always so damn giggly), I hadn’t been impressed by the two college games I’d seen Fields play and saw no reason for ecstasy. But there were clearly moments in his tenure I found genuinely thrilling, most of which were documented on this site. Fields is not a bad quarterback. He’s a limited one. 

When the Bears take their next starting quarterback in April, I won’t care.

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HughesReviews: The Zone of Interest and Other Major Cinematic Works of 2023

| February 19th, 2024

I didn’t particularly care for Barbie or Oppenheimer; the former felt cloying and obvious, the latter bloated and often incoherent. But one cannot understate their cultural importance. These two films, and the brilliant, seemingly organic marketing campaign which conjoined them into Barbenheimer, were the Sosa and McGwire of the modern movie landscape. At the physical cinema’s darkest moment, they brought fans back to the ballpark, and they are the legacy of “Movies 2023.”

But aside from these two popular pictures, this was a year where great filmmakers made great films. Each of the films that comprise my top five of the year are by established masters, cinematic artists working at the height of their powers. They are films I look forward to revisiting and writing extensively about. But I’m not a professional movie critic. I don’t spend each week advising the moviegoing public where to spend their movie buck and I’m not interested in wasting energy on the films I don’t like. At the risk of sounding like, well, an asshole, my academic pursuit of cinema enables me to focus entirely on that which interests me. I can dismiss the crap films and never write a sentence about them. Thus, you will not be reading about Maestro below.

And apologies to Frederick Wiseman, whose Menus-Plaisirs – Les Troisgros is certainly another in a long line of master works, but I just couldn’t muster the four hours of energy required to sit in an uncomfortable Film Forum seat. Although these are my favorite films of 2023, my favorite cinematic experience of the year was seeing the 93-year-old Wiseman live at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens.

Note: I know that many of you have not seen most of the films below, so I’ll refrain from giving away too many plot details. But I am happy to discuss movies any time via email – just reach out. 

(10) BlackBerry. One of the great entertainments of 2023, this first major work from Canadian director Matt Johnson serves primarily as a grand showcase for Glenn Howerton, whose towering, menacing performance is a brilliant expansion of the darkness he has honed over decades as Dennis on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

(09) Bottoms. Is this a great movie? No. But it was the funniest film I saw in 2023 and we all need to encourage Hollywood to keep producing damn comedies.

(08) The Killer. David Fincher is a master of the neo-noir, having created moody classics like Se7en, Zodiac and Gone Girl. This film, a perfect addition to that corpus, deserved more attention (see my Netflix rant below), if only for Tilda Swinton’s tour-de-force cameo. The film’s deliberate pacing requires the patience of its subject, but the reward is palpable.

(07) Titanic: The Musical. I was underwhelmed by the Tony-winning Titanic when it ran on Broadway in 1997, opening just months before the film would take over the world. It had a brilliant cast (Michael Cerveris, Brian d’Arcy James, Vicky Clark, etc.) and some powerful Maury Yeston music, but the piece left me, pardon the pun, cold. (If you know me, you know I want no such pardoning. I relished writing that sentence.) This film, a documentation of a touring production in England, is brilliant example of what can be achieved on screen when a director does more than point a single camera at the stage. Directors Austin Shaw and Thom Southerland use the camera to amplify the play’s emotional character and in doing so provide a profound stage AND screen experience.

(06) The Taste of Things. Subtle and sublime, very few films are so willingly, and lovingly, about process. Dramatic encounters are suggested. Deaths occur between edits. But each moment of culinary preparation is displayed in painstaking detail. (I only saw this film Wednesday so still need time to digest the whole affair.) Side note: how did this become the American title? The French title was La Passion De Dodin Bouffant. How does that become The Taste of Things? What does The Taste of Things even mean? Does it mean ANYTHING? Can we get a documentary about the corporate conference room that produced this inane title?

(05) Showing Up. When you are a struggling artist, “showing up” is survival, and Kelly Reichardt’s film is the finest depiction of that struggle I can remember. The director, and her star, Michelle Williams, manage to create a character in pain without allowing the pain to be her definitive characteristic. Lizzy has no hot water. Her brother is psychologically at sea. Her father is being taken advantage of by two drifters. But she still manages to make herself emotionally available to everyone, even the pigeons. She shows up. And you’re foolish if you don’t show up every time you read the phrase “Directed by Kelly Reichardt.”

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DBB’s Third Annual Pledge Drive, February 5 – 10!

| February 10th, 2024

2023 was a landmark year for DaBearsBlog, with the introduction of our second editor-in-chief, Robert K. Schmitz. The result has been traffic reaching new in-season heights as Robert modernized our content with the incorporation of video, podcasts and more film study in six months than this site had provided in the previous sixteen years combined.

But we can only do this work because of our annual pledge drives. We will NEVER put our content behind a paywall, instead channeling the NPR model of soliciting support from our readers and followers for one week every year. This is that week. We ask for seven days and then we don’t ask again for a year.

So give what you can. A dollar. A fiver. A hundo. Nothing. Your readership is the only support we’ve ever truly wanted. This drive simply ensures you’ll continue to have unique work to read.

The link to support is right here!

And on behalf of Robert, a sincere thank you. After the Super Bowl, we’re back to business, and the most pivotal Chicago Bears off-season in a generation.



Marrs: In Kevin Warren, the Bears Hired a General Contractor

| February 3rd, 2024

This is a special piece from DBB contributor Chris Marrs. Marrs doesn’t cover the Bears professionally. He’s just a fan who spends too much time thinking about this team. Longtime reader, first time caller, he looks forward to contributing to DaBearsBlog, which he considers the ’85 Bears of blogs.

There is something magical about that navy backdrop in the press room at Halas Hall – you know, the one behind the podium, featuring the iconic logo that stands unmistakably for pride, tradition, and the excellence we’ve come to expect from Hyundai (the Bears’ logo is on there too). When otherwise bright, accomplished men sit in front of it, they magically transform into clumsy, tone deaf, empty suits in orange ties, barfing so many corporate clichés that you’d swear they were doing shots of them backstage.

It has been a few weeks now since the Bears latest autopsy press conference on January 10th. This one was bigger, though, serving as an introduction of sorts to Bears fans’ most recent knight in shining armor: new Team President Kevin Warren. This moment would be his first true time-of-crisis Q & A as the boss.

There was such hope for Warren. First new president in 25 years. Accomplished. Connected. Dynamic. Ted Phillips was The Penguin. This was Batman.

We all saw Warren’s comments days earlier at Lurie Children’s Hospital – by the way, cheers to Warren and his family for their support of Lurie. Good people. Wonderful gesture. Makes these next several paragraphs tougher, but such is life. Because five days later, sitting in front of that navy backdrop, Warren’s ideas weren’t fresh or new or encouraging. To put it as elegantly as I can, Warren swung a two-by-four into the nuts of Bears fandom.

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