The moves didn’t cleanse the aftertaste of Sunday’s 26-0 loss to the Seahawks. Decisions to jettison a highly paid veteran and a recent second-round pick don’t go down smoothly, after all.
But they’re among the heavy costs of rebuilding, which Pace and the organization seem willing to endure as they push through an 0-3 start and the commensurate growing pains.
In this week’s “Real Talk,” beat writers Dan Wiederer and Rich Campbell discuss what Monday’s trades say about the Bears.
Rich Campbell: Pace’s decision to undo two major decisions by his predecessor, Phil Emery, clues us in on how he feels about the roster he inherited. It also sheds light on how he wants to build the team. But let’s start with the Allen trade.
There were questions about Allen’s fit with the Bears from the moment coordinator Vic Fangio was hired to install his 3-4 front. Full credit to Allen for being open to the change, considering his $11.5 million roster bonus in March effectively made him untradeable until now.
Pace was wise—and fortunate—to get something in return for Allen, given the fact the 33-year-old wasn’t going to be with the team long enough to be part of a contender years down the road. That the organization was willing to accept the $14.7 million it paid Allen as a sunk cost bodes well for the freedom Pace has to pursue his vision.
Dan Wiederer: Allen was well-liked at Halas Hall and an engaging leader whom teammates looked up to. But you’ve hit the nail on the head. After a disappointing 5½-sack season in 2014, he became a misplaced part for this new defense this season. And as much as both he and the coaching staff worked to maximize his conversion from defensive end to outside linebacker, it just wasn’t working.
Allen’s motor still runs high. But what had shown up on tape through the season’s first month was a clear indication that the new role was far from an ideal fit. Allen was noticeably uncomfortable with his new responsibilities and techniques. His struggles persisted. And by the time the Bears are legitimate playoff contenders again, he’ll likely be relaxing on a ranch somewhere out West.
Yes, the trade brought back pennies on the dollar of the Bears’ initial investment. But to build this team properly, Pace needs a bank of draft picks to work with. And it’s clear right now he’ll take them any way he can get them.
Allen was a big name and a big personality. But, for the Bears, he won’t be a big loss.
Campbell: The Bostic trade raised my eyebrows more because the new regime made up its mind about him despite his relative inexperience—only 17 starts through two seasons. Perhaps now we know why the Saints and Broncos didn’t have him as high on their draft boards in 2013 as Emery did.
In a season that’s all about finding building blocks, the Bears discarded the 50th overall pick from 2013. That’s a strong statement about Bostic’s inability to get on the field this season. Yes, he can chase down ball carriers and showed upside in pass coverage. But a combination of shin, hip, back and ankle injuries kept him out for the offseason program and through the first three games.
Coach John Fox says he wants “smart and tough” players. Here’s thinking Bostic didn’t meet that second criteria in the Bears’ eyes.
Wiederer: My very first instinct when the Bostic trade news surfaced was that the Bears had found all the answers they needed about his toughness. This was a guy who should have had every opportunity to compete for a starting role in this new defense. Yet he couldn’t get on the field during organized team activities and minicamp, steepening his climb. And then when he missed the final preseason game plus the first three regular season games, it became clear that durability was becoming a major problem.
The Patriots can afford to take a flier on a player who was good enough in college to be a second-round pick. Fox clearly preferred to turn the page in hopes of finding others who will better fit his vision.
Campbell: In the case of Allen’s departure, Fox’s search turns to Lamar Houston and Willie Young. Houston played 24 snaps against the Seahawks, which included hits on quarterback Russell Wilson on consecutive plays in the fourth quarter. Young, meanwhile, was inactive.
Both guys still are distancing themselves from major surgery; Houston’s on his right knee and Young’s on his left Achilles. Houston is the more agile of the two and seems to be moving in the right direction.
Bottom line, though: the Bears need an impact pass rusher opposite Pernell McPhee. The job is there for whoever earns it. But so far, there’s no concrete evidence that player is on the roster.
Wiederer: Yep. The Bears have 13 games left to determine whether they have a second difference-making edge rusher. And while Young had a career-high 10 sacks last year and will now see his playing time spike, I think he may be even more out of sorts with the nuances of playing outside linebacker than Allen was. He’s another good player who just doesn’t seem to fit any longer.
Realistically, the Bears’ long list of needs for the 2016 draft will likely include outside linebacker right at the top of the list with quarterback and cornerback.
Campbell: And inside linebacker quite possibly right below those. Given Bostic’s draft pedigree, it was easy to see how he could replace Shea McClellin in the big picture. McClellin’s contract expires after this season because the Bears did not exercise his fifth-year option. With Bostic gone, the Bears have to decide whether McClellin should be re-signed or if they need to keep looking.
That’s not to say they should have kept Bostic. After they concluded he wasn’t their guy, it was best to move on and get something in return.
Wiederer: What we learned with this week’s trade is that the roster turnover has only just begun. We might hit opening day of 2016 with maybe a half-dozen players left from the Emery era. That’s draft picks, free agents, etc. Crazy to think about.
Right now, among the Bears’ 22 current starters, only eight were drafted by the organization. Compare that with the unbeaten Packers, who have 17 starters who they drafted plus three others who have never played anywhere but Green Bay.
The Bears recognize they need homegrown talent to scale the mountain in front of them. The internal hope is to hit on at least four draft picks per season. The push begins again next April. And hey, look, Pace just scooped up two more selections to use.
Campbell: It’s a stretch to expect a pair of sixth-rounders to make a major difference. Of course, Pace will have flexibility to trade as he stockpiles picks, so Monday’s moves are just part of the process.
In the meantime, the on-field development and evaluations continue in a winnable game Sunday against the Raiders. I think we’re all interested to see how the Bears stack up to an opponent that’s closer to their level.
Wiederer: But, but, but … Tom Brady was a sixth-rounder!
Kidding of course. Still, having draft pick ammo allows flexibility to move around and target guys you really want. So the more picks, the better. Especially for a team in this state. In the meantime, I think what became clear Monday was that very few players on the roster are fully safe. Everyone must earn their keep somehow.