Chicago Bears Q&A: What’s Matt Eberflus’ status? How will the offensive line look when Nate Davis returns?

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The Chicago Bears had some extra time this week between Thursday’s 16-13 victory over the Carolina Panthers and Sunday when they face the NFC North-leading Lions in Detroit.

Heading into Week 11, there are still many questions surrounding the coach, the culture and the contracts. Brad Biggs answers your Chicago Bears questions each week.

After hearing Ryan Poles talk about Matt Eberflus in his last news conference, what are the honest chances he actually gets fired come the end of the season if they win a couple more games? I think the team overall is playing hard and the run defense is playing eons better than last year — a key responsibility of his. But the pass defense is still bad for many reasons. Clearly they love his culture at Halas Hall given how much they use the word. I think it’s also important to not forget this is an organization that kept John Fox for a third year after a 6-10 and 3-13 seasons. — Gerry M., Chicago

I don’t know what is going to shake out at the end of the season. I do believe a decision will be based on the entirety of the season and as I have written in this space previously, I think there’s a differencebetween 2022 and 2023. Last season, there was zero expectation for the team to be competitive as the Bears were carrying more than $85 million in dead cap space before the year ended. So, while Eberflus (and Poles) will always have that 3-14 season on their record, I believe you have to separate one season from the next.

I also think some of the expectations for this season were totally out of whack. For some, it was as if the departure of Aaron Rodgers from the Green Bay Packers and the NFC North was a clear lane to supremacy in the division. The reality is there has been a lot of traffic in the Bears’ way and they’ve taken some detours on a path they hope leads to sustainable success.

There are a lot of factors that will need to be considered. How is the team playing? More specifically, how does the team perform in the second half of the season? Is there a sense the Bears are more competitive in the back half of the schedule? The team is in the midst of a stretch now with four of five games on the road. Eberflus and Poles inherited quarterback Justin Fields and there are some well-documented issues for the offense. How much does the coaching staff inheriting a quarterback who hasn’t worked out to this point weigh in the decision? Would Poles prefer a new head coach or maybe an offensive-minded head coach in the likelihood he plans to draft a quarterback in the first round?

I don’t put a whole lot of stock in midseason public backings of head coaches by GMs. Poles isn’t going to undercut his coach with half a season remaining. That would not be productive forchemistry in the building orthe hope the coaching staff can get more out of the roster. I would imagine private conversations between Poles and Eberflus are more pointed. It’s what Poles says about Eberflus and the staff at the end of the season that truly matters.

I imagine the Bears figured they would be better than 3-7 through 10 games. Probably not a ton better record-wise, but a little bit. It’s interesting to wonder what the tenor would be right now if the team was 4-6 and had not squandered a 28-7 lead late in the third quarter to lose to the Denver Broncos back in Week 4 at Soldier Field. But we could play the what-if game all day long. The bottom line is Poles is going to evaluate the direction he believes the franchise is headed in when the season is complete and generally that process puts a little more weight on how things were trending in the final months of the season.

When Nate Davis returns does Lucas Patrick or Cody Whitehair go to the bench? — @stephenclapp1

There were a couple of questions about what the line will look like when Davis, who has missed the last four games with a high ankle sprain, returns to action. My guess is there is a decent chance Davis will be worked back into practice this coming week, but we will have to see. The team changed its schedule for this week, switching a Monday walk-through to a practice, but the first injury report of the week will not be released until Wednesday afternoon. If Davis makes solid progress this week perhaps he gets some playing time on Sunday at Detroit. The Bears recently rotated Braxton Jones in at left tackle when he returned after missing six games with a neck injury.

The first question: where does Davis play? There are two options. He could return to right guard and Jenkins could shift back to left guard, where he was slated to play all along this year. Or the Bears could keep Jenkins at right guard and move Davis to left guard. My hunch — just a guess — is they switch Jenkins back to the left side and have Davis play right guard. Davis was a right guard previously in Tennessee and Jenkins at least has some recent time spent on the left side.

Patrick is my bet to stick at center with Whitehair probably becoming a reserve. If the Bears felt best about having Whitehair at center, he’d probably be there right now and he had some hiccups playing the position earlier this season. I don’t know if Davis is back in the fold this week, he’s missed a total of six games this season, but before long the team should have its five best linemen on the field.

The Bears were able to extend the contracts of Montez Sweat, Andrew Billings and Cole Kmet. Yet, Ryan Poles has been unable to extend the contract of Jaylon Johnson, even though Poles often sings his praises. What is the hang-up? Money? Length of contract? Perhaps Poles’ comments publicly do not reflect his feelings about Johnson in private? All of the above? — Jim A., Plymouth, Minn.

Every negotiation for a contract extension takes on a life of its own. It’s not like there is an assembly line and they just crank these things out. The Kmet deal was something the Bears got going on early in the offseason. That was a priority for them. A deal for Johnson at the time probably didn’t make a lot of sense for either side.

For Johnson, he wasn’t coming off a banner season in 2022 and the lack of ball production was an issue if he was going to sit down at the negotiating table. Johnson also changed representation during the offseason. For the Bears, it probably didn’t make a lot of sense because Johnson had missed some time and, like I said, there was a lack of production. That’s what the top-tier cornerbacks get, right? So, coming up with a common ground to hammer out a deal was probably going to be difficult and Johnson was right to try to enhance his value this season. So, we’re talking about a shorter window of time now when the sides have actually done some work on the issue. The Billings’ deal was modest — he got an $8 million, two-year extension — so that’s probably not relevant to this discussion either. As far as Sweat, Poles had to sign him in order to not be staring down a situation at the end of the season where he was going to have to use the franchise tag.

What’s the hang-up? Money. I believe Poles when he talks about Johnson in a positive light. But the two sides have to see if they can find a figure that makes sense. Johnson is playing with injury risk and with each week that goes by, he gets closer to the possibility of becoming an unrestricted free agent in March. That is where he can maximize his value. Yes, the Bears could potentially consider the franchise or transition tag.

Remember, Poles said he felt the team was near a contract agreement with Johnson right before the trade deadline before things took a turn and the player requested permission to seek a trade. Poles granted that probably in part because he respects Johnson. I wouldn’t write off the possibility of things eventually getting done. The better Johnson plays with seven games remaining, the more leverage he will have. Just remember, no two negotiations are alike.

Arguably the best O-lineman right now is Teven Jenkins. Seems like an important piece for the future. Hear any talk about extending him now that he’s in Year 3? — @play_hurt

Jenkins will not be eligible for a new contract until after the season. He’s played very well since returning from a calf injury sustained in training camp and has played 100% of the snaps in five consecutive games. That is notable because Jenkins had accomplished that only six times in the first 37 games since former GM Ryan Pace traded up to draft him in the second round in 2021.

Offensive line coach Chris Morgan has to feel really good about how Jenkins is performing right now. He’s a powerful man with the athleticism to climb to the second level. He’s displayed more than enough ability for the Bears to want to include him in long-range plans, but the durability and injury history is going to give the team reason to want to see more. For an extension to be an option for Jenkins in the offseason ahead, it’s imperative for him to finish the season strong and healthy. Between back, hip, stinger and calf issues, he’s missed a lot of football. If he plays well the rest of the way, I could easily see the Bears putting contract talks on a to-do list. From my vantage point, it’s a little premature to start thinking about paying Jenkins. He’s gotten in a groove. He’s shown the ability to play on either side as a guard. Let’s see how he does in the final few months.

What is your opinion on the current state of the Bears players in the locker room? Are they still positive or is it starting to come off the rails from frustration? — @palmer0224

They won last time out and got a nice weekend to rest up so I think they are in a decent spot right now. There were one or two days earlier in the season when I felt the temperature in the locker room was getting really chilly. In the aftermath of the brutal Week 4 loss to the Denver Broncos, when the team was 0-4, it seemed like things could be headed south when just gauging the vibe around the team. I distinctly remember leaving the facility with that in mind.

But the next day I was there, there was a little buzz and electricity in the locker room and the Bears went out and drilled the Washington Commanders on a short week. Since then, even as there have been more bad losses to the Minnesota Vikings and Los Angeles Chargers, the group has seemed pretty upbeat. It’s a young roster and that helps in this regard. Ultimately, what matters is how the team is performing on the field and the Bears need to be better. I don’t sense there is a team-wide level of discouragement that is hindering progress right now.

A season-and-a-half into Ryan Poles’ regime, how much closer or farther away are the Bears from taking the NFC North? — @mmesq11

The Bears are in the same spot they were when Poles was hired in January 2022, in need of a quarterback who can consistently perform at a high level. It’s nearly impossible for any franchise to be a contender with any regularity until that position is solidified with a top-tier quarterback. It’s the most difficult position to play in professional sports and solving the riddle has been impossible for the Bears for the longest time. Until the Bears get this figured out, the rest is window dressing. Maybe that sounds harsh but that is the NFL these days and it has been for a long time.

Poles has turned over the roster and made it much younger. He’s gotten the team in a healthy salary cap position, one that should remain that way for the foreseeable future. But the Bears aren’t going to routinely be in the mix in the North or be able to challenge for bigger and better things when they have the third- or fourth-best quarterback in the division.

Have you ever seen a rookie QB or backup QB on the Bears get ripped so badly in his first four starts who went 2-2? — @mkbaumbach

I don’t think Tyson Bagent has been ripped. If folks are ripping the undrafted rookie free agent, you probably need to re-evaluate who you are leaning on for information or analysis. Who are we comparing him to? He had a brutal fourth quarter against New Orleans and other than that, he’s been pretty stable for a young quarterback being pressed into action. Does he look like a candidate to be the Week 1 starter in 2024? No. But he sure looks like he could have a long career in the NFL and I have no idea where the ceiling is for him right now.

The experience Bagent has gained since Justin Fields went out with a dislocated right thumb has been invaluable and if he doesn’t play another snap this season, he’s going to be able to build off the action he’s gotten in the offseason. He strikes me as very process-driven and eager to learn and improve at his craft. I think Bagent has exceeded the expectations of almost everyone. Maybe not himself — he holds himself to a very high standard — but the team made a great evaluation and moved to sign him after the draft. Credit the Bears for rolling with him as the backup despite paying P.J. Walker as a free agent too.

While I can appreciate adding a talented pass rusher to the roster, I question the timing given the state of the roster rebuild. Let’s not forget that when the Bears added Khalil Mack in 2018, he significantly improved the defense and yet they won zero playoff games in the time he was there because they hadn’t figured out the QB position. In this league, nothing matters until you get the QB right and it’s very difficult to win without good-to-great QB play. And if you’re not winning, you are overpaying for free agents and probably not getting their best efforts. Your thoughts? — Chris M., Hermosa Beach, Calif.

I agree with pretty much everything you said with one exception. When it comes to free agents, you are overpaying for them in the first wave of signings whether you are winning or not. Yes, the Bears lost both of their playoff appearances when Mack was on the roster and poor quarterback play was no doubt a huge issue for the organization. Poles made a calculated gamble when he traded for Sweat and I think he probably looked ahead to free agency, saw the talent pool of edge rushers was probably going to include Danielle Hunter and a bunch of guys who are either past their prime or third-tier defensive ends, and figured it was a move worth making. I don’t think there is a defensive end who looks like a top-five pick or so right now when you look ahead to the draft. The Bears were 32nd in the league in sacks when the move for Sweat was made and they’re not going to get appreciably better defensively until they can start impacting opposing quarterbacks. Sweat is going to have to be a stud for this move — the second-round draft pick the Bears gave up and the $98 million, four-year extension Sweat received — to pay off. Poles is betting he is just that guy and the pass rush has certainly been better in his first two games. Great? Hardly. But definitely better. I am confident the Bears will address the quarterback issue in the first round of the draft. Whether they get it right or not, we won’t know for some time. But I completely agree, it is very difficult to win consistently without top-tier QB play.

I’m curious what the addition of Montez Sweat and the extension of Andrew Billings means for the coaching staff in the future. Do you think these moves indicate that Matt Eberflus will be back next season? If they’re not, don’t these moves force the Bears to hire someone who’s going to run a 4-3 defense going forward? — Corey S.

I didn’t give any thought to the future of Eberflus and his staff when the contract extensions were made. Sweat has the skill set to fit in any defensive scheme. Billings certainly could play the nose tackle position in a 3-4 scheme and probably do really well if he added a little weight to do so. These are not scheme-dependent players and the moves by the front office don’t mean anything in regard to the coaching staff, not in my opinion anyway.

Can you share your perspective on the consistent issues with special teams? Why did the coordinator call out Velus Jones Jr. when he’s the one who continues to put him out there? I believe the Bears’ special teams is ranked very low. Time for another coach to go, no? — @rgbears69

The Bears made Jones inactive for last Thursday’s win over the Carolina Panthers after he had 15-yard penalties in consecutive games on special teams. The 2022 third-round draft pick has had a particularly difficult season and while he’s been solid on kickoff returns (27.2 average), he’s only had six attempts. Special teams coordinator Richard Hightower was honest in his assessment of Jones last week when asked about the face mask penalty at New Orleans that came way away from the play. This wasn’t an incidental face mask that occasionally happens at the point of attack. It was inexcusable and Hightower said as much.

“It’s an unacceptable penalty,” Hightower said. “And why? Because we pride ourselves on situational football. And in that situation, we could have had the ball at the 50-yard line against an outstanding punt returner. And that was a beautiful punt by (Trenton Gill) and beautiful coverage. And it’s unfortunate that we have to talk about that part of the play because that’s what happened.”

What do you think he should say?

Jones was called for fair catch interference the week before against the Los Angeles Chargers and the Bears felt like he might have been pushed. That’s an effort play anyway, and you live with mistakes that happen in those situations. A face mask penalty far from the play is a mental lapse.

The Bears have not been good on punt coverage. They gave up too many returns of 20 or more yards early in the season and then got hit for a touchdown by the Panthers. Opponents are averaging 14.7 yards per return. Punt returner Trent Taylor has been secure making the catch but hasn’t brought a lot of juice. He has 14 fair catches, nine returns, a long of 14 yards and an average of 8.8 yards. Kicker Cairo Santos has been very good and is 4-for-4 from 50 yards and longer. Hightower needs to see if his unit can clean up some issues that have plagued punt coverage because that is a recurring issue. We’ll see in the weeks to come if Jones gets a shot but I would not be surprised if they roll with Tyler Scott as the kickoff returner for a while.

It seems to me that Ryan Poles has, for the second year in a row, made a big deadline trade to desperately try to aid a team that is rebuilding. Losing is part of a rebuild. Both trades were partially supported by the idea that the Bears are getting a better player than would be available in the draft or free-agent pool. Drafting well, complemented with astute free-agent signings, is how this turns around. Badly overpaying for a wide receiver and defensive end is how you prolong the misery. Am I wrong? — Bill

The Chase Claypool trade didn’t work out. It’s way too premature to say how the Montez Sweat deal will be judged. I don’t disagree with your general premise here but Poles is using resources — draft picks and cap space/cash — to enhance the roster. Sweat wasn’t going to make it to the open market. If the Washington Commanders had traded him to the Atlanta Falcons he would have a shiny new deal and be getting Arthur Blank money already. So, it’s not like the Bears could keep the pick and then go sign Sweat in March. The Bears still project to have a load of cap space to operate in free agency but the real building needs to be done through the draft. They’re going to own two very high first-round draft picks. It’s not like they mortgaged one of those to prop up the pass rush. Roster building, whether you’re a bottom feeder or a perennial contender, comes in many different ways. Trading for a player and then signing him to a new contract happens to be one of them.

Most serious Bears fans understand they are not professionally trained talent evaluators but they still have their personal eye test when something seems completely obvious. In this case, it seems obvious that former undrafted college free agent Jack Sanborn is a better linebacker than prized highly-paid acquisition Tremaine Edmunds, at least in this defense. What are the Bears’ options here? — Dave N., Fishers, Ind.

Sanborn has played really well the last two weeks. He had nine tackles (seven solos) in the loss at New Orleans and followed that up with seven stops (three solos) in the win over the Carolina Panthers. He has maximized his opportunities this season as the strong-side linebacker and then filling in for Edmunds with a total of 50 tackles, three for loss, and an interception against the Kansas City Chiefs.

I recently spoke with a veteran scout who has watched the Bears this season and he was positive about Sanborn, calling him a “role starter,” meaning he’s the kind of player who can be plugged in and you are comfortable with him in the lineup.

“Plays his butt off,” the scout said. “Lot of pursuit tackles. Limited in coverage. Super instinctive. You just don’t want him in coverage.”

I think that is what is probably lost here. Sanborn has been busy around the line of scrimmage in the run defense but he doesn’t measure up to Edmunds in terms of athleticism and the ability to play in space. Edmunds isn’t a downhill hammer as a linebacker so maybe he’s not showing up in ways that Sanborn is. I guess I would qualify this as a good problem to have. The Bears know they can get quality play out of Sanborn if he’s needed for a bigger role than being the Sam linebacker. Ultimately, they would probably like to see more splash plays from Edmunds given that he’s earning $18 million per season as the team’s biggest signing in free agency. I think there is a good chance Edmunds returns this week from a knee injury that sidelined him the last two weeks. We’ll see if he can start being in on more momentum-shifting plays.


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