Will the Bears — and their new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand — pull the trigger on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish’s consensus All-American? We asked E.J. Snyder, lead draft analyst for the Windy City Gridiron, to weigh in.
OFD: What do you think led to the Bears declining the $8 million option on Josh Sitton? Do you believe Tom Pelissero’s contention that the Bears are looking to “go younger” in that position?
Snyder: Sitton got pinched at the intersection of injured and expensive. His skills are still top notch and he made an impact when he was healthy. The ability he lost was arguably the most important one; availability. Terrific skills become a lot less valuable when they are only the field half the time. I think it could be said the Bears are looking to “go younger” at several positions, and guard is certainly one of them. I wouldn’t be all that surprised to see Sitton hit a groove and play a few more seasons at a high level, but the Bears weren’t willing to take that gamble at his current price tag.
OFD: What do you believe is more likely: that the Bears will look to negotiate with Sitton for a lower amount, pursue a guard through free agency or use their No. 8 pick to draft an interior lineman?
Snyder: I think it is doubtful the Bears pursue Sitton. It’s possible he could return at a lower pay grade but it would have to be the perfect storm for that to happen. I think it is much more likely Sitton signs with another team for a mid-priced contract. A free agent acquisition at guard is certainly on the table and there are a few on the market that would fit the bill. If the Bears don’t believe Eric Kush is ready to go physically, this option becomes much more likely. Drafting a guard in 2018 is very likely but using the number 8 pick on one would only happen if Quenton Nelson were available. Other than that I could see the Bears trading down with a QB-hungry team and choosing another guard (like Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn) much later in the first round or early in the second.
OFD: If Quenton Nelson is available at pick No. 8, do you see the Bears taking him or is there a more pressing need?
Snyder: I’d say there are more pressing needs (EDGE, WR, CB) but Nelson could be the pick if he’s there simply because he is an outstanding and rare football player. He checks all the boxes of what teams want out of top-half first-round choice, with the exception of the position he plays. He may be one of the three best players in this draft regardless of position. That being the case, it makes him one of the safer choices out there, regardless of positional value.
OFD: The Bears surprised many of us by trading up to land Mitch Trubisky last year. This year, Nelson is allegedly coveted by Denver (who picks fifth) and Tampa Bay (who picks seventh). We’ve even seen a couple mock drafters pair him with the Jets, who pick sixth. Do you see the Bears trading up if their top choice in Nelson?
Snyder: I think trading up for a guard, regardless of his prowess, is a LOT harder to stomach than doing so for a signal caller/future face of the franchise. The Bears are missing a pick this year already so if they dropped even more draft capital for a non-premium position the outrage would be extreme and somewhat warranted. The amount of risk that Ryan Pace would assume with such a move would be incredible. If Nelson turned out to be any less of player than say Larry Allen, for ANY reason (injury, etc.), Pace would get crucified.
OFD: As Notre Dame fans, we tend to assume that Harry Hiestand is actively lobbying for Nelson as part of his line. Do you think Hiestand’s input at all influences what the Bears ultimately do in this draft?
Snyder: The Hiestand connection is an obvious one and lots of people are quick to cite it as justification for all kinds of rumors. The good news nobody knows more about the ND offensive lineman than Heistand. He knows exactly what they are and what they aren’t. I’m sure Ryan Pace and the scouting staff are downloading everything they can out of Heistand about both his own players and players his team faced. They’d be foolish not to. However, when it comes time to take the larger picture into account Pace won’t be swayed by one position coach’s opinion. He’ll do what’s best for the Bears whether it looked popular in mock draft season or not. A perfect example of this is a trade back scenario. If Pace can reclaim an extra pick and still walk away with a player he really likes later in the first round, he’ll pull that deal in a second...despite it meaning he’ll have no shot at Nelson.
OFD: We’d be remiss if we didn’t ask you about other possible pairings. Besides Nelson, draft-eligible Irish players are OT Mike McGlinchey, WR Equanimeous St. Brown, RB Josh Adams, TE Durham Smythe and LB Nyles Morgan. Do the Bears have any needs at these specific positions? If so, do you see them being interested in any of these players specifically?
The Fighting Irish - Chicago Bears connection is a strong one and I wouldn’t bet against another ND player ending up in navy and orange next season.
The most likely candidates would be McGlinchey and ESB. As I mentioned before the Bears have a glaring need at wideout and ESB brings an interesting mix of size and skills to the role. Although he doesn’t really fit the mold of receivers that either Matt Nagy or Mark Helfrich have gravitated towards in the past, ESB will likely be available in the mid-to-late rounds. At some point his value might be too much to pass up.
McGlinchey’s role in Chicago would be as a challenger to the often-maligned Bobby Massie. I tend to think Massie is a solid, average right tackle in the NFL who suffers from an unfortunate trend of the starting off the season slowly. He usually has a rough first few games and then levels out to a respectable level of play for the remainder of the season. By that time, fans are calling for his head. The perception is that he’s bad all the time, which simply isn’t true. I think McGlinchey may get picked higher than the Chicago is comfortable with for a possible swing/replacement tackle, but if he happened to slide I am sure Pace/Nagy/Heistand would be tempted to snag him as a value.
E.J. Snyder can be found on Twitter and on Windy City Gridiron. Windy City Gridiron is a comprehensive source of Chicago Bears news and analysis, including exhaustive coverage (and podcasts!) leading up to the 2018 NFL Draft.