Why the Bears will miss Kyle Long on and off the field – NBCSports.com

Posted: January 7, 2020 at 6:48 pm

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Kyle Long's retirement is a stark reminder of how much he's meant to the Bears

Maybe the craziest Kyle Long fact of all is that his football career started because he was tired of stocking the shoe room.

That was 10 years ago, and Long was 21. Then, playing at Saddleback College in California, not only did he switch from defensive end to guard(which Im sure never comes up in the Long household), but he picked it up so effortlessly that Pac-12 powerhouse Oregon offered him a scholarship after one season of JuCo ball. Playing on the offensive line against D-1 talent for the first time, Long started six of 12 games for the Ducks before being taken 20th overall in the 2013 NFL Draft.

But anyways, hows your early-20s hobby going?

We think the world of [Long], Ryan Pace said at the Bears end-of-season press conference. Its unfortunate hes had a handful of injuries. Hes tried to battle through all of them.

Those injuries are why, 10 years later, Long is hanging it up. Turns out, theres not a whole lot of individual accomplishments left after earning three different Pro Bowl selections and a spot on the team-sanctioned Top 100 Bears of All-Time list.

Unfortunately -- not to mention unfairly its his time spent off the field thatdominatesthe conversation these days. Long played 16 games only twice (2013 and 2015 seasons)and hadnt played in more than 10 since 2015. His labrum, triceps, foot, ankleand shoulder all failed him at one point or another along the way, and the collective toll outweighed another grueling offseason of rehab.

"Some Chicagoans are probably happy to hear I'm finally stepping away and getting my body right," Long tweeted. "Some Chicagoans may be sad to hear this. Either way u feel about it, I want u to know how lucky I am to have spent time in your city. I became a man while playing in Chicago. Thank you."

The end of Longs career was objectively hard to watch; you dont often see someone getting placed on IR after playing a full game just days before. But like Long tweeted, the writing was on the wall. At his peak, though, Long was not only one of the best players on the Bears, but one of the premier offensive linemen in football. According to Pro Football Focus, he graded as an elite or above-average NFL starter in every year from his rookie season in 2013 through 2017.

Hes also entertaining as hell, bringing his energy to both Halas Hall and The Web. The Bears locker room isnt short on vocal leaders anymore, but it was Long who stood up and talked for teammates while the team limped to various third- and fourth-place finishes in the NFC North. This past summer, in the span of a month, Long got kicked out of practice for fighting AND went full-frontal (accidentally, which cannot be stressed enough) on Tarik Cohens Instagram without so much as one preachy column about Athletes These Days.

Hes also more Logged On than his brother, retired NFL star Chris Long, which is arguably more of an accomplishment than the Pro Bowl at this point. The way Kyle used Twitter to hint at his retirement was a master class in content creation. Hes got a future in media should he want it.

As for Long's on-field abilityat his peak, fellow O-lineman Charles Leno Jr.summed it upbest.

"I told him I've seen how dominant he was, Leno said after the Bears put Long on IR. Literally seen him pick 350-pound guys up off the ground. That's really hard to do if you guys don't know. He would do that consistently. It just really sucks because I remember what he used to do and I just wanted to always get him back there.

The 2020 NFL draft will be here before you know it. The Senior Bowl gets underway with practices beginning on January 20, and the NFL Scouting Combine will follow soon after from February 23 to March 2. Add in a slew of college pro days, and it's draft weekend.

Free agency will play a big part in which positions the Bears target with their two second-round picks, but the way the 2020 draft class is looking right now after the slew of underclassmen declarations, there are two positions that may make the most sense for GM Ryan Pace: quarterback and tight end.

This year's quarterback class will feature several first-rounders, including LSU's Joe Burrow, Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon's Justin Herbert. Other prospects like Utah State's Jordan Love and Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts have also received some first-round praise. But that doesn't mean Chicago won't have a chance to land a promising player with starter's upside at picks 43 or 50.

Washington's Jacob Eason, for example, is a prime candidate to come off the board in the early portion of Day 2, and with Mitch Trubisky's status as the team's starter in 2020 on shaky ground, it's an absolute necessity that Pace add a prospect to the roster from this year's class.

Whether he pulls the trigger on a quarterback in the second round is anyone's guess, but if he does, Eason would be hard to pass up. Here's how The Draft Network broke down his game:

Eason has a cannon for an arm and projects best into an aggressive vertical passing offense to take advantage of his arm talent to the deeper levels of the field.

He'd bring that touchdown-to-checkdown mentality that Matt Nagy has preached to Trubisky, who has yet to look like anything resembling a consistent NFL starter.

Quarterback won't be the only focus for Pace early in the 2020 draft. He has to fix the tight end position too, and the recent decision by Notre Dame's Cole Kmet to declare for the draft was great news for the Bears.

Kmet will jockey for the right to be this year's top tight end prospect throughout draft season. But even if he earns that title, he probably won't be a first-round pick. The top tight ends in the 2020 class are clustered together as early second-rounders, which, again, is fantastic for the Bears.Chicago can upgrade from Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen with one pick, and Kmet could be that guy.

Kmet's skill set as a receiver, whileoffering the baseline minimum as a run blocker, make him an every-down player who could eventually do for the Bears what many of the league's more reliable tight ends do for their offenses. He'd be a massive upgrade over anyone Chicago fielded in 2019, and that includes Burton.

If the Bears were able to come away from the second round of the 2020 NFL draft with Eason and Kmet, the offense would at least have a candidate to start immediately next season and a much-needed prospect at the game's most important position.

And that would be an absolute win.

The 2020 NFL offseason is already underway for the Bears, but the real fun won't get started until March when free agency officially kicks off.

Here are some key dates to circle on your calendar if you plan on tracking what general manager Ryan Pace does over the next few months:

Pace will have some difficult decisions to make between March 16 and 18, and some of those decisions will involve the futureof current Bears players.

Here's the list of current Bears who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents, per Spotrac:

The good news for the Bears is there are only a few names on this list who warrant serious consideration to be re-signed. Kwiatkoski, Trevathan, Williams and Clinton-Dix immediately come to mind, but McManis and even Daniel deserve some attention. It isn't easy to find a special teams player as productive and selfless as McManis nor is it a simple task to land a backup quarterback who can serve as a coach and mentor without a starter's agenda.

The most likely scenario to unfold this offseason is this: Pace will identify two of the Bears' unrestricted free agents as priorities (my guess would be Kwiatkoski and Clinton-Dix) and will do everything in his power to re-sign them before March 16. He'll allow the market to dictate the terms for Trevathan and Williams; if their contract offers from other teams are reasonable and Chicago can offer the same terms? Maybe the hometown club gets the nod.

Pace acted swiftly to extend safety Eddie Jackson last week, and there's no reason to believe he won't (or shouldn't) do the same with wide receiver Allen Robinson. Then it'll be time to turn his attention to the team's players who are ready to cash-in on the open market before getting raided by clubswith more money and bigger needs.

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January 7th, 2020 at 6:48 pm

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