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Matt Nagy
Chicago Bears

Matt Nagy Must Focus On Bears’ Future, Even If He Isn’t Part Of It

  • Bryan Perez
  • December 31, 2021
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If the Chicago Bears really want to make the 2022 season count, they need to use the final two games of 2021 as opportunities for young players at critical positions to gain valuable experience as starters. One position group this applies to is offensive tackle, where rookies Teven Jenkins (second round) and Larry Borom (fifth round) appear set to open 2022 as the starting left and right tackles, respectively. Unfortunately, coach Matt Nagy seemed to have other plans in Week 16. Maybe it’s because he’s in the final hours as an employee of the Bears. Or, maybe he just doesn’t get it. Nagy elevated veteran Germain Ifedi to the starting right tackle position against the Seattle Seahawks in a move that bumped Borom back to being a top reserve. Borom entered the game after Jenkins injured his shoulder, but coming off the bench and filling a position he isn’t projected to play next season is a very different kind of experience than the variety that matters most for this team. Entering Week 17, both Jenkins and Borom are healthy, and, keeping with that whole 2022 season narrative, they should be starting, right? Well, not so fast. “These guys, all individually, they put in their own time and effort in trying to get back and trying to play for the team and their teammates, so there’s more dynamics than just ‘play this guy or play that guy,’ and that’s what we deal with as coaches is making sure we deal with that,” Nagy said this week of his decision to insert Ifedi back into the starting lineup. “So looking back to last week, we had the ability with having Ifedi up and ready, what a great opportunity for him to come back in and show what he can do, and so every week is a little bit different and they all have their reasons for it at different positions, so that’s kind of why we did that last week.” File that explanation away as Exhibit—who knows what exhibit we’re on at this point—in the case against Nagy returning as head coach next season. It’s a mind-numbing take, really. The most important thing the Bears can do in a non-playoff season is to develop young core players in an effort to avoid, you know, another non-playoff season in 2022. Starting anyone other than Jenkins and Borom would be football malpractice. Now, if you read my post about Justin Fields a few days ago—the one in which I suggested shutting him down for the rest of the season was a good idea—you may be thinking that this theory runs in opposition to that strategy. But, it doesn’t. Fields is too valuable to risk further injury; he isn’t playing right now because he has a banged-up ankle, not because of a coach’s decision. He’s been a limited participant in practice this week again, which means he won’t be 100% prepared—physically or mentally—to take on the New York Giants this Sunday. Don’t take a chance with the future of the franchise. That simply isn’t the case with Borom or even Jenkins. While it would certainly be a bummer if either one suffers a serious injury, there’s an entire offseason of free agency and the draft for the Bears to make the necessary moves to recover. Chicago’s been searching for a quarterback like Fields for 100 years; there’s no recovering from losing him. At all. What makes the decision to bench Borom even more ludicrous is the fact that Ifedi isn't an upgrade over him. In many ways, he’s a downgrade. In Chicago’s Week 16 victory over the Seahawks, Ifedi was the Bears’ third-lowest graded player on offense, according to Pro Football Focus. And while Borom didn’t fare much better (he was fourth), he was playing out of position and is a rookie. He should go through rookie struggles, whereas Ifedi is in the phase of his career where he’d best be described as a veteran journeyman.  Ifedi has had his fair share of playing time in 2021. He’s logged 412 snaps compared to Borom’s 485. He has plenty of film to use while marketing his services to future employers in the coming months. Remember: he’s slated to become an unrestricted free agent, which, again, makes playing him over Borom—who’s in the first year of his rookie deal—a downright horrendous decision. Veteran left tackle Jason Peters, who held the starting job while Jenkins recovered from back surgery and only lost his gig because he suffered an ankle injury two weeks ago, returned to practice this week, too, making it entirely possible that Nagy doesn’t start either rookie over the next two games. Brutal.  It’s decisions like this, choosing to start players who won’t be on the Bears in 2022 over rookies with bright futures, that advances the anti-Nagy argument. It’s why fans who haven’t checked out of the season yet certainly will by Sunday. And it’s why it will take even longer for Chicago to be relevant again in the NFC North.

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Bryan Perez