The Chicago Bears were among the most active teams in the early stages of the NFL’s legal tampering period, agreeing to multi-year deals with wide receiver Allen Robinson and tight end Trey Burton in advance of Wednesday’s new league year.
The overall theme of the opening of Chicago’s free-agency period -- surround second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with better talent. For the Bears to adequately compete in the NFC North against the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Kirk Cousins, who is expected to sign with the Minnesota Vikings, Trubisky has to become a star.
Trubisky, the second overall pick of the 2017 NFL draft, passed for just 2,193 yards, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions (77.5 quarterback rating) in 12 starts as a rookie.
“Both of these moves have a direct correlation to Mitchell Trubisky,” ESPN NFL Insider Matt Bowen said. “The Bears have gone out and added more weapons, more matchup players and more targets in the passing game that can make plays in critical situations. What the Bears are looking for are guys who can make plays for the quarterback.
“That’s the biggest thing for a young quarterback, especially for one that was in such an archaic offense last year and wasn’t able to do much. Based on these moves, plus hiring an offensive-minded head coach, the Bears are going to put Trubisky in position to make a big jump in Year 2. You traded up and gave away draft picks to get him -- you should put Trubisky in a position where you can maximize his ability.”
Bowen spent the past few months studying film on both Robinson and Burton and offered these thoughts:
Bowen’s take on Robinson: “I think Robinson is a real smart signing. That’s the way I look at it. Obviously the Bears understand what the Bears have at wide receiver right now on the roster. They don’t have a proven target [Cameron Meredith’s injury last year leaves him as kind of a question mark]. I think Robinson comes in and is the No. 1 target in that offense.
“First of all, I think he’ll be a fit in that offense and will fit what Matt Nagy wants to do. It’s a West Coast route tree. In a West Coast route tree, you need good route runners. You need guys that can get open with their footwork, guys that know how to attack defensive backs, eat up their cushion and create that separation at the top of the break. That’s what Allen Robinson does. He’s got a bigger frame (6-foot-3) but for a long receiver who takes long strides, he understands how to control his footwork. He can sink his hips and chop down at the break point and then can separate and get separation yardage needed to get that wide receiver a window or a clear target. You have to go back to Robinson’s 2015 and 2016 film -- because Robinson, obviously, tore his ACL in Week 1 last year -- and in 2016 working with Blake Bortles in that Jacksonville offense he made so many plays on film. What always pops for me is the route running. I’m looking for guys that can go up and make those splash plays. He can make those plays. Actually, his 2015 tape is loaded with splash plays down the field. He would catch the ball outside of his frame, show off that catch radius and make plays on those 50-50 throws. Those are all on his 2015 tape. But in 2016, he would run isolation routes and win one-on-one battles. That is so important for a receiver to be able to do. Nagy is going to work hard to open up throwing windows for Trubisky, but when a game is on the line, you need someone that can win a matchup. You have to say, ‘Look, you got to beat that defensive back and pick up this first down.’ Robinson can do that for you. He’s a technician at the position. And that is what you want.
“I don’t have a ton of concern about the knee injury because it happened in the first week last season. It would be different if he tore his knee in December and was months behind in the rehab process. But he should be ready to go in the offseason program at some point. Now, there’s always some concern with an ACL because you need to be sure that explosive power is still there. Can Robinson generate the same speed out of his cuts that we saw on his film in 2015 and 2016? There’s always that concern. That has to be accounted for. But if you’re the Bears and Robinson’s knee looks clean on the scan, then you have to trust his rehab process and understand that he’s only 24 years old. This is an extremely young player with multiple productive seasons already on his résumé.”
Bowen’s take on Burton: “In Nagy’s offense, Burton is going to be that “move” tight end. A “move” tight end in the modern game means that you are a slot receiver, an outside receiver, an H-back, and a guy that can go in motion before the snap and get the matchup you want. Burton is very athletic and very strong at the point of attack. I think he runs pretty decent routes. If you go back and watch his film -- obviously the Bears looked at that tape and Nagy went back and watched that tape -- you can see how Philadelphia utilized him. There were times when they put him in the slot and there were times they put him outside at the X, Y or Z wide receiver spot to get the matchups they wanted.
“When Zach Ertz went down last year and missed some time, Burton played like a No. 1 tight end. Burton is a guy you can play in multiple personnel groupings. In three wide receiver sets, maybe Burton is your tight end. In double-tight end sets when Adam Shaheen is on the field, maybe Shaheen is the guy who plays that traditional on the line tight end spot and Burton is your move tight end. You can create those matchups with Burton and Shaheen can be your over the middle tight end. There are a lot of options now on that offense.”