Gabriel: Assessing Bears' Looming Roster Decisions

August 31, 2018 - 9:15 am
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(670 The Score) NFL rosters must be cut to 53 players by Saturday afternoon. While many people like to call this the final cutdown weekend, it really isn’t.

Rosters are always fluid, and changes are made after the first game. One of the big reasons for that is because a vested veteran -- someone with four years of NFL experience -- has his salary guaranteed for the season if he's on the roster for the opener. However, that's not the case if he's cut and re-signed after the first game. So for some, the difference between having a guaranteed salary and a game-to-game salary often lies in making the initial 53-man roster or being brought back in 10 or so days.

As it pertains to the Bears, there remains some intrigue with their looming roster decisions. Let's take a look at some key areas and questions:

Quarterback

Will the Bears keep two or three quarterbacks? Many teams like to keep two on the 53-man roster and have their third on the practice squad. But Bears coach Matt Nagy previously worked under coach Andy Reid in Philadelphia and Kansas City, and Reid always kept three quarterbacks on the 53.

Third-stringer Tyler Bray hasn't always looked sharp in practice, but in games, he has shown he has NFL backup talent. He again proved that in the Bears' 28-27 loss to the Bills on Thursday night. The question with Bray is whether he's actually practice squad-eligible.

I don’t have the answer, because this is his fifth year in the league and he has been on the practice squad in the past. Clubs are allowed two exceptions for the practice squad, and I'm not sure if Bray fits that criteria. My gut feeling is he will be on the 53.

Running back/fullback/tight end

This is a key area in assessing the Bears' 53-man roster. In many cases, teams that use fullbacks in the offense like to keep three running backs, one fullback and three or four tight ends. In the Bears' case, those numbers could change.

In Kansas City, the fullback played more than 140 snaps from scrimmage last year and was an important part of the offense. The only fullback the Bears have is Michael Burton, who hasn't been a standout of any sort in camp. The question is can the Bears us another running back and/or a tight end in his place on the roster?

Rookie free-agent Ryan Nall has had an outstanding preseason and deserves to make the squad based on his talent. Right now, he's at best the fourth Bears running back. He played some fullback Thursday night, and the question the coaches have to answer is if his fullback and special teams snaps will be enough to keep him on the 53.

Move tight end and fullback are often interchangeable positions, as those players are often asked to execute similar tasks. The Bears will assess whether tight ends like Ben Braunecker and Daniel Brown can play the fullback role in a scenario in which Burton gets cut. That answer will determine the position number at three different spots.

Outside linebacker

Injuries cloud the picture at outside linebacker. Starter Leonard Floyd has a broken hand and while he will be allowed to play, how effective will he be in his first few games with a cast on his hand? Free-agent addition Aaron Lynch was signed to bolster the edge pass rush, but because of a hamstring issue, he has barely practiced in camp.

Sam Acho is a good reserve, but questions remain on whether he's a starting-caliber player. Rookie Kylie Fitts has flashed but also been inconsistent. He belongs on the practice squad, but because of the injuries, he may have to play.

Isaiah Irving has shown as good of a pass-rushing ability as any player they have at the position, so he will be on the 53. Kasim Edebali has shown enough to make the roster, but he got hurt during the second half Thursday. Until we know the extent of his right leg injury, we have no way of knowing if he will be on the squad or placed on injured reserve.

Defensive line

Under former coach John Fox, the Bears often kept five defensive linemen. I always have felt that a team needs at least six.

The first four to make the team are easy: Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Jonathan Bullard and Roy-Robertson Harris. Rookie Bilal Nichols is raw but has tremendous upside, so he will be here too. The sixth spot will be between John Jenkins and veteran Nick Williams. Rookies Abdullah Anderson and Cavon Walker could both be on the practice squad.

One of the surprises of camp has been Jenkins, who slimmed down for his previous 350-plus pounds to under 330 and looks much quicker. He has played both the nose and the five-technique well. Williams is been a journeyman and also can play the five-technique or on the nose. Williams has a bit more athleticism than Jenkins, so who the coaches choose will be interesting.

The Bears could choose to play with five defensive linemen against the Packers in the opener because they will be in their sub package most of the game, then bring back either Jenkins or Williams for Week 2. Both are vested veterans, so they would fall into that non-guaranteed salary status if they're let go this weekend.

Greg Gabriel is a former NFL talent evaluator who's an on-air contributor for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @greggabe.​