Leonard Floyd knee injury a short detour to Bears’ long-term plans

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Of all the things to be frustrated about or disappointed in following the Bears’ 27-24 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday, none is more important than the health of outside linebacker Leonard Floyd.

Floyd took an unsightly blow to the knee from teammate Kyle Fuller on a run play early in the fourth quarter and was carted off the field. Head coach John Fox told reporters that the injury was “fairly serious.”

For those Bears fans who were too enthralled with the development of the game to consider the seriousness of Floyd’s injury and the implications that come with it, now is a good time to snap back to reality and feel the gravity of the situation.

As Marty McFly would say in Back to the Future … this is heavy, Doc.

Most of the attention this season — specifically over the past six games — has been focused on quarterback Mitch Trubisky. And rightfully so for a player selected second overall who would fill a critical position for a franchise that hasn’t had stability there for decades. Clearly, Trubisky is the Bears’ most important piece moving forward.

But if Trubisky is 1A, Floyd is 1B.

After a promising rookie season, Floyd came into the 2017 season flashing explosion off the edge that hasn’t been seen around these parts for quite some time. He looked like he was poised to take the next step into stardom this season and caused serious pressure off the edge, even if his sack total was not what you’d consider ideal.

Let it be known and never forgotten that to win important games in the NFL, a team has to be able to rush the passer. It is as valuable a skill on the defensive side of the ball as good quarterback play is to an offense.

For this reason, if Floyd’s knee injury keeps him out of action for any significant length of time — which looks like a virtual certainty at this point — it stalls his development. And if his development is stalled, the team’s future plans will take a minor hit as well.

Let’s be clear that the Bears never seriously had a shot at making the playoffs coming out of the bye week. Sure, they were 3-5, and had they won both games against divisional foes Green Bay and Detroit, they’d be 5-5 right now.

A 5-5 record would have tied them with the Lions for 7th place in the NFC — a game out of the playoff picture. Yes, that would have been pretty remarkable and mathematically they would have been right there in the thick of things.

But realistically, what would be the point?

Trust me, I both realize and value the importance of a “winning culture” to an NFL locker room. That is why I was a big advocate of the Bears hiring John Fox three years ago to change the culture that former general manager Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman had left behind.

For an even more apt analogy of what “culture” means to a franchise, look at what’s happening in Cleveland. The Browns are still trying to tunnel their way out of the Grand Canyon of holes they’ve dug for themselves over nearly the past two decades.

But as important as a winning culture is, player development trumps it every time. Because a winning culture inevitably will blossom from players developing, once a franchise reaches a certain talent level.

However, the flip side cannot necessarily be said to be true. There is no guarantee that if you win “x” number of games your players are getting any better.

For example…

The Bears’ three victories this season have come against the 8-2 Pittsburgh Steelers, the 7-3 Carolina Panthers, and the 5-5 Baltimore Ravens.

Not too shabby, right?

But when you consider the fact that Mike Glennon was the starting quarterback against the Steelers, and in the other two games, Trubisky had an average stat line of 6 completions on 11.5 attempts for 110 yards per game, you have to ask yourself this:

Did Trubisky get as much development time as he could or should have?

In other words, did those three victories measurably improve Trubisky’s development? Were the victories worth the cost of any potential loss in development time?

My inclination is to say no.

Don’t mistake me, I do think that Trubisky has learned and developed in every game he has played this season. I think he is a better quarterback today than he was on that cold Monday night against the Vikings in his Week 5 debut.

So, winning is not and was not the objective for the Bears this season. Developing their young players for future success is, which is why the injury to Floyd is such a damper on enthusiasm and the future outlook of the team.

On the bright side, the Bears did integrate rookie Tarik Cohen into the game plan more this week after largely neglecting him since he broke onto the national scene at the beginning of the season. And the Bears were forced to utilize fellow rookie tight end Adah Shaheen more against the Lions than they did in previous weeks due to injuries at the position.

Between the three rookies — Trubisky, Cohen and Shaheen — along with the young veteran Jordan Howard (15 carries for 125 yards and a touchdown) and new receiver acquisition Dontrelle Inman, there was enough positive to leave you encouraged about a potential future on offense.

Clearly, they have to solidify the offensive line and severely upgrade the receiver position. And one strong performance from Shaheen doesn’t mean the tight end position is set. But player development is what the 2017 season is about and the outlook of the youngsters on offense looks better Monday morning than it did 24 hours prior.

The hope now is that Floyd can pick up where he left off in his own development whenever he does return from his knee injury.

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