High Bears Grade Fails to Cover for Shaky Analytics

Analysis: Analytics from ESPN gave the Bears a B+ for their offseason of putting together this year's team but some of those calculations seem a bit shaky at best.
The Bears cut Cody Whitehair and one ESPN analyst called this one reason why he gave them a B+ and not something better.
The Bears cut Cody Whitehair and one ESPN analyst called this one reason why he gave them a B+ and not something better. / Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports
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Math is supposed to be the universal language.

Football analytics attempts to explain a violent, explosive game through numbers, but it seems they might need an interpreter over at ESPN.

Seth Walder of ESPN analytics put out his grades on every team's offseason and the Bears came in with a B+ grade, which shouldn't cause any complaints in Chicago. They did get graded by Walder worse than the Eagles (A), Chiefs (A-), Chargers (A-), Dolphins (A-) and Patriots (A-), while tying the Browns, Colts and Jets.

At least they were ahead of their NFC North rivals, the Packers (B-), Lions (C) and Vikings (C-).

Part of Walder's reason for not giving the Bears an A grade stemmed from their signing of running back D'Andre Swift.

Walder said the deal was $14 million guaranteed, which it isn't. It's actually more, considering $1.5 million more is added as a roster bonus. But that's all misleading as the $14 million is actually over a three-year deal and he's only counting $5.8 million this year against the salary cap.

This was a good deal for the Bears, especially for a back who has been a starter for two teams and has been effective with a 4.6-yard career average per carry.


Then Walder got into the real reason he doesn't like the signing of Swift, and that's how he had a minus-65 rushing yards over expectation per NFL Next Gen Stats.

They should get lower expectations, then.

Swift wasn't the best running back in free agency but the deal he got was commensurate with his production over four NFL seasons and a contrived metric like rushing  yards over expectation counts for nothing when the Eagles decided they were going with shared rushing duties rather than leaning on Swift.

Another complaint lodged was how the Bears cut guard Cody Whitehair. Walder didn't like the fact they got rid of a player he said was sixth in pass block win rate last season, by ESPN analytics.

So which analytics is right, ESPN or Pro Football Focus?

PFF had Whitehair graded 52nd out of all guards at pass blocking. A guard who is sixth in pass block win rate does not finish 52nd in pass blocking at the position. Someone has it all wrong here.

The final call on this one has to go to reality and not contrived numbers on a sheet. Whitehair's play was poor enough last year that the Bears actually benched him.

Someone needs a new calculator.

"The Bears cut guard Cody Whitehair—who signed with the Raiders on an inexpensive deal—despite him finishing sixth in pass block win rate last season," Walder wrote.

What does an inexpensive deal tell you?

The numbers guy should be able to understand this: Whitehair was going to count about $14 million against the Bears cap this year. And he had been benched. That's why he was cut.

The Bears ultimately did get the B+ from ESPN and the Keenan Allen move was applauded "...even as a one-year rental," Walder wrote.




Maybe with a little more research on Whitehair, this one goes for an A grade.

And someone needs to worry about how much money Swift got a little less.

Running backs have been underpaid way too much in recent years and this wasn't even one of the best contracts paid to a back. Give a guy a break.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven

Gene Chamberlain


BearDigest.com publisher Gene Chamberlain has covered the Chicago Bears full time as a beat writer since 1994 and prior to this on a part-time basis for 10 years. He covered the Bears as a beat writer for Suburban Chicago Newspapers, the Daily Southtown, Copley News Service and has been a contributor for the Daily Herald, the Associated Press, Bear Report, CBS Sports.com and The Sporting News. He also has worked a prep sports writer for Tribune Newspapers and Sun-Times newspapers.