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Why Bears Keep Backing Leonard Floyd's Play

Leonard Floyd's sack total took a dip in 2019 after they picked up the fifth-year option for 2020 on his contract, yet Bears GM Ryan Pace seems unconcerned

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – As players packed up Monday at Halas Hall to leave, a flood of reporters in the Chicago Bears' locker room spotted outside linebacker Leonard Floyd by his locker and immediately poured after him.

Floyd saw them coming, pointed at a clock and mumbled, "uh, meeting," even though the season was over. Then he departed, stage left.

Beyond Mitchell Trubisky, Floyd might be the Bears player most often criticized in the second half of the 2019 season. The $13 million contract option for 2020 picked up by the Bears before last year made him an obvious target for crticism when he produced only one sack in the final 15 games, and a career-low three sacks on the season.

In fact, the entire Bears pass rush took a nosedive this season and Floyd was only part of it. The Bears had 32 sacks, 18 less than last season, and Khalil Mack had 8 1/2, four less than he made last year.

There is no open thought on the part of Bears management or coaches to ditch Floyd. 

In fact, it seems more likely they'd try to get Floyd to take a long-term extension than to get rid of him.

"We're happy with Leonard," general manager Ryan Pace said. "I know the stats don't always say that. Leonard does a lot of things that go a little undervalued. The versatility he provides, things he can do in coverage. Not a lot of outside linebackers that can provide the versatility he provides.

"Would we like more production with him? Yeah. Would he like that? Yeah. There's a lot of things he does that we like."

At least Pace is consistent when talking about his 2016 first-round draft pick. Just before the 2019 season, he backed Floyd's production and said he anticipated a big year going forward.

Reminded of this, Pace pointed to areas other than sacks where Floyd did produce.

"It's hard. For him, he plays with such a high motor, he plays physical," Pace said. "He played the run really well this year. Again, there's a lot of things in coverage that he does that a lot of outside linebackers in the NFL can't do."

Pace also pointed to other areas besides sacks to indicate Floyd actually has rushed well.

"There's a lot of times this year he's so close," Pace said. "If you look at his pressures, hits in the series, they're up there. The sack production, not so much."

Playing from behind too often was one way Pace explained the lower sack totals by Floyd and Mack both.

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"In a lot of ways, too, you look at the sack production of our entire defense," Pace said. "How many times this year were we playing with big leads before they could really pin their ears back?

"I think there's a little bit of a complementary football aspect to our sacks, our turnovers, that's connected all together with our team."

Floyd did match a career high for quarterback hits with 12. However, he had only one of those in the final five weeks.

More than once this season, defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano voiced an opinion on Floyd similar to Pace's.

"He comes in here every single day and prepares and practices hard and plays hard every single down," Pagano said. "The splash plays that we all love to see, we didn’t see as many of them and he'd be the first one to tell you that. But down-in and down-out he does a great job.

"He's always sacrificing for the team. It's never about him. It’s never about numbers. It's always what's best for the team."

Defending the run, watching the back side or maintaining rush lane integrity were all stronger aspects of Floyd's game, and the Bears seem convinced he'll continue to improve as a pass rusher.

"I think him just growing as a pass rusher, I think (linebackers coach) Ted Monachino does a great job," Pace said. "That's something they're going to emphasize."

As for Floyd's contract and picking up the option, Pace was obviously not going to address this a day after the season. The league calendar doesn't officially flip until March 18, when free agency begins.

"As for his contract, we're never going to get into those things," Pace said. "We like Leonard, glad he's here. Like a lot of players, does he want to play better? Yeah. Can he play better? Yeah. We'll see going forward."