By: Robert Zeglinski
Rushing the passer well is a touchy subject amongst NFL circles. Common convention maintains that pressures are more valuable than sacks because pressures are easier to create. They’re m ore plentiful. Even when a defender or two doesn’t manage to bring down the quarterback, a pressure influences the trajectory of a pass. It still has an effect on turnovers, incompletions, any general possible negative outcome when a team decides to drop back. The statistical ledger for one man can feature little to no sacks of a quarterback and nevertheless ruin the offense’s day if it stacks pressure after pressure. Discipline in a mission to bother the quarterback even if he isn’t brought to the ground. Sacks are, therefore, only as important or backbreaking for the opposition as you can create them. A bounty of sacks means nothing if the passer was otherwise relaxed, composed, upright. There’s nothing more inflated on an artificial level than a player with an abundance of sacks under their belt, but zero to no effect on on-field proceedings otherwise. The epitome of a paper tiger possessing gaudy numbers to back up a hollow, unearned reputation.
But what happens when a player can’t manage to create sacks or pressures? Unmitigated, frustrating confusion. In more ways than one, a personnel ripple effect is inevitable.
The Bears once believed Leonard Floyd would be a star. The 2016 first-round pick out of Georgia had a worthy profile as a lanky lightning rod of versatility. He could cover running backs out of the backfield in the blink of an eye. Tight ends would lose their shadow with him in pursuit. And yes, he could rush the passer. A defensive weapon in every sense of the phrase. Let him loose and watch controlled destruction reign. If only such lofty premonitions always turned out so optimistic, so rosy, so ideal.
Leaving hopes in high prognostications only sets up one up for grave disappointment. In four professional seasons, Floyd has 18.5 career sacks to his name. 44 quarterback hits. 26 tackles for loss. These are numbers some bona fide superstars manage over a two-year span, let alone over the term of a U.S. President. Whatever’s happened to the pass rush skill set in Floyd’s back pocket is easy to discern: Someone cut a hole in his jeans and it fell out. That or the wallet holding his pass rush card was thinner than preconceived notions had drummed up. Either scenario doesn’t inspire much confidence in the 27-year-old ever materealizing into the difference maker he was supposed to be. The green optimism surrounding him fades away.
Floyd’s lack of impact playmaking has left the Bears in (relative) dire straits. Yes, Khalil Mack is one of the best players in football who happens to play for Chicago. Yes, Akiem Hicks might seem like an actual grizzly bear in size and ferocity. But beyond those two dynamos, the Bears have nothing else to hang their pass rushing hat on. If a great defense needs three unblockable monsters up front, then the Bears are only two-thirds of the way to their destination, forever stuck in a passable neutral. If an offense finds effective means to neutralize those two looming fractions (easier said than done, but feasible), than the defense is a shell of its full potential. A player of Floyd’s caliber, or lack thereof, is then correctly viewed as “The Missing Piece” or in more extreme hypercritical circumstances, “The Weakest Link.” Neither description is in any fashion a flattering outlook for a former top-10 pick.
Floyd’s ongoing failures leaves the Bears grasping at straws they don’t have in their own back pocket. It’s an indictment of his profile as a jack-of-all-trades and Master of None. Adequacy in every responsibility asked of you means nothing if your adequacy amounts to eminent replaceability. Possess no one distinctive impact talent like Floyd and the results will speak for themselves: Sand to blow away in the wind.
Imagine a world where a top-10 defense has the third head to its defensive Cerberus in tow. Picture that defense morphing into an unblockable wave of anger, power, and fury. An upgrade means a step forward into defensive immortality for a star-studded group. The status quo in rewarding Floyd with a lucrative contract extension, or even paying into his $13 million franchise tag, means languishing back into contrived irrelevance. That’s the reality of the dead weight Floyd poses to the Bears’ anchors at sea if he isn’t cut loose. They’ll never be able to set sail at full mast in their current state, forever more likely to drown with the cackles of Davey Jones than ascend to consistent greatness on the back of a magnificent pass rush.
A near future in Chicago without Floyd is not a slam dunk decision. Reneging on the prospects of a former top-10 pick before he reaches a second contract will never have favorable optics for an outsider. There are exceptions to the term “bust,” and Floyd might be one. But him not being a “bust” doesn’t mean he isn’t a disappointment, which he is. It doesn’t mean it isn’t worth looking into other options while cutting your losses with his presence, which it is.
The route ahead isn’t without its twists and turns. Finding a replacement for Floyd means finding a reliable pass rusher almost on a whim. Outside of the Jaguars’ Yannick Ngakoue, there won’t be a clear upgrade available on the free agent market. A team without a first-round selection won’t have the opportunity to add a first-round replacement. But it shouldn’t be difficult to move on from 4.5 sacks a year. Those kinds of players do grow on trees, as much as popular belief might state the contrary. Not everything is better than alternative, but many, many players are.
Leonard Floyd can do many things well. He’s a positive boon to a locker room, and a Swiss Army Knife of sorts. But if he can’t rush the passer, if he can’t create sacks, if he can’t bother the quarterback at all, then what do the first two pluses amount to? A hollow and earned reputation built on disenchantment.
Robert is an editor and writer. Follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.