At least Montez Sweat now has his bearings.
He doesn’t yet know the names of many of the people in Halas Hall, maybe even a few Chicago Bears teammates. But he can move around the building, which was not the case when he was introduced on November 1, before he even knew where the locker room was.
Sweat played in eight practices and played in two games for the Bears before their NFC North game Sunday against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. He returned home to Atlanta last weekend on extended leave after Thursday night’s game and saw his 1 1/2-year-old son, Shiloh.
But it’s been a whirlwind of a life-changing experience — he signed a four-year, $98 million extension four days after the Halloween trade, with the Bears sending the Washington Commanders a second round pick.
As Sweat continues to adjust to his new surroundings, does he feel a greater sense of relief or does he feel pressure now that he’s one of the highest-paid players in the NFL?
“Definitely a little bit of both,” he said. “There is security there and yes, it is definitely hunger. It’s more fuel just to show that I’m the type of player I get paid to be.
The security comes from knowing that if Sweat were to suffer a serious injury, he would be taken care of and wouldn’t have to worry about cashing in on the 3 1/2 seasons of hard work he put in on the field. The pressure comes from the fact that to whom much is given, much is expected, especially as a member of a defense that has failed to harass opposing quarterbacks for two straight years.
Sweat’s contract averages $24.5 million per season. Only Nick Bosa, TJ Watt, Joey Bosa and Myles Garrett have a higher APY. Among the APY’s top 15 rushers, Sweat and Rashan Gary of the Green Bay Packers are the only ones who haven’t had at least one season with double-digit sacks. Sweat had nine in 2020. Gary, who signed a four-year extension worth $96 million last month, had 9 1/2 in 2021.
“The relief part is cool,” Sweat said. “Pressure? All these guys (motioning to teammates in the locker room), we all have a job to do on Sunday. I expect everyone to try to do their job to the best of their ability, just like me. Pressure is a privilege.
It’s not like Sweat doesn’t know the feeling. He felt it in Washington when he was drafted in the first round in 2019, one of four first-round picks on the Commanders’ defensive line over a four-year span. And pressure takes all forms. Undrafted players don’t have a signing bonus to play for, but they are under constant scrutiny to maintain a roster spot. Sweat’s point is that he’s unlike anyone else on the roster in this regard.
While it would be foolish to pass judgment on the trade after just two games, the early results have been positive. Sweat suffered five pressures and three quarterback hits on Bryce Young in the 16-13 win over the Carolina Panthers.
That type of production should translate into sacks — Sweat had 6 1/2 for Commanders before the trade — and create opportunities for defensive teammates. Ultimately, this caused general manager Ryan Poles to make the trade and double down by paying Sweat. He is considered a multiplier, the kind of elite performer who raises the level of play of those around him.
Defensive tackle Justin Jones had arguably his best game of the season against the Panthers with three solo tackles, a sack and three QB hits. Rookies Gervon Dexter and Zacch Pickens have made an impact. Dexter had a hit and Pickens took a holding penalty. It might have been the best game of the season for rotational running back Rasheem Green, and Yannick Ngakoue notched his third sack of the season and his first since Week 5.
But to be very clear, more work needs to be done to get this defensive line to where the Bears need it from a personnel standpoint, and Sweat is the first major piece while the team waits to see how the young players develop.
The Bears have a challenge this week – the Lions are doing a good job protecting quarterback Jared Goff. He has a 4.4% sack percentage, fifth-best in the league, and Sweat will likely face third-year right tackle Penei Sewell, one of the NFL’s best, for most of the game.
Coach Matt Eberflus drew parallels to the situation in Indianapolis, when he was defensive coordinator and the Colts traded a first-round draft pick to the San Francisco 49ers for defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, a disruptive interior player.
“Very similar,” Eberflus said. “He’s a premier player, an All-Pro player and a guy who can affect the quarterback. We really see the effect. The Tez factor I called it the other day or the Tez effect. You can see the rushers working at the quarterback. We had a lot of good pressure last week, a lot of good hits on the quarterback, a few sacks. This must continue. It really helped our coverage. You can see that. A lot of incomplete passes were definitely created by that pressure. We must continue this.
Sweat said that when he was developing into a defensive end — he was recruited out of high school as a tight end — he watched video of former Bears edge rusher Julius Peppers.
“Just the way he used his length to get down,” Sweat said. “The way he sheds tackles and all that. It had an engine.
Sweat also tried to model some of the moves that Khalil Mack, another former Bear, perfected.
“I like his long arm,” he said. “The way he uses it and squeezes his body. All these guys have similar things and they all have engines.
Elite Length Passers – Sweat has a wingspan of 84 3/4 inches – use a straight arm swing to prevent the offensive lineman from putting his hands in his chest. This creates separation – just as long arms give a boxer an advantage – and allows the edge runner to have leverage on what are speed runs to power.
Sweat was effective with his long arm movements against Panthers right tackle Taylor Moton and the week before against Ryan Ramczyk of the New Orleans Saints. The hope at Halas Hall is that Sweat is just starting to transform the defensive front with the sacks coming.
“A lot of guys really focus on sacks,” Sweat said. “And it’s a great tool to be judged, but there are many other ways to influence the play rather than just getting a sack, whether it’s a hit, a pressure or even to be strong in the running game. Any of these things can help you a lot.