Like the Packers, the Bears Are Drafting for the Long Haul

Pete Dougherty at the Green Bay Press-Gazette thinks that Ted Thompson‘s draft strategy reflects the fact that there’s not much difference in drafting ability among NFL teams and that chance accounts for most of that difference. The smartest strategy is to collect extra picks to increase the odds of hitting on good players.

Green Bay General Manager Ted Thompson will likely be looking to fill holes that will appear long term

Green Bay General Manager Ted Thompson will likely be looking too the future when filling holes

One of the things that I liked about this article with that it highlights the “best available” strategy that many GMs claim to use but few seem to follow:

“This year, Thompson has nine picks (his own in each round plus two sixth-round compensatories) and two huge needs, at inside linebacker and cornerback.

“He should resist temptation to trade up for either position unless he’s absolutely blown away by a prospect. If there’s not an inside linebacker or corner he values at No. 30, he has enough positions of need a year or two down the road that a player of value should be worth taking there. That includes tight end, where he could use help now; outside linebacker, where three players (Julius Peppers, Mike Neal and Nick Perry) could be in their final year with the team; and defensive line, where B.J. Raji and Letroy Guion are decent bets to re-sign but on one-year deals.”

There’s little doubt that general managers draft for need. The problem may be that too often, they draft for immediate need. Dougherty highlights the fact that once you start planning for the future, you find that your needs grow and, therefore, the pool of potential prospects that fit grows.

Below is a table showing the Bears starters and their contract expiration dates:

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The sharp observer will note that there are contracts expiring after this season at wide receiver, running back, defensive back, linebacker, on the offensive line and everywhere on the defensive line.  Many think that the Bears are filling their needs by signing free agents. But once you see that many are just potential stop gaps, often on one-year contracts, at postitions in need of long-term answers, you understand that they actually need nearly everything.

I’m amused by mock drafts that constantly change the Bears first pick based upon needs that have been filled in free agency.  The truth is that their needs are basically the same as they were when free agency started.  And their going to take the best available guy because the best available guy is almost certainly going to fill one of them for a long time.

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Time Is a Quarterback’s Best Friend. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune interviews new Bears cornerback Alan Ball. Ball is a big defensive back at 6-2, 197 lb. You can’t have too many of them. Bears general manager Ryan Pace would seem to agree.
  • Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times goes down the Bears defensive depth chart. A couple thing become clear in this exercise. Defensive line is still by far the biggest need with Ego Ferguson backing up all three positions. The cornerback position is interesting with Demontre Hurts, Ball, Tim Jennings and Kyle Fuller lining up to compete for two spots. The guess here is that Fuller is established at one outside spot and that one of the other three ends up playing nickel.
  • Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com is down right enthusiastic about the signing of linebacker Mason Foster.
  • The 49ers are continuing to stick with Blaine Gabbert (left) as their backup quarterback. Similar to Bears backup Jimmy Clausen (right), Gabbert got thrown into the fire immediately his first season and performed poorly. Also like Clausen, he never got another chance to prove himself.

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    There was a time when quarterbacks sat for years developing behind an established starter. Former Packers head coach Mike Holmgren once famously said that quarterbacks didn’t really pick up the offense until the THIRD YEAR. High round picks don’t get that kind of time anymore. But you have to wonder if both Gabbert and Clausen aren’t benefiting from their roles as backups in the same way that those quarterbacks of long ago did. If so, we may not have seen the last of either of them as starters.

  • Say what you want about former Bears head coach Marc Trestman, he apparently knew many of his players better then some would think. From John Mullin at csnchicago.com:

    “A footnote to the 2014 ‘leadership’ season: Trestman, who began naming weekly last season rather than the traditional team-vote method, appears to have had some sense of what he did and didn’t have as far as locker room leaders. Through 15 games, [Jared] Allen and [Jeremiah] Ratliff were captains six times each, Jay Cutler three times.

    Brandon Marshall was a captain just twice, the second and last time being the Miami game, after which Marshall erupted with a postgame rant at teammates.”

Elsewhere

  • Conor Orr at nfl.com passes on that Mike McCarthy wants to put Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers in the pistol more often next year. The formation has most of the advantages of being in the shotgun but puts the runningback behind you, allowing for runs and making play action effective. I don’t see much of a downside.
  • Orr assesses the effectiveness of the NFL general managers in the draft by looking at the percentage of their picks that make the all-rookie team.

    “Jags GM Dave Caldwell is only two years in, but there’s no doubt he’ll need to hit on one this year. Three years without an All-Rookie selection is unheard of for gainfully employed GMs.”

    Carolina’s Dave Gettleman ranks at the top of the list. Bears general manager Ryan Pace isn’t ranked as he hasn’t made a pick yet.

  • Chris Wessling, also at nfl.com, comments on the staff’s division power rankings. The NFC North ranked third amongst the eight divisions:

    “Even with the acknowledgment that the Lions and Vikings are potential wild-card teams, the NFC North’s third-place ranking reflects respect for the Packers as the primary threat to the Seahawks’ NFC hegemony. Nobody knows what to think of Chicago, mirroring the Bears’ puzzlement at quarterback.”

  • Texans owner Bob McNair defended their signing of nose tackle Vince Wilfork by saying that players are more likely to lose speed than strength with age. Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com calls the notion “a bit simplistic”. I call it dead wrong.
  • Former Bears head coach Lovie Smith is returning to his familiar ways, limiting himself to free agents he either knows (Henry Melton, Chris Conte) or that people he knows know (Bruce Carter and Sterling Moore). That’s a similar strategy to the one he employed as head coach of the Bears when hiring assistants and, like the players he’s signing now, that meant he was drawing them from a very limited pool. There’s always going to be a cap on how much success coaches like Smith have. From the Tampa Tribune.
  • Still wondering why teams don’t spend high round picks on running backs anymore? The Broncos selected Ronnie Hillman in the third round of 2012, took Montee Ball in the second round and signed C.J. Anderson as an undrafted free agent in 2013. Guess which one is going into OTAs as the starter? Via Michael David Smith at profootballtalk.com.

One Final Thought

A reminder to everyone not to forget to register to get tickets for you and a guest to the NFL Draft in Chicago at NFL.com/DraftTown. As long as I get the second ticket.

Posted in Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Points of View, San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers | Leave a comment

Winning and Losing on Your Own Terms

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Jeff Legwold at espn.com thinks the transition from former Broncos and current Bears head coach John Fox will be made easier for new Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak (above) by the retention of six of Fox’s assistant coaches – five on offense:

“‘I’m the one who has to adjust and find out how I’m going to mesh everything together,’’ Kubiak said. ‘That’s what we’ve been doing and I told Peyton that from the start. We are going to run his offense and do what he does best, but it’s going to be the Broncos’ (offense). We’re going to mesh things together. Obviously I love to run the ball and I love the play-(action) pass. I love to do those things so there is going to be a commitment there but there is 17 years of investment in what he’s done better than anybody and we’re not going to run away from that.’’”

I can’t help but be reminded that former Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker (below) said similar things about the Bears defense as it transitioned from Lovie Smith to former Bears head coach Marc Trestman. It was a problem in Tucker’s case as he kept the old defensive scheme in deference to veterans like former Bears linebacker Lance Briggs who ultimately let him down. He ended up losing his job without ever really having a chance to make it his own.

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Kubiak may not be going so far as to make the entire offensive scheme something he’d never run otherwise. But you have to wonder if trying to compromise in deference to Manning, who didn’t exactly finish the year as the great quarterback he usually is, won’t turn out similar to the way that Tucker’s defense did.

I think the worst think about losing a job might be if you had to look back with regret because you never got a chance to do it your own way. Here’s hoping Kubiak never has to do that.

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Chip Kelly: Beauty or Beast?

One of the most interesting off season stories has been head coach Chip Kelly‘s of the Philadelphia Eagles. Kelly (below) has made a flurry of moves including trading star runningback LeSean McCoy for linebacker Kiko Alanso and quarterback Nick Foles for the oft injured Rams quarterback Sam Bradford.

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Many have questioned Kelly’s moves with some justification. But Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll says that Eagles fans should place their trust in Kelly. Via csnphilly.com:

“‘I think the people in Philadelphia should be very excited about the changes that are coming,’ Carroll said this week at the owners meetings. ‘Maybe they can’t see it — the vision is not clear to them. Chip knows what he’s doing. It’s going to be interesting to see.'”

“‘His record and his history has proven that he knows what he’s doing and that he has his act together,'”

Kelly’s style is an interesting contrast to what the Bears are apparently doing in their transformation to the 3-4. The Bears are looking for players with good traits. To some extent, that search will be nonspecific. If you are a difference maker, they’ll adjust the scheme to use you.

Kelly is building his team more in the way that former Bears head coach Lovie Smith built his defense. Smith was a cover two discipline and looked for players with specific traits to play his scheme. Kelly is acting similarly, looking for players to fit his offense. McCoy, for instance, is a Pro Bowl runningback. But he danced around too much behind the line of scrimmage rather than hitting the hole hard and quickly the way that Kelly wanted him to. So he was traded and replaced by runningbacks DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews.

I’m going to be fascinated to see how things work out in Philedelphia. It’s obvious that Kelly knows what he wants and I admire the guts that he’s shown in going out to get it. He going to be the next Bill Belichick. Whether it’s Belichick with the Patriots or Belichick with the Browns has yet to be determined.

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Ineptitude, Thy Name Is “Dolphins”

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Want to know what a dysfunctional franchise looks like? Ordinarily I’d point to the Browns but sometimes I think the way the Dolphins are structured at the top with competition and rivalries amongst coaches and front office personnel make for a better example. In this case, Adam Beasley at the Miami Herald reports that there is a “spirited debate” about where to play linebacker Koa Misi. Head coach Joe Philbin and defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle want him at middle linebacker. So what’s the problem? The “personnel department” has apprently made it known that they think Misi should play outside and that Kelvin Sheppard should be tried in the middle.

In most organizations, the coaches make this determination and that’s the end of it. But in the corporate environment that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has allowed to develop in the organization, Philbin is seen as being in a weak postion and, therefore, front office personnel apparently feel free to insert themselves into the process.

Occasionally I’ll point out that the Bears are lucky to have the McCaskeys as owners of the Bears. Consider the Dolphins as yet anouther reason why. This is no way to run a franchise.

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The Bears and the Butterflies

easter-lily1

Bears defensive end Jared Allen gives an honest assessment of his year last year and how draining it was emotionally to Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune as he holds his baby daughter Lakelyn in his arms:

“With each ugly loss, he felt his energy tank leaking.

“Allen thought he had signed on to a team with a high-powered offense, a re-energized defense and an inspiring coach in Marc Trestman. Instead, the Bears’ 5-11 skid showed him otherwise and left him wrestling self-pity.

“‘There was almost this disappointment in myself that I had made a bad decision,’ Allen says of his free-agent signing. ‘As a man, as a player, you can’t let those circumstances affect you. Unfortunately there were times that I did. And that’s on me. It’s something you have to look back on and go, ‘Come on dude.’ ‘”

“‘I can’t let last season be my lasting impression, the image of a guy who was hurt and sick and pissed off,’ he says. ‘That’s not me. … This is not about making the best of a bad situation. It’s about being the best again in an environment where I can be.’

“He glances down again. Lakelyn is still asleep.”

Allen’s attitude should be inspiring to both teammates and fans that share a similar bitterness for how last season worked out. In particular, fellow defensive end Lamarr Houston, who started the season with a new free agent contract and a lot of hope, needs to pick up the peices and move one. It should be easier for him than Allen – he’s going back to playing a 3-4 defense that he saw a fair bit of success in with Oakland before signing with the Bears. If his attitude recovers, his performance should as well.

Many Bears fans had expectations that were as high as Allen’s. Those days are gone and the Bears are starting over with a clean slate top to bottom. They’ve left last year behind.

It’s our challenge to do the same and to embrace what’s coming.  Bears fans also need to make the best of our situation. The team isn’t going to a Super Bowl. But its going to be our pleasure to watch their progress – to watch old players adjust to new situations and to watch young players emerge in a new environment.

Passion Sunday has arrived and Easter is upon our doorstep.  Many consider this to be a moment of rebirth.  It is the hour when we rise up and are transformed into something that is closer to both our beginning and our end.  Spring is approaching. It will be a time of renewal for all of us.

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NFL Draft Analyst in the Know Thinking Defense for the Bears

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Bucky Brooks (above), a draft analyst at nfl.com, has special insight into the mind of Bears head coach John Fox.

“‘Look for them to take a defensive player to get them back on track,’ Brooks said. ‘ … (Fox) wants to make sure the defense is what this team is built on.’

“Brooks was a scout with the Carolina Panthers when Fox was the Panthers’ coach, and Brooks noted that Fox ‘likes defensive picks.’

“Chicago could use an edge rusher and help in the secondary. A top-level edge rusher seems likely to be available at No. 7; the Bears likely would have their choice of any corner or safety with that pick, as well.”

I think Brooks and I are on the same page in thinking pass rusher or defensive tackle with that pick. The tackle would be easy to guess: Danny Shelton. Seventh overall might be a little high to take him base upon the current thinking by analysts around the league. Having said that, I like him considerably better than most and would love to see them take him there.

The other option is pass rusher. The Bears should have their pick of several of the top ones in the draft. I, personally, wouldn’t touch any of them that high past Dante Fowler, who should be long gone by then. But current thinking is that any of them is a reasonable option at that point.

Trading back might be the Bears best move in the end. But where eve they end up, I think you can bet they’re going defense with that pick.

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New Defense Maximizes the Chances That Players Will Make an Impact

Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune desccribes where he thinks the position of edge rusher is as the Bears remake their defense into a 3-4 base:

“Take your notions about a 4-3 end and save them for sub packages. While the Bears are in their base grouping, which general manager Ryan Pace has approximated will be 40 percent of the time, defensive ends primarily are big-bodied run stuffers. Like the nose tackle, they’re generally asked to occupy offensive linemen and keep the linebackers free to make tackles.


There are some 3-4 ends who disrupt the quarterback and wreak havoc in the backfield — think Texans star J.J. Watt; and new Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fango had one in the 49ers’ Justin Smith — but they’re more of an exception to the rule.

“The Bears want their base ends to be at least 280 pounds, which is necessary to anchor against blocks. “

Campbell confirms what I suspect. The Bears are likely going to take their linemen as they come and adapt the scheme aroud them. Ideally they’d like J.J. Watt. But they’ll settle for Ray McDonald and Jarvis Jenkins occupying linemen and the scheme will work just fine.

The philosophy probably extends to the nose tackle as well. Ideally you’d like to be strong up the middle with Vince Wilfork occupying blockers and getting some pass rush up the middle where you can get it. But they’ll make due with 303 lb Jeremiah Ratliff penetrating and be happy with that if they have to. It won’t be the best thing for the inside linebackers but it can work as many teams – including the 49ers under Fangio who have 318 lb Quinton Dial starting at nose tackle – have shown.

Bottom line, we really won’t know what the Bears will show in term of scheme next year until we see the players. They’ll adjust the scheme – which I think we all know will be multiple anyway – to what they have. That’s going to be a good thing for Bears general manager Ryan Pace. He’s going to be open to finding players who are the best at what they do almost no matter what that is. That’s going to maximize the size of the available pool and increase his chances of finding impact personnel. And arguably they’re the ones who win ball games.

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Clausen as the Starter? Not Likely. But Not as Unlikely as People May Think.

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Some will deride the suggestion that Jimmy Clausen (above) could compete with Jay Cutler for the starting quarterback job despite John Fox‘s suggestion that there will be an “open competition” (via John Mullin at csnchicago.com). And I’m not laying money on Clausen, either, because Cutler’s got more physical talent. But I think some may be underestimating Clausen.

Clausen started for the Panthers in 2010, the year he was drafted, and performed poorly. He didn’t see the field after that until last year when he mopped up in 3 games (at least two of which were utter disasters when he got his chance). He got one start in game 15 last year where he performed better than his statistic indicated (his passer rating was only 77).

What would you have said about former Bear Josh McCown before 2013? Perhaps its more than a coincidence that when surrounded with very good skill position talent and with decent protection he bloomed. And perhaps it’s more than a coincidence that when he lost that talent, he fell apart. Isn’t it possible that Clausen is every bit as good and will show more with decent talent around him?

I’m by no means convinced that a mediocre quarterback who did all of the right things couldn’t be every bit as good as Cutler or better. Food for thought.

Admittedly its based upon only one start, but Clausen looks to me like the kind of guys who might, maybe, bloom late. I’ll be interested to see. There’s always the remote possibility that if the coaches decide that they can win with him, they’ll go with Clausen over Cutler just for the intangibles and because Clausen is so much less mentally fragile. A very remote possibility to be sure. But a possibility.

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How Did Jay Cutler Actually Come to Be the Bears Guy in 2015? And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune reports that Bears head coach John Fox will appoint five permanent captains rather than switching every week the way that former head coach Marc Trestman did. There will still be one appointed by Fox every week based upon performance. That sounds like a good idea to me. Those five players (well, four minus quarterback Jay Cutler) will have a better chance of providing real leadership for the team if they’re captains all season.
  • Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times reports that the Bears will change their approach to weight-lifting and offseason conditioning. Former general manager Phil Emery was a former strength and conditioning coach who believed in a weight lifting regime that made athletes “more explosive”. This led many fans (including myself) to speculate that there might be more injuries. Fox seems to confirm this as he says that he particularly thinks that the new program will help wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who Fox says seemed “a little nicked” last year with injuries. Jeffery is thought to have struggled with hamstring problems last year.
  • I also thought that what Fox said about cornerback Charles Tillman was interesting. Via Jahns:

    “Fox believes Jennings can play inside at nickel back or outside at cornerback, but said it’s obvious that Jennings is coming off a disappointing season.

    “‘I think Tim will tell you the same thing,’ Fox said. ‘Our biggest thing is to get him to perform better than he did a year ago.'”

    Those don’t sound like the kind of comments that you make about someone you don’t plan to have around next year.

  • Fox is going to start Shea McClellin out at inside linebacker (via Johns). Campbell and Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune seemed surprised to learn that McClellin won’t be tried on the outside first. I think many Bear fans would agree but I don’t. There’s a logjam at the position the way it is and I think I’ve seen enough of McClellin’s pass rush skills – in both a three and a two point stance – to think that probably isn’t the natural position for him that many thought it was for him coming out of the draft. Having said that, Fox did say that he’ll be tried at both spots eventually.
  • Campbell quotes Bears head coach John Fox on the recent signings of several veterans to one-year deals:

    “These guys who maybe didn’t get the huge contracts in free agency, my experience is they have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder. They’ve got something to prove, and I’ve had a lot of pretty good one-year deals that have had great success.”

    He’s got a point. Bears fans may remember that Matt Slauson started life as a Bear on such a deal.

  • Well, you can scratch Randy Gregory off the Bears draft list. From ESPN.com.

Elsewhere

  • Conor Orr on the various proposals to, as NFL Competition Committee co-chairman Rich McKay put it, “make [the extra point] a football play”. They were discussed by the owners for nearly an hour Wednesday, which means that they’re serious about changing it. McKay said that there will be a potential vote on something in May.

    “All the proposals on the table were interesting, but personally, the idea of eliminating the kick altogether is the best option. Imagine the level of strategy needed to consistently score from a difficult distance. Coaches would need to formulate their rosters a bit differently based on the need for more bulk in the trenches or come up with a way of increasing the success rate of passes from that distance (sorry, Seattle).”

    I would agree.

  • Steve Rosenbloom at the Chicago Tribune on the rule changes at the NFL owners meetings:

    “No team submitted a formal proposal to change the Calvin Johnson rule. Because nobody understands it.”

One Final Thought

Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times on Jay Cutler‘s contract status:

“The Bears did not try to rework Jay Cutler’s contract, the team said Wednesday, two hours after John Fox hinted that they did just that.

“‘I’m not going to get into everything,’ coach John Fox said Wednesday at the NFL annual meeting. ‘Other than, there was ongoing contract talks and it had time limits. That’s all I’ll say.'”

Ian Rapoport at nfl.com says that that after a meeting with Cutler, without his agent, the Bears left convinced Cutler was their starter.

The bet here is that they offered Cutler the opportunity to get traded out of Chicago but only if he could do something about the contract. He probably said, “No” and at that point, he was a Bear this year. That’s not exactly a “try to rework” the contract, which certainly would cause problems absent his agent, so much as it is getting a feel for what he’d be willing to do if he wants a fresh start somewhere else.

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