Not Turning the Bears First Round Pick Into Rocket Science

David Haugh at the Chicago Tribune makes a savvy observation about Bears general manager Ryan Pace‘s first NFL draft pick:

“General manager Ryan Pace did what he vowed to do, taking the player at the top of his draft board at the time of the pick regardless of position. That White plays wide receiver on a team that needs to replace Brandon Marshall falls under the category of convenient. The Bears don’t need this White knight to save the offense but he will arrive with an opportunity to contribute immediately opposite Alshon Jeffery.”

“In selecting White over any one of the available pass-rushers, Pace punctuated his first draft with pragmatism. The NFL’s youngest GM didn’t arrive at Halas Hall determined to prove how smart he was or impress his new bosses. He took the gimme, proving that sometimes grasping the obvious is an underrated skill for executives.

“‘This was an easy pick,’ Pace said.”

White is a talented guy with a high ceiling. I’m not going to say he’s perfect and I’m not too sure the Bears wouldn’t have been better off with defensive tackle Danny Shelton as a safer pick who could still deliver a high impact.  Even as he praises the pick,  Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com provides relevant criticism:

“[I]t is disturbing that in the one season he played at Lackawanna Junior College – he sat out the 2010 season with a shoulder injury and missed 2011 because he missed the deadline for financial aid – he caught just 36 passes and he only caught 35 passes his first year at West Virginia.

“The bigger concern is that West Virginia plays a stripped down version of the spread offense in which White was only asked to run a handful of routes. He’s never had to make sight adjustments or read coverages and he’s not a natural route runner, occasionally looking more like a sprinter than a football player.

“So what the Bears have in White is either a perennial All-Pro who may end up dominating for the next decade, or another Cordarrelle Patterson.”

Still by almost everyone’s reckoning, this pick was a slam dunk. Most experts had the Bears taking White in this situation and, assuming there were no good offers to trade out of the pick, I have no problem with it. Given White’s size and physical traits, I think the odds are that he’ll work out fine. As Haugh indirectly points out, Pace’s handling of the situation stands in stark contrast to former Bears general manager Phil Emery, who always seemed to be trying to prove that he was the smartest guy in the room. Sometimes that worked out, as it did with the Kyle Long pick. But far too often, it didn’t.

Pace didn’t over think this. Sometimes the obvious thing is, in fact, still the right thing.

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Trade Attempt of Jay Cutler Could Have Long-Term Effects

jay-cutler-3Jerome Blattner once said “A person who trusts no one can’t be trusted.” We’re about to see if and how that applies to the Chicago Bears quarterback situation in the aftermath of their attempt to trade quarterback Jay Cutler to the Tennessee Titans for the number two overall pick last night. John Mullin at csnchicago.com quotes Bears general manager Ryan Pace on the question of whether they tried to pull such a trade off:

“‘In my mind, we just got Jay another dynamic weapon,’ Pace said. ‘That’s why I’m excited about it. I hope right now he’s fired up because we just gave him another powerful weapon. With this receiving corps, this only adds to Jay’s ability to distribute the ball.'”

That’s not a denial. And it could mean trouble.

I’m of two minds when it comes to the attempt to trade Cutler. Rick Morrissey at the Chicago Sun-Times perfectly summarizes at least one of those:

“There is something unsettling about Jay Cutler continuing to get rewarded with talent around him [wide receiver Kevin White]. I’ll admit to more than a small hope Thursday that the Bears would move up to the second pick, trade Cutler to Tennessee and use the Titans’ pick to choose Marcus Mariota. But Tennessee stayed put and took the Oregon quarterback.

“What we’ve learned the past six years is that no matter how talented the players who line up on offense, Cutler tends to bring them all down to the mean. And by ‘the mean,’’ I mean ‘disappointment and disillusionment.’’ An offense with [Brandon] Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett should have been better then 21st in total offense, as it was last season.”

There was a part of me – about half – that really wanted the Bears to complete this trade just to see Cutler leave town. But there was, on the other hand, the thought of the rest of the price that the Bears would have to pay in order to make that move – a package of picks including multiple first rounders. That’s a high price for a team with the number of holes the Bears have to fill.

What’s most relevant now is what effect this will have on Cutler. Most will recall that a similar situation in Denver where they tried to trade him resulted in him leaving Colorado and eventually becoming a Bear. I’m not saying that Cutler is going to go to Tennessee and pout this time around – he has grown at least that much. But the effect on his psyche could be more subtle and more damaging.

Cutler’s primary problem is that he has a very hard time trusting people. He doesn’t trust his coaches, he can’t throw with anticipation  because he doesn’t trust his receivers, heck he even backed out of his engagement before finally coming to his senses and marrying Kristin Cavallari. Now Cutler has been given tangible proof that he can’t trust the current Bears regime, either. They might not have lied to him. But at bare minimum they have now made it clear that they aren’t 100% behind him to run this team in action as well as in word.

My guess is that publicly Cutler will handle this move by saying and doing all the right things. But how it affects his performance on the field is another issue. He’s fragile even at the best of times. We may see a new level of unstable this year if the Bears aren’t careful.

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The Bears Have a Bad Day. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Adam Schefter at ESPN reports that the Bears are “entertaining trade offers” for tight end Martellus Bennett. Bennett has been problematic for the Bears for some time and now isn’t showing up for offseason workouts.
  • The staff at NFL.com propose draft day trades that they’d “love to see”. One involves the Bears trading this year’s seventh overall selection, next year’s first and second, Matt Forte, and Jay Cutler to move up six spots into No. 1. No way.

    This would be an awful trade for the Bears who arguably need those picks more than the Buccaneers do. I’m sure they’d love to have Winston but I can’t imagine they’d trade away even the near future to do it.

  • Rick Morrissey at the Chicago Sun-Times pretty much destroys running back Matt Forte after he didn’t show up for the Piccolo Award presentation. I can’t say its entirely off base. As Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune points out, the Piccolo Research Fund has raised millions of dollars over the decades in support of cancer research. Not showing up to accept this award because your “training schedule” didn’t permit it really isn’t a good look.
  • I find it to be interesting that Forte is taking the most heat for not showing up to these voluntary sessions when he’s the veteran with the best excuse – really any excuse – to skip them. His contract. No explanation for the absence of tight end Martellus Bennett or nose tackle/defensive end Jeremiah Ratliff has been provided and as far as anyone can tell, they just didn’t feel like showing up.
  • Arthur Arkush at chicagofootball.com quote guard Kyle Long on quarterback Jay Cutler: “We love him here, and I really feel like Chicago will gain a new appreciation for Jay under this new regime. … He’s taking it upon himself to try and broaden his horizons as a leader from a vocal standpoint. He’s got the reins in his hands and we’re ready to work for a guy like that.” I’m open to it. But I’m not holding my breath.
  • Scott Krinch at csnchicago.com predicts that the Bears will trade back in the first round. I would agree but in my scenario, a team trades up to get wide receiver Kevin White not pass rusher Bud Dupree.

Elsewhere

One Final Thought

As if Matt Forte not showing up to receive an award in honor of Brian Piccolo weren’t enough, Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune reports defensive end Ray McDonald‘s statements on his run ins with the law last season. McDonald was unrepentant and said nothing indicating that he was accountable for what happened. Believe it or not, he sees himself as the victim, blaming the incidents on the people around him and bad press on the media. Again, not a good look for him or the franchise, which should be embarrassed.

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Pray the Bears Don’t Take a Pass Rusher in the First Round

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Ian Rapoport and Albert Breer at NFL.com report that Randy Gregory‘s stock is falling precipitously as teams wonder if he’s got the mental makeup to make the jump to pro football:

“The situation for the Cornhusker All-American is like this: The natural ability is there; whether he can realize his considerable potential is another matter entirely. Those considerations, however, do not make Gregory unique in the draft nor in the league as a whole.

“‘It all depends on the organization, and what they have in place for him,’ said one NFC personnel exec. ‘There are quite a few players that have issues. It’s where you place football character over the things he can’t control. That’s the big thing to me.'”

“One NFC general manager said, ‘There are more negatives than positives.’

“And that’s remarkable, given that many scouts and execs spoken with during the past two months believe Gregory is the best natural pass-rusher in this year’s draft class.”

And I couldn’t agree more. The top four pass rushers past consensus top five pick Dante Fowler are Gregory, Shane Ray, Vic Beasley and Bud Dupree. Of the four, the only one I would have said belonged in the top ten picks based upon what you see on the field is Gregory. Now it looks like even he’s going to be a huge risk.

Many well respected media experts have the Bears taking a pass rusher in the first round of this draft. Here’s hoping that’s not the case. The guys I see have “bust” written all over them. That’s something the Bears can’t afford.

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NFC North Roundtable

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Adam Bringedahl (Detroit Lions), Brian Slattery (Green Bay Packers), Davey Randa (Minnesota Vikings) and I review hot topics currently affecting the NFC North and the upcoming 2015 NFL Draft in . We worked hard on this and I think it came out reasonably light and funny. Give it a listen and don’t miss the where all 32 representatives participated in a mock draft in preparation for the upcoming real thing tomorrow. Also available on iTunes and Stitcher.

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Niggling Doubts About Antrel Rolle

Nate Atkins at chicagofootball.com interviews new Bears safety Antrel Rolle:

“‘I don’t think I was ever involved with a player who was more sincerely interested in how his team could improve,’ Giants coach Tom Coughlin, now in his 31st year in the NFL, said at the NFL Scouting Combine.”

“‘You just have to be yourself,’ [Rolle] said. ‘If you’re a guy that’s laid-back, then be laid-back. If you’re a guy that’s motivated and very enthused about what’s going on, then be that guy because you can be that energy. You can be that fuel for other guys.”

The Bears locker room could undoubtedly use more like Rolle. I can’t stress enough the comment of one opposing assistant coach who called the Bears “the biggest bunch of frontrunners in the league.” Players like Martellus Bennett, Jeremiah Ratliff and Matt Forte, who didn’t show up for the voluntary minicamp which is currently underway, aren’t helping dispel that impression. The bears need more like Rolle.

Having said that, I have to question whether Rolle is the guy to do it. In order to lead the team you need to also perform on the field. I recently caught the Giants week 7 game against the Cowboys last season on the NFL Network and took the opportunity to focus on Rolle. It wasn’t a good look. He’s lost a lot of range and his first step was frequently in the wrong direction. I’m told he performed better late in the year. Let’s hope so.’

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Hub Arkush: Draft Information Worth Noting

Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com rips the process of putting together mock drafts. Justifiably. But then gives out some information that he thinks is reasonably reliable based upon sources were willing to go on the record on:

“One team’s general manager told me Monday morning he’s sure it’s no better than 50-50 right now that the Bucs are taking Jameis Winston. They might, but don’t bet the farm on it.

“Another individual who will be picking for his team told me cornerback Kevin Johnson of Wake Forest is one of the fastest risers on a number of draft boards right now as we count down to draft day.

“And one highly respected offensive coach told me, ‘Todd Gurley will be the best offensive player in this draft.'”

For what its worth.

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If the Minicamp Doesn’t Affect the Draft, Why Have It Now?

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune doesn’t think the Bears voluntary minicamp, which starts today, will affect their draft much:

“It’s difficult to imagine that much of what happens on the field will affect plans for the draft. General manager Ryan Pace isn’t going to lay eyes on Jay Cutler throwing the ball and decide he needs to be in position to choose Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota.

“Coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio aren’t going to size up candidates at outside linebacker and come to the realization they’re a young pass rusher away from being where they need to be. Draft preparations have been made, and those opinions have been shaped by long meetings and longer hours spent doing film work. Three practices leading directly into the draft are not going to turn the team’s board on its side.”

Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times says pretty much the same thing. One question neither bothered to answer is this: If it won’t affect the draft, why have it now? The Bears are the only team in the NFL having their first minicamp before the draft, not after.

I don’t have any doubt that all of the preparations have been made and the board has been stacked. But there is a reason the Bears are having that minicamp now. Fox has said repeatedly that he won’t really know anything about anyone until he sees the players hit the grass. Today, that’s what they’re going to do. It’s only positional drills but its live and they’re going to get to see them.

The Bears want a look at what they’ve got before the draft starts because it might affect what decisions they make in later rounds when they are choosing positions to make a priority. That makes the next couple days reasonably significant.

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Martellus Bennett. Again. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Regular readers of this blog will know that I participated in a mock draft with other fans around the country representing all 32 teams.  Former ESPN producer Jay Soderberg put us all together to explain our picks in a podcast.  The first 16 picks are located here.  I, of course, made the Bears pick at number seven.  I also came on and defended the Titans’ pick (though I didn’t make it).  Part two is located here where I helped discuss what Buffalo will do in the last ten minutes of the podcast (they were without a first round pick).
  • Former Super Bowl winning head coach and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden and I  see 100% eye to eye on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.
  • Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com looks at the Bears newly released schedule and says it looks like 7-9. I figure if the Bears split with the Vikings and Lions that sounds about right.
  • Nate Atkins at chicagofootball.com reviews the personnel record of Bears general manager Ryan Pace. Pace found some good offensive linemen in the later rounds of the draft. Other than that, his record is disturbingly mediocre. Atkins isn’t too tough on him but he implies that Pace and Director of Player Personnel Josh Lucas need to do better if they want to turn the Bears around. I can only agree.
  • John Mullin at csnchicago.com rates the need to draft a quarterback as “low”, pointing out that even though Pace has said he’d like to draft one every year, they didn’t do it in New Orleans. But New Orleans had Drew Brees not Jay Cutler. It’s an interesting evaluation of the current roster situation.

    One of the things I’ll be most interested in seeing on Friday or (more likely) Saturday is if the Bears take a quarterback, particularly in the second or third round. Bears head coach John Fox and Pace have gone out of their way to not sound too thrilled with Cutler in their comments to the media. But, as I said yesterday, it’s actions that count not words. If the Bears draft a quarterback, particularly in a round high enough to reasonably expect said quarterback to start at some point in the future, then I’ll believe that Fox’s and Pace’s words are more than just a motivational ploy for Cutler.

  • Jeff Dickerson at ESPN actually had a fan ask him if it was possible San Diego would trade Philip Rivers for Cutler straight up. [head shake].
  • Dickerson also reports that Martellus Bennett isn’t showing up for voluntary workouts. Given that he just signed a new deal in March 2013, I think the odds are good this isn’t about his contract. It’s more likely Bennett saying to himself, “‘Voluntary’ means ‘voluntary’. I don’t feel like showing up so I won’t.”

    No one will argue that Bennett isn’t within his rights. We all know that Bennett marches to the beat of his own drum. I won’t repeat what I said in a previous post on Bennett last summer. Bennet apparently hasn’t learned much since then.

    If Fox didn’t know what a job he had in front of him building an esprit de corps amongst the players, he knows now. He wouldn’t have gotten far with Lance Briggs still on the team. I’m not suggesting they immediately trade Bennett (they probably couldn’t without it looking punitive, anyway) but you do start to wonder how far Fox will get as long a Bennett is still around, as well. I wouldn’t mind an extra pick in next year’s draft. If Bennett causes the same kind of trouble this summer he did last summer – and I’d say he’s on his way – we may not see him around for 2016.

Elsewhere

  • Rob Demovsky at ESPN predicts the results of each Packers game. He has them at 11-5. It’s entirely possible that at the moment they’d be favored in every game.
  • Matt Forte isn’t the only division player who has decided to forego offseason workouts. According to Michael Rothstein at ESPN, Lions safety James Ihedigbo won’t be showing up to any voluntary workouts until he gets a new contract. Ihedigbo was a fairly important component of the Lions defense last year. All indications are he’ll be there for the mandatory workouts and I doubt this will have much effect on anyone.
  • ESPN‘s Scouts Inc. has posted their board with all of the players they have a draftable grade on stacked by position. For those without and Insiders subscription I’ll tell you the first and most important relevant takeaway – they have 20 players with a first round grade. The round has 32 slots. Should be interesting.

One Final Thought

Mullin continues to point out the distinct possibility that Jimmy Clausen could provide a moderate level of competition for Cutler. Clausen “played creditably against one of the elite NFL defenses (Detroit) after four years of no-play and coming in with a short practice week after the Monday night loss to New Orleans, further shortened by Marc Trestman canceling the Wednesday practice before the Detroit game.” Bears head coach John Fox obviously likes Clausen a great deal personally despite his struggles in Carolina just as current Carolina head coach Ron Rivera has said he does. So there must be something there that makes people at least want him to succeed.

People think I’m pushing Clausen because I don’t like Cutler and don’t believe he’ll ever succeed at a high level. And they’re right. But I’m also not stupid. I know that Cutler will very likely win such a competition based upon talent. But that doesn’t detract from the fact that with a good showing in camp and in the pre-season, Clausen could see time at quarterback if Cutler stumbles. Clausen’s going to be a genuine alternative and the guess here is that the Bears are going to be only one more game like the one against New Orleans in 2014 from once again seeing him.

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A Dissenting Voice on Ray McDonald

Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times reports that Bears defensive end Ray McDonald has been cleared of violating the NFL player conduct policy by the league office. The Bears signed McDonald after three runins with the law in seven months. The first was an incident which involved him wrestiling with his pregant fiancee over a gun. The second was a domestic violence complaint also involving his fiancee. The third was a sexual assault accusation from a woman who is not McDonald’s fiancee. The league hasn’t cleared McDonald on the third incident yet.

Bears ownership initially rejected he idea of signing McDonald despite the support of Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio:

“‘[Fangio] felt he was one of the leaders on the defense, him and [end] Justin Smith,’ [Bears head coach John] Fox said. ‘Teammates thought very highly of him, and you’re around your teammates a lot in this business.'”

Eventually ownership relented but only after McDonald sat down and talked to Bears president George McCaskey.

At the time the Bears signed McDonald, I said I would reserve judgement until some of my questions were answered. I think that no more information is going to be forthcoming so I can give my opinion now.

I make it a habit to judge people by their actions, not what they say. A lot of trouble could be avoided if more people followed that rule. People believe too easily what they want to believe and can be talked too easily into believing it.

The fact that Fangio and McDonald’s teammates were “shocked” tells me only one thing – that McDonald is a heck of a con man. If they were still shocked after it happened a third time then it tells me they’re stupid, as well. The fact that McCaskey relented based, not upon the facts in his file, but upon what McDonald said only re-enforces that opinion.

It’s obvious to me that McDonald is in a toxic relationship. It drove him to what amounts to two domestic violence complaints and one sexual encounter outside of whatever boundaries he’s set with his fiancee. As long as that relationship contiues, he’s headed for trouble. And given that she’s apparently had his baby, I’d say he’ll never really be extracted from it. And, of course, even worse is what that relationship uncovered – a tendency towards responding to bad situations with violence upon the weak.

I don’t know what McDonald has said and I don’t want to know. I want to hear what he’s done to clean up the mess he’s made of his life. Until I hear that, until I hear more than talk, I’m going to assume that his problems are going to continue.

I’m going to say up front that I’m a rare bird. Most fans in most places will forgive almost anything if the think it will help the team win. That includes Chicago, where fans once gave Scotty Pippen a standing ovation after an infamous incident in which he quit on his team and refused to enter a playoff game with 1.8 seconds left to play.

But personally, I’d honestly rather that the Bears were miserable at defensive end than have a guy like McDonald on the team. I think about rooting for McDonald this fall, a guy who apparently can’t keep control himself around women, and it makes me sick. That’s the way I feel.

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