On Forecasting Jay Cutler’s Future

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune speculates on the future contract talks involving quarterback Jay Cutler:

“The general manager has intimated if the club uses the franchise tag to secure Cutler from reaching the open market, it will be to buy time to complete a multi-year contract because the one-year hit of $16 million against the salary cap and the prospect of facing the same situation again in 2015 isn’t appealing.

“That does not mean a long-term contract will not average $16 million per season — or possibly more — for Cutler. The quarterbacks of the NFC clubs doing their best to back right out of the playoff race might see to that. All Cutler’s agent, Bus Cook, has to do is point to the flimsy postseason resumes of the Lions’ Matthew Stafford and the Cowboys’ Tony Romo and ask what differentiates them from his client? Not much.

“Extensions for Stafford and Romo for the season were great developments for Cutler. Both were responsible for bad interceptions at the end of losses last weekend that greatly damaged the playoff hopes of their respective teams.”

“Romo’s contract, which was added six years, included $55 million guaranteed with an average annual salary of $18 million and netted him $28.5 million in the first year of the deal with $54 million paid over the first three years. Romo is 1-3 in four playoff starts with his last appearance after the 2009 season. Cook would be foolish not to use that as a starting point for contract talks.”

And perhaps the Bears would be fools to repeat the costly mistakes that other franchises have committed.  Just an alternative thought…

Cutler is a wonderful athletic talent.  And, yes, the market will set his value, especially if the Bears don’t franchise him.  But I’m not so sure that the league isn’t getting a bit smarter about how they spend their cash and cap.  The free agent market last year wasn’t exactly a great place to be for mediocre to better than average free agents, the class I’d put Cutler in.  I’m by no means convinced that Cutler’s value outside of Chicago is that high.  It will be interesting if the Bears find ourselves in a position to find out.

In Support of Mel Tucker

Another answer that I agree with as Brad Biggs responds to a fan question for the Chicago Tribune:

“Is there any chance we could see Rex Ryan as defensive coordinator next year if the Jets let him go? Mel Tucker doesn’t seem to be able to adjust his scheme to what he has to work with. And we can see what change a coordinator can make by just looking at the Saints with Rob Ryan and Cowboys. – Sid, Sebastian, Fla.

“I wrote in last week’s mailbag that I believe Tucker will return to the Bears in 2014. Tucker has tried a variety of wrinkles within the defense this season, some more successful than others. What he has to work with right now is a defense that has been diminished by injuries to all three levels. Your flip side of your Saints/Cowboys analogy hasn’t worked so well. Dallas has been horrendous on defense this season with Monte Kiffin replacing Rob Ryan in Dallas.”

As fascinating as a Rex Ryan hire would be, I whole heartedly agree with Biggs that Mel Tucker has done a nice job as defensive coordinator.  For one thing, he’s (apparently) a stable personality where as Ryan, as entertaining as he is, would rarely be characterized that way.  Yes, Ryan is brilliant but the Bears are probably about to get a lot younger on defense and I’m not so sure he’s the right fit for such a situation.

Tucker’s defenses have not always fixed apparent problems as quickly as I’d like.  But that’s because I’m a critic and things are always a lot easier when you don’t have to actually do anything to solve the problems.

The Bears have for the most part fixed many of the problems that they’ve had with gap integrity.  Its pretty easy to be blocked out of a play when you are running laterally and many problems shedding blocks result.  The rookie linebackers both are very slowly showing the ability to better diagnose game situations resulting in better, downhill play.  These things don’t happen over night.  But they are happening and an under rated Tucker and his staff deserve credit for much of the improvement.


Hope Springs Eternal for the True Bears Fan

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“With Lance Briggs coming back will it be enough to turn things around on defense so the Bears are a Super Bowl contender? — @skinny2354 from Twitter

“No one thought the Giants would be a Super Bowl contender when they lost four games at midseason in 2011 to fall to 6-6. But they won three of their final four regular-season games to sneak into the playoffs and from there they ran the table. That team had a very strong pass rush that was a big factor in the postseason run. Briggs’ return isn’t going to necessarily help the Bears start wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks. Briggs’ presence will make the defense better but he can’t make up for the loss of Henry Melton and Charles Tillman. It’s going to be difficult for the Bears to play playoff-caliber defense against a high-powered offense, in my opinion. But like I said, few thought that Giants team was going anywhere.”

My first instinct when reading inquiries like this is to treat them with contempt.  I’ve been virtually ignoring the playoff possibilities for this team because logically, the Bears can do almost no damage in the playoffs if they get there.  I’ve hardly even thought about it.

The run defense has been a mess and the Bears just aren’t strong enough at the line of scrimmage.  You need only look at the St. Louis Rams game last month to see the problem.  The Bears were dominated by an admittedly very under rated defensive front.  Have you seen the San Fransisco 49ers defense?  Have you heard the noise up in that dome in Seattle?  As strong as that Rams front is, these teams field even better players.  Can the Bears win games against those teams?  Absolutely no way.

How bad do my instincts tell me this situation is?  Let’s put it this way.  I dislike the Lions right now with a passion.  They’re dirty, undisciplined and, not unrelated, their head coach and their defensive coordinator are both punks.  But I also know that if they play to the level of their ability, they are the only team in the NFC North with the talent up front to compete with the big boys.  Even I will admit that January could be a lot more exciting with them in the contests.

Bottom line, if I followed my instincts, I wouldn’t even bother to watch the games anymore.  But I do watch the games.  I watch becauseI love to think about how the Bears have arisen to meet the challenges of the week before and to see what new challenges will arise to meet in the coming week. I love to think, week to week, about how the Bears have improved, two steps forward, one step back.  I watch because, well, when you think about it, you never know…

The Bears do have a healthy offensive line and have been trying all season to do creative things things to apply leverage that will give them an edge over brute strength.  And with their skill position players, they do have the potential to score points in bunches.

Yes, they are missing Tillman and Melton.  Tillman is really irreplaceable but both Tim Jennings and Zack Bowman have stepped it up in recent weeks and they haven’t done badly.  And though the defensive line will not be a strength, it has stabilized considerably with the addition of Jeremiah Ratliff.  

Arguably safety is still a minor weakness but the addition of Briggs could very well stabilize the last major defensive issue.  The linebacker position has been without question the beating heart of the Bears defense for many years and Briggs will not only bring his ability to make plays but he’ll almost certainly provide some stability playing next to rookie Jon Bostic and his addition might even help cover for some remaining deficiencies there.

The Bears still have to play virtually perfect, mistake-free football.  No penalties, no drops and, especially, no turnovers.  But, if the defense peaks and comes together to play its best football right now, at the most important time of the year…

Is it possible that the Bears could end up in the Super Bowl?  Looking around at the rest of the NFC, it’s a totally ridiculous question.  But there’s always hope.  And hope leads to thoughts and thoughts lead to possibilities.  And anything is possible if your put your mind to it.