No Sugar Coating What the Player Hold Out Really Is

John Mullin at makes one of the more irritating, if common, mis-statements regarding contract negotiations as he addresses Martellus Bennett‘s failure to show up for workouts last spring:

“One note here: Simply because Bennett was/is under contract shouldn’t be held against him whatsoever. Public outcry is swift with, ‘But he’s under contract’ when a player holds out. But as Brian Urlacher once put in clear, simple terms, nobody seems to mind when teams cut players with time still left on contracts. ‘Contract’ is a very fluid term in the NFL.”

First, the workouts that Bennett skipped were voluntary. He didn’t have to show up and he was well within his rights to not do so.

Second – and this is the one that really irks me – the language that allows teams to cut players is written into the contract. Allowing players to hold out is not.  Every player knows both of those things when they sign and if they don’t like it, they don’t have to do it.

I understand that its a standard and accepted negotiating tactic in the NFL and I’m not saying that players shouldn’t hold out if they think its appropriate. But lets not fool ourselves, either. They are breaking the contract that they signed and they are going back on their word when they do it. That’s a simple fact and every fan (and player) knows it.

Looking for the Bears to Play Free Agency for the Long Haul

Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times breaks down the Bears’ needs in free agency. The following says all that you need to know about the state of the defense:

“2015 defensive rankings: Total — 14. Scoring — 20

“2015 Pro Bowl players: None”

To be 14th in total defense with the limited talent available was nothing short of a miracle. Nevertheless, the Bears are badly in need of impact players.

Look for the Bears to fill those needs in the draft rather than free agency.

“[General manager RyanPace has laid out the dangers of playing at the high-stakes table when free agency begins: a bad contract could the Bears dearly, for years.

“Coming off a six-win season, he knows the Bears don’t need to gamble — They’re not one huge signing away from a Super Bowl — as much as they need to make steady decisions to build the team on good footing.

“The odds, then, point to the GM trying to land two or three players atop the second tier of available defensive players.”

The truth of this statement depends upon your definition of “second tier”.

I think most fans now agree that throwing money around in free agency is not the way to lasting success. Teams that do that are constantly cap strapped, rarely win anything and, when they do, they rapidly fall apart as the reality that you can’t pay everyone hits home.

Long-term, every team needs to have a certain percentage of their performers signed as cheaper draft picks. They are the life blood of any organization that wishes to consistently compete.

What the Bears will be looking for is probably one free agent on the order of what they think they got with Pernell McPhee last year. A younger player with upside that they think they can sign at a reasonable price and use in such a way that he out performs his contract. Such a player could become a building block for years to come.

Hub Arkush at suggests that safety Tashaun Gipson might be a top target and, at age 25, if he continues to fly under the radar the way that he appears to be doing, I’d say that will be a good guess.

Another name to keep an eye on is Jerrell Freeman out of Indianapolis, a speedy inside linebacker with instincts. He does a particularly good job in coverage though he’s probably just a tad older than the Bears would like at 29.

Bears fans might also watch the players that the Chiefs are trying to resign. Many of them such as defensive end Jaye Howard and cornerback Sean Smith may fit the profile, though they are starting to get some attention in the market and their price may be too high in the end.

After consideration of a player of this type in the first wave, I would say that “second tier” will fit what the Bears are looking for. Veterans and some younger players who are still available after the first wave of free agency is over and, again, after the Bears have filled what holes they can after the draft.

This is, in my opinion, the way to build a young team in free agency. It’s going to be a long haul as the Bears gradually fill their long list of needs. But in the end, if they do a good job of identifying and developing talent, they’ll have built a franchise that will consistently compete while preserving the long-term stability of the roster.

Bears Concerns About Hard Knocks Genuine, Make Sense

Mike Florio at passes on the news (as reported locally) that the Bears have no interest in being on HBO‘s Hard Knocks. Which really isn’t news since it’s no different from the stand that they’ve consistently taken over the years:

“[Bears chairman George] McCaskey’s position generally about the show isn’t new or surprising. The Bears have become one of the most secretive organizations in football, routinely declining interview requests and at times alienating local reporters with a seemingly gratuitous lack of honesty and candor (e.g., the Kevin White injury). Part of the attitude comes for the ill-advised, Belichickian ‘anything we say can and will be used against us’ mindset. But the Bears also have developed a strong desire to funnel news and access through their own website, via EXCLUSIVE! sit-downs between, as a practical matter, coworkers.

“So maybe the real message is that the Bears would do Hard Knocks, but only if they had full control over the content — and if the episodes would appear solely the team’s official, in-house website.”

Florio is, of course, quite correct in that the Bears have become more secretive under the influence of head coach John Fox. But he’s wrong in his conclusion.

The Bears aren’t refusing to be on the show because they want control over the content. Every team wants that and, to an extent, has been given it.

The Bears concerns are more genuine and require nothing more than common sense to see. They’re afraid the show will be a distraction which, despite politically correct protestations to the contrary, it certainly has to be.

In any case, the Bears will never volunteer to be on the show as long as the McCaskey’s own the team and as long as they are hiring like-minded executives to run it. Despite that, it is possible that they will be on. But the guess here is that it will happen only if the league can’t find a volunteer and asks them to do it for the good of the collective business and not with any extra-ordinary strings attached.

Bennett Still Has Value as a Member of the Bears

Hub Arkush at sums up his feelings about tight end Martellus Bennett, who, along with the Bears, is reported to be seeking a trade:

“Martellus Bennett reminds me a great deal of the kid back in school that no one understood.

“You know, some days you liked him, some days you weren’t so sure and some days you wished he’d just go away.

“He was the guy who often talked too much, had difficulty waiting his turn, always seemed restless, was easily distracted, had a short attention span, would sometimes blurt out answers and he always seemed to want to be the center of attention.

“These are all traits I’ve noticed in Bennett at times. “

I’ve said similar things about Bennett and am on record as saying that they should let him go. But lately I’ve been reconsidering my position.

The problem is that, though troubled, Bennett is extremely talented. If I really thought he was a bad guy, I’d stick by my original assessment. But really, I don’t think he is.

Bennett is immature and he’s also obviously got a problem with authority. But that doesn’t make him a bad person and I don’t think he’s the kind of locker room cancer that a more forceful, destructive personality that demanded that you take him seriously might make him.  He’s really not Brandon Marshall.

Bennett’s the kind of person you roll your eyes at and maybe keep away from for a little while. But he’s also fairly harmless in the big picture and he’s not going to to your team apart.

If Bennett isn’t on the team next year and the team can’t resign Zach Miller for a reasonable price, they’re going to have created a massive hole on the roster when they have enough holes to fill as it is.

Bottom line, I don’t mind the Bears trying to trade away a player for the benefit of both himself and the team. He’s clearly very difficult, if not impossible, to manage.  If they can get some value for him to offset their loss, then I can understand why they would let him go.

But here’s hoping that the speculation that the Bears will release Bennett if they can’t find a trade partner isn’t true. He’s a talented player who is under contract for a reasonable price of about $5 million dollars. Even if he skips voluntary offseason workouts again, he could be a valuable part of the offensive puzzle, if only for one more year.

Catching Up with Lamarr Houston

Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times catches up with linebacker Lamarr Houston:

“After he completed his comeback season but before he went overseas to train — in Turkey, of all places — Lamarr Houston met with his Bears bosses.

“‘They were very happy what I did, and they were very impressed and pleased, especially coming off the [knee} surgery,’ Houston said this week. ‘They were encouraged and they’re looking forward to next year — in starting to develop our game plan, to build throughout the offseason and have a final product at the beginning of the season.

“‘It’s really encouraging and exciting.'”

I’m glad the Bears are being patient with Houston. Given that his salary isn’t guaranteed, there’s no reason to rush to make a decision to keep him on the roster next year or let him go.

Although they often came in garbage time when the whole stadium knew that the other team had to pass from behind, Houston finished strong with seven sacks in the last nine weeks of the season. Given that these knee injuries often take a year to fully heal, there’s a reasonable chance that Houston will be very productive this year and it’s to the Bears advantage to keep him around and see what he looks like.

It Takes Two to Tango

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers yet another of your questions:

“With the draft being so deep on the defensive line, do you think Ryan Pace is hoping to potentially move down from No. 11 to get more picks?

“Unless you are sitting at the top of the draft like the Titans, I don’t know that you look to the draft saying, ‘What can we possibly do to trade down and add picks?’ Yes, the draft is deep on defensive linemen but at the same time the Bears roster is thin on playmakers and trading down in the first round is going to make it more difficult to land an impact player. Yes, you would pick up some additional picks later in the draft but the Bears need quality, impact players that are ready to start. If Pace likes a cluster of players that could be available around No. 11, I think for sure he would consider moving down a few slots.”

I think every team looks to trade down if the situation if right. What makes it difficult is that you need another team that wants to trade up. That’s why it’s tough to engineer these kinds of trades, especially in the first round. Another team has to fall in love with one player to the point that they are willing to give up draft picks to get him. Most smart teams know that, ordinarily, doing that is a mistake and some GMs train themselves to actively avoid the tendency, letting the draft “come to them” and taking what’s available when their turn pops up.

I don’t see a player that’s so good that another GM couldn’t resist trading up being available at number 11 when the Bears pick. I’d be surprised if they trade down.

How Much Money Per Position Will the Bears Invest?

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“How do you see Bears allocating their money in free agency in terms of positions? — @VIP0122

“I think you’re best looking at free agency as a puzzle where general manager Ryan Pace is seeking the best combination of players. It’s not how much money they’re going to sink into each position but what kind of collection of players they can add at a variety of positions – defensive line, linebacker, cornerback, safety, right guard and tight end (in no particular order)… You’re looking for a package of players when it’s all said and done and the process is going to be very fluid.”

I’m going to say that the answer to this question is simple. As Biggs says, it’s not the amount of money at each position. They’re going to look at the list of free agents as a whole and shop for value. the determining factor is going to be money for projected performance regardless of position.

I wouldn’t be looking for the Bears to break the bank on anyone but the only real restriction I see will be age – I can’t imagine they’ll be shelling out much money over multiple years for any player over the age of 30. That makes no sense when you are a long way from a Super Bowl. But dollars per position probably won’t be a factor.