John Fox Drives the Bears Bandwagon By Looking Forward. And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • Bears head coach John Fox doesn’t like to go into specifics. So its significant that even he concedes in this interview with John Mullin at csnchicago.com that things may be a little rough early in the season:

    “Truth be told, everybody breaks the season down into four quarters. Our first four games, and a little preseason, there’ll be a learning curve. Whenever you have a new staff, it’s just not as well-oiled early. Going back to both places I’ve been [Carolina, Denver], it didn’t start great. By the time you finish that first year, then it consistently gets better because you have some core players that know your system.

    “It doesn’t happen overnight, even from just the learning curve. Forget about the ability level; it’s knowing and understanding the system.”

  • Patrick Finley at the Chicago Sun-Times interviews Bears president/CEO Ted Phillips:

    “Phillips said [general manager candidate Chris] Ballard didn’t want the Bears to restructure their front office. Phillips characterized the power structure as the same as last season. Pace, who controls the roster, brought in at least 30 football-operations staffers during the offseason.”

    Its a funny statement because rumors at the time said exactly the opposite – that Ballard, as a previous employee, saw all of the flaws in the structure and wanted to change it. I would guess that the truth is probably somewhere in between. Ballard probably wanted to fire the “wrong people”.

  • Most reporters, Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com amongst them, think that there’s no way new offensive guard Patrick Omameh will learn the offense quick enough to start against the Packers. I’m not so sure but either way I think he’ll be starting soon.

    Omameh started at guard for the Bucs and even though he was part of a line that gave up 52 sacks, the Buccaneers obviously didn’t think that he was the biggest part of the problem. They already had Logan Mankins starting on the left and drafted Ali Marpet in the second round this year so they tried to move Omameh to tackle.

    If the Bears were happy starting Vlad Ducasse at guard, they’d have moved Kyle Long to tackle a long time ago. Don’t rule out Charles Leno starting a game at right tackle instead.

Elsewhere

One Final Thought

Back to Mullin’s interview with Fox, who wasn’t all doom and gloom as he gives you a glimpse into the kind of thinking that he’s using to instill confidence into a team that gave up 55 points to the Packers last year:

“It’s back to people. I tell guys, ‘I’m not spending eight hours a day with [jerks]. And I don’t expect you to, either.’ When those come up, I’m runnin’ them out. Because it’s people. If you have all oars in the water and don’t have ‘anchors,’ you’ve got a chance – I don’t care what your talent level is.”

“People ask me about last year. Hell, I don’t know about last year. I say: You’ve got a rearview mirror. You glance at it to see what’s behind you and learn from it. But you spend all your time looking in the rearview mirror and not out the windshield, you’re going to wreck. We need to be looking ahead, not behind, except glancing to learn from it. “

The over-under on wins for the Bears in Vegas is 6.5 wins. I think that’s certainly in the ballpark as I’ve been predicting about 6 wins. Media gambling experts are taking the over.

I think one thing is certain. The Bears are going to be live underdogs, especially late in the year. If your fandom can survive the start of the season, there may be a payoff waiting for you at the end.

Are the Bears Really the Worst Team in the NFL?

I’m sorry for my long absence from this space but they’ve been asking me to work for a living this summer and my life has been busy.  You may, however, rest assured that I’ve been following Bears news very closely.  To prove it, I’ll quote this article from this morning’s Chicago Tribune by Bernie Lincicome which asks the question from which this post takes its title:

“This Bears team is no better than the one that lost its last five games, and probably a worse one, a team that has permission to be as awful as it should be, a team marking time until it can rid itself of [quarterback JayCutler, lose the well worn Matt Forte as well, and become relevant again.”

I recently represented the Bears on a podcast where the host asked me what I thought would be a good year for the Bears.  He stated that though the Bears were down, he still thought they would place third in the division.  It was everything I could do to keep from laughing at him.

Most fans around the NFL really don’t understand why the local fans are so down on the Bears.  That’s because they didn’t have to watch them every week for the last 10 games of last season.  Some of those fans from other cities might, maybe, have seen their teams blown out, giving up 50 points in a game.  Less would have seen a game where almost all of those points were scored by halftime.  I’d venture that none of them have ever had to see it two game weekends in a row in their entire lives.

As a Patriots fan, that host will never know what its like to have a quarterback and his girl friend flash up a “51” signal on Twitter after a defeat of his team.  Very few others will have any idea what its like to see such a thing followed by having the quarterback for the team’s biggest rival complain about having a sore back from standing on the sidelines and watching for so long the very next game.  The Chicago Bears weren’t just a bad football team.  They were a laughing stock.  A soft, squishy, weak, roll-over-and-play-dead laughing stock.

Fans from other places see the Cubs and the White Sox and the Bulls and the Blackhawks and they don’t understand.  Once training camp starts, all anyone talks about around here is football.  To endure a season like the one last year literally left people not wanting to get out of bed on Monday.

I say this to you in dead seriousness.  As bad as they were last year, I’d have rather been a Tennessee Titans fan than a Bears fan.  At least they were competitive and fought in every game.  Indeed, even the much maligned Buccaneers managed to hang tough most of the time.

I don’t mind rooting for a loser.  But I can’t stand rooting for a loser that consistently goes belly up and quits.  That’s what the Bears did last year for most of the last 2/3 of the season.  They disgraced the citizens of a tough-minded city that literally lives and dies with the sport.

Will they be the worst team in 2015?  It depends.  Virtually everyone agrees that you aren’t going to be able to depend on the defense.  New coaches will help but the last I checked, coaches still need talent to win football games and proven talent outside of defensive lineman Jeremiah Ratliff is hard to come by on that side of the ball.

Fans like to point to the proven talent on offense and there’s a lot to like at the skill positions.  Lincicome may not think much of Forte but I do.  And there’s tight end Martellus Bennett, assuming he doesn’t let his contract situation affect his play.  And I like Alshon Jeffery better than any wide receiver in the division outside of Calvin Johnson.  People like to point to the Packers Jordy Nelson but fail to account for the fact that Nelson has Aaron Rodgers and that Jeffery has never had a quarterback throw him open in his entire career.  That’s because Jeffery has Cutler.  And as good as some of the players on that offense are, I can’t imagine Cutler finally learning to throw with anticipation to a receiver or becoming any more mentally tough at the age of 32.  Add that to a renewed reliance on the running game without revamping the offensive line that couldn’t block for it last year and I can’t imagine this team will ever ride the back of the offense to win when it counts.

But these problems won’t be what will determine whether the Bears are the worst team in football in 2015.  What will make the difference is what made them the worst team in my book in 2014.  Given that they won’t be able to get out there and play linebacker for them, the real challenge that this coaching staff faces is to instill some guts in this group.  If they do, I would call that progress.

On the other hand, if this team doesn’t find itself some heart, we’re in for another unwatchable nightmare.

NFC North Starters and Other Points of View

Bears

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers my question about whether Bears draft pick Adrian Amos is more of a threat to Ryan Mundy or Antrel Rolle. My assumption when I asked this question was that Rolle would play free safety, as he did last year with the Giants, and that Mundy would play strong safety where the Bears would take advantage of his good tackling efficiency. Amos would fit better at free. But to my surprise, Biggs indicates that there is some question about whether Rolle will be at strong safety. Rolle might fit better as a strong safety as to my eye his range is decreasing. But this wouldn’t play to Mundy’s strengths. Who plays what will be an interesting question to keep an eye on when training camp starts.
  • Biggs also answers a question about whether the Bears will keep four nose tackles with the signing of undrafted free agent Terry Williams. The question assumes that Jeremiah Ratliff will play nose tackle, something I’m not too sure he’ll be doing. He could also play end. Another thing to keep an eye on in camp.
  • Conor Orr at nfl.com predicts the Bears starters for 2015. I thought it was interesting that he has Hroniss Grasu moving immediately in as the starter at center. Many think Grasu will need a year of seasoning at guard and/or on the bench before being asked to handle the duties at center. Orr also says that the Bears have “sneaky depth” along the defensive line. I fail to see that.

Elsewhere

  • Orr predicts the 2015 starters for the Lions. I’ve been predicting a fall for the Lions this year for a while. The long standing problem of a poor defensive backfield and the new problem along the defensive line with the departure of Ndamukong Suh could be a very problematic combination for them.
  • Orr thinks that there’s a lot to like about the Vikings starters. Unlike the Lions, they seem to have finally solved their chronic problem at cornerback with Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes. Combined with a strong front seven they’re going to be tough on defense. They finally have a quarterback to go with Adrian Peterson on offense. ’nuff said.
  • Orr points out that the Packers didn’t entirely solve their two greatest problems this offseason – weaknesses at cornerback and inside linebacker. He doesn’t think first round draft pick, cornerback Damarious Randall, will be ready to start as a rookie. The Packers coaching staff will once again have to earn their money this year.
  • Orr also pens an article in which analysts Brian Baldinger and former cornerback Solomon Wilcots discuss what the New York Jets are going to do with what is suddenly an excess of good defensive linemen. Leonard Williams unexpectedly fell to them in the draft and he was too good to pass up. The conclusion? Go to the 4-6 defense. This is a fascinating read as both analysts speculate that the combination of the right personnel, the right coach and the right defense to stop the suddenly resurgent power running game in the NFL all combine to make this an interesting possibility. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with this Jets defense. It has the potential to be the best in the NFL.
  • Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com says that the owners meetings are mostly hot air insisting that there aren’t many real stories to be had there. One thing I’ll take issue with is his statement on the race that the Rams, Chargers and Raiders are in to get to LA. He insists that “the reality is none of those teams is any closer to L.A. today than is has been at any time in the past”. On the contrary. The reality is that Stan Kroenke is well on his way to building a real stadium which is going to have to be filled by a real team. Someone’s going to do that. We’re a lot closer to seeing at least one team leave than in times past.

One Final Thought

One other thing in Hub’s article that I’m going to choose to take issue with is his continued, emotional defense of the Patriots in the “deflate-gate” scandal. Particularly his statement that Tom Brady and the NFLPA will “take their case to court as they did with Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, and a truly unbiased judge will throw out the suspension completely after exposing it and the Wells report for the farces they are”.

I’ve stayed away from this as far as the blog is concerned because, after an initial gut reaction on the topic, I’ve decided that I’m not too worried about it. It’s not about football. It’s about the business that surrounds football and I’m not too interested in promoting that.

Nevertheless, I must say that I’d be very surprised if this went to court because in that case Brady would be forced to turn over his electronic communications under subpoena. That’s something I doubt very much he’d be willing to do given that he wouldn’t do it when he and his agent had control over what got turned over during the Wells investigation and wouldn’t do it. The Rice and Peterson cases were different – no one was withholding evidence. And let’s be honest, that’s what this case is all about now. When you are the NFL and you are charged with the investigation of a rules violations (or anything else) and you don’t have subpoena power, you are entirely dependent on the cooperation of everyone involved. That means you have to throw the book at teams that lawyer up in an effort to affect the outcome of the investigation and/or withhold evidence. It’s the only card the league can play in order to allow them to keep order in the league. As was the case with the Saints’ “bounty-gate” scandal, that’s what’s behind the severity of the punishment here.

In any case, I think we may be looking at a situation where Brady would prefer that the doubt about his guilt persists, even if the fact that he didn’t completely cooperate with the investigation does, as well.

Who Has the Edge to Compete with the Packers in the NFC North Post Free Agency

All of the NFC North bloggers at ESPN agree that the best team in the division is still Green Bay but the reasons vary. None of them points to what I think are the most potent mix in football – the presence of quarterback Aaron Rogers combined with the best coaching staff in the league outside of New England.

Most of them agree that the Lions are the team to watch if anyone is to overtake the Packers for the division. I’m going to disagree.

This is primarily a Bears blog so let’s just get this out of the way:  The rebuilding Bears aren’t worth mentioning on this point.

The Packers 

Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune examines the importance of Rogers:

Mike McCarthy‘s anxiety mushroomed beyond normal game-week levels in January every time he entered the Packers‘ training room to check on Aaron Rodgers‘ strained left calf.”

“McCarthy also endured losing Rodgers to a broken collarbone in 2013, resulting in an 0-for-November skid that nearly sent the Packers tumbling over the playoff cliff before Rodgers returned and saved the season. It was a jarring reminder that when the quarterback falters, a trap door can open beneath even the most accomplished teams.”

“‘Aaron … gives us the ability to be very aggressive in what we do (offensively), and it’s a lot of fun from that perspective,’ McCarthy said last month.

“Fun for the quarterback-haves sure, but misery for the have-nots.”

Aaron_Rodgers_drops_back_(cropped)

Never doubt the importance of Rogers (above) to the Packers or that he’s the best quarterback in the game with the possible exception of Tom Brady in New England.  And never doubt that hes a key to elevating the performance of the team.  As 2013 showed, theyre below average without him.

The same goes for an outstanding coaching staff on both sides of the ball.  The environment is one where players know how to do their jobs and they expect to win when they do.  With the exception of occasional tacking issues and bouts of dropped passes they’re usually one of the most fundamentally sound teams in the league.

The Lions

Moving on, the Lions lost the primary reason their defense has been dominant over the past few years (Ndamukong Suh) and they haven’t gotten better anywhere else.  As Michael Rothstein at ESPN reviews the Lions roster, I see what many might consider a surprising number of places they need to get better including running back, wide receiver, offensive tackle, offensive guard, defensive end, and cornerback.

I mildly disagree with Kyle Meinke at mlive.com when he touts the Lions success in free agency by pointing to their defensive line and their defensive backfield. And yet they are still their top two needs in this year’s draft.

In fairness to Meinke, he isn’t exactly claiming that signings like Rashean Mathis are all-stars. And I’m not saying that the Lions understated approach to free agency is the wrong one to take. Indeed, I think this is the way to do it:

“‘Here’s what I do know: I do know you don’t win any games this time of the year,’ [Lions head coach Jim] Caldwell said recently. ‘At Indy, we lost every year in the offseason. We didn’t lose too many games during the season, because we didn’t believe in necessarily going (all out) in free agency. We’d pick our spots, and build our team through the draft.

“‘That’s what we do — we basically build our team through the draft. Nevertheless, there are some opportunities out there — like Golden Tate — to go out and make a difference for us.'”

Tate was a nice, big money signing. But nevertheless, they’ve hardly used free agency to plug holes effectively, especially at cornerback.

As Meinke points out, the Lions have not drafted consistently well in recent years.   The odds are good that, four years later, two failed drafts in a row (2010 and 2011) from which the Lions have no players left on their roster are going to catch up with this franchise.  No surprise that Sharon Katz at ESPN categorizes the Lions statistically as the NFL’s worst drafting team.

Marc Sessler highlights the up and down nature of the Lions history:

“We’re not calling for the Lions to tumble off a cliff — not with Matthew Stafford throwing to Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate — but in the past four seasons with Stafford under center, Detroit has won 10, four, seven and 11 games. They’ll pivot back to earth in 2015, leaving the door open for another conference heavy to nab a wild-card spot.”

With the departure of Suh, they may be about to find out how mediocre the talent on that roster really is.  With the magic focus that come with having a new head coach also wearing off, I can’t imagine that they’re not in for a fall.

The Vikings

The Vikings, on the other hand, are a team to keep an eye on this year.  Sessler details some reasons why:

“On the heels of Teddy Bridgewater‘s mostly promising rookie campaign, the team upgraded at wideout by trading for the fleet-footed Mike Wallace while saving $5 million in cap space by dumping Greg Jennings. Wallace gives the Vikings a bona fide No. 1 target to pair with the promising Charles Johnson. If Cordarelle Patterson can shake off last year’s disappointing campaign and Kyle Rudolph can stay healthy, Norv Turner’s air attack will soar. That said, the O-line needs help.

On defense, Zimmer added a pair of former Bengals in cornerback Terence Newman and safety Taylor Mays.

Cornerback is a chronic problem in Minnesota and Newman should help opposite Xavier Rhodes.  Wallace wasn’t used correctly in Miami and could be a significant upgrade over Jennings in my opinion.  Add in the potential return of running back Adrian Peterson and you’ve got a balanced offense and a serious problem when playing Minnesota.

But I like the Vikings even without Peterson.  Why?  I love Bridgewater.  More than any Bears fan has a right to do.  I think he’s still under-rated and is going to turn out to be a top five quarterback in the NFL.  I also love the coaching staff in Minnesota, most importantly offensive coordinator Norv Turner who I think knows how to use the talent that’s given to him.  And I think there’s plenty of talent there to take advantage of.  Chris Mortensen at ESPN apparently agrees in this interview as he repeatedly emphasizes the ability of head coach Mike Zimmer to develop young talent and how lucky Bridgewater was to land in the right place with Turner (below).

norv-turner-minnesota-vikings-593x356

Conclusion

Former Bears tight end Desmond Clark once said that the talent around the NFL on a team by team basis is largely the same.  That leaves quarterbacks and coaches to make the difference.  Those are the two things that can turn average players into good players and good players into great ones.  The only team in the division that has the quarterback and the coaching staff to compete with the Packers is the Vikings. They’re the team to keep an eye on this year.

On a Positive Note and Other Points of View

Bears

  • Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times apparently didn’t read my article indicating that they haven’t changed as he outlines the Bears needs post-free agency. In fairness, the list looks a lot like the one from two months ago.
  • Plenty of people have claimed that the Bears overpaid for wide receiver Eddie Royal. But Eric D. Williams at ESPN points out that Royal’s reliable, high quality play had an impact on the Chargers last year. They’ll likely miss him.
  • Michael C. Wright at ESPN is asked if he’d take linebacker Vic Beasley or wide receiver Amari Cooper if both were on the board for the Bears. Wright goes with the wide receiver because he thinks its currently a greater need.

    Cooper in my opinion is far and away the better prospect. He’s as close to a sure thing as your going to get at receiver with a lot of speed and polish. Beasley, on the other hand, scares me. He’s another one of these late risers who shot up boards after the draft. I watched one of his games during the season and was mighty unimpressed. Guys like this, who don’t stand out based upon the tape but who catch your eye after showing they can run track, have a bad habit of busting. This is where teams need to anchor their board.

  • Dan Hanzus at nfl.com constructs a team out of the remaining free agents. Its not too bad and there are some guys the Bears could use here at the right price at spots like tight end (Jermaine Gresham), along the offensive line (e.g. Jake Long), and safety (Stevie Brown, Bernard Pollard). My guess is that the hey phrase for a many of these guys it “at the right price”. At some point, that almost has come down and we might see some of these guys.
  • Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times interviews linebacker turned defensive end turned linebacker Lamarr Houston. He claims he was often played out of position last year at defensive tackle. He was listed at 300 lb but actually weighed 265.

    Houston was mostly being asked to rush the passer from that spot. It was quite an adjustment and one that he didn’t make quickly. Or perhaps some would say the old coaching staff didn’t adjust and switch him back to a position he’d be more more likely to succeed in quickly enough. I’m certain he’ll be happier and more productive this year.

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune reports that the Bears are having offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings in for a pre-draft visit. I’m glad the Bears aren’t ignoring the offensive line, which has to get better if they’re really going to run the ball more. Clemmings is targeted for the middle to late first round. This may be an indication that the Bears are looking to trade back.
  • chicagofootball.com rounds up a whole lot of mock drafts. The most popular choices are Amari Cooper and Danny Shelton. Clearly the Bears are going to get a very good player in the first round if the stick in the seven slot.

Elsewhere

    • Judy Battista at nfl.com does a nice job of detailing the limbo that both Jadeveon Clowney and the Texans are in after his micro-fracture surgery. As bad as this is for Clowney, it’s worse for the Texans. They can only hope that Clowney’s recovery goes smoothly but it would be unwise to count on it.
    • Gregg Rosenthal at nfl.com points out that the NFL offseason calendar changed and that could affect when free agents are signed. In previous years, unrestricted free agents signed by other teams counted toward the league’s compensatory pick formula until June 1. That day has been moved to May 12. So a lot of signings could happen right after that day.
    • Victor Mather at The New York Times reports on the current state of the Aaron Hernandez trial. I’ll summarize for those who don’t want to read the details: The evidence is all circumstantial and he’s going to get off.
    • On the other hand, those who don’t want to believe that will want to read this from Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com.
    • Nate Atkins at chicagofootball.com has a little fun with his mock draft, projecting a straight up trade of Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to the Titans for the number two overall pick. I think I would demand more if I were the Titans but I guess its not impossible. 
    • Michael Rothstein at ESPN details the likely loss of yet another defensive lineman for the Lions in George Johnson. The guess here is that its not a huge loss in that Johnson never did much in the NFL until he was paired with Ndamukong Suh. Nevertheless it would be yet another significant loss in terms of depth. The Lions are cap strapped and they’ve got holes popping up on that defense.

One Final Thought

You won’t find many positive articles about the Bears in the national media (believe me I’ve looked). So this one by Elliot Harrison at nfl.com was mildly refreshing. It’s not head-over-heels positive but overall its evident that Harrison likes what he sees here from Ryan Pace.

As a side note, Elliot highlights the fate of Stephen Paea, arguably the Bears best defensive player last year. Most of us figured that Paea was gone with the transition from a 4-3, where he was a nose tackle, to the 3-4 where he presumably didn’t have a position. The Redskins picked up Paea in free agency after the Bears apparently showed little interest. Guess where they’ll play him. Defensive end in a 3-4, an area of weakness for the Bears right now. It will be interesting to see how that transition works out.

Who Falls Off Farthest Without Their Quarterback?

Dan Hanzus at nfl.com answers your questions:

“I’ll look at it another way: Which one of last year’s playoff teams would instantly fall off a cliff if their star quarterback up and decided to join Jake Locker in the cornfields. My first thought was Andrew Luck, but that Matt Hasselbeck has some dad pluck. They’d probably go 7-9. There’s Tom Brady and the Patriots, of course, but knowing that team Jimmy Garoppolo would somehow make them better. The answer has to be the Cowboys, who are still voluntarily compensating Brandon Weeden. 12-4 to 4-12 would be in play.”

Hanzus forgot about the Packers who went 2-4-1 without Aaron Rogers in 2013. That translates to 4-5 wins over a 16 game season. For my money Rogers is the best quarterback in football and he single handedly elevates the Packers, a draft and develop team that will never have the elite talent all over the field that top teams like the Seattle Seahawks have.

Either Enforce the Rules or Don’t Have Them at All

DarrelleRevis

Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com reviews the tampering allegations against the New York Jets in regards to their eventual singing of Darrelle Revis:

“The problem arose when [owner Woody] Johnson said publicly on December 29 that the Johnson would ‘love for Darrelle to come back,’ a textbook violation of the tampering rules. (Johnson later said he ‘misspoke,’ a term which suggests Johnson actually meant to say he would ‘not love for Darrelle to come back.’)”

“In this specific case, the full body of evidence includes a March 3 report from [Manish] Mehta that Johnson was leaning heavily on his front-office staff to bring Revis back. Mehta’s source, undoubtedly a member of the team’s front office, committed a separate violation of the tampering rules by leaking the information to the media, since it had the clear impact of making it known to the football-following world that the Jets were indeed in play for Revis at a time when only the Patriots should have been talking to Revis. While the NFL has no jurisdiction over Mehta, the questioning that occurred at team headquarters on March 8 surely extended to Mehta’s story from March 3.”

Someone is going to have to explain to me what there is to investigate. This is open and shut. I know that most teams don’t take tampering too seriously as its apparently done in secret all the time. But if the league doesn’t punish the teams in blatant situations like that of the Jets, I don’t see how they can continue to have any rules regarding the matter at all.

Head-Scratcher? And Other Points of View.

Bears

  • According the Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune the Bears signed free agent guard Vlad Ducasse. Ducasse was drafted in the second round in 2010 by the Jets and played well but has struggled ever since. He shows flashes of ability but this is one of those signings where you wonder if the team wasn’t better off with Eben Britton. Perhaps the Bears believe Britton has topped out and that Ducasse has more potential if they can find a way to bring it out. In that respect, he’s a bit of a boom or bust signing. At 6-5, 326 pounds he’s at least got the look of a road grader that might come in handy in a run first offense.

    John Mullin at csnchicago.com thinks the signs point to Kyle Long moving to left tackle in part because the Bears have apparently been looking strictly for help on the interior line in free agency. I tend to agree.

  • Marc Sessler at nfl.com on Bears left guard Matt Slauson‘s comment that Jay Cutler can be “every bit of a Tom Brady, a Peyton Manning, an Aaron Rodgers“:

    “Where do we begin? Our friend Slauson has boarded a rocket ship into the bizarre, taking us to new frontiers of insane offseason hype.”

  • Michael C. Wright at ESPN.com goes over the Bears draft options at wide receiver:

    “In the debate between [Amari] Cooper and former West Virginia receiver Kevin White, coaches seem to prefer the former, while scouts tend to give the edge to the latter. That’s primarily because coaches view players with an eye toward them helping right away, while scouts take more of a long-term perspective.”

    This was a funny statement only because my experience is exactly the opposite. Coaches tend to like the physically gifted, less developed prospects (like Johnny Manziel) because they think they can coach anyone with the necessary physical skills to be a star. Scouts, on the other hand, tend to go with the Teddy Bridgewaters of the world. IMO they also have a bad habit of being right. Anyway, Wright goes on to quote Cooper:

    “You don’t want to give the defensive back any signals about what route you’re going to run. Every time I run a route, I try to make it seem like I’m running a different route than I’m actually running so I can get open.”

    If the Bears go in this direction, they certainly have an interesting choice. White is both bigger and faster but Cooper has the look of a football player. Which choice he makes (if available) may tell us something about Bears general manager Ryan Pace.

  • The Bears attended a private workout by Northwestern safety Ibraheim Campbell. Campbell had four forced fumbles in 2014, an unusually high, Charles Tillman-like number. Via Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • How do you beat Aaron Rogers and the Packers in the NFC North? Probably the same way that Houston is trying to beat Andrew Luck and the Colts in the AFC South. From Zak Keefer at the Indianapolis Star.
  • Kevin Fishbain at chicagofootball.com points out the Bears need for a tightend:

    “The Bears were interested in Virgil Green, who re-signed with the Broncos, and [offensive coordinator Adam] Gase used two tight ends a decent amount in Denver’s offense the past two seasons. It’s a weak tight end draft, and there’s not much left on the free-agent market, yet this is a position group that should grow in the coming months.”

    The Bears are going to want the option of using two tight ends in a run-based offense. I’d be surprised if they didn’t find one that could block somewhere. The draft actually is a viable possibility here if all you want is someone who can block and catch a ball only every occasional blue moon.

  • The Bears sit at 25th in Elliot Harrison‘s NFL power rankings at nfl.com. I thought that was surprisingly high until I looked at the teams below them: Jets, Redskins, Jaguars, Browns Buccaneers, Titans, and Raiders. You could debate whether the Jets are worse than the Bears but with their quarterback situation I’m inclined to agree with Harrison. Even with a terrible defense in transition to a 3-4, the Bears belong at 25th in a miserable bottom portion of the league.

Elsewhere

  • Conor Orr at nfl.com wonders about the success of the teams in the AFC East as the spend to try to catch up with the Patriots:

    “[H]ow does [Bill] Belichick buffer his offense to face off against three brutal front-sevens twice a year? What will his counter be to all the noise being made by his counterparts in free agency? Perhaps the Patriots will be a sleeping tiger now that the market is officially open and they’ll load up for one last (reasonable) title shot in the Brady-Belichick era.”

    Doubtful. Because they don’t have to load up.

    The point about building the front-seven is well taken. The best thing to do is to mimic the Baltimore Ravens who give the Patriots the most trouble year in and year out.

    But the problem with the AFC East generally right now is that the other teams are playing fantasy football, over-paying talented players and winning in March when, in fact, what counts is winning in January. The Patriots win football games because they get players to hit the grass every week and do their jobs. The other teams in the division can spend gross national product but until they get that part down, it’s the Patriot’s devision to lose.

  • Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com reports that DeMaurice Smith has been re-elected as NFLPA executive director. This is good news for fans. Smith faced eight challengers the most vocal of which was Sean Gilbert, who wanted to sue the NFL for collusion and to force the league to re-open negotiations on the collective bargaining agreement. Gilbert’s election probably would have meant labor trouble, something no fan wants. Gilbert may have shot himself in the foot by advocating an 18 game season, which the vast majority of players clearly don’t want.
  • Gregg Rosenthal at nfl.com thinks Adrian Peterson will most likely stay in Minnesota. Why? Follow the money.
  • Chris Wesseling, also at nfl.com speculates that Phillip Rivers might be traded, perhaps to the Titans. All indications are that Rivers will play out his contract in 2015. Similar to the situation in New Orleans with Drew Brees, I doubt very much that San Diego could get what it would want for the 33 year old Rivers. He’s worth more to them than anyone else at this point.

    A lot of teams are going to be looking to develop young talent behind aging quarterbacks this offseason. The Bears arguably need one worse than anyone else and if they have their eye on anyone in particular, they may have to over draft him. Former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah, also at nfl.com, has the Bears taking Marcus Mariota with the seventh pick in the draft. It’s not out of the realm of possibility.

  • The Dolphins had the smash hit signing of the year when the added Ndamukong Suh. But you have to wonder if the price of crippling the rest of the team with the cap implications is going to prevent them from winning and defeat the purpose. From Armando Salguero at the Miami Herald.
  • Mike Rodak at ESPN.com suggests that the Bills are spending recklessly in free agency rather that looking for value. Personally I think situations like this almost always end in disappointment as performances in December rarely meet expectations generated in March.

One Final Thought

Rosenthal considers the signing of Bears wide receiver Eddie Royal to be one of free agency’s biggest “head-scratching” moves:

“In a relatively depressed receiver market, the Bears gave $10 million guaranteed to a receiver that has topped 800 yards once in his seven-year career. It was just a random move, and felt a little more painful after the Bears grudgingly swallowed paying Jay Cutler big money into 2016.”

I think the Bears offensive coaching staff sees Royal as a Wes Welker-type of player. The Bears have never gotten the most out of these types of slot receivers but if anyone knows how to do it, it should be Gase. This could be a better signing than most people think.

The Bears Reasonable Approach to Free Agency and Other Points of View

Bears

  • Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune gives the details of the Bears first three free agent signings of 2015. The interested observer will note that each of these contracts is about as front-loaded as you could make them. None has a great deal of guaranteed money past the second year.

These signings look like the type that are meant to allow maximum flexibility once the prospects which they will supposedly be developing come into their own. They’re also meant to spend the 2015 cap space that the Bears have available essentially as quickly as possible. The Bears definitely aren’t looking to buy a championship anymore. At least not this year. Hopefully they’ll leave some room to negotiate an extension with Alshon Jeffery and possibly Matt Forte. I understand the reluctance to extend Forte yet another deal at his age but he’s been very healthy and he’s still the most productive all around player this team has.

  • Speaking of Forte, Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune asks (and answers) the following question:

    “Now that Jay Cutler has been named the starter, how can the Bears prop him up?

    “Pace and new coach John Fox have hammered the importance of a strong running game and good defense.”

    Continuing the theme of how the offense is changing, Biggs makes some good points:

    “[Eddie] Royal gives [offensive coordinator Adam] Gase a receiver who can run option routes and crossing routes and be an underneath target as part of a combination. He can be in the flat when [Alshon] Jeffery is running a curl or corner route. Royal can be lined up tight to the alignment with Martellus Bennett, who can run high with Royal running low. They are two-level reads for Cutler the Bears didn’t have last year.”

    Yeah, sure, I get it. And with a running game you can add play action. Before you know it, you have a big boy NFL offense.

    The question is, “do the Bears have the personnel to run one?”. Campbell calls adding a running attack a “quick fix” because the Bears have Forte but I’m thinking the Bears aren’t going to be able to do this without doing some serious shuffling along the offensive line. The one thing former Bears head coach Marc Trestman didn’t do was emphasize things that he didn’t think his players could do. I think they didn’t run the ball more is because he didn’t think they could block it.

    The new blocking scheme will add an interesting wrinkle here and its possible that the finesse blockers the Bears have up front will do better with it. We’ll see.

  • On a related note, Biggs is reporting that the Bears are making a run at Dolphins free agent center Samson Satele. I’m a little iffy on whether this would be a clear upgrade or not. Satele is a smallish center who had a reasonably good start to 2014 but his performance apparently fell off late in the year. Satele is younger than current Bears center Roberto Garza and if the Bears sign him, Garza might move to right guard and kick Kyle Long to the outside at left tackle.

Center Stefen Wisniewski is being considered by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Seahawks per Kevin Patra at NFL.com. I thought maybe the Bears would make a run at him but there’s no apparent interest.

  • Adam L. Jahns at the Chicago Sun-Times reports the excitement that Bears head coach John Fox felt when he watched quarterback Jimmy Clausen‘s snaps last year:

    “So I’ve seen a guy that’s matured. I watched his one start [and] a lot of preseason snaps that he was involved in, and I’ve seen him grow as a quarterback.”

    Whatever else you think of former Bears head coach Marc Trestman, he seems to have been a pretty good quarterbacks coach. You have to wonder if Clausen will regress under new quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains. Some will recall that Loggains pushed for the Browns to draft Johnny Manziel over Teddy Bridgewater, then coached him to some of the most miserable quarterback play the league has ever seen. The Browns apparently fired him for it.

    It’s still a quarterback driven league. I don’t think its a coincidence that the Packers coaching staff is always loaded with former quarterbacks coaches. You have to wonder if the Bears have the support on staff that’s needed to maximize what they can get out of theirs.

  • Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com has personal experience with new Bears safety Antrel Rolle and says that we can expect him to be a vocal leader in the locker room that they’ve been missing.
  • Campbell continues to speculate about where the pieces are going to fit on defense:

    Jeremiah Ratliff and Ego Ferguson project as nose tackles in the 3-4, so the need to draft Washington’s Danny Shelton, for example, is smaller than how much a top-flight edge-rush prospect could help.

    Jon Bostic stands out as a leading candidate for playing time at inside linebacker, but few others do. And the Bears still are searching for big-bodied 3-4 defensive ends.”

    An awful lot of this depends upon what type of 3-4 the Bears decide to play. If its the classic, 2-gap type then I’m not entirely convinced that Ratliff won’t play defensive end. Certainly he’ll play a great deal of outside linebacker but Houston will probably see a great deal of time there. They’ll probably also try Will Sutton there.

    In any case, I’m saying that defensive line is one of, if not the top, needs that the Bears have. I’m also going to say that I’d hate to see the Bears pass on Shelton, especially to take an edge rusher where the Bears have all kinds of options. My gut tells me Shelton’s a player with that rare and possibly necessary body type and, especially if Ratliff plays more end, they’re going to want a good nose guard.

Elsewhere

  • Ben Goessling at ESPN on the Vikings acquisition of wide receiver Mike Wallace and the release of Greg Jennings:

    “Wallace seemed like a good fit for Norv Turner’s vertical passing game, more so than a 32-year-old Jennings did, but Jennings still was an effective enough slot receiver, a fine route-runner and a trusted adviser for younger wideouts that it looked like he could return in 2015. All that wasn’t worth $11 million in cap space to the Vikings, though, especially when they could save $6 million by releasing him.”

    “Wallace is no sure thing, either, after his relationship with the coaching staff fractured in Miami, but he’s three years younger, a few tenths in the 40-yard dash faster and a better schematic match for what the Vikings are doing now. “

    No, Wallace certainly isn’t a sure thing. But the odds are that Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner will find a better way to use him to his abilities than they did in Miami. On the other hand, Turner had an obvious problem with Jennings, opting to call receiver Charles Johnson the best on the team after the season “by far”. So that’s addition by subtraction there.

    Its hard not to like what’s going on in Minnesota right now. You wonder in quarterback Teddy Bridgewater‘s second season if they aren’t going to be ready to contend with the Packers. Again via Goessling:

    “‘I think you saw the receivers did some good things last year, but you saw us start evolving in the offense, because it’s the first year in the system, too,’ general manager Rick Spielman said Friday night, after the Vikings treated free-agent defensive end Michael Johnson to dinner. ‘And you saw how much more comfortable Teddy was, especially down the stretch. And they start developing that chemistry. Now, getting another big-play potential threat, as our young guys continue to develop, that’s kind of the direction we wanted to go.’ “

    Bottom line, the Vikings are worth watching.

  • Goessling also comments on the Adrian Peterson situation:

    “[A]s I understand it, the relationship between Peterson and the team might not even be the biggest concern at this point. The running back went, in very short order, from being a beloved figure in Minnesota to a pariah, as sponsors retreated and legislators heaped scorn on the Vikings for their initial decision to play Peterson following his indictment for child injury charges. He was stung by a Minneapolis Star Tribune investigation into his past, and claimed it did not take into account Peterson’s steps to clean up both his personal life and financial misappropriations in his charitable foundation. And he certainly heard the people — fans, media members and public figures alike — who called for the Vikings to end their relationship with him. It’s important to note all of these events are down the river from Peterson’s initial actions. His excessive discipline of his son initiated this, and Peterson has expressed regret for his actions in several interviews.”

    People are generally the same everywhere but the people of the state of Minnesota tend to be odder birds than most. Its a reasonably liberal state with strong notions of right and wrong. Its easy to believe that they were particularly hard on Peterson. Maybe too hard.

    Heaven knows its nice to see a fan base that doesn’t just roll over and forgive every action just because it was perpetrated by a star athlete. But Minnesota may be one of the few areas in the country that will never forgive Peterson no matter how sorry he is. I still think he’ll be back there. But its possible that he’ll eventually conclude that he has to force himself into a friendlier situation.

  • One of the free agents to keep an eye on in the secondary free agent market is Tramon Williams. The Packers already lost Davon House to Jacksonville and Rob Demovsky at ESPN says that they’d like to have Williams back. But at age 32 there’s a limit to what they’re going to offer him.

Williams is a possibility for the Bears but they’ve probably got their corners set with Tim Jennings on one side and Kyle Fuller on the other. And if they were going to sign a corner of a certain age it might as well be Charles Tillman.

  • Dan Hanzus at NFL.com points out that when it rains, it pours:

    “This time last year, [Jadeveon] Clowney was on top of the world. A college hero, combine wonder and soon-to-be No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. Since then there’s been a hernia surgery, concussion and two knee surgeries that have put his career in jeopardy. And now this

    “SportsRadio 610 has learned that Clowney was bitten by teammate D.J. Swearinger‘s pit bull last week. Police records obtained describe a bite to Clowney’s right arm that sent him to a Pearland emergency room. The incident occurred in the early morning of March 4th.”

  • Hanzus also notes that there were 11 people in the Dolphins photo when Ndamukong Suh signed his contract and none of them was named Joe Philbin. It turned out that Philbin was in the gallery “probably next to some schlub columnist who calls for his firing on a weekly basis. It’s just a matter of time before Joe’s desk is in the basement.”
  • According to Michael Rothstein at ESPN there’s a distinct possibility that the Lions will be moving to the 3-4 defense this year. Even with new defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (who might fit a 304 better) the Lions are desperately short of tackles on the roster who are signed for 2015.
  • The more I read about Colorado State quarterback Garrett Grayson, the more I wonder if he’s the guy the Bears (or someone else) trades back into the first round to get. From Sharon Katz at ESPN.
  • TMZ is claiming to have video of Seattle runningback Marshawn Lynch in a scuffle outside of a San Francisco bar.
  • Rumors persist that Chip Kelly acquired Sam Bradford as a bargaining chip to get to a position to draft Marcus Mariota. This time its Josina Anderson at ESPN doing the reporting:

    I still don’t think he can make it high enough into the draft order to pull it off (if he actually is trying at all).

  • The Giants are getting desperate for safety help now that Rolle has signed with the Bears. There isn’t much out there. Via Josh Alper at profootballtalk.com.
  • Mike Reiss at ESPN considers the alternatives for New England now that Reggie Bush has signed with San Francisco. I’d worry less about that and more about the potential absence of Vince Wilfork in the middle if I were them. Good nose tackles for that defense don’t grow on trees, something that the Bears might want to remember as they switch to the 3-4.

One Final Thought

Gregg Rosenthall at NFL.com considers the Bears to be one of free agency’s losers so far:

“Royal getting $10 million guaranteed was a head scratcher. And Pernell McPhee could be the latest Ravens defender to look a lot different away from Baltimore. It’s also hard to get excited about a team that is so openly ambivalent about its starting quarterback.”

This is a decidedly pessimistic view, of course. Technically Cutler’s situation had nothing to do with free agency. And McPhee could just as easily turn out to be Paul Kruger as Dannell Ellerbe.

Royal fills a gap in the offense. Yeah, it was too much guaranteed money. Apparently the Bears think Royal is Danny Amendola. For all we know he might be but we’ll never find out because Cutler isn’t Tom Brady. Anyway all of that guaranteed money is in the first two years. Which means that if he doesn’t work out the Bears could free themselves of that contract without a cap penalty when they’ve developed a draft pick to replace him.

Personally, I would have been disappointed had the Bears been more aggressive than they were the first week of free agency. This team needs to get younger and start developing prospects rather than overspending and selling out to win immediately. If the last couple years taught us anything its that you can’t buy a championship.