As White Struggles Don’t Blame the Bears for Not Signing Jeffery

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions about what appears to be old news but probably won’t be:

“With Markus Wheaton’s latest injury setback, I’ve been reflecting on how few bona fide wins Ryan Pace has enjoyed in free agency. For every Akiem Hicks there is a litany of Antrel Rolles, Eddie Royals and Pernell McPhees. Mike Glennon might have the hottest seat in the NFL right now and there’s little doubt Alshon Jeffery would still be the WR1 on this roster. Now there’s this Roberto Aguayo business. Is this merely attrition/bad luck or a legitimate blind spot for the young GM? — David D., Rogers Park

I’ve always said that free agency is no place to build a foundation for a franchise. It can be a nice place to plug a hole here or there or add a little depth but you’re not going to successfully build a 53-man roster via free agency… As far as Jeffery, he didn’t have a lot of personal interest in returning to the Bears so it’s difficult to place blame on Pace for his departure. Had the Bears topped other offers by a wide margin I suppose it’s possible he’s still with them, but that’s rarely prudent. Keep in mind also that free agency is a two-way street.”

Exactly. Jeffery took a 1 year deal with the Eagles for $14 million, much less than anyone thought he’d get and probably less than the Bears offered long-term.

Let’s be honest. It wouldn’t have been smart for Jeffery to say it but the Bears were going to have to offer him the moon to stay with a losing franchise with a poor quarterback situation. Jeffery couldn’t find a groove here and Philadelphia is a rising franchise with a good, young, somewhat proven quarterback where he could put up numbers for a year and re-enter free agency. Chicago couldn’t offer that at the time and, really, couldn’t offer it now without further demonstrable progress from Mitch Trubisky.

The fact that the Bears couldn’t lock up Jeffery isn’t because Pace didn’t want him or failed to offer him a reasonable amount of money. Former Bears wide receiver Mushin Muhammad once said that Chicago is where wide receivers go to die. Jeffery obviously felt that he didn’t want to get stuck doing that here.

You may wonder why I’m dedicating an entire entry to talking about this now, months after Jeffery decided to go elsewhere. Well, one reason was that I was basically hibernating over the offseason and didn’t get a chance to offer my opinion then. But a better reason is wrapped up conveniently in another question to Biggs:

“Keep hearing that the Bears need Markus Wheaton because they lack a deep threat. Why wouldn’t Kevin White who runs a 4.3 be a deep threat? — @roybal5598

White set the scouting combine on fire before the Bears drafted him seventh overall in 2015 when he ran in 4.35 seconds. But when you consider the term “play speed,” it’s clear that White doesn’t play that fast… There was a notable difference on the field in the season opener last year when you saw Texans rookie wide receiver Will Fuller (who ran a 4.32-second 40 in 2016 at the scouting combine) play very fast. The leg injuries White has suffered could make him a somewhat different player. He didn’t show up in the preseason opener against the Broncos but the same can be said about the majority of the first team offense… Let’s see what White can do this season. Maybe he possesses the speed and route running to consistently make plays downfield. Like I’ve said in previous mailbags, we’re not going to be able to make a judgment on what White is and is not based on what he does in training camp and preseason. Let’s see how he produces when it counts.”

Again, true enough. But I think there’s good reason to doubt that White is going to improve his route running or his play speed quickly, if at all. And that’s if he stays healthy.

If White struggles to reach his potential amongst a scatter shot group of nondescript wide receivers, these questions about letting Jeffery go are going to come up frequently and fans are automatically going to blame the organization for not doing what it takes to keep Jeffery, particularly if he thrives with Carson Wentz in Philadelphia.

Should that happen, it will be important to keep the situation in perspective. Jeffery almost certainly didn’t want to be here and there was probably very little that the Bears could reasonably do about it.

Quick Game Comments: Philadelphia Eagles at Chicago Bears

Offense

  • The Bears came out in 11 personnel.  The Eagles played them a straight up 4-3 with 7 in the box.
  • It didn’t take long for the Bears to give up a sack.  Logan Paulsen was left one-on-one with Malcom Jenkins on a blitz and Jenkins ran by him like a traffic cone.  Paulson didn’t even see him until he was five steps into the backfield.  The Bears had their share of trouble protecting Cutler even before this game got out of hand.  He saw a lot of pressure in his face and, at least early, unlike last week, it wasn’t usually because he was holding the ball too long.  The line struggled.
  • They also struggled to run the ball.  Eagles players were shedding blocks to get to Jeremy Langford before he could gain much yardage.  People will say that Langford needs to start gaining some yards on his own and he should.  But he generally didn’t have much chance tonight.
  • Bears have reportedly been working on screen pass.  My advice is that they work hard on it.  [head shake] Man.
  • Interesting to see a Paul Lasike sighting.  Logan Paulsen’s poor night at tight end may have had something to do with that.  If Lasike can do more than block the full back brings an interesting aspect to the offense.
  • I think the Bears may have simplified things for Kevin White this week.  He seems to have been playing faster and maybe thinking less.  Giving him the ball on a sweep around end was also a good way to use his athleticism without making things too complicated.
  • Eddie Royal is performing the way I think we all thought he would last year.  He seems healthy and when that’s the case, he’s the second best receiver on the team by far.
  • I’d like to say that Brian Hoyer actually put played Cutler in the fourth quarter after Cutler left the game.  But the Eagles had a big lead and he was working against soft coverage.  So I think we’ll all have to with hold judgment.

Defense

  • The Bears came out playing man coverage but they were playing extremely soft in coverage.  Quarterback Carson Wentz took advantage, throwing underneath of pretty good yardage. It seems evident that they wanted to take advantage of the Bears defensive backs.  They threw the ball only once in their first 7 plays by my count and ran only twice on their first drive.
  • It certainly looks dot me like the Eagles doubt about the ability of the Bears defensive backs to stay with their receiver was well founded.  Jacoby Glenn and Bryce Callahan both struggled to stay with receivers deep and were frequently beaten even on passes that weren’t complete.
  • The ball was coming out quick and pass rushers had very little chance to get to Wentz.  Nevertheless even when given the opportunity they struggled to get pressure on Wentz unless they were blitzing, especially in the first half.  Interestingly they threw some line stunts at the Eagles and these seemed to have some positive effect.
  • To Wentz’s credit, he seems to handle the blitz better than the veteran Jay Cutler, who has struggled to spot late blitzers all preseason and into the season.
  • Wentz looks like everything he’s cracked up to be.  He has good arm strength and reasonable accuracy.  But what sticks out to me is how smart he plays for a rookie.  Only four rookie quarterbacks since 1970 have won their first two starts to begin a season. Three of those four players helped their teams qualify for the playoffs, including Joe Flacco of Baltimore (2008) and Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets (2009), who led their respective clubs to the AFC Championship Game as rookies.  Philly fans must be walking on sunshine right now.
  • One problem I have with Wentz – he cries to the referees more than even Tom Brady does.  Give us all a break, young man.
  • Give the Bears defense credit.  They struggled to stop the pass but they did a decent job against the run allowing only 3.1 yards per carry.
  • Really like how fast those Bears inside linebackers play, especially Jerrell Freeman.  After a miserable year last year its nice to see some good linebacker play in Chicago again.  Generally speaking the defense does play hard.
  • The Eagles were 3 for 3 on fourth down.  You’d like to see the bears stiffen a little more on those plays.

Miscellaneous

  • Connor Barth missed a 31 yard field goal late in the first quarter.  This really hurt a young team who needed some points early after a decent drive.  John Fox and Ryan Pace staked a lot on their personal knowledge of Barth when releasing Robbie Gould despite a spotty history.  Kicks like that aren’t going to make people in Chicago anymore inclined to trust their words over his actions, past and present.  That Eddie Royal punt return for a touchdown may have been the best return I’ve ever seen from a Bear.  The little leap at the beginning to avoid the initial tackler was nifty.  It was a pleasure to watch.  On the other side, the Eagles can’t be happy  to allow such a return with a big lead.  Big plays like that are the one single thing you don’t want to allow to happen in that situation.
  • The Bears had 7 penalties for 60 yards.  that’s just too much.  They need to clean that up.
  • The Bears lost the turnover battle with three to the Eagles zero.
    • The first Jay Cutler fumble was inexcusable.  That kind of poor ball security by a veteran quarterback on the run is deplorable.  The lineman didn’t really even have to knock the ball out of his arms.
    • The interception in the third quarter deep in Bear territory was almost as bad and was far more costly.  The game was still winnable at this point.  But this was a back breaker.  Of course, if that didn’t put things out of hand, the Langford fumble in the fourth quarter did.
  • It’s mighty tough to win a football game when you are giving the ball away like the Bears did Monday night.  It also a lot tougher for a young team to lose, not because of rookie mistakes, but because the veterans let them down.  Watching Jay Cutler start the season like this, particularly the way he turned the ball over in this game, its hard not to wonder if the Bears haven’t been irreparably damaged by the loss of former offensive coordinator Adam Gase.  In any case, that ship has sailed.  There was some good play by some of the Bears tonight.  Enough to give me some hope.  But it’s apparent that the Bears have a lot to clean up before they can put it all together to win some football games.

Dowell Loggains Probably Shouldn’t Read This. And Other Points of View.

  • Two articles about new offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains here and here.  Not one word, not even one question, about how he managed to get an entire organization fired (with himself coming first) when he pushed the owner to draft Johnny Manziel against the wishes of both the coaching staff and the front office.

Fluffy, feel good nonsense.

  • And then there is the fascinating comment in Patrick Finley’s article for the Chicago Sun-Times on Monday morning?

“The Bears and Texans took back-to-back timeouts after the play with 13 seconds left in the first half. [Alshon] Jeffery, having seen the way the Texans’ safeties were rolling toward him, walked into the huddle and told Jay Cutler what was going to happen on the next play: the safety would shade to help cover him, and Eddie Royal would be open down the seam for a 19-yard touchdown.”

I also took note of this early in the first half, thinking that Kevin White might have a big game because of it.

I noticed it.  And Jeffery noticed it.  So I have one question:  Where was Loggains?  Why wasn’t he in Cutler’s ear telling him what was going to happen?  Isn’t that his job?

“They made some adjustments,” Jeffery said. “We have to make adjustments. We gotta do better.”

Good luck with that.

“The sacks and quarterback hits were the result of a really good defense and an offensive line that hasn’t had a chance to come together. But you have to wonder if Cutler would’ve been sacked five times and hit 13 times if offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains was calling plays the way Adam Gase did last year. Cutler was sacked as many as five times only twice in 2015, and the most he was hit in a game was eight times. The Bears went through a four-game stretch in which Cutler was hit only 11 times and on average in 2015, the Bears gave up 4.9 quarterback hits per game.”

The answer is “no”.  No way Cutler takes that kind of a beating last year.

Adam Gase called plays where Cutler’s responsibility was to get rid of the ball fast, taking the pressure off of the offensive line.  He also frequently made sure that the tackles had tight end help in pass protection, especially Charles Leno on the left.  That disappeared to Miami yesterday as well.

“The Bears can’t afford for Cutler to treat White the way he treated Devin Hester.”

Yeah, that wasn’t good.  Cutler was caught on camera painting at White, indicating that White had made the mistake on the route that led to an interception.  But even after the game, White obviously wasn’t sure that was really the case.

“I’m not sure,” White said. “We just got to go back and watch film. [It’s] not being on the same page. We’ll figure it out and correct it for next week.”

In fairness, Cutler softened up his comments after the game.  Nevertheless I found head coach John Fox’s reaction on Tuesday to be disappointing:

“I can’t expect people not to show emotion,” Fox said. “I don’t think any of that’s intentional. They’re just all competitors. They want good things to happen and when bad things happen, there’s probably an element of frustration with a lot of people.”

Perhaps.  But Cutler’s attempt to not assign blame after the game was empty given that he couldn’t keep himself from doing it on the field.  He’s got to control himself better than that.

Bottom line, Pompei is right.  I remember the exact same situations popping up with Devin Hester and I remember Cutler’s reaction being exactly the same.  And it was evident from Hester’s comments after he left that he didn’t take kindly to it.

 


After bashing Dowell Loggains for most of this post, maybe the bookies know something I don’t.  We shall see.

  • Biggs also points out that general manager Ryan Pace probably needs a Jimmy Garoppolo tracker.  The Patriots are likely to get multiple first round picks in a trade if he performs the next three games like he did on Sunday.

I’ve done everything but get down on my knees and beg Pace to draft a quarterback in the first three rounds for the last two drafts.  I’m going to do it again.

I’ve heard a lot of nonsense about not reaching for a quarterback and how Pace was justified in not paying the price to get one.  Well, tell that to the Patriots.  The invested a second round pick in a quarterback they didn’t need and spent a few years developing him.  It’s now paying off, just as it did when the Packers drafted Aaron Rogers when they didn’t need him.

Bottom line, the value for the player and the position is set by the market.  If you are consistently evaluating players below that value, you are the one who is undervaluing the position because you are the one who refuses to play the going rate.

Ryan, please, draft a damned quarterback.  And then draft another one.  And then draft another one. And do it and do it and do it again.  I’m begging you.  It’s an investment that ultimately will pay off five fold (at least) if you do it right.

Jeffery and the Bears Apparently Far Apart on Long-Term Contract

Up until now, I’ve been assuming that the Alshon Jeffery contract situation was going to go according to the usual plan. Both sides stake out a position and neither moves until the last minute when a deal gets done just before the deadline, in this case July 15.

But now it appears that may well not be the case.

Multiple unnamed sources “with knowledge of the situation” have told the Chicago Tribune that Jeffery will likely play the coming season under the franchise tag with no long-term deal. This is a very disappointing development for Bears fans.

Jeffery is the only legitimate, established star on an offense that doesn’t have many of them. Sure, 2015 first round pick Kevin White is there but he’s unproven after being on injured reserve last year. Even if he turns out to be a good player you need more than one serious threat at wide receiver to make a good modern offense. The Bears may have that this year but it certainly sounds like no one should be holding their breath on the future after that.

The Bears want to see more from Jeffery in terms of his commitment to the team as well as to his own health before they throw big money at him. But other teams have been handing out huge, big money contracts like candy this offseason. As a good example, Eagles defensive lineman Fletcher Cox recently signed a 6-year contract worth $103 million with $63 million guaranteed. Cox is a good player but that is huge money and players around the league are looking at it and drooling.

The odds are good that Jeffery is asking for the moon. And the problem that the Bears face is that if he hits the open market he may well get it.

Ten Thoughts on the Bears Offseason Midway Through Free Agency

Spring brings renewal and never more so than with major league baseball and spring training. Like most sports, the offseason in baseball is a time to unwind and relax. The suspense builds as another season draws near because fans miss the sport after literally not thinking about it for at least four months.

Not so with professional football, which has a yearly calendar like no other sport. Football fans find interesting things to think about year around and it’s often the happenings in the offseason that introduce the issues that are most interesting to follow as the season begins. Football fans never stop thinking about football.

With that in mind, here are ten thoughts on the Bears offseason midway through free agency.

1. The Bears now have two long snappers on the roster: the newly signed Aaron Brewer and the long snapper that the Bears finished with last year, Patrick Scales. Scales, a journey man who has bounced around the league since he went undrafted to the Baltimore Ravens in 2011, was signed in late November by the Bears to replace Thomas Gafford in as effort to upgrade the position. He’s still on the roster and apparently will be given a chance to compete to win the starting job but it’s now evident that the Bears still aren’t happy with the performance at the position since Patrick Mannelly retired before the 2014 season.

The Bears evidently hope that the 25 year old Brewer, who spent the last four seasons snapping for the Broncos including three under Bears head coach John Fox, will solve the problem though it isn’t obvious that he will have the edge going into camp. It isn’t evident why Brewer was released by the Broncos.

“There are always decisions being made at the end of the season as you get ready for free agency,’’ Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. “Aaron did a good job for us. … He’s been a consistent snapper. We’ve got to go replace him and it will be tough.’’

Scales is slightly older at 28  and has a salary of only $525,000 this year and none of that is guaranteed while Brewer signed a one-year deal for $760,000, also not guaranteed.

Long-snapper is an underrated position in that you never notice it until something goes wrong. It may be instructive to pay a bit more attention to the fine details this year like the strength of the snap and the ball placement as fans handicap the competition. In the end, though, consistency will be the major factor and that will come across only in camp as each man makes snap after snap under the watchful eye of special teams coordinator Jeff Rogers.

In any case, may the best man win.

2. Two things are worth noting about the Bears approach to free agency this year. The first is that the Bears have been unrelenting in their pursuit of strictly young talent.

Danny Trevathon (26), Jerrell Freeman (29), Bobby Massie (26), Nick Becton (26), Akiem Hicks (26), Jacquizz Rogers (26) and Mitch Unrein (29) are all under the age of 30 and the three major signings (Trevathan, Massie and Hicks) are 26 years old. Only Zack Miller (31) and Tracy Porter (30) are 30 or older and the Bears have extensive experience with both as resignings.

It’s now evident that the Bears are trying to make up for poor drafts in the past in a particular way. Had those drafts from a few years ago been good, the Bears would now be trying to sign their own rather than dipping into free agency. So they’re doing the next best thing – signing young players as if they were signing their own draft picks to second contracts.

The Bears are basically betting on their coaching staff to get these players in and to make them into better values than they were with their previous teams, who chose not to re-sign them.

Given the way the team over achieved last year given their talent, I like the approach.

3. The second thing to note is that the Bears approach to free agency has been a cautious one and, to their credit, they haven’t overpaid for some of the young talent that they’ve signed. But it’s also worth pointing out that they have kept the price down by addressing easy to find needs in free agency.

Inside linebacker has been a major focus and rightfully so. It was a major weakness last year and Trevathan and Freeman will be huge upgrades this season over Shea McClellin and Christian Jones. Addressing right tackle with Massie could pay huge dividends if for no other reason than it move Kyle Long back to right guard, at minimum making that position considerably stronger. Massie will be no worse than Long was last year in his first year at right tackle. and promises to improve the run game considerably.

But holes remain at the hard to find positions, pass rusher, defensive back, and, Unrein and Hicks aside, defensive line where an impact player is still needed.

For instance, assuming the Bears wanted to stay young at the position, the price of a pass rusher would have been unbelievable. Olivier Vernon only had 7.5 sacks last year but signed a contract for an astounding $85 million with $52.5 million guaranteed with the New York Giants. Admittedly most of those sacks came late in the year in an fantastic salary drive in a contract year for Vernon. If he keeps up the pace he finished with, he’ll earn that money. But most people think the Giant overpaid and I tend to agree. It’s a huge risk and the Bears evidently wanted no part of it or anything like it.

Look for the Bears to remain economical by drafting heavily at these positions in April’s main event.

4. Speaking of defensive backs, the Bears apparently liked Tashaun Gipson of the Browns but the sense was his market went higher than they were comfortable with when he signed in Jacksonville for $35.5 million over five years. If the Jaguars get the Gipson that was a Pro Bowl performer in 2014 for the Browns, it’s money well spent. If they get the Gipson that was on the field last year, it’s not going to end well.

This will be a situation to keep an eye on next year as it will interesting to see if the Bears should have pursued Gipson harder, particularly given their troubles at the safety and that they haven’t made any signings to fill the hole.

5. Tight end also remains a position to be addressed in the draft. Khari Lee came over in a trade with the Texans just before the start of last season and Gannon Sinclair was the only player to spend the entire season on the team’s practice squad. Both of them are more blocking tight ends than they are receivers like Zach Miller. Veteran Rob Housler can also block a little.

The obvious assumption is that the Bears will draft a tight end this year and though the draft is thin at the position, there is talent to be found there.  It’s just a risky pick because very few players are asked to block in the spread offenses that are predominant in college.

In particular, Ohio State’s Nick Vannett impressed me at the Senior Bowl as a guy who has the skills to be a receiving threat and at 6’6″, 260 lb, has at least the size to be a blocker.

The 6’4″, 230 lb Lee was a disappointment last year. He came for a sixth round pick and the assumption was the he would contribute immediately. He did play in each of the 16 games but his impact on the offense was minimal. Apparently last year was a red shirt year for the 24 year old and I’m looking for a major jump from Lee this year.

6. One major reason that the Bears are remaining economical in free agency is that they have the contract for Alshon Jeffery yet to be worked out. The efforts to resign Jeffery are ongoing and persistent.

“We’re actively and aggressively negotiating right now,” Pace declared at NFL scouting combine.

The Bears placed a $14 million-plus franchise tag on Jeffery on Feb. 29. The fact that Jeffery signed that offer was critical to his offseason because his salary is now fully guaranteed against skill, injury and salary cap maneuvers.  If he gets hurt, he still gets paid.  Though Jeffery might still fail to show up for workouts because his salary will not be guaranteed beyond this year, the fact that he signed the offer indicates to me that he probably will.  Otherwise there’s little reason to sign the offer and give up the right to negotiate with other teams.

Jeffery has had soft tissue problems over the last few years and there is a plan in place to solve the issue.

“I think being in Year 2 with a player helps a lot in just understanding his body and his body mechanics,” Pace said. “I know (Alshon) and his agent are doing some things, too, to improve on that. So when he gets back, we’ll have a plan in place. It’s important.”

It is.  And getting Jeffery in for those workouts will undoubtedly be a part of it.

Dez Bryant signed a 5 year contract for $70 million with $45 million guaranteed before the 2015 season and Jeffery’s contract will likely equal or exceed that. Presumably some of that will appear as easy to reach incentives for Jeffery to remain with the program to avoid injury.

7. Look for Jeffery’s contract to be at least a little front-loaded in terms of the cap hit.

First, this is the way that the Bears like to work anyway. It allows them to easily get out of any contract with minimal dead money on the cap. But there is an even better reason for it this year than that.

The last season of Long’s four year rookie contract is 2016. Though the Bears will undoubtedly pick up Long’s fifth year option, it is highly unlikely that they will allow him to play out that contract and hit the market in 2018.

The Bears are undoubtedly thinking about the extension that they’ll be negotiating for Long next offseason and they are planning their cap space, which should still be ample, accordingly.

8. The running back situation for the Bears is a curious one.

The Bears spent a good part of the offseason convincing us that their future lay with 2015 fifth round pick Jeremy Langford and hold over Ka’Deem Carey. For a long time there was doubt that Carey would remain on the team but his development on special teams allowed the Bears to get him onto the game day roster the second half of the season and he responded by running well. Rogers was actually ahead of Carey on the depth chart last year before getting hurt.

The Bears will undoubtedly continue to favor the multi-back system that they ran last year and based upon their comments the assumption was that Langford, Carey and Rogers were the guys.

But the Bears pursuit of Denver running back C.J. Anderson changed all of that and many are wondering now if they might be interested in picking up another running back in the draft.

Indeed, Pace has a history of collecting running backs and he’s been known to pull major surprises by drafting players such as Mark Ingram in the first round of the 2011 draft (under general manager Mickey Loomis).

With this in mind, I’ve seen some thoughts floated that the Bears might draft Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott. Indeed, the NFL Network‘s Charles Davis has Elliot going to the Bears with the 11th pick.

but I very much doubt that will happen as my gut tells me that Elliot will be gone before the Bears are on the clock. Although there are some who think that it is a mistake to draft a running back that high, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Elliot isn’t the reason why the Eagle traded up with the Dolphins to the eighth position as free agency began this year.

Many have looked at where Todd Gurley was drafted last year and figured that is the highest Elliot will go, putting the Bears in a position to draft him but I don;t believe it. Gurley is a wonderful runner but Elliot is a smooth, all around athlete that can do it all: run block and catch. He’s not just a running back. He’s a weapon.

I might add that after years of being de-valued, the running back position is experiencing something of a renaissance this year. Anderson, Matt Forte, Chris Ivory, Chris Johnson, Doug Martin, Lamar Miller, and Bilal Powell to name a few all got signed in a decent market this year.

The Eagles have already traded running back Demarco Murray and they have reportedly made it known that remaining running back Ryan Matthews is also available. Though Andy Reid often threw the ball an inordinate amount of the time as the Eagles head coach, he relied much more heavily on the run when current head coach Doug Pederson was his offensive coordinator in Kansas City. Expectations are that Pederson will carry that philosophy over from the Chiefs. But that can’t happen if he trades his starting running backs away. The bet here is that he has Elliot in mind as a replacement and will draft him at eighth overall.

9. The NFL’s 32 owners were busy when they convened in Florida last week for their annual meeting given the number of proposed rule changes that had to be considered.

One rule that is not changing despite a mass of confusion is the catch rule.

One of the most memorable quotes of the 2015 season was uttered by frustrated Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy after a playoff game against Arizona in January.

“I don’t know what the hell a catch is anymore,” he said. “It’s ridiculous.”

Despite this statement and many like it, the NFL persists in believing that the relevant people associated with the league understand the rule. They believe that the problem might simply be in communicating the rule more clearly to fans and to the broadcasters who influence their opinion.

The league might continue to delude itself but the rest of us are more apt to believe the evidence of our eyes.

The good news is that, despite their declarations, the league might be taking steps to clarify the situation for the referees on the field. The first of those was having Dean Blandino on the phone for replay reviews to inject some consistency into the interpretation.

In January, during the divisional round playoff game between the Packers and Cardinals to which McCarthy is referring above, Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald caught a pass while going to the ground. He lost possession when he hit the ground, and the official on the field determined that Fitzgerald had caught the ball. Unlike previous calls which had been reversed in such a situation, this one stood as the referee (and Blandino) ruled that “indisputable visual evidence” to overturn the ruling on the field that Fitzgerald had the ball long enough to become a runner was lacking.

The situation caused confusion because it was exactly the same as one that existed in the playoffs the previous season. In that case, the ruling was incorrectly reversed and Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant was ruled to have not made a crucial catch. It arguably cost them the game.

The truth is that though the league never acknowledged that the Bryant ruling was incorrect, the Fitzgerald catch was effectively an admission of it.

Bottom line, the key to clarifying the catch rule isn’t educating the fans and broadcasters. It’s educating the referees. Once that’s done, the standard will be consistent and complaints will tail off.

10. The Browns have decided to hitch their wagon to Robert Griffin III at quarterback. They signed the still young 26 year old to a two-year, $15 million contract with $6.75 million in total guaranteed money.

Most assume that the Browns will still draft a quarterback with the second overall pick in the 2016 draft and, indeed, they might. Conventional wisdom says that the odds of rediscovering the player that took the league by storm in 2012 are not good. Drafting a quarterback to play behind Griffin, Josh McCown, Connor Shaw and/or Austin Davis to develop for a year would seem to be the way that most teams would play it.

But the Browns aren’t most teams and that may be especially true this year.

The Browns hired Paul DePodesta away from the New York Mets as the team’s chief strategy officer. DePodesta is expected to help members of the team’s player-development, sports-science, high-performance and analytics departments maximize their efforts – think money ball for the NFL.

This development could be a fascinating one because it indicates that the Browns may be going all-in on analytics, something that other teams are experimenting with but which is combined with the more traditional approach to building a team.

So though conventional wisdom says draft a quarterback with the pick, what if the analytics say “No”? There have been plenty of busted quarterbacks drafted in the first round of the draft and its generally ruined multiple careers from the general manager down when it’s happened. What if DePodesta has run the numbers and his version of reality indicates that the odds are better of developing a recycled quarterback into a success?

And better yet, what if he’s right?

Things are never dull with the NFL.

Bears “Buy” into the Team Building Concept

As I looked over what the Bears did on the first day of the new league year in free agency Wednesday, I was thinking about a strong and compelling article for The Bleacher Report by Dan Pompei on the dangers of free agency. Pompei concentrated upon the failure of the Philadelphia Eagles’ “Dream Team” to produce the results expected of them in 2011.

General manager Howie Roseman went all out that offseason, signing loads of talent to a roster that ultimately failed in part because of lack of cohesion.

“We didn’t jell together well,” defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said. “There were different personality types. We didn’t come together as a unit. It’s tough to say if we lacked leadership. When you get a lot of new players, it’s hard to establish who the leader is. You had a lot of high-profile names. People were coming into a system new, so you really don’t want to step on anybody’s toes. You are trying to feel out the organization, the other players, how they do things, the expectations.”

This is what happens when you dive into free agency and grab every shiny bobble that catches your eye instead of thinking about how the player fits your scheme and your locker room. In the end, your players are hired guns and many of the foundational aspects of all great football teams such as chemistry, character, and continuity are disrupted.

Perhaps most importantly, and to Jenkins point, the Dream Team was a group of star players tossed together and expected to win immediately with no time to feel each other out and get to know one another.

When I heard that the Bears were going after inside linebacker Danny Trevathan, I was mildly concerned that this is what they were doing. Trevathan was easily the best inside linebacker available in free agency and a bit of a head liner.

I needn’t have worried. The Bears never overpay.  At least not much.

Inside linebacker isn’t a glamour position and in the end, the Bears gave Trevanthan a four year deal worth $24.5 million, including $12 million guaranteed. That’s not chicken feed but it places him at only 10th amongst inside linebackers.  That’s probably not too far above where he belongs and four years from now, he’ll be underpaid not overpaid.

What’s more important is that the Bears seemingly put a lot of thought into who, not just what, they were signing. Trevathon will be 26 years old in two weeks and will be able to integrate together with the rest of a defense which has 27-year-old outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, 24-year-old cornerback Kyle Fuller, 22-year-old safety Adrian Amos and 22-year old nose tackle Eddie Goldman.

New Bears right tackle Bobby Massie is 26 and will team with Hronis Gasu (24), Charles Leno (24), Kyle Long (27).

Newly re-signed runningback Jacquizz Rogers is 26 and will continue to merge seamlessly with jeremy Langford (24) and Ka’Deem Carey (23) not to mention newly resigned Nick Becton (26) and a host of other young special teams players.

Even the re-signed Tracy Porter isn’t as old as you might think at 29 and has had a year to work as part of the team already.

The way to success in the NFL is to put together a group of men that performs as a whole greater than the sum of its parts. That can’t happen unless those men come together and buy into the team concept in an environment where they can get to know each other and work off of each other’s strengths.

There’s no substitute for time in the process of allowing that to take place. It doesn’t happen overnight or even in one training camp. That’s one reason why the Dream Team ultimately failed to materialize. It’s one reason why you can’t buy a championship.

Building relationships takes time that no amount of talent can shortcut around. By spending their money not only on talent, but on youth, the Bears are setting themselves up to allow team members to play together for an extended period in a consistent environment. Players will have time to develop not just as individuals but with each other as a team.

The Bears haven’t gone out in free agency and simply grabbed the biggest, veteran names with the gaudiest reputations. They’ve gone about it in an effort to not only get better, but to get younger, as well. In doing so, they are developing a young core of players who will fit in together as they grow into a coherent team.  And when the time is right, we may find that they have been able to use free agency to succeed where others have failed.

Bradford to the 49ers? No Way.

Martin Frank at delawareonline.com speculates that the 49ers might be interested in trading for Sam Bradford:

Chip Kelly always liked to use the phrase ‘open competition’ to describe the battle for the starting quarterback when he coached the Eagles, whether it was true or (mostly) not.”

“Wouldn’t it be funny if [Eagles general manager HowieRoseman puts the franchise tag on Bradford, then swings a deal with San Francisco to get back the second-round draft pick that Kelly traded away to get Bradford?

“After all, if the 49ers quarterback job is truly an open competition, then Kelly must not be completely satisfied with what he has. Any ‘football guy’ can see that.”

I can’t believe Frank is serious. Kelly has a good quarterback for his system in Blaine Gabbert already and if Gabbert doesn’t work out, there’s the highly athletic Colin Kaepernick to coach up and compete for the job.

Sure, if Bradford were free on the market and the 49ers could get him for some minimal amount of money, they might give him a shot at the job. But a second round pick for a mediocre quarterback that’s going to cost you $18 million a year? No chance.

The Chip Kelly Conundrum

Darius Walker at nfl.com comments upon the disconnect between the offensive system and running back Demarco Murray, who the Eagles gave a $40 million contract to in the offseason:

Chip Kelly‘s high-powered spread offense revolves around spacing. The majority of snaps take place out of the shotgun formation, with the goal of capitalizing on the gaps created by that alignment. To be successful, Murray must rely on his peripheral vision and react to open lanes throughout the entire line of scrimmage. So if a hole opens up on the back side, he needs to see it immediately and take advantage.

“Unfortunately, he’s never had to do that before.”

“Only a handful of backs can be classified as feature backs, which is to say, someone who does everything well. Most runners fall into one of three categories: one-cut, open-field or third-down.

“Murray is a one-cut guy. He has a rare combination of strength and balance, with an exceptional capacity for attacking downhill. He can completely gash opposing defenses between the tackles and get the tough yards.”

“In Week 5 against New Orleans, the Eagles incorporated more runs from under center. The result was one of Murray’s better outings of the season (83 rushing yards and a touchdown). In order for Murray to be successful, and for the Eagles to leverage their investment, Kelly would have to completely alter the offensive approach.”

Which he’s not going to do. Like running backs, you can classify coaches into two types: those who adapt to their personnel and those who need personnel to fit their system. Kelly is the latter. Unfortunately he had zero NFL experience as a coach before being hired by the Eagles, much less as a personnel man.  He’s paying for that inexperience now.

Murray’s struggles mask the other real issue for the Eagles. It’s poor coaching. When he took on the role of general manager, Kelly was arguably distracted and weakened his strongest suit, his ability to get the most out of players, especially on offense. Connor Orr. also at nfl.com, comments upon one Eagles’ situation their game against the Cardinals as one example of the problem:

“Because they were already trailing the NFL’s fifth-best defense 17-10, Kelly thought that points would be at a premium, so he opted to go for it on fourth down. Following a timeout, Kelly sent out his personnel grouping and the Cardinals immediately countered with a timeout of their own.

“In that moment, Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson noticed that the Cardinals returned with a different defense.

“‘They brought (linebacker Alex Okafor) over and put him over (Eagles tight end Brent Celek),’ Johnson said. ‘That’s basically what they did.’

“Did the Eagles return with a different play call?

“‘Did the play call change? Our call was the same but the defense changed,’ he said.

“So the defense may have anticipated the call?

“‘I think so. It was just a good play by them. We didn’t execute like we should have.'”

“And it wasn’t just moments related to the offense and their seldom-used $40 million player. The defense was drifting into sub packages with their backs against the goal line. Their line and secondary was so scattershot that the Cardinals didn’t even bother taking advantage of the fact that the Eagles were down to their final two healthy cornerbacks, opting to pound the ball with David Johnson.”

Is Kelly in over his head? It sure looks like it. It’s fairly evident that coaching in the NFL is more than just rolling out more talented players than the other team, spreading them out and letting them do the same thing over and over again as Kelly did at Oregon. Its a game of adjustments and re-adjustments over the course of all 16 games. Kelly is likely just realizing that.  Its possible his players are realizing that he’s just realizing it, too.  That doesn’t inspire much confidence or good play.

The Eagles were one of the most interesting teams going into 2015. We all wondered which direction Kelly’s team was going to go in after drastic changes in the offseason meant to give the coach what he wanted to get over the hump. Its now clear that what he wanted was the wrong thing in at least some cases and the Eagles have regressed. The question now is what to do about it.

Once again, the Eagles will be a fascinating team to watch in the offseason. They are left with an unsavory choice. They could quickly tear things down before they get worse. If they choose, instead, to stick with Kelly and let him learn on the job how to both coach and manage personnel in the NFL, the Eagles may well have a ways to go before they bottom out. Kelly is by all accounts a smart man and the likelihood is that he’ll eventually figure it out. But do the Eagles, their players and their fans have the faith and the patience to wait that out? And should they?

Average Fan Loses in Network Prime Time Choices

Paul Schwartz at the New York Post comments upon the state of the Giants:

“Gee, wonder how happy the NFL and TV network suits are about their decision to flex Sunday’s Giants-Vikings game to the prime time Sunday Night Football stage on NBC? The Giants could be eliminated before they take the field and might be without [Odell] Beckham, their one true superstar, because of a suspension. “

Beckham has been suspended for the game pending appeal after committing an NFL record six personal fouls with some out of control reaction to the physical coverage he was getting from the Carolina Panthers. The Giants could be eliminated before the game if the Redskins clinch the NFC East with a win over the Eagles Saturday night.

Despite that, I doubt that anyone is regretting the decision to move the Giants. First, the Eagles and the Redskins are both miserable football teams and the game should effectively be a coin flip (the Eagles opened as four point favorites). But more to the point, the game involves the Giants which means CBS and the NFL Network get the New York market. The guess here is that only the Chicago market is more lucrative and that only because the Bears are the only team in town. Like every other NFC North team, the Vikings have a national following and barring a complete collapse they are probably playoff bound.

They could probably find a better game but networks don’t care about the quality of the match up. They care about viewers. Sometimes that means the average NFL fan loses.

Terrell Owens Still Crazy After All These Years

Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com quotes 41 yer old former wide receiver Terrell Owens as he claims that he could still play for the Eagles:

“‘You think that I shouldn’t be playing right now?’ Owens said on the same day his Football Life documentary debuted on NFL Network. ‘I definitely could be playing right now, but based on my character — yeah, people can say, ‘Oh he’s 41.”

“It sounds like Owens wanted to once again claim that the NFL’s lack of interest comes from media-fueled concerns regarding his disruptive locker-room behavior. But he was wise not to shine a light on that topic, what with the voters (all of whom belong to the media) poised to give him a bronze bust in early February.”

“He has a point, and with quarterback Matthew Hasselbeck getting it done at the age of 40, it’s hard not to wonder why someone wouldn’t give Owens a chance. He undoubtedly has grown and matured in five years of not playing, and he’d surely be grateful for getting one last opportunity to play.”

A) Wide receivers are not quarterbacks. B) Even if they were, there’s no way that, after head coach Chip Kelly spent the entire offseason getting rid of the divas on that team, he’s going to invite a locker room disruption like Owens into the mix now.

I understand that it’s hard ot accept. But its time for Owens to accept the fact that on the wrong side of 40, he simply isn’t worth the problems he brings. It’s time ot let it go and enjoy retirement.