Bears Make the Most of a Bad Situation by Trading Bennett

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune comments upon the Bears trade of tight end Martellus Bennett and a sixth round draft pick to the Patriots for a fourth round pick:

“Some fans, especially those still unable to comprehend the dynamics in play with wide receiver Brandon Marshall before he was traded, will condemn the move. A team in need of playmakers is losing one and not getting anyone who can replace Bennett on the field.”

I won’t condemn the move, myself. But there’s little doubt that the Bears are not better on the field for it.

Common wisdom seems to suggest that the Bears were going to release Bennett if they couldn’t find a trade partner. I’m not so sure as getting nothing for such a talented player would not have been ideal. You wonder if the Bears wouldn’t have chosen to put up with Bennett, who would have needed to perform in a contract season.

Regardless, it didn’t come to that.

On the surface, similar to the one involving Brandon Marshall a year ago, the Bears wouldn’t have seemed to have gotten Bennett’s value in this trade. But taking into account the fact that Bennett would have been gone after 2016, it’s not as bad as it looks. The Bears are trading away Bennett and the 204th overall pick, the one they acquired from the Patriots for linebacker Jon Bostic.

That’s Bennett and Bostic for a fourth round pick. Couched in those terms, and given that Bennett would have remained discontented no matter what his motivation to perform this season, that’s not too bad.

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The Bears Are Better But They Haven’t Arrived

Hub Arkush at chicagofootball.com notes the difference in free agency for the Bears this year compared to last year.

Last year the Bears signed a lot of players to one year “prove it” deals because they had a lot of needs to fill. The Bears signed 16 unrestricted free agents and 13 were one year deals. Essentially, as Arkush points out, the Bears were piling in bodies.

This year is different.

“[Bears general manager RyanPace has taken a 180-degree turn in his approach to free agency. While it is far from over, to date Pace has inked just four players from other teams, all to multi-year deals, all immediately added to the depth chart as starters and all are hoped to be core players over the next three or four seasons or more.”

Truth.

However, let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that the team has arrived. They’ve still got a lot of holes to fill and the draft won’t fill them all.

The guess here is that the Bears aren’t done offering one year deals to veterans to plug holes. The time simply hasn’t arrived yet to start signing them. Eventually, probably after the draft, the Bears are going to have to start signing depth and they’ll still have one or two starting positions up for grabs for those players.

Like Arkush, I like what the Bears are doing. But they’re a year or two away from the point where they’ll have mostly the players they want in place at every position a couple guys deep. When they are, we’ll know that they’re ready to consistently compete.

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Bears Remain Conservative, Retain Plenty of Cap Space for Future Contracts

Bill Barwell at ESPN approves of the Bears signing inside linebackers Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman. Barnwell points out that the Bears not only helped themselves a great deal at the position, but that the contracts had some specific cap implications.

“No team has made a bigger upgrade at one position than the Bears have at inside linebacker this offseason, and with oodles of cap space available, [general manager Ryan] Pace has wisely placed large roster bonuses in each player’s 2016 compensation to retain flexibility in future years. If Freeman doesn’t look like the guy who called the shots for Indy, they can move on with just $2 million in dead money next year. The Bears will have $12.1 million committed on their cap to inside linebackers this year, the fifth-highest total in the NFL at the moment.”

The Bears have remained conservative in terms of front loading contracts for some years now. Part of that is because they want to remain flexible in future years to meet contract demands as needed.

One of the players who will be up for a big future deal is guard Kyle Long, who technically becomes a free agent after 2016 but who will certainly have his fifth year option picked up by the team. The Bears will try hard to resign Long to a contract extension before the 2017 season rather than let him become a free agent.

Even after signing Long and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who one hopes will sign a long-term deal before the July 15 deadline to do so, the Bears will have plenty of space to work with for some time to come. They will hope that they will eventually be using that space to re-sign their own draft picks rather than trying to build a team with players that other teams let get away.

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With an Interesting Twist, Jerrell Freeman Calls Out Coby Fleener

Well, say this for new Bears linebacker Jerrell Freeman. He’s not afraid to say what he thinks.

After hearing that fellow Colts free agent Coby Fleener called out some Indianapolis  players for quitting during a losing 2015 season, Freeman called out Fleener via text messages to Bob Kravitz of WTHR.com.

“Fleener, he didn’t have the [guts]. That shit pisses me off. And he must’ve been looking in the mirror when he did the interview.

“I despise guys like that,” Freeman added. “That’s what little girls do, talk about you when you’re not around. I’m a grown man. If I see something I don’t like, I’m going to go have a face-to-face convo with that player/players and we are going to get an understanding! I feel like I had a hand in building what’s over there [in Indianapolis], so he’s shitting on me, too. . . . That’s a bitch move.”

Personally, I agree and have no problem with Freeman calling Fleener out. And, of course, it’s nice that he’s remaining loyal to the Colts organization despite the fact that he chose to leave.

Having said that, I wonder if Freeman sees the irony in the fact that he chose to text Kravitz rather than simply say all of this to Fleener’s face.

Freeman could turn out to be a very interesting personality to follow with the Bears this season.

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Freeman Signing Signals the Apparent End of the Shea McClellin Era

Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune reports on the signing of new inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman.

Freeman is a good, under the radar signing of the type I expected the Bears to make. He’s a few years old than the usual Bears signing this year at 29, partly due to the fact that he started his career in the CFL.

The move signals the end for Shea McClellin at the position.

When McClellin was drafted in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft, many fans and media members called for him to play move to the linebacker spot but head coach Lovie Smith and general manager Phil Emery insisted that McClellin was a defensive end.

Eventually he was move to outside linebacker and, last year, to the inside where he seemed more comfortable. Unfortunately the move came too late and McClellin hit free agency as a player who has never been able to live up to his lofty draft status.

Watching Freeman play what sticks out is his mobility and effectiveness in pass coverage. A sideline-to-sideline middle linebacker with the Colts, Bears fans will be happy to see what Freeman brings to the table.

A pro scout from an AFC club offered his assessment of Freeman: “Undersized three-down ‘backer with above average athleticism, speed and was productive but he shows average strength and take-on ability. He’s a starter with limitations. Doesn’t wow you with splash plays but he is dependable and a stat sheet filler.”

To my great surprise, Pro Football Focus had Freeman with their top run defense grade amongst linebackers last year. It will be interesting to see if he’s more physical than expected inside once the season starts.

Freeman seemed happy with the stability that the Bears organization offered. “It was them being genuine,” he said. “… And it’s a real big thing that everybody’s on the same page, like-minded from top to bottom. It’s hard enough to win when everybody’s on the same page. It’s even harder when everybody’s not. So that’s a real good thing, too.”

The guess here is that will be a nice change from Indianapolis, which was something of a pit of contention between general manager Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano. Here’s hoping both the Bears and the Freeman find more peace than they have in the past.

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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.

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Jeffery Signs Franchise Tender, Changes the Offseason Game

Mark Potash at the Chicago Sun-Times answers the question, “Would you sign WR Alshon Jeffery to a long-term deal?”

“Yes, but I wouldn’t break the bank just yet, which is why it’s unlikely that the Bears will sign Jeffery to a long-term deal before July 15. They’re not ready to pay him top-of-the-market money until he proves he can stay healthy again. And the agent is unlikely to accept a second-tier deal because when Jeffery is healthy he’s one of the best receivers in football. It’s a prove-it year.”

I totally disagree as do Potash’s mates that the Sun-Times, Adam Jahns and Patrick Finley. But Jeffery’s signature on his franchise tender does change things a bit.

My initial thought on this was that there would be a little more motivation than usual to get this contract done early so that Jeffery wouldn’t miss workouts. He has a history of soft tissue injury and there has been some dissatisfaction in the past about the way that he has kept himself in shape over the offseason.

But that’s all changed now. Signing the tender virtually assures that he won’t miss any workouts over the offseason and it’s much more likely that the Bears will wait until just before the July 15 deadline to get a long-term deal done. This is the standard procedure when it comes to the franchise tag because the deadline injects more urgency into the process. In addition, it will give the Bears a chance to wait and make sure that Jeffery is sticking with the program and to give themselves a bit more insurance that he’ll continue to do so from now on.

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No Sugar Coating What the Player Hold Out Really Is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“2015 Pro Bowl players: None”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bears Concerns About Hard Knocks Genuine, Make Sense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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