How Much Available Cap Space Do the Bears Really Have?

The standard thought amongst fans is that the Bears have a tremendous amount of cap space to sign big free agents in the offseason this year. According to sportrac.com, that’s both true and not true.

The Bears will have roughly $55 million dollars in available cap space in the offseason. That ranks them second amongst the 32 NFL teams. However, their “cap health” only ranks them at 12th. That’s because they only have 14 of their 22 starters signed and those 14 take up 62% of their available space.

The bottom line is that, because the Bears available cap space has to be used to replace a relatively large percentage of the players on their roster, their ability to spend a great deal of money on only one or two free agents is limited.

Still, 12th ranks them in the top end of the league and the Bears are in great financial shape for the coming offseason. Just not as great as some people think.

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Drinking the Cleveland Kool-Aid

Jeff Darcy at cleveland.com writes a rather kind piece on how the Browns are structuring their front office, labeling it “innovative”:

[Owner JimmyHaslam‘s unique new front office model is actually in keeping with the legacy of Paul Brown.   The iconic team namesake was known for modernizing professional football with  innovations he introduced with his teams.  His intellectual and innovative approach to the game led to decades of dominance by the Cleveland Browns.    Here’s hoping that this time history repeats itself.

Giving Sashi Brown, the team lawyer, someone who has never in his life worked on the personnel end of an organization, control over the 53 man roster is not innovative.  It’s insane.  Haslam needed less interference from these types of people not more.

I thought the hiring of Hue Jackson as head coach was a good get.  But the Browns are going nowhere looking for someone to head the personnel department while giving teams the right to refuse them an interview for a position that doesn’t allow personnel control.  Allowing Brown, someone with no experience whatsoever evaluating NFL players, the power to arbitrate disagreements between Jackson and the said yet to be found “general manager” makes the situation even less attractive to those who are even allowed to interview.

Jackson is a very good coach.  But he can’t coach a team with no talent.

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Looking at Some Interesting Pending Free Agents with the Chiefs

Dave Skretta at the Topeka Capital-Journal reviews the Kansas City Chiefs players that are set to see free agency.

There are some interesting names here. Sean Smith is a 28 year old physical cornerback that would look good in a Bears uniform, Jeff Allen might look good at right guard and, frankly, even Chase Daniel, who learned to be an NFL quarterback from Sean Payton with Ryan Pace‘s Saints might be a possibility.

The Chiefs probably aren’t going to be able to re-sign all of these guys. It will be interesting to see who shakes loose and whether the Bears will have any interest.

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When Talent Becomes Everything

Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com on how the Seahawks heve been forced to handle Marshawn Lynch during a difficult season with a difficult player:

“The tiptoeing tone apparently was set at the top of the organization, with as one source explained it [head coach PeteCarroll avoiding the issue of talking to Lynch and instead relying on others to communicate with him. While much of the problems flow from the way Lynch has handled others, the Seahawks perhaps haven’t handle Lynch in an ideal way, either.”

This is where it all leads. Time after time I’ve heard from fans in the NFL that “talent trumps all” and that players like Martellus Bennett should be kept on the team despite their difficult ways. This is where it all ends up when you do that too often. With a player that the head coach has to tip toe around just to keep him happy and get him on the field.

Time after time the Seahawks have kowtowed to Lynch, allowing him to get away with, for instance, sulking out on the field during half time rather than going in with the team. Allowing him to fail to live up to the terms of his contract by failing to speak to the media – by actually defending him on it.

Heaven forbid that the Bears ever let it get to this point themselves. Thank heavens that the indications are that they won’t.

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Lessons in Green Bay Should Not Be Lost on Bears Fans

Wes Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette interviews Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy. He asks him about reversing his decision to give play calling duties to offensive coordinator Tom Clements during the 2015 season.

“Those are conversations that will start Wednesday. I’ll tell you I will be calling the plays from here on in. How we structure our staff that’s really what lies ahead.”

“What I was trying to accomplish [with the initial change] with being a balanced team, I felt that was accomplished with defense and special teams. Obviously, we didn’t get it done on offense. The structure was obviously a part of the failure on offense. That will be closely evaluated.”

“Without going into total details … [the offensive problem] wasn’t about Tom or Tom calling plays. Tom is a valued assistant coach and has been my whole time here. I fully anticipate him being back. We have a staff structure that’s under total evaluation.”

It’s been pointed out many times that the Packers were missing wide receiver Jordy Nelson and that was a big loss. But it’s now obvious that their difficulties on offense went way beyond that. Clements was another part of the problem. Otherwise McCarthy wouldn’t be continuing to call plays.

Offensive play calling is an art that I’m convinced some people possess and some don’t. Some of it has to do with planning but I think a lot of it is simply thinking fast on your feet and remembering to call the plays that you planned to go with. The guess here – and past experience with some of the more poor offensive coordinators the Bears have had bears it out – is that you get used to relying on the same plays over and over again over the course of a season.  They’re the ones you tend to call when you’ve only got a few seconds to make a decision. That makes you predictable.

But in this case the problem may go beyond play calling. Part of the purpose for giving up play calling duties, as McCarthy pointed out, was to get McCarthy out of the offensive room so that he could spend more time with the defense and special teams. That degraded the offensive performance, something that was obvious to everyone as the Packers made mistake after mistake on the field. The crisp execution that the Packers are known for disappeared and suddenly, for instance, receivers couldn’t get on the same page with quarterback Aaron Rogers.

This lesson shouldn’t be lost on Bears fans as they watch the team transition from Adam Gase to Dowell Loggains at the offensive coordinator spot. Even the best offenses in the NFL can fall apart if you don’t have the right guy running the unit.  Calling plays and getting everyone to perform as a unit where players are always where they are supposed to be are two of the biggest jobs that any offensive coach has. It’s a job that Clements couldn’t do. Let’s hope that Loggains does better or we’re going to see a Bears offense that performed in a commendably clean manner for most of the 2015 season regress.

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The Bears Will Once Again Be Competing with the Packers to Draft the Same Players in 2016

Its not a surprise but Green Bay would like to move linebacker Clay Matthews back outside full time next year.

“In order to do that, the Packers might have to make it an offseason priority to acquire another starting-caliber inside linebacker. When general manager Ted Thompson did not address that position until the fourth round of last year’s draft, when he took Jake Ryan, it ensured Matthews would play mostly inside again.”

What all of this means is that the Bears, who arguably need two starters at the inside linebacker position, will be competing with the Packers for the same players. The Bears pick far higher in the draft order (11th) but they likely have their eye on one or two prospects, for instance, in the second round that the Packers will be considering with the 27th overall pick.

The situation reminds me of the 2010 draft when the Packers traded up in the third round to get ahead of the Bears to select safety Morgan Burnett. The Bears were left to select Major Wright four picks later. Burnett established himself as a starter with the Packers, and has just competed his sixth season with them. Wright is long gone along with the parade of other safeties the Bears selected in the Lovie Smith era.

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Catching Up with Former Bears Offensive Tackle Jordan Mills

Sal Maiorana at the Democrat and Chronicle reviews the performance of the Buffalo Bills offensive line. What he says about former bears offensive tackle Jordan Mills is of interest.

“Jordan Mills: C-

“Mills played for offensive line coach Aaron Kromer in Chicago, where he was a two-year starter, but he’s nothing more than a journeyman and is no longer starter material. He’s a free agent, and if the Bills decide to re-sign him, he’ll probably be in the mix at right tackle, but the Bills need a better option.”

The left side of the Bills offensive line was very good with left tackle Cordy Glenn, guard Richie Incognito and center Eric Wood. But the right side of the line was a mediocrity at best with rookie John Miller at guard and Seantrel Henderson at tackle. Henderson was recently diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. The fact that Mills couldn’t establish  himself in the starting lineup with these guys as competition is a bad sign.

This is an indication of how far the Bears had to go in terms of upgrading their talent. Next year if Mills can’t make a Bills team with a poor right tackle situation and almost no depth, as seems very possible, there’s a good chance that a guy that the Bears had starting at right tackle will be out of the league in 2016.

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Could the Answer at Guard Already Be on the Roster?

Kevin Fishbain at chicagosports.com reviews the performance of the offensive line in 2015:

“Next for [offensive line coach] Dave Magazu and [general manager Ryan] Pace is finding a starting right guard, whether it’s through the draft, free agency or bringing back [Patrick]Omameh or [Vlad] Ducasse and hoping for improvement. The Bears also have a developmental prospect in tackle Tayo Fabuluje.”

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 03: during a preseason game at Soldier Field on September 3, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

CHICAGO, IL – SEPTEMBER 03: during a preseason game at Soldier Field on September 3, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

No doubt about it. Almost every position could be improved but right guard is the major hole in the offense right now.

In this regard, Fabuluje is a fascinating prospect. He played extensively in the preseason but very little during the season. Despite that, the Bears kept him on the roster rather than putting him on the practice squad and risking the possibility of losing him to another team. That’s a pretty good indication that the team has plans for Fabuluje.

Most have considered Fabuluje to be a tackle prospect and that’s where he played in August. He’s an enormous man but has quick feet despite that and he has the mobility to be a reasonably good right tackle. But more and more during the offseason we are seeing the suggestion in the press that his future is at guard.

It’s not a bad idea. Right guard is the more difficult of the two guard positions and requires more athleticism than the left. Most teams scheme their line play such that the center and the players on the left block to the left. The right tackle usually turns to the right to take on the right end. That leaves the right guard isolated on whoever lines up over him. So despite being “land locked” with a player on either side, it’s a still position that occasionally requires the player to take on his man one on one in space. Fabuluje may fit the bill. In fact, given the borderline play of both Omameh and Ducasse, it’s a bit of s a surprise that the Bears didn’t move him there late in the season.

Regardless, it seems that after a year on the bench to develop, Fabuluje is going to get his chance to compete at a position of need in 2016. Whether he has the brains and the instincts to go with his athleticism will rapidly become apparent. If he does, along with veteran Matt Slauson, the Bears could have a very good pair of guards on their hands.

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Not the Best Question I Ever Asked

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune responds to a question from this ignorant fan:

“I’ve been hesitant to get behind Dowell Loggains because he was Johnny Manziel’s quarterbacks coach during a miserable season last year. I recognize that by far the biggest reasons for Manziel’s poor performance had to do with Manziel’s actions not those of Loggains. Nevertheless, I have to believe that he was fired for a reason. Can you ease my concerns? — Tom S., Chicago

“I don’t think I would evaluate the work of any NFL coach or assistant based on their time spent with Manziel. If half the reports about his off-field exploits and problems are true, he’s not a young professional fully committed to his job as a football player. The Browns fired Loggains at the end of 2014 after one season and that move came at about the same time offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan asked Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam to be released from his contract. I certainly wouldn’t judge the Browns offensive coaches from this past season based on another dismal performance by Manziel. Plenty of coaches get fired. In fact, it happens to almost all of them at some point. As colorful former Oilers and Saints coach Bum Phillips famously once said, ‘There’s two kinds of coaches, them that’s fired and them that’s gonna be fired.’ Loggains happened to be fired in Cleveland. The Bears once, not too long ago, ran off defensive coordinator Ron Rivera. I’m not comparing Loggains to Rivera. I’m pointing out coaches get let go regularly. And I sure as heck wouldn’t put a stain on Loggains’ resume because of what did or didn’t happen with Manziel.”

This was a kinder response than this question deserved. My suggestion that Loggains be judged from one year of work wasn’t the best considered opinion I’ve ever expressed. Furthermore, I’d totally forgotten that Shanahan had left and it makes compete sense that Loggains might have been Shanahan’s guy. The new offensive coordinator might very well have wanted his own quarterbacks coach.

Having said that, I’m still concerned about Loggains record. From the outside looking in, it seems to me like Loggains talks a good, smart game. I’m sure he’s very knowledgable. But when its all said and sifted there’s no historical evidence whatsoever that he can get players to actually perform. No quarterbacks that he ever coached before coming to the Bears ever performed above their talent level. No offense he’s ever coordinator ever demonstrably performed better as a team than the sum of its parts. In fact quarterback Brian Hoyer got demonstrably better with the Texans than in 2014 than he was with the Browns. I hate to say it but what I know of Loggains reminds me a great deal of John Shoop.

With more experienced candidates with a history of success available such as Ken Whisenhunt and Pat Shurmur, Loggains is a risk. I’m not saying he won’t work out. But I think there’s a good basis for my concern.

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Cleaner Play, Better Defense the Real Key to Packers Success

Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel explains what happened on the Packers offensive line in Sunday’s blow out loss to the Arizona Cardinals:

“[David] Bakhtiari is out, [Brian] Bulaga goes down, [T.J.] Lang and [Corey] Linsley both miss portions of what ends as a humiliating 30-point loss for the visitors. The key reserves are once again tested, and the offensive tackles fail in volcanic fashion: 8 1/2 pressures (unofficially) and multiple sacks allowed by Don Barclay; five pressures and a strip sack yielded by Josh Walker.”

That’s quite a test of the Packers’ offensive line depth, even against a Cardinal team that isn’t that good rushing the passer without blitzing. It’s something they’ve been able to adjust to in the past by winning one-on-one match ups with their wide receivers but not this year when they are not only giving the team their usual high number of drops but aren’t producing in other ways as well. Nevertheless, offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett has a plan:

“The change could be as simple as asking running backs Eddie Lacy and James Starks to chip block on incoming pass rushers, something the Packers have done sporadically this season. Or they may choose to utilize the blocking skills of tight end Andrew Quarless, who returned to the field Sunday after spending roughly three months on injured reserve/designated to return. Or they could move the pocket laterally to take advantage of the mobility of [Aaron] Rodgers, who threw for just 151 yards against the Cardinals and posted a passer rating of 66.2.

“‘Without getting into our scheme,’ Bennett said, ‘we’ll do certain things to put our players in the best position to win.'”

None of this is brain surgery. But with the exception of the last thing on the list, all of them require that the team be in a close enough game to where they don’t have to pass with the Packers usual multiple wide receiver sets. That wasn’t the case on Sunday where the Packers fell behind early in spectacular fashion.

Many will claim that the key to the Packers success this week against the Vikings and in the playoffs after that will be the performance of that much maligned offensive line. But the really essential element is much simpler. The Packers still have Rogers and even though that’s not enough to carry the team as it has been in the past, if they simply avoid turnovers and play good defense, they’ll give the team a chance. If they do that, the necessary adjustments will flow from it and the Packers should be able to move the ball even against a good Minnesota defense, albeit not all that well.

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