Bennett Still Has Value as a Member of the Bears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Catching Up with Lamarr Houston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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It Takes Two to Tango

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

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

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

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

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

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How Much Money Per Position Will the Bears Invest?

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

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

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

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

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

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Inside Linebacker: Is This as Good as It Gets?

Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune touts former UCLA linebacker Myles Jack as a potential firt round pick for the Bears:

“Teams with 4-3 defenses told him he could play linebacker. Middle, strong side, weak side. Wherever.

“Others creatively envision him in a secondary role, an instinctive safety who could become an in-the-box enforcer.

Kam Chancellor‘s name came up as a comparison.”

Ordinarily being compared to Chancellor would be a huge compliment. But its also sort of a backhanded slap when you are being drafted as a linebacker.

Indeed, the comparison tells you everything about the bind the Bears are in when it comes to drafting an inside linebacker. This draft is full of players like Jack, a quick guy who is likely to be good in coverage but whose performance as a physical inside presence will be questioned. His alter ego, Reggie Ragland is exactly the opposite:

“‘He’s a thumper,’ ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. said. ‘And he’s a guy who really, in the ’70s, ’80s or ’90s would have been a top-10 pick guaranteed. But coverage ability is going to be something (to watch).'”

Probably if the Bears had to choose, they’d take the thumper. But taking a limited athlete of any type in the first round isn’t exactly what you have in mind going in. The truth is that there really are no top of the line, all around linebackers in this draft class. And that’s bad news for team like the Bears in desperate need of help at the position.

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Lots to Interest Fans at the NFL Combine on Saturday

Having spent most of my day yesterday watching the Combine coverage on the NFL Network, I thought I would share a few impressions. Yesterday was the on field workout day for quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends. The Bears have needs in all three areas and, though none is immediately urgent, they are probably looking closely at the prospects at all three positions.

Of the wide receivers, the one that you never heard of that impressed me the most was Josh Doctson out of TCU. Dotson apparently surprised everyone with a 4.50 second 40 yard dash. What wasn’t a surprise was the smooth way that he moves at 6’2″, 202 lb nor the ease with which he catches the ball. He might be a hand full on the next level. Braxton Miller continued to get a lot of love from the media analysts even as he continued to show that he can’t catch the ball. He must have a hell of an agent.

Hunter Henry out of Arkansas got the most love of all of the tight ends but I’m not seeing it. The guy who continued to impress me the most was Ohio State’s Nick Vannett. Vannett had a very good Senior Bowl and he continues to show that he can move well despite his size. He looks to me like he’s going to be a good all around blocking and receiving tight end and one that should interest the Bears.

At quarterback Carson Wentz was, of course, the king of the class. Physically he’s the guy who is going to stand out in this type of environment and the smooth, quick way that he dropped back showed his comfort under center, having played in a pro style offense at North Dakota State. No surprises there. Also as you’d expect, California’s Jared Goff was smooth as well, though physically slight standing next to Wentz. Paxton Lynch out of Memphis was the raw, physical specimen that his reputation tells you that he is. All of these guys look like the NFL quality players that they’ve been cracked up to be.

Of the second level quarterbacks that the Bears are likely to be looking closely at, I liked Dak Prescott out of Mississippi a little better than I did after his Senior Bowl. I still have major questions about how he actually plays but in this environment he looked more like the type of third round prospect that scouts seem to think that he is. It’s now evident that Stanford’s Kevin Hogan just doesn’t have an NFL arm.

The other guy in this category who threw well was Arkansas’s Brandon Allen. While media commentators continued to go on and on about Michigan State’s Connor Cook and Christian Hackenberg, neither of which looked good and neither of which have shown me anything special on the field, Allen’s performance seemed to slip by almost unnoticed.

Actually, the fascination with Hackenberg is understandable. He has the physical tools and looked good his freshman year under then head coach at Penn State and now for the Texans, Bill O’Brien. As noted by field reporter Kimberly Jones during the broadcast, Hackenberg seems to be a polarizing prospect. Apparently, the scouts don’t like him but the coaches do. You could practically read their minds: “If O’Brien can get the most of this guy, then I should be able to as well, right?” It will be interesting to see where Hackenberg goes in April.

Nevertheless, Allen continues to get my attention. The comments of one unnamed scout, which were passed on by Jones, were of interest. After the first session, in which Cook, Goff and Hackenberg threw, the scout had virtually nothing good to say about any of the prospects (including Goff) but mentioned Allen as a guy who “threw well”. The comment went by the media analysts on hand without apparent notice.

I really couldn’t tell you if Allen has the stuff to start in the NFL. It looks to me like a definite “maybe” because he’s just a tad short at 6’1″ and he has small hands. His arm strength looks good but not great and he’s just not impressive physically the way that Wentz and Lynch are. Nevertheless if the Bears are looking for value at the position, Allen is a guy who could easily slip through the cracks to a spot where they feel comfortable taking him.

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Report that Jeffery Has Been Franchised but Doubt Remains

Adam Schefter at ESPN has reported that Alshon Jeffery has been franchised:

I find this report easy to believe in that franchising Jeffery should be a slam dunk if the Bears can’t come to a long-term deal before Tuesday’s deadline to place the tag. Nevertheless, neither the Chicago Tribune nor the Chicago Sun-Times has picked up this report leaving doubt about its veracity.

I’d say that Schefter is right in that the Bears have probably already decided to tag Jeffery. The signs certainly are that they want him back and he wants to be back.  Though the Bears could tag Jeffery early – they really don’t have anyone else to use it on – there’s no apparent advantage to placing it on him too far before the deadline.

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What Alshon Jeffery’s Contract Might Look Like Based Upon Yesterday’s News Conferences

Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune addresses the Bears situation with wide receiver Alshon Jeffery. Jeffery, due to become a free agent, missed a number of games with soft tissue injuries last season and his production was reduced:

“‘I think being in Year 2 with a player helps a lot in just understanding his body and his body mechanics,’ [general manager Ryan] 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.'”

“Jeffery began his offseason training by enrolling at Unbreakable Performance, a Los Angeles facility run by Brian Urlacher and Jay Glazer, a close friend of Fox’s.”

“‘Things I’ve heard have been real positive from both sides,’ Fox said, ‘from both Alshon and the people there at Jay’s gym.'”

A few important points:

  • There can now be little doubt that the Bears will franchise Jeffery. There’s always been this niggling doubt that Jeffery really wants to be back with the Bears or that the Bears might not be happy with him. The fact that Fox has been staying in touch with him and tracking his training progress along with Pace’s assertion that he senses that Jeffery wants to be back indicate to me that there’s no real dissatisfaction with the relationship between player and team. There can now be little doubt that they will do what they have to to keep him.
  • Given the concern expressed by both Pace and Jeffery’s agent, Eugene Parker, you’d have to guess that both will be working to get Jeffery in for offseason training.  The standard procedure when it comes to the franchise tag is to get the deal done at the last minute when there’s more urgency to get things done with a deadline approaching. But based upon the above comments you’d have to guess that perhaps there will be a little more urgency to get things done soon so that Jeffery won’t miss workouts.
  • Give the last item, you also have to wonder if the contract won’t be structured to give Jeffery motivation to stay in shape and to do that proper things to prevent his soft tissue problems in the future. I’m thinking that there’s more than the usual likelihood that we’ll see an incentive laden contract. Not necessarily a performance based one but perhaps one with some terms that provide a bonus if, for instance, Jeffery hits certain weight goals or other such similar milestones. A cleverly designed contract could be very satisfactory for both sides.
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Fox’s Comments Regarding Jay Cutler Should Be a Comfort to Us All

Rich Campbell at the Chicago Tribune quotes head coach John Fox at the Combine on the performance of quarterback Jay Cutler last season:

“‘I saw way more about his mental toughness,’ Fox said. ‘I saw way more about how he can absorb an offense and execute it under pressure. I think that speaks volumes for how successful he was on third downs, which is a tough down for a quarterback in the NFL. But I was very, very pleased by what I saw and what we have to work with going forward.'”

I find these comments to be comforting because:

  1. I was also pleased with what Cutler showed, particularly during the Packers game on Thanksgiving.
  2. The comments indicate to me that Fox understands Cutler’s major problem – lack of mental toughness.

There’s always been a suspicion in my mind that because the Bears coaching staff wasn’t with Cutler during his first six years with the team, they won’t understand why trusting him should be an exercise in caution, even now. The fact that Fox’s first comment was regarding Cutler’s major past weakness indicates that he understands the quarterback better than I thought. He knows what to look for if Cutler stumbles and he will recognize it if he sees it.  And the odds are good that he’ll be ready to do something about it.

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Langford and Carey: An Interesting One-Two Punch in 2016

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“Why is Jeremy Langford assumed to start at running back? Overall, I thought Ka’Deem Carey ran tougher, caught passes better and blocked at least as well. — @BillMiller1991

“Nothing is locked in at this point but the first thing you should keep in mind is that Langford was drafted by the current power structure at Halas Hall, which includes general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox. Langford has better speed and is probably viewed as a better receiver out of the backfield even though he had a couple bad drops last season. Langford was higher on the depth chart last season.”

I think Biggs has the right of it, here. Langford is more athletic and it’s obvious that the coaching staff considers him to be the better receiver and they probably see Langford as being the back that is most like Matt Forte. Carey, on the other hand, was pretty close to having no job at all until he started to become more effective on special teams. Or at least until the coaching staff felt more comfortable playing him on special teams.

Having said that, I think everyone would agree that it’s unlikely that we will be able to expect Langford to be Forte. In this respect, Langford and Carey could make a wonderful one-two punch with Langford being a slightly more elusive and more versatile third down-type back and with Carey being more of a power back.

Should the case it will require that these two back be used differently in 2016. Last season, the coaches were more likely to leave a back in for an entire series before switching up. The Bears might be more comfortable using Carey and Langford alternately down-to-down in specific situations next year, thus taking advantage of their strengths.

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