Cowboys Record Belies Their Claims of Good Intentions

Remember Randy Gregory, the defensive end that the Cowboys drafted last April in the second round after he tested positive for marijuana at the Combine? Well he’s become a cautionary tale now that he’s been suspended for four games in 2016 after testing positive for drugs four times, three during the 2015 season. Mike Florio at profootballtalk.com comments:

“Gregory consistently has failed to choose football over whatever substance for which he has been testing positive. But the Cowboys necessarily failed to provide him with the resources and assistance necessary to keep him from continuing to fail tests. And Gregory’s agents, who did a great job of puffing him up to a scoop-hungry media before the draft (at one point he was being sold as a top-10 pick despite the failed drug test), apparently haven’t communicated to Gregory the critical importance of getting clean.”

This news came right before another player associated with the Cowboy found himself in hot water. Joseph Randle was arrested for the fifth time in the last 18 months, this time on three counts of aggravated battery, one count of drug possession and one count of criminal damage. The Cowboys had previously  released Randle but not until they absolutely had to after his sixth game in 2015 and not until the NFL suspended him.

Both incidents bring to mind comments made by Jerry Jones at the time of the Greg Hardy signing when he trumpeted the Cowboys as the destination for wayward players, saying that the team was focused upon providing an environment where they could be rehabilitated.  You have to wonder at what point after Gregory’s third faied drug test was this still about “rehabilitation”.

As Florio implies above, it’s now evident that this was hogwash. Jones is simply running an outlaw program where signing risky players and putting up with deplorable off field behavior until there’s simply no way to keep them on the roster is the priority.

“Talent trumps all” is a common philosophy in the NFL. No one follows that mantra more than the Cowboys. Perhaps it’s time for Jones to pull back and take a look at his franchise and decide if this is really the image that he wants “America’s Team” to project. Regardless, he needs to stop spouting off nonsense about nurturing his players to conquer whatever demons haunt them off the field. It’s all too evident that either there’s little or nothing behind it or it’s not working.

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Changes Coming to the Combine?

Tom Pelissero at USA Today reports that the NFL is considering changes to the NFL Scouting Combine make the event more relevant to scouts and coaches.

“No, a quarterback’s throwing session on the field won’t be swapped for one in a virtual reality environment anytime soon. But the days of players training for months to score high in tests such as the 40-yard dash, vertical leap and bench press – sometimes derided as the ‘Underwear Olympics’ – could be numbered.”

Changes to the Combine is a topic that has gained steam in recent years. For instance, Matt Birk, the NFL’s director of player development, addressed the topic about this time last year:

“‘That’s a project we’ll be working on this offseason,’ Birk said, according to espn.com. ‘Once we look at the data that was gathered in-game this year, it may be important to know how fast a wide receiver or defensive back can go 60 yards. Maybe for an offensive lineman it’s only 20 yards. We can actually see that in-game: How far are these guys running? What are the real or improved measures of importance and value as it relates to evaluating players and whether or not they should be drafted in the first round or the sixth round?'”

So, you can’t just look at the 20 yard split for an offensive lineman and see how fast he ran that distance?

If all the athletes did was run the 40 yard dash and do the long jump, I might think that there was a point to this. But, as Pelissero points out, that’s not all they do. Quarterbacks throw, receivers run routes, linemen do drills in the same way they would at a pro day.  And there’s value to that.  If you want to disregard the distance that an offensive lineman jumps, disregard it.

Something tells me that this is going to be one of those situations where the NFL and National Football Scouting Inc., which runs the Combine, put their heads together and, after lots of talk that goes nowhere, decides that no changes are in order. And I’m not entirely sure they won’t be right.

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Bears Offseason Todo List

I was recently asked to construct a “Todo List” for the Bears offseason by the boys over at the Next Fan Up Podcast. I’m occasionally a guest on this podcast as the Bears representative. If you aren’t listening, you’re missing out on some good NFL conversation. The following is more or less what I put together for them.

The Bears have so many holes on their roster that constructing a list of concise tasks borders on the ridiculous. They need everything, especially on defense. Having said that, here are some general things to consider:

  1. Sign your own.

This most applies to wide receiver Alshon Jefferywho is a virtual lock for the franchise tag (though see here for my doubts and fears). The Bears also need to make a decision at tight end on whether to sign Zach Miller, who had a reasonably productive year but who has a history of injury, and talented malcontent Martellus Bennett.

There are also a number of borderline players who the team needs to make a decision on including CB Tracy Porter, DE Jarvis Jenkins, OG Vlad Ducasse and OG Patrick Omameh, LB Sam Acho, and LB Shea McClellin.

  1. Find an impact defensive player

The Bears were 22nd in the league in sacks and 30th in interceptions. When you look down the roster, it mostly mediocre (at best) role players. There are no defensive ends like JJ Watt, pass rushers like Von Miller, linebackers like Luke Kuechly or cornerbacks like Josh Norman. It would be unrealistic to expect a team full of guys like this. But the Bears are going to have a hard time being competitive on a week-to-week basis without at least one impact player of this type.

  1. Get better at the line of scrimmage

Games are won and lost at the line of scrimmage. The Bears aren’t adequate on either side of the ball at this point.

Defensively the don’t have a starting quality defensive end. That will undoubtedly be a high priority, probably in the draft where the depth at the top end is strong.

On the offensive side they need a starting right guard where Ducasse and Omameh were fill ins last year. It’s a reasonably deep free agent guard class and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they tried to sign a reasonably young one at the right price.

Depth is also an issue on the offensive line, particularly in the middle. Rookie center Hronis Grasu needs to get stronger in the offseason and the Bears need to sign a veteran back up in case he doesn’t take the next step.

  1. Find a QB of the future

Most people currently associated with the organization would laugh that I’ve listed this as a priority. Jay Cutler will only be 33 years old at the start of the season. The Bears are all in on Cutler, passing over better qualified candidates to keep him comfortable by making QB coach Dowell Loggains as offensive coordinator and hiring Dave Ragone as QB coach.  Ragone’s whose only major qualification is that he’s worked before with Loggains.

The conclusion that Cutler is the guy is a reasonable one from the point of view of the coaching staff. 2015 was their first year in Chicago and Cutler had a reasonably good season. The problem is that I was in Chicago for Cutler’s previous six years with the team. If head coach John Fox had seen what I’ve seen, he’d be a lot more hesitant to trust Cutler to continue to perform for a second year.

In any case, the Bears need to decide if the young QBs on the roster are future starters. Given their low draft status (David Fales was a sixth round pick and Matt Blanchard was an undrafted free agent) I think that’s doubtful. In that case they need to use a high to mid-round pick to find someone to work behind Cutler and step in at the position.

It’s important to note that the Bears are in a position to use a draft pick for future gain at this point. All teams are, to some extent, in “win now” mode. But common sense says that the Bears are unlikely be in a Super Bowl next year.  Mel Kiper at ESPN recently used this reasoning to suggest that the Bears would draft Notre Dame outside linebacker Jaylon Smith. Smith was the 2015 Butkus Award winner but he tore both his ACL and MCL versus Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day.

Kiper’s reasoning also applies to the quarterback position. Though I’m not suggesting that the Bears will actually do it, to me it makes sense to pick a quarterback who needs time to develop behind an established starter at some point in this draft and plan for the future.

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Considering the Possibility of a Free Agent Guard

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“Can you name one or two under-the-radar free agents similar to Pernell McPhee that the Bears may be targeting? — @BearsFanPete

“I don’t know that the McPhee signing was totally under the radar last season. He was regarded as an up-and-coming player with the Ravens who was ready for a bigger role. Chiefs defensive end Jaye Howard emerged as a pretty good player the last two seasons when he was thrust into a starting role. He could make sense for the Bears in free agency and probably will not come cheaply. If the Bears are seeking a veteran to add to the offensive line, Steelers guard Ramon Foster could be an attractive target but he’s already 30. I’m not sure if the Bears will be in the market for a veteran safety but both Bengals starters Reggie Nelson and George Iloka are coming out of contract and have been productive players.”

Though I don’t know how “under the radar” it would be, my first thought was about the guard position. Admittedly, this is a place where you’d typically think draft but the free agent class is deep and general manager Ryan Pace comes from the Saints, an organization that believes in emphasizing strength up the middle on the offensive line. He may think paying a free agent guard would be worth the money.

Some possible names of younger players to keep in mind that you may or may not be familiar with include Houston’s Brandon Brooks and Jeff Allen from Kansas City. Though he’s 33 years old and, therefore, not the kind of signing I would typically expect at this stage, Pro Bowler Richie Incognito redeemed himself last year with Buffalo and he’ll hit the market.

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Worrying about the Status of Alshon Jeffery

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“Would you agree that if Ryan Pace doesn’t sign Alshon Jeffrey he should be fired? Four years at $15 million per year sounds about right. Dumping Matt Forte was stupid enough. A running back who has cared for his body so well was certainly a low-risk — even at 30 — and was willing to sign a Bears-friendly contract, even for a single year. Two such decisions, although meant to make Pace appear bold and decisive, would tell us that he is instead doing more harm than good and not ready for GM responsibilities. — Bob W., Saxtons River, Vt.

“Whoa! Let’s tap the brakes here. For starters, signing Jeffery to a multi-year contract involves a negotiation and it takes two parties to get a deal done. I would imagine Jeffery will be seeking a five-year contract because the longer the deal, the larger the guarantee for him. That is also in line with what Julio Jones, Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas received in the last year – five-year contract extensions. I would imagine securing a long-term contract for Jeffery is a priority, but Pace can’t do a deal by himself. I’d believe the Bears want to be below $15 million per season in an annual average too but the market continues to climb.”

Biggs goes on to explain why the decision to let Forte go wasn’t necessarily a bad one and why the comparison between Forte’s situation and Jeffery’s isn’t a valid one.

On the surface, giving Jeffery the franchise tag and negotiating a long-tem contract would seem to be a no brainer:

  • He’s their only candidate for the tag.
  • They have plenty of cap space.
  • He’s by far their best proven playmaker.
  • He’s still young in his mid-twenties.
  • He wasn’t healthy last year but that hasn’t been his history.

It’s the last of these points that worries me. Though I say he hasn’t had an injury history, technically what I mean is that he doesn’t have a history of missing games. There are no indications from the Bears as to what they’re going to do with Jeffery but persistent rumors that he doesn’t take care of his body like he should and that it has resulted in the soft tissues problems that he, in actuality, has typically exhibited have me worried. Much though I dislike the idea, there is a possibility that the Bears won’t apply the tag, effectively letting Jeffery go to collect big money on the free agent market that the Bears are unlikely to match.

If the Bears decide that Jeffery isn’t worth the franchise tag it would be a crushing blow. The idea of having both Jeffery and fellow wide receiver Kevin White on the field at the same time next season presented a strength – perhaps the only strength – that the Bears would have. Letting him go because he’s not the player that we on the outside thought he was would mean that the roster is just that much farther away from being what you need to compete consistently.

Posted in Chicago Bears | 2 Comments

Sounds Good to Me

Steve Rosenbloom at the Chicago Tribune talks about what he thinks is a less than ideal situation that former Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase finds himself in. He is now the head coach in Miami:

“[Owner Stephen Ross] went on to explain that instead of a retread head coach, he wanted ‘somebody that could really be the next, if you will, Bill Belichick, Bill Parcells, you know, really great head coach, and I think we got one.’’

“No pressure, Adam, and oh, by the way, Belichick missed the playoffs the first three years of his first head-coaching job. Perfect Dolphins coach comparison, right?”

“By [the time Gase’s contract ends], [Bears head coach John] Fox will be close to the end of his contract. He likely will have coached the Bears to the top of the division and into a conference championship game. He might’ve guided them to a Super Bowl and probably lost it.

“By then we’ll all be sick of Fox’s non-answers and failure to win the ‘Big One,’’ and it’ll be let’s try this Gase thing now because if Dolphins past is prologue, then Gase will be on the market and he can become the next Belichick here. Clip & save.”

Done.

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What Will the Bears Miss Without Matt Forte?

Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune asks one of the many questions that follow the exits of Matt Forte:

“What will the Bears miss without Forte?

“Where do you even start? Probably his football intelligence. Or his durability and toughness. Or his versatility. Or his unselfish, low-maintenance demeanor.”

How about his instincts? An upright runner, the Bears have rarely had a running back with better vision. Because it isn’t as apparent as superior athleticism (which Forte didn’t lack) and flash, this greatest of his assets made his talent hard to recognize and is one of the things that caused him to be amongst the most underrated players in the league.

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Forte’s Exit Highlights the Bears Depth at Running Back

Dan Wiederer at the Chicago Tribune discusses the exit of running back Matt Forte. In doing so he exposes the real reason for Forte’s exit:

“Behind Langford, Ka’Deem Carey made strides in 2015, first earning greater opportunity as a special teams contributor, then seeing flashes of work in the backfield. Carey’s burst remains his most noticeable strength, and the Bears are hoping he’ll use that to compete for the No. 2 role.”

Many people will point to the emergence of Jeremy Langford as the primary reason for Forte’s exit. But the Bears will almost certainly continue to run a back field with two backs and having depth at the position is a must.

In addition to Carey, Wiederer mentions the presence of Jacquizz Rodgers and Senorise Perry. These three men, all of whom are hard runners and all of whom contribute on special teams, are the reason why the Bears didn’t want to spend money, even at a fair price, on Forte. Carey’s emergence as a special teams contributor, in particular, probably did as much as anything to determine Forte’s fate with the team.

None of these four men are the equal of Forte (I loved Steve Rosenbloom‘s parting comment in his column: “Tip to Langford: Don’t drop a pass.”).  But the Bears apparently like their running backs. Add the possibility that they may find that a another one is the best available player in the fourth or fifth round again and they have a glut at the position. It’s a shame that it led to the departure of one of the most professional players on the team in Forte but it’s still a nice problem to have.

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Where is Matt Forte’s Next Stop?

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune speculates upon where former Bears running back Matt Forte may land now that he is officially entering free agency:

“The question now is where will Forte land? He would be an ideal fit for the Cardinals offense or for the Packers, who got underwhelming production from Eddie Lacy last season and could lose James Starks to free agency.”

Like almost all Bears fans, I would hate to see Forte as a Packer or to see him go anywhere in the NFC North, for that matter.  David Haugh mentions the Seattle Seahawks as a possible destination but running back Thomas Rawls out played Marshawn Lynch this season an is obviously the future there.  Other realistic options include the Cowboys and the Redskins.  I’ve heard the Broncos mentioned but they probably won’t have much in the way of cap space.  The Texans and the Colts are also possibilities.

Personally, my first thought was the New England Patriots, who certainly were short in the running game at the end of their playoff run. Dion Lewis is a wonderful back but he isn’t as versatile as Forte and he will becoming off of a torn ACL next season.  Forte is on record as saying that his first priority is to go to a team that can win a Super Bowl. The Patriots certainly are that and they would certainly know how to use him.

Whatever happens, I think there’s a market of Forte.  If money really isn’t the first object there will probably be plenty of contenders for him to choose from and no one would be happier than me to see such a class act win a Super Bowl with one of them.

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Alshon Jeffery Is as Good as Franchised Now

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune discusses the case of wide receiver Alshon Jeffery.

“It’s time for the Bears to take care of one of their own, and they aren’t in position to let highly productive players in their prime leave. The last draft picks to be resigned to multiyear contracts by the Bears both came from the 2008 class: running back Matt Forte, who got a four-year contract when his rookie deal expired, and tight end Kellen Davis, who re-upped for two years in 2012. That means the Bears went three drafts (2009 through 2011) without extending the contract of any draft selection for multiple years. Defensive tackle Henry Melton, a fourth-round pick in 2009, was re-signed for one season on the franchise tag in 2013.

“The Bears project to have $55 million in salary-cap room before any moves, so that’s not an issue. If Jeffery gets to the open market, there could be a serious bidding war as 18 teams project to have more than $25 million in cap space. That makes tagging Jeffery and then working toward a longer-term agreement the most logical path.”

There’s not a more damning statistic that I can find that describes the Bears success drafting than the one Biggs quotes in the first paragraph. If the draft is the life blood of your organization, the desire to sign the players you’ve drafted to a second contract is one of the best measures of how you did. And the Bears have been miserable.

As Biggs says, general manager Ryan Pace has been coy about what he’s going to do with the Jeffery situation. But they’d be fools to let him hit the market. He’s as good a franchised now.

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