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.

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Defensive Backfield Still a Major Area of Focus For the Bears

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers more of your questions:

“I never hear the Bears talking about a hard hitting safety. Is this in the plans? — @Kcprof926 “

“I’m taking a wait-and-see approach with the safety position. The Bears might be looking for a younger and speedier replacement for Antrel Rolle but they’ve yet to add that player.”

I would say that’s a good bet.

One thing is certain. The Bears still have a lot of work to do in the defensive backfield and I’d be surprised if this wasn’t a focus in the draft.

Name Pos Height Weight Age
Bausby, De’Vante
CB 6-2 179 23
Callahan, Bryce CB 5-10 185 24
Fuller, Kyle CB 6-0 194 24
Glenn, Jacoby CB 6-0 180 22
McManis, Sherrick CB 6-1 197 28
Porter, Tracy CB 5-11 190 29
Amos, Adrian FS 6-0 218 22
Hurst, Demontre S 5-10 183 25
Jones-Quartey, Harold S 5-11 215 22
Rolle, Antrel S 6-0 206 33 12
Jefferson, Anthony SS 6-1 198 23

Your starters are Fuller, Porter, Callahan (nickel), Amos and Rolle. There are some other good, young players on this list but they are mostly still unknown quantities. In particular, a safety with more range than Rolle should be at the top of the Bears list. Callahan is also still developing and no one really knows what he’s going to be yet. At minimum, depth at corner is still an issue.

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Over 30? Bears Are Not Interested.

Brad Biggs at the Chicago Tribune answers your questions:

“Would James Jones make any sense for a year? I’m not comfortable with just Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White leading the way given limited appearances. — @garretson_jeff “

“I don’t believe the Bears have any interest in him right now. What happens when you bring in a player like Jones is it limits opportunities for younger players that could be developing. The Bears would like to see more from Marquess Wilson and then you’ve got options like Cameron Meredith and Josh Bellamy that are worthy of a look this spring and summer.”

It always surprises me when someone asks a question like this because, with all due respect, it often means that they’ve completely missed the point of what the Bears are doing.

The Bears are in full rebuilding mode right now. They aren’t interested in players over 30 years old. In fact, the only player that they’ve signed this offseason that is 30 was cornerback Tracy Porter and their previous experience with him probably played a factor there.

The Bears aren’t interested in players on one-year deals. They want young building blocks that will be around for years to come. Perhaps they’ll be signing some older players to one-year prove it deals after the draft to plug remaining holes. But those will be out of absolute necessity because they can’t find value elsewhere and the definitely aren’t interested right now.

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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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