Bears

Martavis Bryant wants a trade and the Bears need a receiver, but it's not as simple a match as that may seem

10-24martavisbryant.jpg
USA Today

Martavis Bryant wants a trade and the Bears need a receiver, but it's not as simple a match as that may seem

Unless his role in the Steelers’ offense changes, Martavis Bryant wants out of Pittsburgh, according to ESPN’s Josina Anderson. No doubt ears perked up across Chicago — and perhaps too at Halas Hall — with these comments and Bryant’s various social media postings over the last 48 hours. 

The Bears need a wide receiver (or two), and Bryant ostensibly is doing whatever he can to make himself available before the NFL’s Oct. 31 trade deadline. But that doesn’t necessarily mean this is a match. A few thoughts here:

Why would Pittsburgh want to trade him?

NFL coaches hate drama and “distractions,” and Bryant has now seemingly caused both in Mike Tomlin’s locker room. But follow the money: Bryant isn’t a free agent until after the 2018 season and is making $615,000 this year and $705,000 next year, the final two seasons of the former fourth-rounder’s rookie contract. For perspective, his combined 2017-2018 salary of $1,320,000 is only slightly higher than the $1 million the Bears guaranteed to Kendall Wright this year; if Wright is active in all 16 games, he’ll make $2 million in 2017, according to Spotrac. Tre McBride’s salary in 2017 is $615,000, too, according to Spotrac. 

The point: Bryant is cheap, and it’s a lot easier to put up with a malcontent who isn’t being paid much than one who could be cut or traded for salary cap savings. Bryant’s representatives actually asked for him to be traded three weeks ago but the Steelers, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, have no plans to follow through on that request

While Bryant’s role has decreased with the emergence of second-round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster (26 targets, 17 receptions, 231 yards, three touchdowns), he’s still the third-most targeted player on the Steelers (36) behind Antonio Brown (84) and Le’Veon Bell (42), though that seems likely to change after Bryant was only targeted five times in his last two games. Pittsburgh is 5-2 and looks ticketed for the playoffs, so removing someone from their offense — even if that someone is disgruntled — who isn’t making much money and is under team control through 2018 doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. 

Why would the Bears want him?

The obvious answer to this question is the Bears need all the help they can get for a wide receiver unit that’s been targeted only five times (between two players — Wright and Tanner Gentry) on Mitchell Trubisky’s 23 throws in the last two weeks. Bryant is an explosive receiver who’s averaged 16.5 yards per reception and has 15 touchdowns since debuting with the Steelers in 2014. He’d certainly give opposing defenses pause in stacking the box with eight defenders against Jordan Howard. 

The upside here is making a win-now move to provide a jolt to the offense. It could be a low-risk move in a sense, maybe costing a seventh-rounder to get him, and then if he doesn’t work out, it wouldn’t hurt too much to cut him after the season. But there are downsides here.

First, if the Steelers are actually willing to trade Bryant — again, a cheap player who’s under team control for another year and a half — it could mean he’s *really* a problem in the locker room. And that’s a locker room full of veterans, led by Ben Roethlisberger (though offensive lineman Ramon Foster's comments may indicate a breaking point is near). 

Second, the Bears traded away two of their most productive offensive players — tight end Martellus Bennett and wide receiver Brandon Marshall — in recent years in the name of locker room harmony. John Fox is no different than most NFL coaches in not wanting drama in his locker room. Bryant was suspended by the NFL for the entire 2016 season for repeated drug violations, which raises a “character concerns” flag around the league. 

Third, if those concerns turn out not to be founded, and Bryant were to arrive in Lake Forest with a fresh outlook, another pressing question should be asked: Why did he lose his once-prominent role in the Steelers’ offense? 

We saw it first-hand in Chicago in Week 3, when Bryant burned Marcus Cooper downfield but had Roethlisberger’s deep heave glance of his fingertips. He’s only been targeted five times in Pittsburgh’s last two games, catching three passes for 30 yards. It’s worth questioning if Bryant’s year-long suspension has hurt his play in 2017. 

Bryant, too, has had success playing opposite Brown, one of the very best receivers (if not the best) in the NFL. How would he handle being the No. 1 focus of opposing cornerbacks and defenses? That’s a question better answered by scouting departments around the league, but if the Bears were to determine the answer to that question as “not well,” he might not help the receivers as much as it may seem. 

So there are a lot of layers here that would have to be dug through for anything with Bryant and the Bears to materialize. It’s possible that could happen, but it’s not as simple as saying "the Bears need a receiver, so they should try to get Martavis Bryant.” 

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday. 

Bears cut ties with linebacker Jerrell Freeman

Bears cut ties with linebacker Jerrell Freeman

The Bears began their slew of offseason moves by releasing inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Freeman, 31, signed a three-year, $12 million deal with the Bears in 2016.

In his first year in Chicago he amassed 110 tackles in 12 games but was suspended four games for PED use. He played in just one game lsat season before suffering a pectoral injury that placed him on IR. He then tested positive again for a performance-enhancing drug, resulting in a 10-game suspension that bleeds over into 2018 for two more games, wherever he winds up.