Bears

Blackhawks patience with Parise could prove costly

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Blackhawks patience with Parise could prove costly

Zach Parise and Ryan Suter have been courted since Canada Day; they wont announce their respective decisions until at least Independence Day.

Several teams are waiting to see if they have a chance at landing either, or both, of the highly coveted free agents. The Chicago Blackhawks are one of those teams, as theyve shown interest in Parise. The New Jersey Devils forward has much to consider, and when he arrived back in Minnesota Tuesday, he told Michael Russo of Minneapolis Star Tribune that hes putting no timetable on his decision.

Theres a lot of things to factor into it and I think thats why were taking our time with the decision, said Parise, whos also being courted by the Wild, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings, as well as the Devils. Its not something we can just make at 1 oclock on July 1. It takes time to make sure you consider everything and youre doing the right thing.

Parise also talked to Josh Rimer of NHL Home Ice on Tuesday night. He told Rimer that hes talked to Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello three or four times a day during this process, that hes talked with Suter the past few days and would love to play on a team with a defenseman like Ryan Suter. Parise added that the free-agency process has been much more than I anticipated it to be.

The forward told Rimer hes getting closer to a making a decision, and will spend July 4 on the lake mulling things over.

But as the Blackhawks wait, the free-agency pool gets more shallow. Other free agents are being signed and other trades are being made. And other than the Blackhawks acquiring Sheldon Brookbank on Sunday, theyve been quiet.

In going after Parise, the Blackhawks are showing some gumption. Theyre willing to make a big pitch to land a very big, and very talented, fish. And if they pull it off, even though Parise doesnt solve their bigger needs, hes nevertheless one hell of an addition.

The question is, what if they dont?

In the four days since PariseSuter watch began, there have been a myriad of pickups and moves. Defensemen such as Jason Garrison and Sheldon Souray have signed with others. Center Derek Roy was dealt to the Dallas Stars for feisty, and effective, forward Steve Ott.

Theyre all pretty talented players, all pieces that may have fit somewhere in the Blackhawks puzzle. If they dont land their big fish, its more likely the Blackhawks will have to look at trades to address their needs.

Maybe the Blackhawks are playing the greatest cloak-and-dagger game of all time. Maybe theyre scheming to go for both Parise and Suter. The Wild are doing that Parises a native Minnesotan and Russo reported that the Wild sent a contingent to Suters farm. But all indications are that Parise is the Blackhawks main target.

Sooner or later, the leagues top free agents will make their choices. And if Parise doesnt choose the Blackhawks, theyll be the ones having to make decisions.

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive backs

2017 Bears position grades: Defensive backs

2017 grade: B-

Level of need: High

Decisions to be made on: Kyle Fuller (free agent), Prince Amukamara (free agent), Marcus Cooper (contract), Sherrick McManis (free agent), Bryce Callahan (restricted free agent), Quintin Demps (contract)

Possible free agent targets: Trumaine Johnson, Malcolm Butler, Bashaud Breeland, E.J. Gaines, Rashaad Melvin, Robert McClain, Darrelle Revis

There’s a wide spectrum of scenarios for the Bears at cornerback, ranging from keeping the status quo to blowing the whole thing up, and everything in between. Safety is far more stable, with Adrian Amos and Eddie Jackson proving to be a reliable pairing, so that’s set for 2018.

Let’s start with one end of that cornerback spectrum: The Bears keep the top of this unit intact. That means, No. 1, retaining Kyle Fuller via the franchise tag and/or a long-term contract. No. 2, it means bringing back Prince Amukamara, who didn’t record an interception and committed a few too many penalties, but otherwise was a fine enough cover corner. No. 3, it means keeping restricted free agent Bryce Callahan as the team’s No. 1 slot corner.

On paper, this doesn’t seem like an altogether bad option. The Bears weren’t spectacular at cornerback in 2017, but the position was a little better than average, which isn’t the worst place to be for a single unit. Couple with solid play from the safeties and the Bears’ defensive backs were overall a decent enough group. Outside of Marcus Cooper -- who is a candidate to be cut for cap savings -- the Bears may not need to make wholesale changes to this group.

That, though, is a rosier look at this unit. The Bears can certainly improve the personnel in it with a healthy amount of cap space and a strong crop of free agent cornerbacks about to hit the market. Keeping Fuller and then signing a top-tier player like Trumaine Johnson or Malcolm Butler would upgrade this group, as would bringing back Fuller and Amukamara but then using a high draft pick on a player like Ohio State’s Denzel Ward.

Unless the Bears sign two big-time cornerbacks -- i.e. Fuller and Johnson, or even a guy like Brashaud Breeland or E.J. Gaines -- it would seem reasonable for them to use a first or second-round pick on a cornerback in an effort to find a longer-term solution at the position. That doesn’t mean the Bears would absolutely have to go that route, especially with other needs at wide receiver, guard and outside linebacker.

But here’s another thought: It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Bears are able to sign a combination of two top cornerbacks in free agency. With plenty of cap space top-end free agents lacking at wide receiver and outside linebacker/edge rusher, could Pace allocate a good chunk of that money to, say, tagging Fuller and making runs at Johnson, Butler and/or Breeland? 2018 looks to be a good year to be aggressive in the free agent cornerback market, and that could play into the Bears’ strategy well.

Before we finish, we should carve out some space for Amos and Jackson. Pro Football Focus isn’t the only outlet that’s given Amos high marks -- Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 ranked him as the No. 1 free safety in the league, too. Jackson came in at No. 19 in B/R’s strong safety rankings, which is pretty solid for a fourth-round rookie.

But the larger point here isn’t exactly where Amos and Jackson are in outside evaluations -- it’s that, tangibly, the pair played well off each other on a consistent basis last year. Seeing as Amos didn’t enter the Bears’ starting lineup until Week 4 -- after Quintin Demps suffered a season-ending broken forearm against Pittsburgh -- how quickly and successfully he and Jackson meshed was one of the more impressive developments for the Bears’ 2017 defense. Amos needs to make more plays on the ball and Jackson has some things to clean up, but the Bears enter the 2018 league year not needing to address their safety position. That’s a good place to be for a team with other significant needs.

Three Things to Watch: Bulls-76ers

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Bulls-76ers

The Bulls square off against the Sixers tonight on NBC Sports Chicago, with coverage beginning at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live. Here are three things to watch as the Bulls begin the stretch run of their regular season.

1. The new rotation: Most of the Bulls’ rotation looks the same, but the addition of David Nwaba, Cristiano Felicio and Cameron Payne will have a different feel. The Bulls clearly want to get a look at these guys before the end of the regular season, meaning they’re not just going to get sporadic minutes. They’ll have to play through their mistakes, play out-matched at times and be put in uncomfortable situations. But the Bulls need to see what they have, especially in Payne, who has missed the entire season to this point with a broken foot.

2. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons: They’re quite the 1-2 punch and have the Sixers looking at their first playoff appearance since Derrick Rose hadn’t yet torn an ACL. Yeah, that’s a long time. Embiid just finished his first All-Star appearance (starting in his second year) and Simmons is the front runner for Rookie of the Year. The Bulls will have their hands full with these two. Luckily…

3. Kris Dunn is back: The Bulls wanted to get Dunn some run before heading to All-Star Weekend to play in the Rising Stars Challenge, and he looked healthy in that thumping against the Raptors last week. The good news is John Paxson says Dunn won’t be on a minutes limit, which means he’s healthy. That, of course, is more important than how he’s playing. It’ll be fun to see him, LaVine and Markkanen play together down the stretch. Their numbers together aren’t great, but the Bulls are 2-2 with all three in the lineup, and tanking or not…it’s more fun to watch when those three are rolling.