Bears

Bears looking at crucial tests in multiple areas vs. Bengals

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Bears looking at crucial tests in multiple areas vs. Bengals

CINCINNATI – The first round of mandated roster cuts for 2015 come no later than early next week. Those will be scrutinized intently by Bears personnel staff in search of fills for obvious needs in a roster with concerning gaps that have come since the draft and other additions gave the Bears what they hoped would be their pool of options.

But since then the defense has lost two of its three starting linemen – Ray McDonald released, Jeremiah Ratliff suspended for the first three games. None of the projected top four receivers are expected to dress for Saturdays game against the Cincinnati Bengals, and rookie Kevin White won’t be dressing for games anytime soon following shin surgery. Alshon Jeffery and Marquess Wilson, to be determined.

The offensive line is having difficulty fielding two starter-grade tackles, with inconsistent Jordan Mills losing his job to 2014 backup Charles Leno Jr. Cornerback has been a turnstyle opposite Kyle Fuller because no one has taken a clinching step forward. The right-cornerback carousel has been players who weren’t good enough to be starters this time a year ago, and Fuller has had a substandard two preseason games.

[MORE: Cutler fine with 'a little bit of flexibility' in Bears play calling]

All of which has left coach John Fox still deep in an evaluation mode, with this third preseason game a crucial indicator of whether or not Fox has solutions at hand.

“I think it's real important to understand your football team,” Fox said. “Everybody in the league has to cut down to 75 after this week and then following the final preseason game cut down to 53. So those are the guys that you're going into the season with and I think it's important to choose wisely and you're evaluating everything.”

Last season’s game 3 was a frightening foreshadowing as the Bears fell behind the Seattle Seahawks 31-0 at halftime and 34-0 through the starters’ three quarters. It was a nightmare that would be repeated in roughly one-third of the Bears’ 2014 games – at New England, at Green Bay, at home against Dallas.

Preseason games may not count but some can reveal much – good and bad – about the true state of a team.

“I don't even know who we [Denver Broncos] played the third preseason game a year ago,” Fox said. “It doesn't leave a lasting impression when the games don't actually count. But they do count in the evaluation process in instilling kind of what you want into your team and how they react because they are games.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

The Cincinnati game will be a glimpse at what the Bears have in the way of depth at wide receiver. At what the Bears have for the present and future at nose tackle in Eddie Goldman. And at the status of integration going on within a defense that may start only one player – cornerback Tim Jennings – from the unit that started that 2014 game three in Seattle.

“These past two games we had pretty good games,” said defensive end Jarvis Jenkins. “Preseason doesn't count but we have to go in there with the mindset that we have to start fast.

“Coach Fox always preaches about starting fast and stopping the run and this is going to be a good test for us because the Bengals run the ball. That's a power team, and if we can come out with the group we've got and show we can play with these guys against the run, we can show we can play against anybody, so it's going to be a good test for us.”

Bears ’18 offseason dramatically different from ’17 but with difficult money-management issues looming

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USA TODAY

Bears ’18 offseason dramatically different from ’17 but with difficult money-management issues looming

About this time a year ago the Bears were setting up for the annual NFL beauty pageant in Indianapolis, sitting with the No. 3 pick in the 2017 draft and with myriad roster decisions to address with both that draft and free agency. Because of the Bears’ lofty draft position, even more scrutiny and attention swirled around the college prospects (Deshaun Watson, Jamal Adams, Solomon Thomas, not enough on Mitch Trubisky as it turned out, a testimonial to GM Ryan Pace’s ability to keep a secret).

But what was developing in free agency was arguably of even greater significance in what was then the short term, at least for John Fox, as it turned out. And the changed landscape this year bodes considerably better for Pace and the Bears. At least in one important respect.

First, a perspective from last year’s pre-Combine period...

Because of the unsettled quarterback situation – the Bears were working toward Mike Glennon and cutting Jay Cutler two weeks later – and concerns about a possible lame-duck situation for Fox, free agents and their agents were willing to look at the Bears but only if the Bears would pony up excessive guaranteed dollars. The worry any time a coach is heading into a tipping-point year is that if things go badly, the coach and staff are gone, and the resulting changes will alter the job situation of that particular veteran player.

So the likes of cornerbacks A.J. Bouye or Stephon Gilmore opted for less total money from Jacksonville and New England, respectively, because the Bears weren’t offering higher guarantees to compensate for the uncertainty.

(One of the reasons then-President/CEO Michael McCaskey stated to this reporter for firing Mike Ditka after the 1992 season was a concern over the negative pall Ditka cast over playing for the Bears as the NFL prepared for the 1993 start of free agency. A quarter-century later, Pace didn’t fire Fox because of free agents’ aversion to Fox, but the overall wasn’t making Pace’s job any easier.)

Would Alshon Jeffery have stayed if...

On a slightly different tack: Would Alshon Jeffery have given the Bears a more receptive look had the quarterback position been addressed sooner in the Fox/Pace tenure? Jeffery took less from the Eagles in a one-year prove-it deal, not because Philadelphia was so much warmer than Chicago, but in large part because of where the offensive arrow was pointing in Chicago with Fox, Dowell Loggains and an unsettled quarterback situation.

Not insignificantly in the Jeffery case: Jeffery had four choices – Bears, Indianapolis, Minnesota, Philadelphia. The Colts weren’t sure about Andrew Luck, coming off shoulder surgery and ultimately missing all of ’17. The Vikings were resting then on brittle Sam Bradford, whose knee broke down early, and Case Keenum wasn’t CASE KEENUM at that point. The Bears with Loggains and Glennon? Jeffery didn’t go with Philadelphia, Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz only for the money, which did come anyway.

The Bears have “fixed” all of those issues in the year that’s played out since Jeffery signed with the Eagles almost concurrent with the Bears moving on from Cutler. None of that matters now in the least with Jeffery, Bouye, Gilmore or any other options that demanded too much guaranteed money or spurned the Bears back then, but it does matter going into the run-up to free agency over the next couple weeks.

Why this in fact matters more than the draft is that, while sound organizations are grounded in quality drafting, the reality is that in virtually every offseason, more starters for that season are acquired via free agency than the draft. Last year’s draft centerpiece was Trubisky, though he wasn’t supposed to start last season. But free agents Glennon, Prince Amukamara, Marcus Cooper, Quintin Demps and Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright were.

The money pit

Longtime Bears and NFL personnel chief Bill Tobin once remarked back in the beginning of free agency, “Just because you pay a guy $2 million doesn’t make him a $2-million player.” That still applies, adjusted for inflation. And that could make this free agency dicey for the Bears.

Because price isn’t always determined solely on quality; it’s a matter of supply and demand. And while the Bears are among those with the greatest estimated space under the projected cap of $178 million, the others way up on the list include Cleveland, Indianapolis, the Jets, Houston and Tampa Bay – all teams with five or fewer wins in ’17 and expected to be the most aggressive in using free agency to fix gaping holes. The Bears have a lot of money to spend, but so do a whole lot of others.

Meaning: A lot of dollars will be chasing a select few players, which will make some of them overpaid, not unlike Glennon was last offseason (how many apparently better options were there?) or a couple of others, who will be paid like $2 million players even if they aren’t, adjusted for inflation.

The result is another offseason of brinksmanship for Pace, this time in need of better results than his first three free agencies if the outcome for his second head coach is to be better than it was for his first.

Report: Bears could be a potential landing spot for Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry

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USA TODAY

Report: Bears could be a potential landing spot for Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry

The Bears are looking for an upgrade at wide receiver this offseason, and there may be one available.

The Dolphins used the franchise tag on wide receiver Jarvis Landry on Tuesday, in a move that many believe signals the team's desire to deal him instead of losing him in free agency for nothing.

Landry put up excellent numbers last season, catching 112 passes for 987 yards and nine touchdowns. He led the league in catches and was fourth in touchdown receptions but was just 17th in yards. His yards per reception ranked 108th of 139 qualifying players.

Still, it's no secret he'd be an upgrade for the Bears at wide receiver. Though they'll get Cam Meredith and Kevin White back from injury, the corps largely struggled and didn't give rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky much help.

Luckily, they may be interested in Landry, per NFL.com's Ian Rapoport.

"There are a couple teams that we should keep an eye on as far as a potential Jarvis Landry landing spot......the Chicago Bears are looking for receviers," he said.

Rapoport also mentioned the Titans, Panthers and Saints as options for Landry. The franchise tag will pay Landry about $16 million before he becomes a free agent in 2019 (or has the franchise tag used on him again).