Bears

Bears not alone with 0-3 woes, but loss to Seahawks offers one key upside

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Bears not alone with 0-3 woes, but loss to Seahawks offers one key upside

SEATTLE — Sometimes the absence of pain can be taken as pleasure, and a loss that could have been a humiliation somehow looks better because it wasn’t completely embarrassing. But Sunday’s 26-0 loss felt at times like a fourth preseason game, with a backup quarterback throwing to wide receivers who would start only in a fourth preseason game (Eddie Royal excepted).

Maybe some overall perspective first:

If you’re a Bears fan needing something to feel upbeat about, how do you think folks in Detroit feel about their Lions, projected to be pretty good, who are also 0-3 and that’s with Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and most of the players that matter? What do the Lions have to look forward to? The Baltimore Ravens are 0-3 and they have Joe Flacco (and Marc Trestman as their offensive coordinator). The New Orleans Saints are 0-3 and they (mostly) have Drew Brees.

Injuries aren’t an excuse but in the Bears’ case, they certainly are a reason. “As I said last week, ‘We’re 0-2,’” head coach John Fox said. “We’ll get better. We will get some guys back hopefully at some point. We will be a little bit more whole. There are enough guys in there that we can generate enough good football to win games.”

One reality is that the Bears might even have played fairly well over their first three games and been 0-3. But ultimately they did not, and the loss to the Seattle Seahawks left unanswered what kind of team the Bears really are.

Or maybe it did answer that without Jay Cutler, Alshon Jeffery, Jeremiah Ratliff and maybe Kevin White, the Bears cannot compete in the 2015 NFL with anybody much good.

[MORE BEARS: Linebackers strong but worn out thanks to offense]

All things considered

If there were nothing constructive in the loss at Seattle, the situation would be far, far more dire. But one of the treats on game days is standing by to do my segment of our Postgame Live show that features Lance Briggs, Dan Jiggetts and Jim Miller. And when three former NFL players with long histories of straight talk are talking about positives that they observed in Sunday’s game, then it’s a pretty sure thing that something had transpired on the plus side.

The main one Sunday night was the arrival of a pass rush without coordinator Vic Fangio needing to go into a panic mode, which he abhors anyway. Pernell McPhee played like the franchise linchpin he was signed to be (two sacks, two tackles for loss, four quarterback hits), and Jarvis Jenkins (two sacks, 10 tackles, two for losses and two quarterback hits) was the kind of impact down-lineman (for a game, at least) that Fangio had in San Francisco with Justin Smith.

“It starts with the interior. If the inside gets rush, that opens up the outside. We got good rushes in the first half and that’s when (Seattle) had to start clamping down. That’s 3-4 defense," Jenkins told CSNChicago.com. "You could see that with Vic Fangio in San Francisco with Justin Smith and those guys. It’s got to start with the D-line.”

And the D-line gets Ratliff back from suspension this week. Fox might not go in for candid public critiques of his players but neither does he usually say something is when it isn’t, and “I think we’re making headway,” he said. “I think we made headway in some phases of our defense. But we still have a long way to go.”

Not that it necessarily counts for anything, but the attitude is right. Defensive tackle Ego Ferguson followed Jenkins’ first sack with a bit of trash-yelling and 12th-man baiting of the Seattle fans in the south end zone.

“Hey, that’s what it’s all about,” McPhee said. “We gotta make up our minds that we are a defense people are going to be scared of. That’s how we have to play the rest of the year.”

[MORE BEARS: Jimmy Clausen can't trigger offense in shutout loss]

But over on offense

The results with Jimmy Clausen were about what should have been expected, maybe a little bit worse, but better quarterbacks than Clausen have struggled against the Seahawks in Seattle, and getting Oakland in Soldier Field is potentially a more manageable assignment than Sunday’s.

But the Bears cannot entertain thoughts of progress when they have 10 possessions and punt 10 times (if you want a positive, at least they went through a game without a turnover for the first time this season).

And even a bad team should be able to do better than five second-half possessions with four ending as three-and-out’s and the fifth a four-play possession. The last time the Bears were shut out was a 15-0 blanking by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with the Bears also rolling out a backup quarterback — Henry Burris — who threw four interceptions among his 19 attempts. Clausen wasn’t that bad, at least.

Special teams were, however. The Bears are using starters on coverage (including linebacker Sam Acho, safety Antrel Rolle) and gave up three 60-plus-yard returns in the span of barely six quarters, including the kickoff-return touchdown Sunday in a play that clinched the outcome, given the obvious limitations and shortcomings of the Clausen-led offense.

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).