Bears

Bears Week 3 in-foe: Lynch-pins lagging

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Bears Week 3 in-foe: Lynch-pins lagging

There are three categories as to why the Seattle Seahawks are the reigning, two-time NFC Champions: They're the league's top overall and top pass defenses over that time, and were the top-ranked rushing team a year ago (fourth in 2013).

It's early, but they're 17th in total defense and 21st versus the pass the first two weeks, with a still-respectable 11th-ranked ground game (where the Bears ranked sixth entering Monday night). The Seahawks are the ones with the targets on their backs, dealing with the off-season hangover of the Malcolm Butler goal-line interception that denied a Super Bowl repeat and the contract wars that've bled into the regular season with the one star they haven't paid.

[RELATED - After losses to Packers and Cardinals, Bears are … what, exactly?]

It all figures to get better after losses in St. Louis and Green Bay when the Bears come to town Sunday, especially if Jimmy Clausen's at the offensive controls, the Chicago defense can't come up with stops and special teams can't assist in field position amidst the 12th Man's deafening din. We won't get into pre-snap penalties. Seattle recovered from a 3-3 start a year ago, and after the Bears, the Seahawks host Detroit, travel to Cincinnati, and hosts Carolina.

Earl Thomas is the only starting defensive backfield-mate from the last two years in the lineup right now with star cornerback Richard Sherman, who was made to look pedestrian by Aaron Rodgers Sunday night despite the absence of top target Jordy Nelson. Safety Kam Chancellor remains in holdout mode, 2.5 years after his most recent extension. Sherman and Thomas got their fresh money a year ago. Middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, running back Marshawn Lynch and quarterback Russell Wilson got fresh green this offseason. Dion Bailey's stepped in off the practice squad a year ago for Chancellor at safety. And the Cary Williams-Byron Maxwell free agency cornerback swap with the Eagles has hurt more than it's helped, while nickel back Jeremy Lane remains on the PUP List from his Super Bowl injuries.

Wagner is still flanked by Bruce Irvin and K.J. Wright in a terrific linebacking corps, while the pass rush rotation is still led by Michael Bennett, who wanted fresh paper himself despite spurning more cash from the Bears in March of 2014 to join brother Martellus in order to remain a Seahawk. The Wilson contract forced them to dump starting tackle Tony McDaniel, but former third-round picks Brandon Mebane and Jordan Hill have stepped in after going on injured reserve last season. Ahtyba Rubin was signed away from the Browns to add more inside push, and help Cliff Avril bookend Bennett to attack on the outside.

Kris Richard is the third coordinator in four years of that talented defense, after Dan Quinn (Atlanta) and Gus Bradley (Jacksonville) were rewarded with head coaching jobs.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

Offensively, though, the much-ballyhooed acquisition of Graham has been a disappointment (ready, Antrelle and Adrian?). One of the NFL's top receiving tight end has all of seven receptions for 62 yards, including one for 11 Sunday night at Lambeau Field (targeted just twice). The Seahawks sacrificed center Max Unger in the Graham deal and the offensive line he's left behind has looked ragged. Beast Mode Marshawn Lynch has been tamed with just 114 yards (3.5 average, one run of 20-plus), and the attack has been most dangerous with Wilson moving and improvising, rather than pounding Lynch, much to his mom's chagrin. Doug Baldwin's 14 receptions lead Wilson's wideouts.

On special teams, the Bears' struggling kickoff coverage unit has to deal with rookie waterbug Tyler Lockett, whose 22.5-yard return average was 10th in the league entering Monday. His 21.1-yard punt return average (with a touchdown) ranked second in the NFL.

**Join Chris, Dan Jiggetts, and CSNChicago.com "Bears Insider" John Mullin Wednesdays on Comcast SportsNet for "Bears Huddle, brought to you by Verizon Wireless."  They'll further preview Sunday's matchup in Seattle, and let you in on the news conferences of John Fox and Vic Fangio, as well as locker room interviews**

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).