Bears

Cutler, Gould highlight Bears first half against Colts

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Cutler, Gould highlight Bears first half against Colts

This short-handed Bears offense found a way to move the ball, if not finish, in trailing 11-9 in Indianapolis at halftime.

And it may have become more short-handed at an already-thin wide receiver corps when Marquess Wilson tweaked a hamstring on the second series, came back to make an impressive 10-yard gain on a catch-and-stiff-arm in the third series, then went back to the sidelines for good.

As for Charles Leno Jr.'s audition at right tackle, he didn't provide anything better than what Jordan Mills has provided, with a hands-to-the-face penalty on a third-and-8 on the opening series. But after that three-and-out came a trio of field goal drives with 14 runs and eight passes, with Robbie Gould connecting from 50, 37 and 25 yards.

[MORE: Bears step way up in class trying to stop Colts, Andrew Luck]

As a matter of fact, every phase of special teams has been solid, with 29- and 22-yard punt returns by Marc Mariani and a 31-yard kick return by Senorise Perry providing solid field position. Matt Forte got his first game action of the preseason, with eight carries for 24 yards, but his 12-yard reception was the biggest play on the first field goal drive. Forte's 11-yard run on the second field goal drive also included Cutler going 4-for-4, twice to Martellus Bennett.

But concerns continued at tackle as the field got shorter, with pressure coming from the outside, not to mention a Kyle Long hold that wiped out a gutsy, helmet-removing 12-yard run by Cutler that would've set up fourth-and-goal from the 1.

But that line was winning most of the way on a nine-play, 51-yard drive, with Jacquizz Rodgers carrying six times for 28 yards.

There were steps made on defense, too, versus Andrew Luck, permitting just one first down the first two series'. Pernell McPhee had a sack and third-down pressure on the opening series. Jarvis Jenkins and Jared Allen (in a three-point stance) hurried Luck on the second series.

Luck found his rhythm and the Colts' line adjusted on the third possession, marching from their own 13 to a touchdown and two-point conversion - Kyle Fuller responsible for 45 of those yards on a 30-yard reception by T.Y. Hilton, followed by an unsportsmanlike conduct call.

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Once Luck exited, Matt Hasselbeck was victimized on an incredibly athletic downfield interception in man coverage by Terrance Mitchell. But Jimmy Clausen and Dante Rosario got mixed up on an ensuing interception by Indy, which turned into the go-ahead field goal at the gun, though not before a combo sack by Will Sutton and Willie Young.

Adrian Amos provided good support a couple of times and did not get exposed in moving into the starting lineup. Cutler wound up 8 of 9 passing for 69 yards.

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.

2017 Bears position grades: Outside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Outside Linebacker

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER

2017 grade: C-

Level of need: High

Decisions to be made on: Willie Young (contract), Pernell McPhee (contract), Sam Acho (free agent), Lamarr Houston (free agent)

Possible free agent targets: DeMarcus Lawrence, Ezekiel Ansah, Adrian Clayborn, Connor Barwin, Kony Ealy

 

Would you believe that no true outside linebacker in this year’s free agent class had more sacks than Lamarr Houston did last year? Houston and the Rams’ Connor Barwin each had five, underscoring how rare it is for an elite edge rusher to make it to free agency.

 

There are a few that, for now, are due to hit the open market. DeMarcus Lawrence racked up 14 ½ sacks with the Dallas Cowboys last year, but played as a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme. The same goes for the Detroit Lions’ Ezekiel Ansah, who had a dozen sacks in 2017. But if either reaches free agency, it’d be a surprise -- again, pass-rushers with that kind of production rarely escape the franchise tag.

 

If Lawrence or Ansah do become available, the Bears would likely be a part of the feeding frenzy to sign either player. Whether they could convince either player that 1) Chicago is a desirable destination and 2) that they’d be just as, if not more, productive in a 3-4 base instead of a 4-3 is a different question.

 

The same goes for Atlanta’s Adrian Clayborn, who had 9 ½ sacks last year (including a ridiculous six-sack game) but played in a 4-3 and may not be looking to leave Atlanta. The Falcons, though, could be in a tricky salary cap situation with defensive lineman Dontari Poe and longtime kicker Matt Bryant both due to hit free agency.

 

Fangio’s scheme is malleable, though, and any of these players would be a fit in it one way or another. Spotrac estimates Lawrence would command an average annual salary of $14 million per year, while Ansah would be slightly lower at $13.2 million. Either way, either of those guys could command the biggest contract Pace has given a defensive player (although the Bears were prepared to give cornerback A.J. Bouye more than the $13.5 million average annual salary that he’s receiving with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

 

Both Willie Young and Pernell McPhee could be released this off-season, too, to free up cap room. Cutting Young would net $4.5 million in cap savings, while a release of McPhee would free up a little over $7 million, according to Spotrac. Of the two, Young may be the more likely guy to stick around, despite coming off a season-ending triceps injury. While he’ll be 33 next September, Young has 9 ½ sacks in the last two year while McPhee has eight (while playing in more games than Young). This may not be an either-or situation, though -- the Bears could very well cut both.

 

Houston is an interesting option to retain after he racked up four sacks in five games after returning to the Bears last December. He’s struggled to stay healthy in his career, though, and the Bears probably wouldn’t re-sign him and count on the 30-year-old to be a starter in 2018, especially considering the uncertain recovery status of Leonard Floyd. Sam Acho could be brought back as a solid depth option, too.

 

The success of this unit, though, will hinge more on Floyd than whatever the Bears are able to do in free agency or the draft. The Bears need their 2016 first-round pick to A) stay healthy and B) improve as an edge rusher after injuries have limited him to 22 games and 11 ½ sacks in his first two seasons. If every team needs three reliable pass-rushers, the Bears will need to pencil in Floyd next to Akiem Hicks (who, for what it’s worth, is more of a run-stuffer, but did total 8 ½ sacks in 2017) and then either a free agent or a draft pick.

 

The most likely route to land that third pass rusher, though, is probably through the draft unless a top talent like Lawrence, Ansah or Clayborn hits free agency -- and then matches with the Bears.