Bears

Despite departure, Bears' John Fox claims Broncos just 'next game on the schedule'

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Despite departure, Bears' John Fox claims Broncos just 'next game on the schedule'

Living well is indeed the best revenge. And for John Fox, a win over the Denver Broncos next Sunday to reach .500 for the first time in 2015 would be part of living well, and by extension, the best revenge, if Fox needed any of it with respect to John Elway and the Broncos. Which he probably doesn’t but…

The New York Jets were the next game on the schedule for Rex Ryan as coach of the Buffalo Bills, too. 

Fox’s departure from Denver was ostensibly by mutual agreement; after all, the press release said so. But head coaches don’t usually leave billets where they’ve taken a team to four straight playoff appearances, including one with Tim Tebow at quarterback, and on the heels of a 12-4 season, which the Broncos were last year.

The underlying real story was that Fox and John Elway, now Broncos general manager and executive vice president of football operations, did simply disagree on certain personnel decisions and ultimately over what reaching the highest level in the NFL entailed, although both men had reached more than one Super Bowl in their careers to that point. 

[MORE: Suprising people or not, Bears don't feel they've arrived just yet]

And Elway said he was unhappy that the Broncos did not exit the playoffs “kicking and screaming’’ the last two seasons, which ended with a Super Bowl blowout loss to Seattle in 2013 and a loss to the Indianapolis Colts in last year’s divisional round.

Elway’s disappointing took the form of de facto questioning how Fox had the Broncos primed for those losses.

"It’s disappointing that we didn’t have more fire,” Elway said in a news conference. “I don’t know why we didn’t have more fire.’’

Meaning: Any split where one side questions and finally rejects the other’s ways may not be overtly hostile, but entirely amicable? Not impossible, but that would be an anomaly, with Elway not convinced of Fox’s intensity and coaching style in situations where Elway favored a more wide-open, go-for-it style.

“I think the biggest miss between us was how we can take that next step and what is was going to take to get to that next step,” Elway said after the conclusion of the 2014 season. “I think that's where that disagreement came from."

Players in the time after Sunday’s win over the St. Louis Rams already were talking privately about wanting to get the Denver game for Fox. It is not his style to foment thoughts of vindication or revenge, but the Denver Broncos will not be completely just another game to everyone on the Chicago sideline.

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“Well, you know, the familiarity and all of that, when you’ve been doing this for 26 years, you kind of run into a lot of people you know,” Fox said, then laughed. “When you’re with your eighth team, you end up playing your ex-team a bunch.

“I think everybody has that maybe the first time, whether you’re a player or a coach. I feel for the people who have got to play against family.  You know, that’s the ultimate of really knowing somebody. I think that becomes maybe the hardest thing to do. But a lot of close friends there, a lot of people I have shared some great moments with. But it’s the next team on the schedule.”

That's his story and he's stickin' to it.

 

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.