Gruden: Bears should get Cutler replacement in the pipeline


Gruden: Bears should get Cutler replacement in the pipeline

Incoming Bears GM Ryan Pace and coach John Fox are not the only ones who do not accord quarterback Jay Cutler praise or even a certain future in Chicago.

Former Super Bowl-winning coach and current ESPN “Monday Night Football” analyst Jon Gruden was working the MNF game last Dec. 15 when Cutler threw three interceptions in a dismal loss to the New Orleans Saints. The performance sent Cutler to the bench for the following game vs. Detroit.

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It also appears to have cemented Gruden’s opinion that the Bears need to begin in earnest a succession plan behind a quarterback who has exhausted his “potential” and presumably his time in Chicago after 2015.

“In my opinion, with that talent, it just hasn’t all come together for him,” Gruden said on Tuesday via conference call. “I think Chicago, given the contract that Jay Cutler has, should consider looking for a young arm that has a bright future as a Bear.”

Gruden voiced some negative critique points during the Bears-Saints telecast. Not all of them had to do with only Cutler’s individual performance.

“The body language of the Bear football team wasn’t good last year,” Gruden said. “Oftentimes, that’s a reflection of the quarterback. He threw three interceptions in the game and for a man of that type of talent, that type of experience, it was shocking to me.

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“I want him to turn it around now. But I am somewhat surprised that he hasn’t been able to get it in the gear that the Chicago Bears need him to get it to, because he’s got a pretty good supporting cast…

“He’s been there for a number of offensive coaches. He’s had the Bears on the brink of going to the playoffs. He hasn’t been able to sustain 16-20 weeks of great play.”

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

With Josh Sitton on his way out, what’s next for the Bears’ offensive line?

The first major move of Ryan Pace’s 2018 offseason hit on Tuesday, as NFL Network reported the Bears will not exercise Josh Sitton’s $8 million option for 2018. 

The move accomplishes two things for the Bears: 1) It frees up about $8 million in cap space and 2) Removes a veteran from the offensive line and creates a hole to fill, presumably by a younger free agent or draft pick. 

The 31-year-old Sitton signed a three-year deal with the Bears after Green Bay cut him just before the 2016 season, and was a Pro Bowler his first year in Chicago. Sitton played 26 of 32 games in two years with the Bears, but him being on the wrong side of 30 was likely the biggest factor here. If the Bears saw his skills eroding, releasing him now and netting the cap savings while going younger at the position does make sense. 

“Going younger” doesn’t guarantee the Bears will draft Notre Dame brawler Quenton Nelson, though that did become a greater possibility with Tuesday’s move. Nelson might be one of the two or three best offensive players in this year’s draft, and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand knows him well from the four years they spent together at Notre Dame. 

There’s a natural fit there, of course, but a few reasons to slow the Nelson-to-Chicago hype train: Would he even make it to No. 8? Or if he’s there, is taking a guard that high worth it when the Bears have needs at wide receiver, outside linebacker and cornerback? Still, the thought of Nelson — who absolutely dominated at Notre Dame — pairing with Hiestand again is tantalizing, and Nelson very well could step into any team’s starting lineup and be an immediate Pro Bowler as a rookie. 

If the Bears go younger in free agency, Matt Nagy knows 26-year-old guard Zach Fulton (No. 25 in Bleacher Report’s guard rankings) well from their time in Kansas City. Fulton — a Homewood-Flossmoor alum — has the flexibility to play both guard positions and center, which could open the door for Cody Whitehair to be moved to left guard, the position he was initially drafted to play (though the Bears do value him highly as a center, and keeping him at one position would benefit him as opposed to moving him around the line again). There are some other guys out there — like Tennessee’s Josh Kline or New York’s Justin Pugh — that could wind up costing more than Fulton in free agency. 

Or the Bears could look draft an offensive lineman after the first round, perhaps like Ohio State’s Billy Price, Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn or UTEP’s Will Hernandez. How the Bears evaluate guards at the NFL Combine next week will play an important role in how they go about replacing Sitton. 

The trickle-down effect of releasing Sitton will impact more than the offensive line, too. Freeing up his $8 million in cap space -- which wasn't a guarantee, unlike cutting Jerrell Freeman and, at some point, Mike Glennon -- could go toward paying Kyle Fuller, or another top cornerback, or a top wide receiver, or some combination of players at those positions (as well as outside linebacker). The Bears were already in a healthy place cap-wise; that just got healthier on Tuesday. 

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.