Bears

Impact plays forcing Bears into some tough/good roster decisions

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Impact plays forcing Bears into some tough/good roster decisions

None of the 11 starters on defense even saw the field in the Bears’ 24-0 shutout on Thursday of the Cleveland Browns. But the game completed a four-game preseason in which the Bears allowed zero points in any second half, suggesting that if nothing else, Bears backups may offer a small dose of security if the personnel need arises, which it unfortunately almost always does in an NFL season.

“I think guys made cases for themselves, which makes it harder on [the organization],” said coach John Fox. “I think that’s a good thing.”

The very good news out of the 2015 Bears defense was the continuing ability to force turnovers, even if not always by the No. 1 unit. In Thursday’s 24-0 win over the Browns, the Bears came up with three, highlighted by an interception and TD return by safety Sherrod Martin. Cornerback Terrance Mitchell had a hand in a third takeaway of the preseason when he recovered a fumble forced by linebacker Lamarr Houston. Rookie linebacker Jonathan Anderson delivered a sack that forced a Cleveland fumble recovered by the Bears.

[MORE: Bears wrap up preseason on high note with shutout win over Browns]

But the issue in fourth preseason games isn’t always who plays and how much, but sometimes who doesn’t play. With roster cuts due by Saturday afternoon, there were few notables in the starting defensive personnel, which included not one projected member of the 2015 No. 1 unit.

The linebacker depth chart went further into question by two sacks from undrafted rookie Anderson, the second forcing a fumble recovered by defensive lineman Cornelius Washington. John Timu rated an assist on sack No. 2, coming in with a blitz that forced Browns quarterback to step up into Anderson’s A-gap blitz.

Anderson underscored his bid for a roster spot with a tackle-for-loss late in the fourth quarter. He was credited with five tackles total (three for loss), two sacks, a quarterback hit, and even found time to contribute a tackle on special teams. If he didn’t earn that roster spot with the Bears, the Browns may be waiting to welcome him in.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up for the 2015 season, Bears fans!]

“Really I see each game as an opportunity so I try to make the most of it,” Anderson said. “I didn’t see it as I was playing the Browns. I was seeing it as another opportunity.”

If there was a mild surprise it was 2013 second-round pick Jonathan Bostic in uniform but not playing, presumably because of an ankle injury from the Cincinnati game. “We had a lot of guys who dressed but didn’t play,” Fox said, not volunteering anything on Bostic’s situation. Because of his injury plagued offseason, a harsh possibility is that the Bears do not see a spot for him in 2015 and did not want to put him on the field and risk an injury that could expose them to an injury settlement.

Starting inside linebackers Christian Jones and Shea McClellin did not play, and Bostic, listed behind Jones on the depth chart, was replaced in the starting lineup by undrafted rookie free agent Timu. Bostic missed most of the offseason work with a flareup of a back injury he suffered last season, and he was sidelined this week as well with the ankle injury.

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).