Bears

Jobs still at stake as Bears head to third preseason game

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Jobs still at stake as Bears head to third preseason game

When the Bears took the field Saturday night in their 23-11 win over the Indianapolis Colts, six of their 22 starters had fewer than two full seasons of NFL experience. What that means is change is afoot.

“We’re going to continue to compete,” said coach John Fox. “No jobs have been won yet. We’re still figuring out who our 53 best players are going to be. We’ll continue to do that. I thought we made progress tonight in really all phases, by no means have we arrived. If we can keep that mindset, I think we’ll continue to improve.”

Defensive lineman Ego Ferguson, cornerback Kyle Fuller and linebacker Christian Jones are in their second years. Will Sutton, also a second-year player, led all defensive linemen with 30 snaps, producing three tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss and a quarterback hit. Ferguson, Fuller and Jones already are starting, and Sutton has played his way into a prominent role in the defensive line "wave" that Fox and coordinator Vic Fangio want.

[MORE BEARS: Rookies already upgrading Bears’ No. 1 defense in win over Colts]

And those don’t include the impact rookies already projecting to be game-day factors:

Charles Leno Jr., OT

Another of the Year 2’s, Leno has gone from a spot player as a sixth offensive lineman as a rookie to — for now — starting right tackle. He started badly with a hands-to-the-face penalty on the third play, was beaten by a tackle-for-loss, but right tackle is his job to lose.

Whether the Bears bring in a post-cutdown veteran to anchor that edge of the line remains to be seen. In the meantime, “It went well,” Leno said. “I feel like ever since that penalty I slowed my technique down and got back to fundamentals. ... Just playing the way I’ve been playing, just doing my job day in and day out. Just focus on the play you’re in. Being consistent is probably the biggest thing I want to do.”

Adrian Amos, S

Replacing Brock Vereen at free safety, the rookie appeared to have a lapse in providing deep support, resulting in a 45-yard first-quarter completion. He did finish with three tackles

“I think I did OK,” Amos said. “There are some things I can improve on, and I’m pretty sure coaches will see more things I can improve on. I’ll just take it all in.”

[MORE BEARS: Bears offense makes strides as No. 1 unit scores three times]

Eddie Goldman, NT

The rookie nose tackle didn’t start but he played 29 of the Colts’ snaps (45 percent) to 16 (25 percent) by Jeremiah Ratliff, and not all of Ratliff’s were at the nose in a straight three-man line. Goldman played the run extremely well and was able to collapse the pocket in three-linemen packages.

While Ratliff is the Bears’ best defensive linemen, Goldman is poised to be a de facto starter based on personnel groupings.

“You get more comfortable out there,” Goldman said. “I try to do the same thing every week, be as efficient as I can in every facet of the game.”

Jeremy Langford, RB

The preponderance of runs in the “new” Bears offense had Langford finishing with nine carries, Jacquizz Rodgers with nine and Matt Forte with eight. Langford is averaging 6.2 yards per carry, 80 total, second to Senorise Perry’s 6.4, 91 total, with Bears running backs averaging just under 4.7 per carry.

Langford’s play Saturday at Indianapolis — 80 yards and a two-yard touchdown carry — was a dramatic step up from his four carries for one net yard vs. Miami. “He’s grown very well,” Forte said. “He had a nice (46-yard) run, was really patient and set up the safety real well. He was able to break the tackle and get a long run. He’s come along nicely. That’s what we’ve been trying to do, establish that run and help the quarterbacks.”

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).