Bears

Market, Phillips' history could hold up Lovie extension

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Market, Phillips' history could hold up Lovie extension

Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011
9:01 AM
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

A Lovie Smith contract extension is a virtual certainty if the Bears advance to the NFC Championship game with a win over the Seattle Seahawks. It becomes a virtual lock if they reach a second Super Bowl in four years under Smith. The only real question sets up as when. Along with the obvious, how much.

Two things will hold it up, however.

The first is the the market. It is one of the reasons why the Bears held off on any substantive look at an extension before this season. Until the collective bargaining situation is resolved, teams wont be rushing into huge financial commitments.

The number of first-time coaches (Leslie Frazier, Jason Garrett, Jim Harbaugh, Ron Rivera) is generally in line with that, with Harbaughs deal at 5 million per year a bit out of the inexpensive pattern. Fold the Dolphins retaining Tony Sparano at a modest NFL money number in here also.

Teams are cutting back financially, not giving out substantial raises as a rule. Smith already is in the 5 million range and no one is bidding against themselves in a rush to bump the pay grade to 7 million-8 million.

Best case for Smith, and for the Bears, would be to add years to Smiths deal but not real dollars, in the manner done with Sparano. The Bears dont have the guilt factor that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross introduced with his flirtation with Harbaugh.

If Smith will extend for 5 million-5.5 million for perhaps two more years, both sides should have what they want, at a figure both can work with: more than most teams are paying at this point but less than Smith might have hoped for in an uncapped coaching year.

Smith doesnt need to sign an extension. Hes got a contract. And hell have little trouble landing his next gig if its not in Chicago.

The Bears dont need to do an extension. Smith has a year to go and the Bears arent likely to collapse in a lame-duck year under him. John Fox suffered a nightmare final year in Carolina and Marvin Lewis went out with another dip in his mercurial run in Cincinnati.

But Fox lost his best defensive player (Julius Peppers), his quarterback (Jake Delhomme) and had one winning season since his Carolina Panthers upset the Bears in the 2005 playoffs.

Lewis tenure was marked by character embarrassments for the franchise, he had two four-win seasons in his last three and, like Fox, just one winning season since 2005.

On the other hand

A problem for Smith and agent Frank Bauer is that extensions havent worked out well for the Bears, including Smiths own after the Super Bowl season. Before this season and since Mike Ditka, the Bears had never reached the playoffs after giving a coach an extension.

And significantly perhaps, President Ted Phillips has been intimately involved in all of the recent ones. As a finance guy, he will not be in any rush to extend a pattern that he has seen produce little, particularly when Smith has little real leverage in terms of options (hes still under contract) and market conditions.

And there is the matter of Phillips particular experiences:

Wannstedt worries

Michael McCaskey gave Dave Wannstedt a multi-year extension after the 1995 season. Wannstedt had just come off a second winning season in three years, a playoff near-miss. The Bears thought a pre-emptive strike was in order to keep Wannstedt from again hitting the market as the hot coach, the way he was when the Bears had to beat the New York Giants to him in 1992.

The Bears immediately nosed over from 9-7 to 7-9, 4-12 and 4-12. The Bears fired Wannstedt and ate the final years of his deal. That experience so scarred the Bears that it led to the blowup of the subsequent Dave McGinnis negotiations. McCaskey wanted a buyout added to McGinnis four-year contract proposal, allowing the Bears an out after two years. (Theres more to the story but suffice it to say that McGinnis didnt walk because of any premature press release).

Jauron jolt

After Dick Jaurons 13-3 high-water mark in 2001, the Bears were forced by market practice to extend Jauron with a year remaining on his contract. It was a negotiation filled with severe acrimony as neither Phillips nor Jerry Angelo wanted the extended presence of a coach they had no real role in hiring.

Jauron got his extension and the Bears got an 11-21 record over the next two seasons before Jauron was jettisoned. Keeping Jauron hadnt been Phillips choice; paying his final years wasnt a positive on the balance sheet either.
Smith struggle
Phillips and the Bears dallied in extending Smith the first time, when they had the NFLs lowest-paid coach with time on his contract and willing to extend for a reasonable raise. Then Smith went to a Super Bowl and the price went dramatically up.

The extension was done and Smith was in the 5-million pay class. The trouble is that the Bears were two games under .500 with zero playoff appearances in the first three years after Smiths extension.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Can Cairo Santos be the kicker the Bears need?

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USA Today

Can Cairo Santos be the kicker the Bears need?

Since the Bears inserted Mitchell Trubisky as their starting quarterback, they've had 12 drives end with a field goal — an average of two per game. Connor Barth hit nine of those dozen kicks, which had an average distance of 38.4 yards, but all three of Barth’s misses came from 45 yards or longer. 

Barth’s missed game-tying 46-yarder in the final seconds Sunday against the Detroit Lions was the last straw for someone who hadn’t been consistent in his one and a half years in Chicago. So enter Cairo Santos, who made 89 of 105 field goals (85 percent) from 2014-2017 with the Kansas City Chiefs. More importantly: Santos has made 73 percent of his career field goals from 40 or more yards; Barth made 52 percent of his kicks from the same distance with the Bears. 

(73 percent from long range isn’t bad, but it’s not great, either: Philadelphia Eagles kicker and Lyons Township High School alum Jake Elliott has made 88 percent of his 40-plus-yard kicks; Harrison Butker, who replaced Santos in Kansas City, has made 90 percent of his kicks from that distance. Both players are rookies who were drafted and cut prior to the season.)

Santos was released by the Chiefs in late September after a groin injury landed him on injured reserve (he played in three games prior to being released). The injury wasn’t expected to be season-ending, and Santos said he’s felt 100 percent for about two weeks before joining the Bears on Monday. 

“It was a long and difficult battle, but I was confident that it wasn’t going to be a serious injury, I just needed time,” Santos said. “I dealt with it in training camp, I was kicking really well, I was the only kicker in KC, and I didn’t have the appropriate time to heal. I tried to play the first three games and it got worse, so my main goal was to get 100 percent. I’ve been kicking for about a month now and finally the last week been able to come here and visit with the Bears. The muscle is in good shape to come and take a full load of a week’s practice and games, so thankful the opportunity worked out.”

For Santos, these next six weeks can be an audition for him to stick in Chicago next year. If the Bears can look optimistically at the improvements made by the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams with second-year top-drafted quarterbacks, they’ll need to figure out their kicking situation sooner rather than later. Bringing in Santos provides a good opportunity for that down the stretch. 

“He’s kicked in Kansas City, which is a similar climate,” special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers said. “Their field is similar to Soldier Field. He’s played in some big games, played in some important situations and he’s, by and large, been successful in those situations.”

Looking deeper to understand how John Fox still commands Bears trust through bad times

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USA TODAY

Looking deeper to understand how John Fox still commands Bears trust through bad times

I’ve always placed great stock in the drama tenet, “Action is character.” What an actor/person does in significant part defines their character, or lack of same.

Conversely, in some situations, what someone doesn’t do can be equally defining or revealing. A couple of those involving the Bears are worth noting, because they suggest things about John Fox and and his staff, and perhaps a bit of what players think of them.

Nothing stunning, just a case of when you pull the camera back for a little wider angle, a broader picture forms out of seemingly separate or isolated incidents. Fox has never lost his teams through three generally miserable seasons, those teams consistently played hard through bad times. A handful of specific situations offer some insight into perhaps why:

The Cohen conundrum

Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains came in for scalding criticism for their recent seeming under-utilization of running back Tarik Cohen. The closest either came to laying out the real reason was a reference to concerns about the rookie’s pass-protection capabilities, no small issue against Green Bay and coordinator Dom Capers’ blitz proclivities; coaches want to see Mitch Trubisky wearing a Bears uniform, not Clay Matthews.

Cohen may be the Bears’ leading receiver, but if a back can’t present the viable option of pass protection, the offense is limited even more than it already is anyway with a rookie quarterback.

Come forward a week: Overlooked in the aftermath of the loss to Detroit, in which Cohen was not part of the hurry-up offense driving for a winning or tying score, was the fact that Cohen simply didn’t know the plays well enough in that situation. Fox didn’t say so. Neither did Loggains.

Cohen did.

Asked afterwards what he wasn’t solid with, Cohen owned it: "Probably the hurry-up plays at those positions. I know certain plays at those positions, but to open up the whole playbook with me, I’ll have to learn all of those plays.”

Should he have been up to a faster speed in week 10? That’s another discussion. But like it or not, his coaches were not going to be the ones to out him.

The Howard hassle

Jordan Howard finished 2016 second to only Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott in rushing yardage. He began the year inactive for game one and lightly used in games two and three. The reason Loggains gave from the podium was that coaches didn’t really know what they had in Howard.

Yes. They did. But Loggains didn’t cite Howard for not being in shape to carry the load the offense needed. Neither did Fox.

Howard did.

“I should’ve been in better shape,” Howard said at the outset of training camp last July. “I should’ve been playing earlier if I would’ve handled what I had to do.”

Some very effective coaches have used public embarrassment for motivation; Mike Ditka assessed that he wasn’t sure Donnell Woolford could cover anybody, and Buddy Ryan summarized that “No. 55 [Otis Wilson] killed us,” for instance.

Fox and his staff don’t do that and they’ve have taken the heat for their players, which does frustrate those tasked with accurately reporting sometimes hard information.

Medical restraint

Fox’s tenure has been awash in major injuries to pivotal players. He has made points in his locker room by shielding those players and their issues whether outsiders like it or not.

That started back with Kevin White and the infamous stress fracture that Fox was accused of knowing about and lying that he didn’t. The real situation was that medical opinions (and the Bears had gotten a bunch) were divided to the point where the Bears opted against surgery until it was conclusive that the shadow on an x-ray was indeed a fracture. Fox refused to call the injury a stress fracture with the doctors so divided, and he was pilloried for it. But not in his locker room.

The organization very much needed Pro Bowl lineman Kyle Long this season for an offense that certainly wasn’t going to live on the arm of Mike Glennon. Long was testy and combative during training camp, and “honestly I’ve been champing at the bit to get back,” he conceded, “but they’ve done a good job of pulling the reins a little bit and making sure that I understand that it’s a long season.”

Small things, not necessarily connected, but as Fox’s third season winds down, what his team shows will factor into decisions on his future. The Bears right now, after the Green Bay and Detroit losses effectively ended the “hope” part of their season, are entering that dreary phase of a year when effort will be critiqued as critically as performance.

The on-field results now will say something about character, Fox’s own and the collective one he has worked to instill since January 2015.