Bears

The not-so-terrible 2's

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The not-so-terrible 2's

John Fox had to change the culture in Denver when he succeeded Josh McDaniel as head coach. Lovie Smith didnt need to do nearly as much of that when he took over for Dick Jauron in 2004.

Its not like we had to change Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman, their mindset, any of that, Smith told CSNChicago.com. And I was following a defensive coach.

Fox follows two offensive coaches in McDaniel and Mike Shanahan.

But as much as anything happening at quarterback, Fox has twice used a clear personnel strategy around which to build his team. He has been a defensive assistant his entire career and set about rebuilding his two teams with exactly the same starting point, literally.

In 2002 the Panthers selected franchise defensive end Julius Peppers with the No. 2 pick of the draft.

This year, despite being one of the lowest-scoring teams in the AFC last season, the Broncos and Fox again went with a defensive linchpin who can rush the passer linebacker Von Miller with the No. 2 pick of the draft.

Peppers was defensive rookie of the year under Fox. Miller is a virtual lock for the same honor this season.

Drafting to the coachs concept of franchise strength is a familiar pattern for successful turnarounds. Among others:

Offense-based Andy Reid took over the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999 and the Eagles began their franchise turnaround with quarterback Donovan McNabb with the No. 2 pick of that draft. Reid had the Eagles in the NFC Championship game his third season (where they lost to Lovie Smith, Mike Martz and the St. Louis Rams).

Smith, a career defensive coach when he took over the Bears in 2004, used his first-ever draft pick on a defensive tackle (Tommie Harris) for the all-important under-tackle spot in his scheme. Smith had the Bears in the Super Bowl his third season.

New head coaches are moving into the job for a reason, because of our expertise on a certain side of the ball, Smith said. It should be the strength of your football team, not only when you come there, but the entire time youre there.

If not, what are you doing there? I think most teams follow that. At the same time, if thered been a great offensive player there that fit our needs, we wouldve done it. But you do have to get your strength back.

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.