Bears

Quarterback and tight end: What hath Martz wrought?

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Quarterback and tight end: What hath Martz wrought?

If Mike Martz leaves after this season, as expected, there will be some reckoning. To some extent, there already can be one as far as what Martz has done to and with the Chicago offense. Two areas stand out dramatically.

Quarterback

Jay Cutler emerged as a top-tier NFL quarterback through the middle of this season. The fact that he and Martz had their clashes was apparent and the question will be whether Cutler developed because of Martz or in spite of Martz, since the Bears offense was at its most successful when it least resembled the Martz template.

Backup quarterback has been a disaster, something that had not been the case under Ron Turner or even John Shoop. GM Jerry Angelo had brought in proven veteran backups (Jim Miller, Chris Chandler, Brian Griese, Kyle Orton, Jeff Blake) and the Bears seemed content with Caleb Hanie and a two-pack at QB in 2009 under Turner.

They added youth via the draft in 2010 (Dan LeFevour) and 2011 (Nathan Enderle). While numerous other franchises have had impact play from their rookie quarterbacks, the system in Chicago has not worked to get a rookie on the field under Martz.

Hanie has proved a disaster and Enderle was not deemed field-worthy through this point of the season. At some level, the question is reasonable as to whether this is an offense that for whatever reason is too Byzantine for its own good?

It did not sound Wednesday like Martz had a handle on what the problems were.

Those are all things we have to look back at and reflect and make sure that we spend time going over that with Caleb and make sure we can fix that, Martz said.

Tight end

The organization has twice given Martz what he wanted at tight end, with less than satisfactory results.

Brandon Manumaleuna was a colossal (financially and other ways) bust last offseason. The Bears traded away Greg Olsen, deemed not a fit for Martz, and that has been its own disaster. The guy who didnt fit had 41 catches and 5 touchdowns last season; Kellen Davis and Matt Spaeth, given Olsens job, have combined for 22 catches and 6 touchdowns.

These two tight ends allow us in our running game to do special things that nobody else in the league is doing, Martz said.

Maybe. But Olsen, playing with a rookie quarterback (Cam Newton), has 45 catches and 5 touchdowns. Combined with Jeremy Shockey, the Panthers are No. 5 in rushing yardage, with DeAngelo Williams (5.1 yards per carry) and Jonathan Stewart (4.7) combining for more than 1,300 rushing yards.

Matt Forte ran for 4.5 yards per carry last season. He increased that to 4.9 this year but had half the touchdowns (3) he had last season (6) at the time he was injured. Olsen was a receiving threat the Bears could sorely use right now.

Indeed, Martz appears to be out of step with or at least running contrary to what numerous successful teams (Green Bay, New Orleans) are doing with the position.

Just the last five years, the athletic ability of the tight end in todays NFL, theres probably 12-15 teams that have a featured type tight end to oppose to years ago, there was probably a handful, said Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy. The ability to play the tight end in a 1, 2, 3 receiver position is very beneficial. Theres things that you can gain from that, whether its a potential matchup or so forth. Youre just seeing that across the league.

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 Bears position grades: Inside Linebacker

2017 grade: B+

Level of need: Low

Decisions to be made on: Christian Jones (free agent), John Timu (free agent), Jonathan Anderson (free agent); Jerrell Freeman has reportedly been cut

Possible free agent targets: Demario Davis, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Avery Williamson, Navorro Bowman, Derrick Johnson

How the Bears rate Nick Kwiatkoski will be the key to figuring out what this unit will look like in 2018. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio thought Kwiatkoski finished last season strong, but strong enough to rely on him in 2018 as the starter next to Danny Trevathan?

The thing with the Bears’ inside linebackers, though: Trevathan makes whoever is playing next to him better. The problem is Trevathan hasn’t been able to stay on the field — he missed time in 2017 with a calf injury and a one-game suspension, and missed half of 2016 after rupturing his Achilles’. Trevathan hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2013, so durability is an issue for the soon-to-be 28-year-old.

So that leads to this question: Do the Bears need to find someone in free agency, regardless of how they value Kwiatkoski, who’s also missed time due to injuries in his first two years in the league?

Free agency could provide a few options. Demario Davis had a career high 97 tackles for the New York Jets last year and has never missed a game as a pro. Preston Brown had some decent production in Buffalo and also hasn’t missed a game since being drafted in 2014. Avery Williamson may not be a world-beater but has only missed one game in his four years in the NFL.

The Bears could also opt for someone who fits more of a rotational mold, like Dallas’ Anthony Hitchens, or try to lure a veteran linebacker like Navorro Bowman (who played for Vic Fangio in San Francisco) or Derrick Johnson (who Matt Nagy knows from his Kansas City days) to play next to Trevathan and/or Kwiatkoski.

The Bears could opt to keep the status quo and re-sign Christian Jones and John Timu for depth, and enter 2018 with Kwiatkoski and Trevathan as the team’s starters (Jerrell Freeman, who suffered a season-ending injury and then was hit with his second PED suspension in as many years, was cut on Tuesday). Signing a starting-caliber free agent isn’t out of the question, either, but there is a third option for the Bears if they appear to stand pat in free agency: Draft an inside linebacker in April. If that’s the route they go, Georgia’s Roquan Smith could be the guy. But again, those more pressing needs at other positions could mean the Bears don’t burn a first-round pick on an inside linebacker.

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.