Bears

Rotoworld: 2015 Bears Fantasy Preview

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Rotoworld: 2015 Bears Fantasy Preview

By Evan Silva

For the next 32 days, Rotoworld.com Senior Football Editor Evan Silva is breaking down every NFL team from a fantasy perspective heading into the 2015 season. Next up is the Bears.

Bears Year in Review

2014 Pass Attempts Rank: 7th (609)
2014 Rush Attempts Rank: 30th (355)
2014 Total Offensive Plays Rank: 23rd (1,005)
2014 Yards Per Play Rank: 22nd (5.2)

Check out the team-by-team fantasy preview schedule.

Projected Starting Lineup

QB: Jay Cutler
RB: Matt Forte
WR: Alshon Jeffery
WR: Kevin White
WR: Eddie Royal
TE: Martellus Bennett
LT: Jermon Bushrod
LG: Matt Slauson
C: Hroniss Grasu
RG: Kyle Long
RT: Jordan Mills

Passing Game Outlook

Under the direction of rookie GM Ryan Pace and new coach John Fox, the Bears spent the offseason trying to send Jay Cutler a message. Cutler was never going anywhere because of his contract, but Pace and Fox were publicly noncommittal on Cutler's 2015 whereabouts at their introductory press conference, before a draft-day story was leaked to ESPN's Bob Holtzman that the Bears had suddenly entered trade talks with the Titans involving Cutler. (Again, never happening.) At OTAs, new OC Adam Gase insinuated the offense could run just as smoothly with Jimmy Clausen under center. Cutler has never lacked for talent, and his weapons are as strong as ever following the additions of No. 7 overall pick Kevin White and trusty slot receiver Eddie Royal. Even with only Clausen and David Fales behind him, however, it's fair to question Cutler's 2015 job security under a regime that did not make the move to invest in him. Cutler will have QB1 fantasy upside whenever he's in the lineup this season, which could very well be for all 16 games, but might only last a month or so if Cutler's "rogue" tendencies reappear. Historically, Cutler has refused to play within offensive structure, resulting in major offensive breakdowns, turnovers, and overall team discord.

[ROTOWORLD: Complete Football coverage]

Alshon Jeffery has posted consecutive top-12 fantasy receiver seasons, showing the ability to handle heavy volume efficiently, excel in a legitimate No. 1-receiver role, dominate at all three sections of the field, and stay effective even when his health isn't at 100 percent. He recorded 70-plus yards and/or a touchdown in 13 of the 15 fantasy-relevant weeks last year, showing remarkable consistency amid quarterback woes and team turmoil while battling a nagging hamstring injury. Still only 25, Jeffery enters his contract year as the Bears' X receiver, the position at which Demaryius Thomas ranked first and twelfth among NFL wideouts in targets under new OC Adam Gase in Denver the past two seasons. Jeffery is in the first-round discussion in Dynasty start-ups and a locked-and-loaded WR1 for 2015.

I'm pretty sold on Kevin White as a Terrell Owensian long-term talent, but there are concerns to consider when evaluating him from a re-draft standpoint. Although there have been exceptions, new coach John Fox has a history of limiting the playing time of his rookies. White himself was slow to transition from junior college to Division I at West Virginia, essentially operating as a rotational receiver his first year as a Mountaineer. He's now jumping from the Big 12 into the NFL. The Bears have a lot of passing-game mouths to feed in an offense Fox hopes to make more committed to the run. Jay Cutler recently told reporters he believes White is competing to be Chicago's "No. 4 receiver," behind Jeffery, Eddie Royal, and Marquess Wilson. It's entirely possible that many of those factors are rendered irrelevant by the start of the season, but I think they are worth noting at this stage of the process. At his late-sixth-round Average Draft Position, White is currently going ahead of Roddy WhiteMike WallaceCharles JohnsonSteve Smith Sr.Allen Robinson, and Larry Fitzgerald.

Is Eddie Royal a better value pick than White this season? Royal's ceiling is obviously lower than Chicago's first-round rookie, but Royal also has an ADP of undrafted, and his role in the passing game may be more stable. Cutler was Royal's quarterback when the ex-Bronco established career highs in targets (129), receptions (91), and yards (980) as a rookie in 2008. Gase was Royal's position coach in 2009 and 2010. The Bears were the only team to host Royal in 2015 free agency, eventually signing him to a three-year, $15 million deal with $10 million guaranteed. Royal was efficient with his 2014 targets, ranking top 16 among 110 qualifiers in PFF's catch-rate metric, top 20 in yards-after-catch per reception, and 30th in fantasy points among receivers despite ranking 55th in targets. I tend to doubt Royal will be a strong week-to-week WR3 play in re-draft leagues, but he's an excellent WR7 or WR8 in best balls.

Cutler talked up Marquess Wilson recently, but I'm not buying the third-year receiver as a legitimate 2015 fantasy contributor. Wilson wasn't very effective when he got late-season chances to play in 2014 -- no matter what Drew Dinkmeyer tells you -- and ultimately Wilson is a former seventh-round pick who's been inherited by a new regime. Wilson is 6-foot-3 with plus athleticism, and is not yet 23. He's worth an end-of-roster stash in Dynasty leagues. Wilson simply faces long odds of making re-draft noise as the Bears' likely fourth receiver.

Martellus Bennett's contract dispute was short lived. After sitting out OTAs, Bennett reported to minicamp in timely fashion and confirmed he'll attend training camp on time, as well. Last year, Bennett parlayed Brandon Marshal linjuries into career highs in receptions (90) and yards (916), finishing as the overall fantasy TE5. The additions of Royal and White, as well as Fox's plan to reduce team pass attempts indicate Bennett won't match last year's raw stats. Still only 28 years old, Bennett could compensate for a usage dip with more touchdowns. Julius Thomas was a scoring machine in Gase's system with the Broncos, hitting pay dirt 24 times in 27 games. "Black Unicorn" obviously won't reach those heights with Cutler rather than Peyton Manning at quarterback, but Bennett is just as good an athlete as Thomas and considerably bigger. I think he's priced fairly at his current mid-seventh-round Average Draft Position. I'd only rank Rob GronkowskiJimmy GrahamTravis Kelce, and perhaps Greg Olsen over him.

Running Game Outlook

Outgoing Bears coach Marc Trestman's track record of feeding tailbacks in the passing game extends too far back and with too many beneficiaries for it to be chalked up as a fluke. The loss of Trestman is a concern for Matt Forte's receiving outlook, though the bigger worries are age, fast-declining efficiency, and past workloads. Forte turns 30 late this season. His yards-per-carry average dipped from 4.63 in 2013 to 3.90 last year. Forte has been a true NFL workhorse, piling up 1,817 carries across seven seasons following an 833-carry college career. Volume should keep Forte on the RB1 cusp, but he is overvalued at his 1.09 overall ADP.

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No. 2-back duties will be decided by a camp battle between ineffective retreads Daniel Thomas (career 3.62 YPC) and Jacquizz Rodgers (career 3.66 YPC), old-regime holdover Ka'Deem Carey, and fourth-round rookie Jeremy Langford. Langford arguably has the most talent of the group, but Fox historically defers critical jobs to veterans. Either way, the Bears would likely resort to a multi-back committee in the event of a Forte injury. Langford holds the most Dynasty value as a player drafted by the current front office with 4.42 speed at 6-foot and 208 pounds. One of Carey, Thomas, and Rodgers probably won't make the team.

Vegas Win Total

Coming off a five-win disaster, the Bears' 2015 Win Total is seven games. Chicago has serious theoretical firepower on offense, but big question marks on the line and a defense that may be coached more effectively by Vic Fangio than outgoing DC Mel Tucker, but remains badly starved for talent. The Bears are essentially a rebuilding team married against their will to a quarterback they essentially must embrace. They also have a brutal schedule and play in one of the NFL's toughest divisions. While I don't doubt the Bears' potential to surprise, my sense is this will be a tough year in Chicago. I would take the under on seven wins.

Check out Silva's complete 2015 Bears Fantasy Preview at Rotoworld.com.

The Bears have options but no easy decisions on tagging Kyle Fuller

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USA Today

The Bears have options but no easy decisions on tagging Kyle Fuller

The Bears need long-term solutions at cornerback, and have one of the NFL’s most reliable players at that position in 2017 about to hit free agency. But that doesn’t mean Ryan Pace has an easy decision on his hands when it comes to applying the franchise tag on Kyle Fuller. 

Fuller was one of four players with at least 20 passes defended (breakups plus interceptions) in 2017, and also played well in run support. For a guy who not only had his fifth-year option declined last April, but had to play his way onto the Bears’ 53-man roster in training camp, it was an impressive year that should set Fuller up for a sizable payday. 

“(I’m) very proud of Kyle Fuller,” Pace said last month. “He went through some adversity the last couple of years and how he responded this year, his ball production was outstanding. A lot of PBUs. His preparation was outstanding. I think you can tell when a corner is prepared to play. And he can anticipate routes and things of that nature. Just a very professional approach. Very even-keeled approach. I think it started really with the way he attacked the offseason. And he had a good season because of that.”

That adversity Pace alluded to is another factor in the Fuller decision — was he a one-year wonder in 2017, and will the injuries and inconsistencies that plagued him from 2014-2016 return? 

The injuries are harder to predict, though it’s worth noting Fuller re-gained the trust of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio in 2017 after sitting out the entire 2016 season due to a knee issue. The inconsistencies, logically, shouldn’t return as long as Fuller remains as dedicated to film study and preparation in 2018 and beyond.

“(It was) definitely a different kind of season,” Fuller said on locker cleanout day in January. “Definitely feel good about what I was able to do. You always feel like you could do better.”

Fangio, importantly, consistently praised Fuller's play last season — and Fangio rarely entertains empty platitudes in his media sessions. 

"I think he’s come back with purpose," Fangio said in December. "He’s been very mature the whole year with his work ethic and habits and I think he had a mindset to go out and play better than he had in ’15 because you can’t compare it to ’16 and I think he’s achieved that. I just think he’s in a better frame of mind, more competitive. He knows what he wants and he’s got it narrowed down.”

If Fuller’s ceiling is higher than what he did in 2017 — he dropped a handful of interceptions, which stands as an easily-identifiable area of improvement - then perhaps he’d be a bargain with whatever contract he gets. 

But for now, we’re going to focus on the franchise tag. The Bears have the following options:

Place the non-exclusive franchise tag on Fuller. This would allow other teams to sign an offer sheet with another team, but the Bears would have the ability match the offer. If they didn’t, they’d be entitled to receiving two first-round draft picks from the team that signed Fuller. 

Place the exclusive franchise tag on Fuller. This would prohibit Fuller’s representation from seeking offers from other teams, and lock Fuller in to playing for the Bears in 2018 unless the tag were rescinded for some unexpected reason. 

Place the transition tag on Fuller. This would allow the Bears to match any offer sheet signed by Fuller, but they wouldn’t be entitled to compensation if they don’t match it. 

Decline to tag Fuller. This would mean he’d hit the open market once the league’s legal tampering period begins March 12 and free agency officially opens March 14. 

Let’s evaluate these options:

Non-exclusive franchise tag

The dance here would be if Fuller would quickly sign the one-year tag and begin negotiating a long-term deal — the two parties would have until July 16 to do so — or if he’d wait things out until the spring or summer to sign it. The Bears are in a healthy position salary cap-wise, so Fuller wouldn’t necessarily gain leverage by signing the one-year tender to guarantee him somewhere around $15 million (the NFL hasn’t released its official franchise tag figures yet, and won’t do so until sometime in early-to-mid-March. The Bears could afford to pay Fuller that one-year salary and still seek another top-level free agent, as well as other signings. 

It’s unlikely any team would be willing to part with a pair of first-round picks for Fuller, so effectively, this would be an exclusive tag. 

The calculation for Pace is this: Is Fuller really worth somewhere in the range of $15 million? That salary would make him the highest-paid player on the Bears, on an annual average salary basis, ahead of Akiem Hicks ($12 million annually), Kyle Long ($10 million), Charles Leno ($9.25 million), Pernell McPhee ($7.75 million, though he could be cut) and Mitchell Trubisky ($7.258 million — and this doesn’t include Mike Glennon, who all but certainly will be cut). 

In a multi-year deal, Fuller wouldn’t get an average annual value of $15 million — not when A.J. Bouye ($13.5 million) and Stephon Gilmore ($13 million) got less in free agency last year. Spotrac provided the following “market value” estimates for fellow 2018 free agent cornerbacks: $13 million annually for Malcolm Butler, $11 million for Trumaine Johnson, $9.3 million for E.J. Gaines and $6.9 million for Bashaud Breeland. How accurate those numbers are depends on your evaluation of each player — but for what it’s worth, Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 rankings have Fuller (No. 10 corner) as the highest-rated player of that bunch. 

If the Bears couldn’t work out a long-term deal with Fuller, he’d play out 2018 on the franchise tag, leading to Pace facing the same decision — albeit at a higher salary — at this time in 2019. 

Exclusive franchise tag

Fuller may be a good player, but he’s not *so* good that the Bears would want to place the exclusive tag on him. Some team may be willing to give up two first-round picks to sign Le’Veon Bell, but almost certainly not Fuller. 

Transition tag

If the Bears were to place this on Fuller, it would cost them less money in 2018 (it pays the average of the top 10 salaries at a position, instead of top five for the franchise tag) but wouldn’t entitle the Bears to compensation if they declined to match an offer sheet for Fuller. It seems unlikely the Bears would use this, given the defensive coaching staff and front office remain in place and have a strong and thorough evaluation of Fuller. Essentially: The Bears should know by March 6 at the latest if they're in or out on Fuller. If the Bears are going to risk losing Fuller to get him at a lower price, they’ll more likely…

Decline to place the tag

This would mean Fuller would be risked losing to the open market. Butler, Johnson, Gaines and Breeland comprise a solid crop of free agent corners, but that may not prevent Fuller from landing one of the three biggest contracts at his position. If the Bears went this route, they’d likely still try to re-sign Fuller while also putting forth competitive offers (as they did last year for Bouye and Gilmore) for Butler and/or Johnson. 

Letting Fuller hit unfettered free agency could mean the Bears are confident in their ability to sign at least one top cornerback, though that’s a dangerous game to play after Bouye turned down more money from them to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars a year ago. But perhaps Pace feels more confident this year in his team’s ability to lure top free agents, thanks to consistency in a well-respected defensive staff, a young and energetic head coach, a hopeful franchise quarterback in place and significant improvements to Halas Hall in the works. 

Pace has two weeks to make his call; expect him to use up most of that time to calculate the decision on Fuller. The Bears could opt to go a route that keeps Fuller in Chicago, then re-sign Prince Amukamara (who’s an unrestricted free agent) and Bryce Callahan (who’s a restricted free agent) and keep the top of their cornerback depth chart steady, and then draft a cornerback — either a top one, like Ohio State’s Denzel Ward, or a more developmental one in the middle rounds. Or the Bears could blow up the depth chart, letting Fuller and Amukamara walk and looking to sign and draft players to fill out the position. 

But the decision on Fuller is the first step. What it is will start to bring the Bears’ offseason into focus. 

Unfinished Bears job a 'bitter pill' for John Fox, but the legacy lies beyond just the W-L record

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USA TODAY

Unfinished Bears job a 'bitter pill' for John Fox, but the legacy lies beyond just the W-L record

When John Fox succeeded Marc Trestman in 2015, neither he nor the Bears were looking at the situation and Fox as any sort of “bridge” hire – a de facto interim coach tasked with winning, but just as importantly, developing and getting a team turned around and headed in a right direction.

The heart of the matter is always winning, but in the overall, the mission statement also includes leaving the place better than you found it. Fox did that, which is very clearly the sentiment upstairs at Halas Hall as the Bears move on from Fox to Matt Nagy.

“It would’ve been nice to see it through,” Fox said to NBC Sports Chicago. “That’s kind of a bitter pill but you sort things out and move forward.

“I do think it’s closer than people think. We inherited a mess... but I felt we were on the brink at the end. I think that [Halas Hall] building is definitely different; they feel it. I do think that it was a positive.”

(Fox is probably not done coaching at some point, but that’s for another time, another story, and anyway, it’s his tale to tell when he feels like it. Or doesn’t.)

One measure of the Bears change effected: Virtually the entire Trestman staff, with the exceptions of receivers coach Mike Groh and linebackers coach Clint Hurtt, was jettisoned along with Trestman. By contrast, Nagy has retained not only virtually the entire Fox defensive staff under coordinator Vic Fangio, but also arguably the single most important non-coordinator offensive coach by virtue of position responsibility – Dave Ragone, the hands-on mentor of quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

Obvious but extremely difficult decisions are coming, as to shedding personnel and contracts – Josh Sitton, Pernell McPhee, Willie Young being among the most difficult because of tangible intangibles that no organization wants to lose.

“Bridge” results

Fox was never intended as a bridge coach but the results point to that function having been served. To exactly what end remains to play out under Nagy and the quarterback whom Ragone and Fox’s handling began developing.

Rick Renteria was one of those “bridge” guys for the Cubs, intended to be part of pulling out of or at least arresting the slide into the Mike Quade-Dale Sveum abyss, and leaving something for Joe Maddon. The late Vince Lombardi effectively served as that, at age 56 and for an unforeseen one-year for a Washington Redskins organization that’d gone 13 years without a winning season before Lombardi’s 1969 and needed a radical reversal. The culture change was realized over the next decade under George Allen and Jack Pardee, much of the success coming with the same players with whom Washington had languished before the culture change.

The Bears were in that state after the two years of Trestman and the three years of GM Phil Emery, certain of whose character-lite veteran player acquisitions (Martellus Bennett, Brandon Marshall) and high-character launchings (Brian Urlacher) had left a palpable pall over Halas Hall. A Fox goal was to eradicate that, which insiders in Lake Forest say privately was accomplished even amid the catastrophic crush of three straight seasons of 10 or more losses, and with injuries at historic levels.

What happens next is in the hands of Nagy and GM Ryan Pace, after a third John Fox franchise turnaround failed to materialize. Or did it? Because much of the core, from Trubisky through the defensive makeover, came on Fox’s watch, like him or not.

“You wish some things would’ve happened differently obviously,” Fox said, “but there was a lot positive that happened.”