Bears

How much Bears 'need' Forte overhangs possible contract talks

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How much Bears 'need' Forte overhangs possible contract talks

Matt Forte was direct and blunt after the Bears signed former Raider running back Michael Bush early in this offseason. He said he felt disrespected.

In some ways, its very likely he was. But not in a simplistic we-dont-like-you kind of way, possibly not the way Forte envisions.

The Bush signing was intended to be an elite-grade addition to depth at a franchise-altering position. The Bears have done the same thing with Kevin Jones, Chester Taylor and Marion Barber in recent offseasons.

Bush just happens to be the best in a continuing elevation of the talent search which has gone from Jones and his torn ACL to Taylor and his steady decline as hes aged to Barber, still with something left but clearly not much since hes since retired. Bush is a potential starter; Forte was right about that.

Tilting away from 22

But what the Bears have done this offseason is steadily made themselves less and less dependent on a back even as good as Forte. Oversimplifying a little, and apart from any general devaluing of the running-back position, they just dont need Forte as desperately as they did a year ago.

Part of that is most evident in the major upgrades at wide receiver. The Bears did not trade for Brandon Marshall and draft Alshon Jeffery in the second round with the intention of Forte accounting for the nearly 40 percent of total offensive yardage as he did through the 11 complete games he played in 2011.

To stress one point here: The Bears absolutely, unequivocally want Forte in Chicago, for the foreseeable future. Thats not a question; thats why they put what they consider a very strong offer on the table for him nearly a year ago.

But where Johnny Knox and Roy Williams combined for 74 catches at one wideout spot, Marshall has averaged 95 in the five seasons since his rookie year. Knox and Williams combined for 4 touchdowns last season; Marshall averages more than 6.

Options increasing

More notable, Marshall and Jay Cutler were both under-used rookies in 2006. The next two years Marshall caught 102 and 104 Cutler passes, best in his career, plus 13 TDs.

And take talk of a Devin Hester package seriously. That will be more targeted and designed than the previous program of Hester basically as a straight-up starting receiver.

Fortes high-water production mark arguably may have been last season, when his value to the Bears also was at its peak. With the possible tilting of the offense toward a West Coast scheme (what Cutler, Marshall and Jeremy Bates worked in under Mike Shanahan in Denver), Fortes abilities have not declined in the least. The Bears simply have significant alternatives.

That does not drive the price up, regardless of what other running backs are receiving under their new contracts.

Very cloudy future

Indeed, unless a long-term deal does get done with Forte and there is salary cap space to conclude one -- it also is becoming increasingly difficult to envision a scenario in which Forte is a Bear in 2013.

The only way he creates value for himself is to play, and play well enough for the organization to pay him 7.7 million this year and deem him worth some 9.5 million next year.

Forte has not vilified the organization as some others have theirs but he has not always taken what could be characterized as the complete high road. Understandably; hes more than earned the right to say what he feels.

But hard feelings dont always completely go away. Up in New England, where franchise-tagged, All-Pro receiver Wes Welker was quoted as saying that his contract talks were getting worse, the sentiment is growing that this is Welkers last year as a Patriot. Boston Globe reporter Shalise Manza Young wrote that Welkers comments did not play well with the Patriots, and that organization does not have a long fuse with players out of step.

Forte is held in very high regard in the locker room and on the field. The Bears do want him signed. He is a unique back who fits in a West Coast, Mike Martz or just about any offensive scheme.

But how much more they will offer at a time when they have upgraded factors elsewhere in the offense is very problematic.

With Leonard Floyd going on injured reserve, will the Bears have a pressing need at outside linebacker in 2018?

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USA TODAY

With Leonard Floyd going on injured reserve, will the Bears have a pressing need at outside linebacker in 2018?

The Bears placed Leonard Floyd on injured reserve Thursday morning, ending the second-year outside linebacker’s season following a knee injury suffered Sunday against the Detroit Lions. The Bears haven’t revealed the full extent of Floyd’s injury, but coach John Fox did confirm this week the 2016 first-round pick didn’t tear his ACL. 

That’s potentially good news for Floyd’s recovery timetable, even if he won’t return in 2017. The Bears can probably hope to have Floyd back for, at the least, training camp next year, if not possibly OTAs in six months, thought that’s more speculative than concrete. 

Still, with Floyd on injured reserve, the Bears’ current outside linebacker depth chart consists of two veterans (Pernell McPhee and Sam Acho) and two practice squad signees (Isaiah Irving and Howard Jones). These final six games of the 2017 season could serve as auditions for all four players for roles on the 2018 Bears. 

If every team needs at least three good pass rushers, the Bears can count on Akiem Hicks and Floyd for 2018, provided Floyd comes back healthy. But who’s the third?

The Bears could save about $7.5 million in cap space if they release McPhee in 2018; if they were to cut ties with Willie Young, who’s on injured reserve right now as well, it would provide $4.5 million in cap relief. McPhee will be 29 in December, while Young will turn 33 next September. 

The Bears won’t necessarily need the cap relief next year, and could certainly decide to keep both players, who’ve shown they’re still productive when healthy. But even if both players are back, the Bears may need to add another outside linebacker via free agency of the draft — remember, the team could’ve began the season with Floyd, Young, McPhee, Acho and Lamarr Houston as their outside linebackers; an injury Houston suffered in the fourth preseason game ended his time in Chicago. 

Needs at wide receiver and cornerback are pressing, but outside linebacker may need to be in that same conversation. If the Bears have a top-10 pick for the fourth consecutive year, plus some cap space, they perhaps could have the ability to address all three needs in March and April. 

That may be looking a little too far into the future, though. The best-case for the Bears is McPhee finishes the season strong and Irving and/or Jones shows something in the opportunities they receive in these final six games (Jones, for what it’s worth, had five sacks as a rookie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2015). But the worst-case — and perhaps the most realistic — is that the Bears go into the offseason needing to fill at least one pass-rushing spot. 

The fight for which national team Bastian Schweinsteiger's kid will play for is on

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USA TODAY

The fight for which national team Bastian Schweinsteiger's kid will play for is on

Whenever a famous couple in the world of soccer has a child, there are always jokes about what national teams the kid could play for.

The latest such addition to the gossip columns is the announcement from Bastian Schweinsteiger and Ana Ivanovic that they are expecting a child.

Ivanovic, a former tennis pro who won the 2008 French Open champion, announced the news on Twitter with a sponsor-heavy photo.

Schweinsteiger, who played with the Fire this past season, also took to Twitter to share a photo and the news.

Schweinsteiger's future with the Fire remains unclear, but him and Ivanovic seemed to be happy living in Chicago, making various appearances at sporting events in the city. If he returns and the child is born in Chicago, does that mean we could one day see a Schweinsteiger repping the U.S. national team in 20-something years? Maybe the men's team won't be a national embarrassment by then, but then again, if it's a girl she'd be able to pick between the only multiple-time World Cup winning nations (U.S. and Germany).

Perhaps the child would take after Ivanovic and hit volleys with a racket instead of a foot, or maybe he or she will not take after the professional athlete parents.

In all seriousness, congratulations to both Schweinsteiger and Ivanovic.