Bears

Bears free agency rumor tracker: Monday

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USA Today

Bears free agency rumor tracker: Monday

As of 11 a.m. CT on Monday, NFL teams are permitted to enter contract negotiations with representation of free agents. While no contracts can be finalized until 3 p.m. CT Wednesday, the next 48 hours are when plenty of big-time deals will be hammered out, so stick with us here on NBC Sports Chicago for a running tracker of updates on players the Bears are meeting with, or players the Bears could target who are meeting with other teams. 

8:30 p.m. update:

WR Albert Wilson

The report: The Dolphins are the front-runner to sign him

Wilson appeared to be an obvious and natural target for the Bears to sign, but this latest report may throw a wrench in that. The 5-foot-9, 200 pound Wilson caught 42 passes for 554 yards in Matt Nagy’s offense last year, and his toughness as a slot receiver was roundly praised by those in Kansas City. If Wilson were to sign with the Dolphins, he'd be replacing Jarvis Landry, who was dealt to the Cleveland Browns last week for a pair of draft picks. 

3:30 p.m. update:

WR Sammy Watkins

The report: Add the Jaguars to the list of teams interested in him

This is interesting, given the Jaguars have about $30 million in cap space but would have to use a sizable chunk of that on Watkins. If Allen Robinson indeed is moving on from Jacksonville, trying to keep Marqise Lee may make more sense than splashing some cash at Watkins. 

2:05 p.m. update:

TE Trey Burton

The report: He's drawing plenty of interest

With the Bears reportedly interested in Jimmy Graham and Austin Seferian-Jenkins (see previous updates below), it'd make sense they'd also be in on Burton, who caught five touchdowns for the Eagles last year and famously threw that "Philly Special" touchdown to Nick Foles in Super Bowl LII. Burton is 26 and is thought of as an ascending player, though he only was targed 31 times last year, catching 23 of those for 248 yards. 

1:50 p.m. update:

WR Allen Robinson

The report: The 49ers may not be in on him

This would bode well for the Bears if the cap-rich 49ers aren't part of Robinson's market. Not only do they have the cash to make a competitive offer, but they have their own franchise quarterback and young, offensive-minded coach to pitch to players. This doesn't mean the Bears' chances to land Robinson are significantly better, but potentially not having to compete with the 49ers for him wouldn't hurt, either. 

WR Sammy Watkins

The report: The Bears, Packers and Chiefs are among the teams interested in him

Watkins and the Rams didn't agree to a deal before he was opened up to negotiations with other teams this morning, and while he still could return to Los Angeles, there will be a strong market for his services. The Bears, naturally, are one of the reported teams in on the 24-year-old who caught 39 passes for 593 yards with eight touchdowns in 2017. There was a previous rumbling (see below) that the Packers could be in the market for Robinson, but that may not be the only top-tier wideout that's drawing the interest of first-year general manager Brian Gutekunst. If these wind up playing out, maybe we'll see a fascinating arms race between the Bears and Packers to land weapons for their respective quarterbacks. 

12:50 p.m. update:

TE Jimmy Graham

The report: The Bears could have interest

Ian Rapoport mentioned this possibility on NFL Network Monday afternoon. Ryan Pace was in New Orleans when the Saints picked Graham in the third round of the 2010 draft. While the 31-year-old's best years appear to be behind him, he remained an excellent red zone weapon for the Seattle Seahawks in 2017 with 10 touchdowns. If the Bears sign him -- or another receiving-first tight end -- expect Dion Sims to be released and Adam Shaheen to take over his role full-time in 2018. 

The Bears aren't the only team rumored to be interested in Graham, though:

WR Allen Robinson

The report: The Green Bay Packers could be among the teams interested in him

This would come as quite a surprise given the Packers locked up Davante Adams last fall and still have Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb on their books. But first-year general manager Brian Gutekunst could be in a decent position to make a high-risk, high-reward play for Robinson -- which would only add to a competitive market in which the Bears are expected to be for the Jacksonville Jaguars wideout. 

CB Bryce Callahan

The report: He'll receive an original-round tender

Like Cameron Meredith and Josh Bellamy, the Bears will have the right to match any offer sheet given to Callahan but would not receive a draft pick if they decline to match. Callahan picked off two passes, forced a fumble and scored a punt return touchdown in 2017 but missed four games. Retaining him would likely take the Bears out of any market that develops for Jaguars nickel corner Aaron Colvin, if they were going to be in it in the first place. 

11:50 a.m. update:

OL Zach Fulton

The report: The Houston Texans are the front-runners to sign him

Fulton could make sense for the Bears, as the Homewood-Flossmoor alum played for Harry Hiestand in college and was a versatile piece of Matt Nagy's offensive lines in Kansas City. He's able to play either center or guard and played in 63 of 64 games since being picked by the Chiefs in the sixth round of the 2014 draft. If Fulton indeed winds up with the Texans, the Bears will have to look elsewhere -- if they weren't already -- to replace Josh Sitton. 

WR Cameron Meredith

The report: He'll receive an original-round tender

By placing the original round tender on Meredith, a restricted free agent, the Bears could match any offer a team makes to him, but would not receive compensation if they decline to match it because he was not drafted. Expect Meredith to be back with the Bears as he works his way back from a torn ACL suffered last August. 

"With Cam, it's just closely evaluating where he's at, listening to our doctors and trainers and just following his progress and where he's going to be," general manager Ryan Pace said at the NFL Combine last month. "The receivers position, as we've talked about a lot today, is a need position for us. Unfortunately, we have a lot of injuries there, so we're kind of assessing where each one of those guys are in their rehab and then also looking to see what our options are as we go into the draft and free agency."

WR Josh Bellamy

The report: He'll receive an original-round tender

Bellamy has put in plenty of work on special teams since joining the Bears in 2014 while catching a little over 50 percent of his targets as part of the offense. The 28-year-old turned in the most productive season of his career in 2017, catching 24 of 46 targets for 376 yards with one touchdown (a deep ball score against the Green Bay Packers). 

11 a.m. update:

OL Bradley Sowell

The news: Signed a two-year deal with the Bears

The 28-year-old Sowell will stick around as a reserve offensive lineman with the ability to play both guard and tackle. Most importantly, Sowell was healthy in 2017, playing in all 16 games. 

CB Patrick Robinson

The report: He may re-sign with the Philadelphia Eagles

Robinson is coming off a career year for the Super Bowl champion Eagles and could've been someone the Bears would look at as a slot corner, if they were to move on from restricted free agent Bryce Callahan. It doesn't appear they'll get that opportunity. 

Jay Cutler plays wingman in latest 'Very Cavallari'

Jay Cutler plays wingman in latest 'Very Cavallari'

If you are like a sizable chunk of Chicago and just watch "Very Cavallari" for Jay Cutler moments, this week’s episode won’t make be your favorite.

After stealing the show last week as the “biggest a-hole on the planet,” Cutler had a more muted role. That didn’t stop the former Bears quarterback from having some very Jay moments.

Cutler opened by offering some advice to his wife, Kristin Cavallari, about issues at her work. His solution was to fire someone, which she noted is always his answer. (Did he have the same reaction when things weren’t going well for the Bears?)

“Cut off the head of the snake,” Cutler said, trying to offer wisdom. “There’s something else that goes with that line, I just don’t know it.”

Cutler tried to sound philosophical and realized mid-thought that that is not his brand and quickly adjusted.

Cutler later talked to his friend Chuy while tending to his massive yard/forest. He asked his friend, who is gay, how his dating life is going and asked "Don't they have like apps for that?"

Cutler then offered more dating advice (which was a theme for him this episode): "I would 100 percent do somebody rich if I was you."

There you have it. In another life, Jay Cutler might have been a gold digger.

Later on, Cavallari walks in on Cutler making a fire in the fireplace. She commented that this is the first fire in their new home.

“This is more of a me fire,” Cutler said. “I didn’t know you were attending.”

Classic Cutler. He had every opportunity to use this to gain some brownie points with his wife, but no, that would be too easy. This is Cutler forcing a deep ball instead of hitting the open checkdown.

Cutler’s last notable scenes this week involved him playing wingman for Cavallari’s best friend, Kelly. He volunteers his services to help her in her single love life. Cutler begins by describing the type of man she would be interested in and the two women cut him off to say he is describing the perfect man.

“I don’t think he exists,” Cavallari said.

“Oh, I was just describing myself,” Cutler responded without missing a beat.

Cutler did go out with Kelly for a drink to talk about how he can help her in her dating life. The solution is to have him run her profile on a dating app. Nothing materialized from this yet on this episode, but there’s definitely potential Cutty gold there.

Oh, and also, this week featured FULL CAMO CUTTY:

Questions linger at running back, kicker as Bears arrive in Arizona for NFL meetings

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USA Today

Questions linger at running back, kicker as Bears arrive in Arizona for NFL meetings

PHOENIX — As the NFL annual meetings begin this week at the extravagant Arizona Biltmore, the storylines that’ll dominate the next few days won’t involve the Bears a whole lot. Robert Kraft’s solicitation charges, Rob Gronkowski’s retirement, instant replay for pass interference and guaranteeing both teams possess the ball in overtime: These are the topics that’ll drive the national conversation about the NFL this week. 

The Bears come to the warmth and sun of Arizona as one of the NFL’s most relevant teams, coming off a 12-4 season with a dynamic coach, elite defense and an under-construction quarterback. But there’s no drama surrounding the organization. They didn’t trade away one of the best receivers in the NFL or go on a spending spree. They’re not in the market for Kyler Murray. They’re not agitating for rule changes after getting wronged in the playoffs by anything other than the Soldier Field's north end zone upright and crossbar. 

But there still remain some unresolved questions surrounding the team beyond, of course, the biggest one (how good will Mitch Trubisky be in 2019?). A few important topics to note: 

What’s left to shake out at running back?

Jordan Howard is still on the Bears’ roster a few weeks after a report surfaced that the Bears were discussing trading the 24-year-old running back. That’s hardly surprising: The running back free agent market, after Le’Veon Bell signed that massive deal with the New York Jets, didn’t deliver any other large contracts. Only three other free agent running backs received more than $5 million in guaranteed money (Mark Ingram from Baltimore, Latavius Murray from New Orleans, Tevin Coleman from San Francisco). Guys like Isaiah Crowell, T.J. Yeldon and C.J. Anderson are all still available on the free agent market, too. 

The point: Why would a team give up a valuable draft pick for Howard right now, when there have been and still are options available for a more modest cost?

The Bears don’t have to trade Howard, hardly, given a healthy cap situation (more on that later) and the simple fact that they haven’t drafted a running back yet. It may seem like a safe assumption that Ryan Pace will select a running back with a third/fourth/fifth-round pick, but then again, it seemed like a safe assumption that Pace would take an outside linebacker before the sixth round in last year’s draft. 

Howard very well could have a role on the 2019 Bears if the running backs the team likes aren’t available, or aren’t among their “best available” options when they’re on the clock in April. Pace could move Howard during the draft to improve his draft position by a round or two, or in a given round, but it’s unlikely to be a drastic improvement. 

Still, the Bears need to improve their running game for the overall health of Matt Nagy's offense. Signing Mike Davis should help with those efforts, but that move may not be the entirety of the solution. There’s still plenty left to play out here. 

Will the kicking competition add more names?

So far, the Bears have two kickers on their roster: Chris Blewitt and Redford Jones. Neither have kicked in an NFL game despite last appearing at the college level since 2016 and 2017, respectively. 

Pace said at the NFL Combine last month he envisions a “major competition” to determine who the Bears’ kicker will be in 2019, and that could result in more than two kickers being a part of it. Blewitt and Jones both emerged out of tryouts earlier this year; it seems likely, though, that the Bears will bring in at least one more kicker who at the least played somewhere in 2018. 

The Bears do currently have the cap space to sign Stephen Gostkowski, though coupled with Cody Parkey’s dead money that could mean sinking upward of $8 million into a position on which teams usually don’t spend. It also may be telling that the 35-year-old Gostkowski is still available despite kicking for the New England Patriots for the last 13 years. 

Perhaps a more likely path is the Bears using one of their two seventh-round draft picks on a kicker, or signing an undrafted free agent. This “major competition,” too, also isn’t guaranteed to result in anything: The Bears, after all, could find their 2019 kicker on the waiver wire after cut-down day in September. 

Capping it off

Per the NFLPA’s public salary cap report, the Bears have $17,795,716 in available cap space. Even with that amount, the contract edge rusher Justin Houston signed with the Indianapolis Colts (two years, $24 million) was probably too rich, and it’s unlikely he would’ve wanted to come to the Bears anyway without a clear path to a prominent role. 

Cap space can roll over from year to year, so the Bears don’t have to spend all of that money. There was an assumption making the rounds on social media — after the team created a sizable chunk of cap space by converting some of Khalil Mack’s base salary to a signing bonus — that the Bears were lining up for a big-splash move, but Pace was keen on using it to make smaller acquisitions. The team could still use an edge rusher to slide into a rotational role behind Mack and Leonard Floyd, which Aaron Lynch (who's still a free agent) filled last year. 

The Bears’ cap situation in future years, though, is more interesting. Without any rollover cap, increase in the league’s cap space and roster moves, Spotrac estimates the Bears have a little under $3 million in cap space in 2020. That, though, will go up — but then also come down via Floyd’s fifth-year option salary and, potentially, a new contract for Cody Whitehair. 

2021 is when the Bears’ cap situation will be fascinating, too, with Mack’s cap hit checking in at $26.646 million, per Spotrac. A fifth-year option for Trubisky will be worth north of $20 million, meaning nearly $50 million in cap space could be tied up between those two players. Pace and his front office have managed the cap well during their time in Chicago, but building a competitive roster will become more of a challenge beginning in 2021 when Trubisky’s salary will escalate. 

Then again, it’ll be easier to build a competitive roster if Trubisky develops into the kind of quarterback who can make an entire team better.