Bears

Bears defensive free agent options include familiarity with John Fox

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Bears defensive free agent options include familiarity with John Fox

If you caught our final Sunday of Bears Pre- and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet, you may have seen the graphics that included some of the potential free agents hitting the open market this off-season. Dan Jiggetts, Jim Miller, Lance Briggs and I didn't get a chance to dive into those options too deeply, so if you missed it, here's a list of some of the defensive players we showed.  We'll do a separate post later this weekend for offensive players. We narrowed these lists of players to those 30 years old or younger, with the linemen and linebackers having played on teams using a 3-4 base.

DEFENSIVE ENDS TEAM 2015 SALARY (MILLION $)
Muhammad Wilkerson Jets 7.0
Letroy Guion Packers 2.5
Cedric Thornton Eagles 2.4
Andre Branch Jaguars 1.6
Jared Crick Texans 1.6
Malik Jackson Broncos 1.6
Derek Wolfe Broncos 1.4

Wolfe and Jackson are second- and fifth-round picks from Fox's 2012 draft class in Denver, collecting 5.5 and 5.0 sacks, respectively this season, showing they can get to the quarterback on top of their assignments to free things up in the trenches for their linebackers to make plays (more on that below).  Wilkerson had another monstrous 12-sack season, but broke his leg in the season finale.  Branch (4.0 sacks this season) is a former Clemson teammate of Jarvis Jenkins.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!

DEFENSIVE/NOSE TACKLES TEAM 2015 SALARY (MILLION $)
Terrance Knighton Redskins 4.0
Damon Harrison Jets 2.4
Ian Williams 49ers 1.5
Jaye Howard Chiefs 0.66

Knighton played for Fox in Denver, as well, before signing a one-year deal in Washington. His impact should never be diminished, but he's 29 going on 30. The Jets (who drafted Leonard Williams last April) have to choose either Wilkerson or Harrison, whose stats don't do justice to how the 6'4, 350-lb. undrafted free agent shuts down the run. Ex-Notre Damer Williams has a history with Vic Fangio, but has struggled with injuries, while Hroniss Grasu can tell you all about Howard, who had 5.5 sacks. Eddie Goldman is almost certain to be the future at this position, but should the Bears feel he's capable of moving to end to make room for one of the above, these are outstanding options.

 

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS TEAM 2015 SALARY (MILLION $)
Von Miller Broncos 9.7
Mike Neal Packers 4.25
Nick Perry Packers 2.4
Courtney Upshaw Ravens 1.7

Pretty slim pickings here, since Miller's almost certain to get at least franchise-tagged, while Neal and Perry have never lived up to hopes and expectations in Green Bay.  Upshaw's not the type to keep heads of opposing quarterbacks on a swivel (2.0 sacks this season). If Willie Young and Lamarr Houston aren't seen as long-term options, this might have to be addressed through the draft, or pursue 32-year-old Tamba Hali of the Chiefs on a shorter-term deal, as Kansas City hopes to make room for Dee Ford while dealing with money issues on this side of the ball (further below).

[MORE: What you - and the Bears - should be watching for in the playoffs]

INSIDE LINEBACKERS TEAM 2015 SALARY (MILLION $)
Sean Witherspoon Cardinals 3.9
Demario Davis Jets 1.7
Danny Trevathan Broncos 1.6
Keenan Robinson Redskins 0.765
Michael Wilhoite 49ers 0.660
Brandon Marshall Broncos 0.585

Fox's two inside `backers in Denver led the Broncos with 109 and 102 tackles. Trevathan added two interceptions and six passes defensed. Marshall is a restricted free agent. Both guys do exactly what the Bears desperately need at the position. The Jets also must decide how rich to make Davis amidst all their other decisions, and Fangio threw Wilhoite into the fire in 2014 and he responded as the Niners linebackers were ravaged by injuries.

 

SAFETIES TEAM 2015 SALARY (MILLION $)
Eric Weddle Chargers 10.0
Eric Berry Chiefs 8.4
Tashaun Gipson Browns 2.4
Rashad Johnson Cardinals 2.1
George Iloka Bengals 1.6
Ricardo Allen Falcons 0.435

Weddle and Berry provide the track record, albeit with concerns. Weddle is 30 but is a leader and will have a huge chip on his shoulder to prove San Diego erred in not even trying to negotiate with him. Berry's amazing return from Hodgkin's lymphoma this season to return to Pro Bowl status has been unfortunately somewhat overlooked. Gipson combined for 11 interceptions in 2013 and `14, but slipped to just two this season. Johnson really emerged in Arizona, highlighted by five picks.

[ALSO: Playoff field provides some lessons for the Bears going forward

CORNERBACKS TEAM 2015 SALARY (MILLION $)
Sean Smith Chiefs 7.0
Prince Amukamara Giants 6.9
Jerraud Powers Cardinals 5.4
Trumaine Johnson Rams 1.7
William Gay Steelers 1.7
Josh Norman Panthers 1.6
Janoris Jenkins Rams 1.6
Jeremy Lane Seahawks 0.700

Norman? No.  A big payday looms either via a long-term deal with Carolina, or a franchise tag. The 6'3 Smith was instrumental in rookie Marcus Peters' outstanding rookie season at the opposite corner. The 6'2 Johnson has the size and has been a playmaker: seven interceptions this year, and 15 in his four years.  He came into the league in the same Rams draft as the smaller Jenkins, who has ten career picks, three in 2015.

Why the Bears won't, and shouldn't, make a bold move at quarterback

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USA Today

Why the Bears won't, and shouldn't, make a bold move at quarterback

As the Bears enter Year 4 of the Mitch Trubisky era, they do so with a team constructed to maximize the inexpensive nature of their quarterback. 2020 is the Bears’ final shot at having a roster maxed out thanks to possessing the NFL's most valuable resource. 

And yet a month before free agency here we are, wondering which quarterback — or quarterbacks — the Bears could add to at least compete with, if not start over, Trubisky. 

This was not the plan. Ryan Pace — rightly — didn’t give the Bears much salary cap wiggle room after a 2018 spending spree, banking on Trubisky becoming the kind of guy who could compete for Super Bowls in Years 2-4, then earning a rich extension because of his ability to cover for the roster imperfections that contract would create. A lack of salary cap space during a quarterback’s rookie contract shouldn’t be a problem, seeing as there should be few holes and a signal-caller who can make up for them. 

The Bears currently have about $14.6 million in cap space, per the NFLPA’s public report, far less than the amount needed to acquire a starting-caliber quarterback. That number is fluid, of course, as the Bears have plenty of avenues to create more cap space (cuts, extensions, restructured contracts). 

And 2020’s offseason could see a dramatic re-shuffling of the league’s quarterbacks. New jerseys will likely be worn by eight or nine members of this group: Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Dak Prescott, Cam Newton, Teddy Bridgewater, Ryan Tannehill, Nick Foles, Derek Carr, Andy Dalton, Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill.  

It’d be a shock if the Bears landed one of the bigger names on that list, like Brady or Rivers or Newton. Dalton could be a possibility if the Cincinnati Bengals accept a late-round draft pick in exchange for him. Otherwise, the money doesn’t make much sense for those on that list (and still might not for Dalton — more on that in a bit). 

But if the Bears are going to spend upward of $17 million on a new quarterback — which they’d have to do for all 11 of those previously listed quarterbacks — it would limit Pace’s ability to address other holes on the roster. And seeing as Pace and Matt Nagy have been adamant the team’s issues in 2019 weren’t solely on Trubisky, why would they go all-out to acquire a quarterback when that would also mean limply addressing other holes on the roster?

The Bears, though, can free up a decent amount of cap space by making five moves: 1) Restructuring Khalil Mack’s contract, 2) signing Allen Robinson to an extension, 3) cutting Prince Amukamara, 4) cutting Taylor Gabriel, and 5) cutting Adam Shaheen. Those moves could add at least $30 million to the Bears’ available salary cap, bringing the total to about $43 million. 

But now the Bears need to find a new starting cornerback in addition to a right guard, inside linebacker and safety, while also addressing critical depth needs at tight end, outside linebacker and (still) inside linebacker. If the Bears were to, say, trade for Dalton — who carries a cap hit of $17.7 million — they’d have about $26 million in cap space and two second-round picks to fill those holes, while potentially subtracting their next highest pick (a potential fourth round comp pick or a fifth rounder). 

Could the Bears find the versatile in-line tight end and brawling right guard they lack while not draining their defense of talent? Without some good fortune, probably not. 

This is one reason why the Bears are much more likely to target cheaper options in Marcus Mariota or Case Keenum in free agency than make a big splash at quarterback (Dalton, to be fair, could join this list if the Joe Burrow-infatuated Bengals can’t find a trade partner and cut him). Also, too, is the team’s persistent belief in Trubisky. The Bears, in all likelihood, have neither the money nor desire to acquire a quarterback who’d supplant Trubisky as their starting quarterback from the day he walked into Halas Hall. 

And, in reality, nor should they. The Bears’ roster is not as close to contending for a Super Bowl as it appeared a year ago. Shelling out $17 million, or $22 million, or $30 million for one of the starting quarterbacks on the market carries a high risk of backfiring. For instance, since Trubisky entered the league, Dalton has a worse passer rating (84.2) than the 2017 No. 2 overall pick (85.8). In that same span, Newton’s is 85.9. 

So the Bears’ best option is to spend $5-8 million to sign Mariota or Keenum as competition for Trubisky, and hope either of those guys becomes the 2020 version of Tannehill while plugging other holes on the roster. It’s not exactly an exciting bet. 

But it’s the only bet the Bears should, and can, make.

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Bears' 2020 offseason dates you need to know

Bears' 2020 offseason dates you need to know

The Bears 2020 offseason feels like it's been underway for a while, but the reality is it's just getting started. The fun gets underway in March when unrestricted free agency kicks off, followed by the 2020 NFL Draft – when GM Ryan Pace will try to flip Chicago's two second-round picks into potential starters for a team that isn't that far away from contending for a Super Bowl.

Here are the key dates to bookmark in your calendar for the Bears' offseason:

February 2020

  • Feb. 24-March 1 – NFL Scouting Combine
  • Feb. 25 – Ryan Pace/Matt Nagy meet with media at NFL Combine
     

March 2020

  • Feb. 24 – March 1 – NFL Scouting Combine
  • March 18 – Free agency and new league year begins


April 2020

  • April 7 – Ed Block Courage Award presentation
  • April 20 – Bears may begin offseason workout programs
  • April 21 – Brian Piccolo Awards presented to rookie and veteran
  • April 21 – Ryan Pace will speak with the media ahead of NFL Draft
  • April 23-25 – 2020 NFL Draft in Las Vegas
     

May 2020

  • May 8-10 – Bears rookie minicamp at Halas Hall
  • May 16 – Bears Care Gala at Soldier Field
  • May 27 – May 29 – OTA practices


JUNE 2020

  • June 2-4 – OTA practices
  • June 8 – 11 – OTA practices
  • June 16-18 – Mandatory full-squad minicamp