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).

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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.

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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.

Pro Football Focus: Bears rank near bottom-third of NFL in pass protection

Pro Football Focus: Bears rank near bottom-third of NFL in pass protection

If the Chicago Bears want to make a real run at the playoffs in 2018, the offensive line will have to do its part by keeping QB Mitch Trubisky upright. The offense is expected to be more pass-heavy under coach Matt Nagy and will depend on Trubisky having time in the pocket to go through his progressions and find the open target.

New offensive line coach Harry Hiestand should help that cause. He's universally praised as one of the best offensive line coaches in the sport and will be charged with getting a better effort from a unit that ended last season ranked in the bottom-third of pass protection, according to Pro Football Focus.

19. CHICAGO BEARS

2017 pass-blocking efficiency: 77.9

Best individual PBE: Josh Sitton, 97.4

Because of several crippling injuries, nine different players saw at least 100 pass-block snaps for the Bears in 2017. They gave up 152 pressures on 536 passing plays. The top performance came from left tackle Charles Leno Jr., who enjoyed the best season of his career and allowed just 24 pressures all season. Heading into the 2018 campaign, rookie guard James Daniels is penciled in to fill the shoes of the recently departed pass-blocking star Josh Sitton. Daniels performed well in pass protection during his final college season, allowing just 10 pressures on 371 pass-blocking snaps at Iowa.

The Bears will be without last season's top pass-protector, Josh Sitton, who was let go by GM Ryan Pace this offseason and signed with the Dolphins. 

Pass protection was once all about the play of the offensive tackles, but with the NFL's interior defensive linemen evolving into disruptive forces up the middle, guard play will be nearly as important. A healthy Kyle Long is critical. Chicago can't afford growing pains from James Daniels, either. Cody Whitehair returns to full-time center duties, a role he excelled at during his rookie season. 

Charles Leno should provide reliable play at left tackle. Bobby Massie remains a wildcard, but with little depth behind him, the Bears can do nothing more than hope his bad reps are limited in 2018.

With Hiestand in the fold and a healthy Long ready to compete at a high level again, the Bears' offensive line should be much improved this season.

Predicting the value of Roquan Smith's rookie contract with Bears

Predicting the value of Roquan Smith's rookie contract with Bears

Chicago Bears first-round pick Roquan Smith remains unsigned, a situation that prior to the rookie wage scale would've been cause for concern. With contracts now based on slotting, or where a first-round pick is selected, there's little reason or room for agents to haggle over terms. A holdout isn't expected.

There have been some exceptions to this general principle, however. Joey Bosa, who was selected with the third pick by the Chargers in 2016, held out until August 29 over offset language and his signing bonus. So, while a holdout for Smith is unlikely, it's not impossible.

Assuming he agrees to a contract on time, here's what the terms of his deal should look like, according to CBS Sports:

2018 Cap Number: $3,349,485
Signing Bonus: $11,517,940
Four-year value: $18,477,168

If the numbers are correct, Smith will have the 17th-highest cap hit for the Bears in 2018, according to Spotrac. By comparison, Danny Trevathan has a $7.15 million cap hit this season.

Drafting well is critical for long-term success. If a general manager misses on first-round picks, the cap consequences mount over time. Consider Kevin White, the seventh-overall pick in 2015. He has zero touchdowns in his pro career but has a $5.27 million cap hit this year. Leonard Floyd, the team's first-rounder in 2016, has a $4.30 million cap hit and Mitch Trubisky, last year's second pick overall, is $6.59 million. Pace's four first-round picks, when counting Smith's expected deal, are four of the top-17 paid players on the payroll even though none of them have the production to back it up.

Smith, however, is as close to a bust-free prospect as the Bears have drafted in Pace's tenure. He was considered one of the best pure football players in the entire 2018 draft class and will start immediately alongside Trevathan as a rookie, assuming he's under contract in time to contribute in Week 1.