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.

Mitch Musings: Trubisky progressing as he preps to face the gold standard of QBs

Mitch Musings: Trubisky progressing as he preps to face the gold standard of QBs

 Tom Brady has been credited with 54 game-winning drives in his Hall of Fame career, five of which have come in Super Bowls — all five Super Bowls he and Bill Belichick have won. 
 
To put it another way: Brady has engineered a game-winning drive in 18 percent of his regular season and playoff starts, while he’s only lost 22 percent of his career starts. 
 
“He just has this mentality that at the end of the game, they’re going to win because of him,” coach Matt Nagy said. “He’s going to make a special throw.”
 
The expectation for Brady is that he’s going to put together a fourth quarter comeback or a game-winning drive if given the chance. It’s not like he’s a markedly better quarterback in those close-and-late situations — in fact, his lowest passer rating by quarter comes in the fourth. But that rating is 94.2; his career rating is 97.4. Effectively, he’s the same quarterback. 
 
That baseline level of success is, undoubtedly, something for which Mitch Trubisky is striving. But the Bears’ rookie isn’t there yet, as evidenced by his career splits:
 
Fourth quarter: 86/151 (57 percent), 6 TDs, 6 INTs, 71.2 passer rating, 6.0 yards/attempt
Overall: 309/491 (63 percent), 18 TDs, 11 INTs, 86.7 passer rating, 7.0 yards/attempt
 
That factors in 2017, of course, and Trubisky’s numbers from that season aren’t as relevant as the overall experience he gained. There’s a much smaller sample size in 2018, but the fourth quarter downturn is still present:
 
2018 fourth quarter: 22/34 (65 percent), 2 TD, 1 INT, 94.1 passer rating, 7.4 yards/attempt
2018 overall: 113/161 (70 percent), 11 TDs, 4 INTs, 105.6 passer rating, 8.1 yards/attempt
 
The good news, perhaps, is that the gap is closing. That’s an area of progress the Bears needed, and still need, to see in 2018. Trubisky completed eight of 11 passes for 141 yards with a touchdown — and an interception in the end zone — on Sunday in Miami, and very well could’ve been credited with a game-winning drive had Tarik Cohen not fumbled near midfield with under three minutes remaining.
 
But the touchdown he threw to Anthony Miller, too, could’ve been a game-winner had the Bears’ defense not immediately given up a 75-yard touchdown on Miami’s ensuing drive.
 
“We’re continuing to grow and that’s one of those clutch plays that you have to make as an offense to help out the defense and put the team in a good position to win games and it was a big moment and I think a big area of growth for our offense and myself as a quarterback,” Trubisky said. “We’re just gonna have to continue to grow and make those types of plays to be able to give ourselves a chance to win every week.” 
 
Reid It and Weep?
 
The last three times Andy Reid, or an Andy Reid disciple, has faced the Patriots, their team has scored 40 or more points. Reid and Nagy teamed up to drop 42 on New England in 2017’s season opener, and Doug Pederson — Reid’s offensive coordinator prior to Nagy — put up 41 to win Super Bowl LII. On Sunday, Reid’s Chiefs scored 40 in a three-point loss in Foxboro. 
 
Maybe that matters on Sunday at Soldier Field, maybe it doesn’t. But for Trubisky, that Nagy had that success a year ago against New England “for sure” gives him a confidence boost. 
 
“I think coach Nagy knows this opponent very well,” Trubisky said. “I mean, he studies as much tape as anyone throughout the week and he’s had success against this team, so that definitely gives me confidence, and it’s just me and him continuing to communicate and being on the same page. He’s given me a lot of confidence that we’ll be able to move the ball and put up points against these guys this weekend. 
 
“So we just got to continue to take care of the football, be smart, while staying aggressive, but it definitely gives confidence knowing that coach Nags, that he knows these guys pretty well and has had success in the past, but we still got to go out there and do our jobs because the past success doesn’t determine future success. You still got to go out there and execute on the field and we know that.”
 
Belichick is a master of taking away what an opponent does best. But a common thread between those Chiefs and Eagles teams is having multiple weapons, to the point where taking the best one away isn’t a deterrent to scoring. The Bears may not have the same pick-your-poison roster as the Chiefs, who still put up 40 points despite New England muting Travis Kelce’s production on Sunday. 
 
But Trubisky and this offense might be trending that way, if Sunday’s 28-point second half against a good Miami defense is any indication. 
 
One Last Time To Not Count Out Touchdown Tom
 
Back to Brady for one final thought here: Trubisky was seven years old when Brady won his first Super Bowl back in 2002. The Bears’ quarterback probably doesn’t have much memory of an NFL in which Brady hasn’t been regarded as the most successful quarterback in the league.
 
Sunday will mark Brady’s final trip to Chicago in his career, unless he winds up quarterbacking another team (highly unlikely) or playing until he’s 49 (extremely unlikely). While he and Drew Brees and Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger still may have a few good years left in them, and Aaron Rodgers certainly has more than a few good years left, it feels like the quarterbacking torch is finally being passed from those veterans to a young, exciting group of passers like Carson Wentz, Jared Goff and Patrick Mahomes. Trubisky could be part of that not-quite-established-but-close group, too, if what he’s done in the last two games turns out to be sustainable. 
 
So for Trubisky, getting to compete against Brady on Sunday comes as a special opportunity. 
 
“I admire his competitiveness and just following his journey and what he’s had to overcome to be able to get where he’s at,” Trubisky said. “It’s very admirable and doing it this long, this well over a long period of time is pretty incredible. So you always look at that. And what they’ve been able to do. As a quarterback you’re judged by how many games you win and he’s been successful at that as well, so obviously he’s one of the best to do it. And it’s cool to watch his film as well as many other guys over the years, pick up anything you possibly can. Yeah, he’s had a lot of success so you definitely look at what kind of traits he has to be able to lead his teams to that many wins over a long period of time. 
 
“Is it cool? Yeah, for sure. But I think it’s just a testament to him of how he’s been able to do it for this long and still be that successful. And he’s just really been able to push the limits at what can be accomplished at this position and how everybody looks at it. He’s really taken this thing to new levels and it’ll be cool to compete against him on Sunday.” 

QB Power Rankings: Brady and Rodgers stay on-brand

QB Power Rankings: Brady and Rodgers stay on-brand

A game-winning drive against the 5-0 Chiefs on Sunday night. A game-winning, coach's-job-saving drive against the 49ers on Monday night. 

The more things change, the more things stay the same. Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers continue to crush souls. Blake Bortles continues to inspire memes. New York's love-hate relationship with Eli Manning trudges on. 

How did your team's QB fare on this week's version of QB Power Rankings? 

You can find out right here.