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.

Looking to upgrade RB, Bears have more options than draft alone

Looking to upgrade RB, Bears have more options than draft alone

If the 2018 offseason is any sort of indicator, the question before the Bears heading into the unofficial “start” of the offseason – the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis – is less which position group they upgrade – the surprise will be if running back is not priority No. 1 – but how they go about it.

By way of background perspective, first consider what was done last offseason in terms of starter-grade moves:
 
QB2          Chase Daniel
WR           3: Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller, Allen Robinson
TE             Trey Burton
OL             James Daniels
DL             Bilal Nichols
OLB          Khalil Mack
ILB            Roquan Smith.
And there was also the matter of head coach.

Missing from the list is the secondary, although the pricey re-signings of Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller more than count toward commitment to roster-building; and running back, although whispers around the NFL was that the Bears were open to dealing Jordan Howard, which obviously didn’t happen.

The Bears have operated with the requisite “best player available” philosophy in drafting and other personnel acquisitions. How they accomplish that at running back will be among the most closely watched roster efforts of this offseason.

Some options

With no draft choice currently before the third round, the roll call and mock workups coming out of the Combine will feature a spectrum of players rather than one or two, the way if has been with the Bears picking in the top-10 range in the last four drafts.

But GM Ryan Pace has been the picture of aggressive with draft choices, specifically dealing them en masse for deals the included moving up for quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, to a lesser extent for Leonard Floyd, and dramatically in the trade for Khalil Mack.

The trade possibility should be watched, once the draft begins, and before.

The Cleveland Browns struck dramatically with the signing of Kareem Hunt, which abruptly gave them a crowded backfield of starter-grade talent: Nick Chubb, 23, coming off averaging 5.2 ypc in his rookie season; and Duke Johnson, 25, never a full-time starter but who’s averaged 4.3 ypc in four seasons with a very bad football team.

But Pace hasn’t used his actual No. 3 the past two drafts, dealing away his 2017 and 2018 No. 3’s as part of the move for Trubisky. This time he has a No. 3, but the surprise would be if he uses it where it now sits.

Would the Browns part with Chubb or Johnson for a No. 3? How about for a 4 or 5?  

Moving up?

The biggest reason to stay tuned in the second round when the draft arrives is Pace’s willingness to target and trade up to go get a player. He did it with Floyd and Trubisky in first rounds. He did it for wideout Miller in last year’s draft, dipping into 2019 to do it in the form of giving this year’s second-rounder (plus a No. 4) to move up from No. 70 (third round) to 51 (second).

Maybe Pace had some idea what would play out last season and its effect on this next draft. The 2019 Bears No. 2, now belonging to New England, is way down at 24th in the round after the 12-4 season (and would’ve been even lower if Cody Parkey makes his last kick vs. Philadelphia).

The Bears’ first scheduled pick in round three happens to be the 24th pick of the round; not high. Pace stayed put in the third rounds of his first two drafts, taking Hroniss Grasu (2015) and Jonathan Bullard (2016).

Brad Biggs over at the Tribune did a nice workup of some prospects likely to be around late on day two when the Bears’ turn comes at some point in the mid rounds. These become relevant because Pace and his staff have established an aptitude for finding NFL talent at running back down in the draft:

2015, 4th round           Jeremy Langford, now with Atlanta after stops on the Ravens, Jets and Dolphins practice squads;
2016, 5th round           Howard;
2017, 4th round           Tarik Cohen.
 

It sure sounds like the 49ers have plans to keep kicker Robbie Gould

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USA Today

It sure sounds like the 49ers have plans to keep kicker Robbie Gould

The Robbie Gould Redemption Tour may be short-lived afterall. 

Today, NBC Sports Bay Area reporter Matt Maiocco wrote about 49'ers plans for kicker Robbie Gould. In the piece, Maiocco makes some assertions that surely won't sit well with Bears fans looking for a reunion: 

If the 49ers are unable to work out a multi-year contract extension with kicker Robbie Gould, it would be a major surprise if the club did not use the tag to restrict his ability to sign with another team. The 49ers have not used the franchise tag designation since 2012 with safety Dashon Goldson. The 49ers have plenty of salary-cap space to absorb a significant pay raise for Gould. The club is expected to have $67.5 million in cap room at the start of the new league year, according to figures from the NFL Players Association and overthecap.com. The franchise tag for a kicker is expected to be approximately $5 million for one season. Gould signed a two-year, $4 million contract with the 49ers on the first day of free agency in 2017.

Though the assumption is more speculatory in nature than actual reporting, it stands to reason that Maiocco would know the inner workings of San Fransisco's front office. It also echoes several other reports that the Niners plan on using the franchise tag on Gould. Sorry Bears fans! 

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