Bears

Bears offensive needs not as great, but free agent pieces available

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Bears offensive needs not as great, but free agent pieces available

The Bears' primary focus on offense right now is finding a new coordinator after Adam Gase was named Dolphins head coach Saturday. Then comes decisions on Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte (if they haven't been made already) before scouting potential picks at the Senior Bowl, Scouting Combine, and pro days.

We wrote here Friday night about the numerous options available on the defensive side for Ryan Pace to address in free agency, if he so desires. The Bears GM has stressed all along the real roster-building must come through the draft, but with roughly $58 million in salary cap space to spend, he'll pick and choose where to use those financial resources. That space puts Pace in the Top 3 in the NFL in cap room.

[MORE BEARS: Bears defensive free agent options include familiarity with John Fox]

Some perspective after zeroing in on some defensive names from three teams in particular: We looked closely at the Broncos and Jets for front-seven help. Denver right now has about $23 million to spend, while New York has only about $17.5. If looking for secondary help, we noted a couple of Chiefs. Kansas City is in a more comfortable position, currently sitting roughly $36-38 million below the projected salary cap of $151 to $153 million. As a side note, Gase has a lot of pieces to work with in Miami, but their roster is already at that projected cap for 2016.

As we did on the defensive side, all these players are 30-years-old or younger, with nearly all from the 2012 draft class entering their all-important second contracts. We'll zero in on the two potential primary areas of need: offensive line and, if the Bears want to move on from Martellus Bennett, tight end. But if things should happen to hit a snag with Jeffery, we'll start at his position.

WIDE RECEIVER TEAM 2015 SALARY (MILLION $)
Jermaine Kearse Seahawks 2.35
Mohamed Sanu Bengals 1.7
Rueben Randle Giants 1.0
Travis Benjamin Browns .780
Marvin Jones Bengals .585

Like the aforementioned Chiefs, the Bengals also have about $35-37 million available, and they'll probably focus on Jones (65 receptions, 618 yards, four touchdowns, opposite A.J. Green and with Tyler Eifert). Benjamin emerged this season amidst all the chaos in Cleveland (68 receptions, 966 yards, five touchdowns) but is strictly a slot receiver, if the Bears wanted to move away from Eddie Royal. The 6-foot-3 Randle has been frustrated playing in the shadow of another LSU alum, Odell Beckham, Jr., but still had 57 catches for 797 yards. If the Giants are allowed to make a play for Jeffery, Randle is a potential trade-off.

[MORE BEARS: With Adam Gase to Miami, Bears attention turns to finding OC successor]

TIGHT END TEAM 2015 SALARY (MILLION $)
Dwayne Allen Colts 1.7
Coby Fleener Colts 1.7
Ladarius Green Chargers .772
Garrett Celek 49ers .710
Larry Donnell Giants .585

Bennett is Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener wrapped up in one, and at least a more accomplished receiver than Joliet Catholic product Fleener. If the Bears wind up parting ways with Bennett and keeping Zach Miller, they'll have we to decide how high Khari Lee's upside is before shopping elsewhere. Green (37 receptions, 429 yards) was finally shut down after a mid-season ankle injury in that beaten-up San Diego receiving corps. Donnell is a restricted free agent and caught 29 passes before a Nov. 1 neck injury.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

OFFENSIVE LINE TEAM 2015 SALARY (MILLION $)
Russell Okung (LT) Seahawks 7.3
Andre Smith (RT) Bengals 6.4
Alex Boone (G) 49ers 3.7
Ramon Foster (G) Steelers 2.1
J.R. Sweeney (G) Seahawks 1.6
Mitchell Schwartz (RT) Browns 1.6
Cordy Glenn (LT) Bills 1.5
Jeff Allen (G) Chiefs 1.5
Kelechi Osemele (LT) Ravens 1.1

Kyle Long said he's been told he's a tackle next season. And Pace sure sounded pleased with Charles Leno Jr.'s development at left tackle. So maybe we should simply focus on the guards. Boone is among the best, and was solid at guard after starting his career as a tackle, where he could be used as a safety net for Leno Jr. (though Boone was a tackle on the right side). Allen, out of King High School and the University of Illinois, started the last two years but missed a chunk of games this season in Kansas City. He returned down the stretch and was praised by his position coach, former Bears tackle Andy Heck.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?

Chris Emma, Matt Zahn and Gabe Ramirez join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- NBC Sports National NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh joins the panel to discuss the Bulls’ terrible defensive performance as well as Zach LaVine’s impressive season debut.

11:35- Khalil Mack is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Patriots. Can the Bears pull off the upset against Tom Brady?

23:50- NBC Sports Boston Patriots insider Tom E. Curran joins Kap to talk about how New England views the Bears and discuss how Matt Nagy’s team can exploit the Patriots’ weaknesses.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below.

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Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears in line to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack participated in the Bears’ final practice of the week on Friday, clearing the way for the edge rusher to play Sunday against the New England Patriots. 

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported earlier Friday that the Bears expected Mack, who hasn’t missed a game in his career, to play after suffering an ankle injury early in Week 6’s 31-28 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Mack is officially questionable for Sunday’s game at Soldier Field. 

Mack had little interest in discussing his ankle with the media on Friday, passing on answering questions about his readiness for New England. Coach Matt Nagy, though, said he thought Mack “looked pretty good” during practice on Friday. 

Mack didn’t record a sack against Miami and was held to just one pressure, per Pro Football Focus. The Dolphins’ gameplan was to commit plenty of resources to stopping Mack, but he wasn’t effective even when he had one-on-one pass rushing opportunities as the game went on. 

“He was (affected),” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “I can't put a percentage on it, but he definitely was.”

Having Mack available — even if he’s not full strength — will be critical for the Bears’ defense to have a chance at keeping Tom Brady from lighting up the scoreboard. The key for the Bears will be to generate pressure on the 41-year-old quarterback without blitzing, which is something Fangio’s defense was successful at prior to Sunday’s wacky loss to the Dolphins. 

Brady’s passer rating is 138.4 when he’s blitzed, per Pro Football Focus, while when under pressure his rating is 87.2. That’s still pretty good, but it’s worth noting that all of the six interceptions he’s thrown this year have come when he hasn’t been blitzed. And only one of the eight sacks he’s taken has come when he’s been blitzed. 

The point being: If the Bears feel like they have to start blitzing to generate pressure, they can expect Brady to pick them apart.  

“You could say all of that but ultimately (Brady’s) a gamer,” Mack said. “He’s going to take those hits, and you gotta be able to deliver them but also have coverage over the top. It’s going to be real important for us.” 

The good news for the Bears, perhaps, is that New England’s tackles have struggled at times this year. Left tackle Trent Brown has allowed 17 pressures in 234 pass blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus (about one in every 14 snaps). And starting right tackle Marcus Cannon is out with a concussion, giving way for backup La’Adrian Waddle, who’s allowed eight pressures in 78 pass blocking snaps (about one in every 10). 

So the opportunities will be there for Mack, Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks and the Bears’ pass rush to affect Brady on Sunday.

A bigger injury concern?

While cornerback Prince Amukamara (hamstring) was a full participant in Friday’s practice and will play Sunday, slot corner Bryce Callahan suffered an ankle injury during Thursday’s practice and did not participate Friday. He’s officially questionable for Sunday. 

Callahan “did his ankle,” Nagy said, toward the end of Thursday’s practice, and he felt worse as the day went on. Nagy characterized Callahan’s absence from Friday’s practice as “precautionary.”

Callahan’s availability may be more of a pressing concern than Mack’s, given how well the Patriots’ offense has played since slot receiver Julian Edelman returned from a four-game suspension to begin the season. While his numbers aren’t eye-popping (11 catches on 16 targets, 111 yards, 1 TD), New England’s offense has scored 38 and 43 points in his two games back. 

“Brady has always had a guy in the slot that he’s comfortable with; whether it be (Wes) Welker, (Danny) Amendola or Edelman,” Fangio said. “It’s a big part of their offense. They haven’t missed a beat, but I really think it’s helped their offense and played a big part in them basically averaging 40 points in the last three weeks. I really appreciate and respect how good of a player he is and has been.”

If Callahan isn’t available, Sherrick McManis could be the next man up at slot corner.