The Bears’ release of Jermon Bushrod had been expected ever since Charles Leno Jr. stepped in Week 3 against Seattle and performed passably at left tackle. The decision was anything but easy — Bushrod is a consummate pro and outstanding teammate — but the Bears made the call with at least the knowledge that they had a viable starter option in place.
Even the stepping away from Matt Forte was done at least with a promising understudy — Jeremy Langford — waiting in the wings.
Whether to pursue re-signing defensive lineman Jarvis Jenkins, linebacker Shea McClellin and cornerback Tracy Porter are issues. Those are impending free agents. The Bears also have several players under contract, however, that involve precipitous decisions because the roster does not have anyone capable of filling the potential voids that could result from those calls:
Bennett followed his 90-catch Pro Bowl 2014 season with an offseason stay-away from Halas Hall, perceived unhappiness with his contract even in-season and then missing more games in one season (five) than in his previous seven seasons combined (four). Bennett has one year remaining on the four-year, $20.4 million contract he signed in 2013.
Bennett will be one of the most motivated players on the roster in 2016, with a chance at one more big contract there in free agency after this year. But a malcontent is rarely a positive in a locker room or huddle, and coaches and organizations seldom want an uncommitted player around.
The problem is that the Bears have zero real options after Bennett. Zach Miller had a breakout season with five touchdown catches, but he is a free agent hoping for a payday, and has never played 16 games in a season, making it for 15 weeks in 2015 but missing Week 16 in Tampa Bay with a toe injury.
So if not Bennett… ?
The hybrid DE/LB rebounded from season-ending knee injury in 2014 to collect eight sacks and 10 tackles for loss last season. Significantly, seven of the sacks and nine of the TFL’s came over the final nine games as his playing time steadily increased, a strong indicator that Houston was well over his knee problem.
Houston will cost the Bears $6 million for 2016. For a productive pass rusher projecting to double-digit sacks, the money is manageable. Rush linebacker Pernell McPhee is on the books for $7.2 million.
Houston and DE/LB Willie Young were the Bears’ best pass rushers for the second half of 2015. Whether the Bears conclude that Houston is the right counterpoint opposite McPhee is one call.
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The other is money, and the Bears may want Houston to take a pay cut or renegotiation. The problem: You don’t seriously propose a pay cut unless you’re willing to cut the player, and Houston could well refuse and take his case to the open market.
The Bears hold the 11th pick of the draft and edge-rusher options will be there. But with needs elsewhere, having Houston in place increases options.
So if not Houston… ?
Safety has been a perennial trouble spot for the Bears, who thought they’d shored up the position last year with the drafting of Adrian Amos and signing Rolle for three years and $11.2 million. But Rolle, a solid influence on young players like cornerback Kyle Fuller, had performance breakdowns on the field and two concerning injuries (ankle, knee) that landed him on IR and limited him to only seven games after his missing just one game total over the previous nine seasons.
Rolle is due to cost the Bears $2.7 million for 2016, not a prohibitive salary alongside Amos’ rookie contract. The broader question for the Bears, however, is whether Rolle is an answer or a question at age 33. If Rolle is not an answer, neither Harold Jones-Quartey nor Chris Prosinski appeared to be either.
So if not Rolle… ?