Bears

Bennett, Forte using different strategies in quest for Bears money

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Bennett, Forte using different strategies in quest for Bears money

Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte want pretty much the same thing, pretty much what every NFL player wants, and for that matter, pretty much what anybody working anywhere wants:

More money.

But the Bears tight end and running back are going about making that demand in diametrically opposite ways. And if Bears history is any indicator, it’s unlikely that both methods will work get what they want in the form of a new contract this offseason with new money, from the Bears or anyone else.

Forte is entering the final year of the four-year contract he signed in the 2012 offseason. Forte did not attend the voluntary veterans minicamp or the offseason program but was on hand Wednesday for the start of the team’s organized team activities.

Bennett also signed a four-year deal, in 2013, and has two years remaining on the contract, which currently projects to pay him $10 million over the next two seasons.

But Bennett has yet to attend a Bears practice or workout, looking to induce the Bears to either tear up the contract or trade him to a team that will.

[MORE: George McCaskey won't lose confidence in Ryan Pace in Ray McDonald aftermath]

The big difference

One significant difference between Bennett and Forte is that Forte wants to remain a Chicago Bear. Bennett, not necessarily so.

“You've got to be patient in these type of thing and nobody's going to force anybody's hand on either side, so you just have to be patient,” Forte said, recalling his own at-times-tense contract process that saw the Bears use their franchise tag to buy time for negotiations.

”The situation a couple years ago was being vastly underpaid; that's not the situation now. It's more of this year is more of just like lowering the cap number and trying to continue my legacy as a Bear and trying to retire that way. It happens to be whatever shakes out, whatever they think.”

A casual guess at this point of the process is that Forte will get a year added to his contract, with some up-front money that goes with these kinds of transactions.

Bennett is creating an altogether different situation. He would like to be traded to a team promising new paper.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

The Thomas Jones saga

But holding out can completely sabotage that possibility, and has in one notable Bears case.

A decade ago the Bears signed running back Thomas Jones to a four-year deal worth $10 million and which was about twice the next best offer Jones had in 2004. Jones had a respectable season but not enough to dissuade the Bears from using the No. 4 pick of the 2005 draft on Cedric Benson to replace Jones. Jones responded to the job threat with the best season of his career to that point.

Jones, with two years still to go on his deal, then demanded a trade and refused to report for the offseason.

The Bears and GM Jerry Angelo in fact managed to work out a deal to an AFC team in need of a running back. But when that team’s personnel head learned that Jones was a holdout, he shot down the deal. Angelo eventually reached an agreement privately with Jones that if the running back gave the Bears a strong third season, Angelo would accommodate Jones’ wish. Jones rushed for 1,210 yards, the Bears reached the Super Bowl and Angelo honored his word and dealt Jones to the New York Jets.

The point, however, was that holding out can kill the other team’s interest in trading for a player who has established himself as a potential contract problem. Bennett played at a Pro Bowl level in 2014 and wants to be paid at a higher level, which is not unreasonable, just unlikely, at least by the Bears at this point. And GM Ryan Pace is in no hurry in his first year to be viewed as someone who caves to pressure when he holds the current leverage.

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

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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.