Bears

Market, Phillips' history could hold up Lovie extension

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Market, Phillips' history could hold up Lovie extension

Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011
9:01 AM
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

A Lovie Smith contract extension is a virtual certainty if the Bears advance to the NFC Championship game with a win over the Seattle Seahawks. It becomes a virtual lock if they reach a second Super Bowl in four years under Smith. The only real question sets up as when. Along with the obvious, how much.

Two things will hold it up, however.

The first is the the market. It is one of the reasons why the Bears held off on any substantive look at an extension before this season. Until the collective bargaining situation is resolved, teams wont be rushing into huge financial commitments.

The number of first-time coaches (Leslie Frazier, Jason Garrett, Jim Harbaugh, Ron Rivera) is generally in line with that, with Harbaughs deal at 5 million per year a bit out of the inexpensive pattern. Fold the Dolphins retaining Tony Sparano at a modest NFL money number in here also.

Teams are cutting back financially, not giving out substantial raises as a rule. Smith already is in the 5 million range and no one is bidding against themselves in a rush to bump the pay grade to 7 million-8 million.

Best case for Smith, and for the Bears, would be to add years to Smiths deal but not real dollars, in the manner done with Sparano. The Bears dont have the guilt factor that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross introduced with his flirtation with Harbaugh.

If Smith will extend for 5 million-5.5 million for perhaps two more years, both sides should have what they want, at a figure both can work with: more than most teams are paying at this point but less than Smith might have hoped for in an uncapped coaching year.

Smith doesnt need to sign an extension. Hes got a contract. And hell have little trouble landing his next gig if its not in Chicago.

The Bears dont need to do an extension. Smith has a year to go and the Bears arent likely to collapse in a lame-duck year under him. John Fox suffered a nightmare final year in Carolina and Marvin Lewis went out with another dip in his mercurial run in Cincinnati.

But Fox lost his best defensive player (Julius Peppers), his quarterback (Jake Delhomme) and had one winning season since his Carolina Panthers upset the Bears in the 2005 playoffs.

Lewis tenure was marked by character embarrassments for the franchise, he had two four-win seasons in his last three and, like Fox, just one winning season since 2005.

On the other hand

A problem for Smith and agent Frank Bauer is that extensions havent worked out well for the Bears, including Smiths own after the Super Bowl season. Before this season and since Mike Ditka, the Bears had never reached the playoffs after giving a coach an extension.

And significantly perhaps, President Ted Phillips has been intimately involved in all of the recent ones. As a finance guy, he will not be in any rush to extend a pattern that he has seen produce little, particularly when Smith has little real leverage in terms of options (hes still under contract) and market conditions.

And there is the matter of Phillips particular experiences:

Wannstedt worries

Michael McCaskey gave Dave Wannstedt a multi-year extension after the 1995 season. Wannstedt had just come off a second winning season in three years, a playoff near-miss. The Bears thought a pre-emptive strike was in order to keep Wannstedt from again hitting the market as the hot coach, the way he was when the Bears had to beat the New York Giants to him in 1992.

The Bears immediately nosed over from 9-7 to 7-9, 4-12 and 4-12. The Bears fired Wannstedt and ate the final years of his deal. That experience so scarred the Bears that it led to the blowup of the subsequent Dave McGinnis negotiations. McCaskey wanted a buyout added to McGinnis four-year contract proposal, allowing the Bears an out after two years. (Theres more to the story but suffice it to say that McGinnis didnt walk because of any premature press release).

Jauron jolt

After Dick Jaurons 13-3 high-water mark in 2001, the Bears were forced by market practice to extend Jauron with a year remaining on his contract. It was a negotiation filled with severe acrimony as neither Phillips nor Jerry Angelo wanted the extended presence of a coach they had no real role in hiring.

Jauron got his extension and the Bears got an 11-21 record over the next two seasons before Jauron was jettisoned. Keeping Jauron hadnt been Phillips choice; paying his final years wasnt a positive on the balance sheet either.
Smith struggle
Phillips and the Bears dallied in extending Smith the first time, when they had the NFLs lowest-paid coach with time on his contract and willing to extend for a reasonable raise. Then Smith went to a Super Bowl and the price went dramatically up.

The extension was done and Smith was in the 5-million pay class. The trouble is that the Bears were two games under .500 with zero playoff appearances in the first three years after Smiths extension.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Bears, Matt Nagy working at work-rest balance equation to pull back from annual injury abyss

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USA TODAY

Bears, Matt Nagy working at work-rest balance equation to pull back from annual injury abyss

The Bears are at rest right now. The weeks between the end of the final minicamp and the start of the “season” that runs from the start of training camp through the final game represent the last time most if not all players will be truly 100 percent until early 2019.

In not too many days the Bears will begin their training camp, upshifting the pace, depth and urgency of formation of the 2018 team. Along with that comes the annual dilemma, not unique to the Bears, of balancing practice and strength training to achieve the football maximum while simultaneously staying within a plan calculated to minimize what has become a Bears curse since the departure of the Lovie Smith staff:

Injuries.

Injuries not confined to camp and practices, but also to creating a landscape that results in minimizing injuries throughout the season. And it is a complex equation that the Bears are trying to balance, one that reaches beyond football and involves complicated factors.

Matt Nagy is putting a small fingerprint of his own, instituting an 8:15 a.m. start time for the vast majority of Bourbonnais practices, “to keep guys out of the heat for the most part,” Nagy said.

Practice limitations have been mandated by virtue of collective bargaining agreements. The quirk for the Bears has been that as practice intensity has been legislated downward, injury totals (using players on IR as an apples-to-apples measure) have risen. The debate then has gone to whether lessened practices in fact saves players or ironically results in more injuries in games because players have not been sufficiently hardened for the intensity spike that games are.

Along with that is the need to truly learn schemes and plays in live action.

“I think football is a game, like many games, that you have to get calloused to,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said during minicamp. “It’s like when we go out the first day of training camp with pads on, and guys are hitting a little bit. You’re going to be taken aback and get mad that the guy just hit you too hard. But then by a week or two later, you’re getting hit like that and don’t even realize it. You gotta get calloused.

“So I do believe, even though you couldn’t prove it objectively or quantify it, I do believe that it’s a problem.”

Do the Bears need to rest more?

Nagy has seen the value of rest. Andy Reid, the head coach when Nagy worked in Philadelphia and Kansas City, is a lofty 16-3 in games after off-weeks during his coaching career. Last year his Chiefs did lose a road game post-bye, but Reid was 4-0 in Kansas City’s other games coming off more than the normal six days between games.

Other than the Bears, the five teams with the greatest number of schedule-created off days in the 2017 season appeared to put the time to good use:

Team Off days 2017 record (*playoffs)
Kansas City 12 10-6*
Buffalo 8 9-7*
Chicago 8 5-11
San Diego 8 9-7
Philadelphia 7 13-3*

A case can be made that recovery days are often as important as the effort days, that athletes perform better after their bodies have had even a brief window to heal. Coaches, too. As one Tour de France cyclist told this writer, people go too hard on the easy days, so they don’t fully recover, and too easy on the hard days.

Two-a-day, padded full-go practices were once the norm. Now consecutive padded practices don’t happen in-season, and even in camp, the objective is not as it once was, to weed out, but to develop. “I think back in the day you could say that it was ‘super-hard,’” Nagy said. “Now I’m not sure you’d consider it ‘super-hard.’”

The correlation between rest and results is far from exact. Marc Trestman was adamant about players getting off their feet after practices, and yet few teams sustained the level of injury, particularly on defense, that his Bears did. Lovie Smith’s practices were in the heat of the days, camp and other, with occasional night practices as prep for night games.

Year Coach Camp practice Year-end IR
2012 Lovie Smith 2/2:30 p.m., 7 p.m. (three) 6
2013-14 Marc Trestman 9 a.m., 3:15 p.m. (three) 6, 10
2015-17 John Fox 9:35/11:15 a.m. 12, 21, 19

Apart from any empirical or other scientific information, anecdotal evidence suggests that rest is a significant factor in influencing outcomes. The most elementary casual indicator is the importance teams, coaches and players universally assign to in-season off-weeks. The break period is utilized for self-scouting, which is going on constantly anyway, but also for getting healthy.

If the cluster of a few days off (players are routinely given the off-weekend plus the preceding day or two to themselves) has some demonstrable physical benefits, then any structuring of normal weeks to build in recovery time stands to reason as a step toward healing during a 17-week stretch that leaves no one completely healthy.

But it’s not that simple, particularly in-season. “They’ll have off on Monday, then be back on Tuesday,” Nagy said. “And with the game-planning, you have to build that in, obviously.”

Positive offseason

At the risk of installing a jinx here, the Bears came through the offseason program without apparent severe injuries, and with key players (Leonard Floyd, Kyle Long, Allen Robinson) being brought along conservatively in their returns from ’17 season-ending injuries. At the same time, the requisite work was put in installing a new offense and reigniting a returning defense.

Training camp and preseason now are next-level intensity, and the Bears lost offensive linemen Eric Kush and Jordan Morgan, receiver Cam Meredith and long snapper Pat Scales in the time frame between the start of camp and the start of the regular season.

The objective moves to another level of managing the balance between preserving bodies for when it matters and getting done the work that has to be covered. Some of that was accomplished with some understandings of historical perspectives.

“I told the guys the analogy the other day, the history of training camp in the NFL where there was no such thing as OTA’s years ago,” Fangio said. “But years ago there were six preseason games and two-a-days for all that time. Then it went down to four preseason games and two-a-day’s. And when I say ‘two-a-days,’ they were two-a-days several days in a row.

“Now we’re to one-a-day’s with some legislated days off in there. These [offseason] practices are those practices that we’re missing that teams from the past had gotten. We view them as very, very important, and our guys have had good focus. So we’re working on the same stuff we always have, but I try to tell them that this isn’t an ‘OTA practice;’ this is a training camp for the guys of yesteryear without pads on.”

Tarik Cohen named to NFL.com's All-Under-25 Team

Tarik Cohen named to NFL.com's All-Under-25 Team

The Chicago Bears are entering 2018 with one of the best young backfields in the NFL. The combination of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen will give defenses nightmares all season long, especially when both players are on the field at the same time. Howard brings a physical and grinding running style while Cohen can take it the distance from anywhere on the field.

Cohen's field-flipping ability makes him especially dangerous in the return game. He's so dangerous, in fact, that he was named to NFL.com's All-Under-25 Team as a returner.

Cohen contributed in every which way for the Bears in 2017, bringing an explosive element to Chicago's run game, pass game and return game. He finished in the top 10 in punt-return and kick-return average.

Cohen ended his rookie season with 87 carries for 370 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. He added 53 catches for 353 yards and one touchdown as a receiver. He gained 272 yards and a touchdown on punt returns and 583 more on kick returns, bringing his season totals to 1,583 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns.

First-year coach Matt Nagy has been smitten with Cohen since the offseason workouts began. He's expected to use the second-year back a lot more than John Fox and Dowell Loggains did in 2017 which should give the 'human joystick' even more opportunities to make the kind of plays that will make him one of the NFL's most feared offensive weapons.