With Matt Forte's exit, what will Bears do with Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett?


With Matt Forte's exit, what will Bears do with Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett?

A couple of weeks back, we detailed the offseason schedule in which Ryan Pace & Co. need to finalize answers on their offseason checklist, well before they focus on their second draft. The questions circled particularly around three offensive weapons: free agents Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery, and outspoken Pro Bowl-caliber tight end Martellus Bennett.

[MORE: Replacing Matt Forte? Good luck, Bears]

The Bears general manager made his official call on Forte's future Friday, and it won't take long to learn how they feel about Jeffery. The overriding belief is they won't let a homegrown guy who'd be the best wide receiver in free agency to even hit the market. We could find out as soon as Tuesday, the first day of a two-week window in which they can place the franchise tag on their 2012 second round draft choice. There's a belief Pace is aiming to work out a long-term deal with Jeffery, with his participation in just nine games this past season (only seven of which he was truly a factor) due to leg injuries was an aberration, not a definition. But Tuesday allows them to lock him in for at least 2016 if a multi-year agreement proves elusive. If that tag doesn't happen, however, it's a clear sign there are management concerns that could be bigger than health.

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Then there's Bennett. He's as productive a tight end as the Bears have had in his first three seasons here after signing a four-year, $20 million deal in 2013. He's played through a lot of physical issues, so his toughness shouldn't be questioned even though some wonder about focus during the course of game week. He made renegotiation statements (despite having new bosses) by staying away from non-mandatory Organized Team Activities last spring. We'll soon find out how that outspokenness sits with this regime, and whether the catch machine outweighs the quote machine. If they think a holdout looms, he'll be shopped, starting three weeks from Sunday (if not sooner) when a three-day window begins for teams to negotiate with representatives for free agents who'll hit the market Wednesday, March 9. And while Zach Miller finally stayed healthy and lived up to his potential, can his injury history be trusted, and just, exactly, how much will he be asking for as he also heads into free agency? If they commit to Miller and trade or cut Bennett, figure they'll need another solid tight end on standby.

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Rob Gronkowski 'highly unlikely' to play Sunday against the Bears

Sunday's game against Tom Brady and the Patriots will be a tough test for the Bears, but it looks like they're going to receive a big break.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski didn't travel with the Patriots to Chicago and is "highly unlikely" to play Sunday.

Avoiding Gronkowski, who is one of Brady's favorite targets, would be a huge break for the Bears' defense. In six games this season, the tight end has 26 receptions for 405 yards and a touchdown; in 14 games last season, Gronkowski had 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns.

Gronkowski has not officially been ruled out yet, though time is running out for the Patriots to make a decision.

Meanwhile, Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday despite dealing with an ankle injury. Between having Mack on the field and Gronkowski off of it, good news keeps coming for the Bears' defense.

Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

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Final thoughts: Cody Parkey quickly moves on from missed game-winning kick

There’s, probably, only one position in sports that can match the you-had-one-job scrutiny of a placekicker attempting a critical field goal late in a football game. As in: If you make the kick, it was expected; if you miss it, well, you didn’t do the one thing you were brought on to do. 

The comparison here is a closer in baseball. The expectation is whoever is called upon with a one-to-three-run lead in the ninth inning will convert the save and win his team the game. 

But when a closer blows a save and is in the spotlight during baseball’s regular season, there’s always a game the next day or, at worst, in two days. The immediacy and pace of a Major League Baseball team’s schedule lends itself to closers having to “flush” a bad outing and move on to the next one, since it might be tomorrow. 

For Bears kicker Cody Parkey, though, he’s had to wait a week until he gets his next “meaningful” chance at making a field goal after missing a game-winning 53-yard attempt last weekend against the Miami Dolphins. But moving on from a critical missed kick has never, and is not, a problem for the fifth-year veteran. 

“(It takes) five minutes,” Parkey said. “You kick the ball, and if it doesn’t go in you’re not going to sit there and cry on the field, you’re going to continue to move on with your life. I don’t think there’s really much to it other than knowing you’re going to have to kick another one sometime throughout the season, next game, in the next week, you never know. You stay ready so you’ll be ready for the next week.”

Not allowing those missed kicks to fester is an important trait for a placekicker to possess. What helps Parkey quickly work through his misses is focusing on having a good week of kicking in practice, and also an even-keel mindset that’s been instilled in him since a young age. 

“I think I’ve always been pretty mellow,” Parkey said. “At a young age, my coaches told me never let the highs get to high, never let the lows get too low. And I’ve kind of taken that to heart. If I miss a game winner, make a game winner, I’m going to have the same demeanor. I’m just going to be super chill and knowing it’s a game, it’s supposed to be fun, we’re supposed to go out there and try our best. I put in a lot of work and I try my best on the field.”

That’s something, too, that special teams coach Chris Tabor sees in Parkey. 

“He's always been like that,” Tabor said. “He hit a good ball, his line was just off. In his career going in he was 7-of-8 over 50 yards. I'll be honest with you, I thought he was going to make it. And next time we have that situation, I know he will make it.” 

Age is just a number

Sunday will mark the 6th time in Tom Brady’s career that the 41-year-old has faced a head coach younger than him, but the first time it’ll be a coach other than Miami’s Adam Gase (who’s 40). Brady is 3-2 against Gase’s Dophins. 

Matt Nagy, meanwhile, is also 40. Brady just missed playing Kyle Shanahan (38) and Sean McVay (32), facing the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams in 2016, a year before both those youthful coaches were hired. 

Meanwhile, the youngest player on the Bears — 21-year-old Roquan Smith — was three years old when Brady made his unassuming NFL debut on Nov. 23, 2000. 

They said it

A couple of amusing one-liners out of Halas Hall this week…

Nagy, when it was brought to his attention that Mitch Trubisky (105.6) has a better passer rating than Brady (98.2), chuckled: “You want to say that one more time?” 

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, when asked if he’d ever heard of “Baby Gronk” Adam Shaheen: “(long pause)… Sometimes.”