Bears

Upon further review: Bears handling of Bennett, Forte warrants watching

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Upon further review: Bears handling of Bennett, Forte warrants watching

Looking a little deeper at the contract situations of Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett...

The situations are hugely significant, given that the two players represented 16 of the Bears’ 38 touchdowns and 53 percent of the team’s yardage on offense in 2014. They also involve not only the players, but also the directions anticipated in the 2015 Bears offense.

By way of perspective, first:

Understand that the matter of contracts are anything but simple, much more complicated than just declaring, “you’ve got a contract, you have to honor it.” The problem with that, as Brian Urlacher once correctly noted, when teams want (read: “demand”) a player to take a pay cut, the public rarely applies that dictum to teams, only when a player is demanding a pay raise. That’s just the nature of the NFL compensation structure.

[MORE BEARS: Bennett, Forte using different strategies in quest for Bears money]

For whatever reasons, the knee-jerk attitude is that when someone under-performs their pay grade, they can take a hit, but when someone out-performs their contract, an outcry for more money is rare.

Bennett vs. Julius Thomas

So Bennett can be criticized, albeit not necessarily fairly, for not appearing to honor his contract. “But fair” is a fluid concept where NFL contracts are concerned. Bennett is due a little more than $9 million over the next two seasons; by comparison, Julius Thomas, who caught a combined 108 passes the last two years, vs. Bennett’s 155, will average $9.2 million per year over the next four seasons, roughly twice what Bennett is getting despite production far short of Thomas’.

But here’s a problem.

A more interesting angle on the Bennett and Forte situations is looking at the futures rather than strictly the pasts. Because, ultimately, value is determined by what Bennett and Forte will be worth in the 2015 offense, not only what they were in seasons past.

Every expectation is that the Chicago offense under head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase will swing dramatically back toward the balance that left when Marc Trestman arrived. Bennett’s 155 receptions came in an offense out of balance (nearly 63 percent pass) compared to what Fox and Gase have run previously.

Meaning: Bennett is unlikely to be seeing the 225 “targets” over the next two years that he saw in the last two. By comparison, Thomas saw a combined 149 for 2013-14 with Fox in Denver. Rob Gronkowski averaged 9.0 targets per game over the past two seasons; Bennett averaged 7.0 even with the skewed offense. Bennett's rate of usage is likely to dip a bit.

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

And the Bears did not use the No. 7 overall pick of this year’s draft on a wide receiver with the intention of increasing use of the tight end.

Figuring Forte

As mentioned previously, one expectation is that the Bears will add a year to Forte’s contract, which expires after 2015, giving him the always-coveted cash-in-hand while at the same time lowering their cap hit.

Two considerations here, one future, one past:

While Bennett’s use might be expected to decline a bit for 2015, Forte’s might not. The return to better balance means more work for running backs. All of the carries and targets aren’t planned to be Forte’s; the Bears used a fourth-round pick for running back Jeremy Langford for more than special teams.

But Forte is the lead dog in the Bears’ backfield and the fact that he turns 30 in December projects as a non-serious issue. Few Bears have put as much planning and effort into their own offseason programs as Forte has, reminiscent of Walter Payton and his “hill.”

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

Coincidentally perhaps, Forte stands second to only Payton in nearly all significant running-back franchise numbers. And Payton, with more than 300 carries in all 10 of his final non-strike seasons, put up 2,000-yard combined yardage seasons at ages 30 and 31.

The Bears also have a quiet tradition of taking care of distinguished veterans with late-career contract tweaks. Urlacher got one; so did Lance Briggs; so did Roberto Garza.

How GM Ryan Pace and new contract chief Joey Laine go forward with veterans will not be lost in the locker room, either.

Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7

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USA TODAY

Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7

The Bears were not at their best against the New England Patriots on Sunday. They made plenty of mistakes on all three phases and gave Tom Brady too many opportunities to control the game.

It wasn’t all bad from Chicago, though. Trey Burton emerged as a new favorite weapon of Mitchell Trubisky, and the tight end was the Bears’ highest-graded player in the game by Pro Football Focus.

Burton had a career high 11 targets, nine catches and 126 yards with a touchdown, giving Trubisky a 144.7 passer rating when targeting his top tight end.

Seven of Burton’s targets and six of his catches traveled 10 or more yards in the air, according to PFF.

Defensively, safety Adrian Amos led the pack with a 74.6 overall grade. He did not miss a tackle after missing a career-high five last week, and he allowed only one catch for eight yards against the Patriots.

On the bottom of the scale, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd received the second-lowest grade of his career (38.9 overall) for his performance. He did not record any pressure on the quarterback in 13 pass rushing snaps, and he allowed two catches for 13 yards and a touchdown in coverage against running back James White.

Wide receiver Allen Robinson had a career-low grade as well at 44.9 overall. He was clearly limited by his groin injury, targeted five times with one catch for four yards and a dropped pass.

Overall, the Bears were able to stick with one of the top teams in the AFC while also leaving a lot of room for improvement. It’s a step in the right direction from where Chicago was in recent seasons.

NFL Power Rankings Week 8: Jags, Eagles, Bears all see stock fall

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USA Today

NFL Power Rankings Week 8: Jags, Eagles, Bears all see stock fall

Take a look over the NFC landscape and try to find me a team that can compete with the Rams. 

Packers? Held back by Rodgers' knee and Rodgers' coach. Saints? Might not even win their own division. Washington? Does Alex Smith really scare anyone in the playoffs? 

The Rams have one of the easier paths to the Championship Round/Super Bowl that we've seen in some time. Will it likely stay that way? Probably not. But there's a difference between parity and mediocrity and right now the NFC is toeing the line HARD. 

Outside the NFC's "elite", how did your team do this week? 

You can take a look here and see where they landed.