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


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.

Mitch Trubisky jersey sales trending in right direction

Mitch Trubisky jersey sales trending in right direction

Positive press about the Chicago Bears' offseason is having a strong impact on the jersey sales for the team's highest-profile player, Mitch Trubisky.

According to Dick's Sporting Goods, Trubisky's No. 10 is the fifth-most popular jersey among offensive players over the last 30 days. He's No. 6 among all players, regardless of position.

The Bears' offseason has been full of superlatives since their aggressive approach to free agency. The signings of Allen Robinson, Trey Burton and Taylor Gabriel put the spotlight on Trubisky and the potentially surging passing game. The second-round selection of Anthony Miller and word of Kevin White's offseason emergence has turned positive momentum into higher-than-anticipated expectations for Trubisky this season.

For Chicago to have any chance at meeting those expectations, Trubisky, who's entering his first full season as a starter with a new head coach and offensive system, has to thrive. Fans must be confident that he will, considering the investment they're making in his jersey.

Trubisky ended his rookie season with four wins in 12 starts, throwing for 2,193 yards with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. He completed 59.4 percent of his passes. He should have a much more productive season in 2018 with his new arsenal of skill players and an innovative coaching staff, led by coach Matt Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich.

These four Bears will be featured on 'Meet the Rookies' series

These four Bears will be featured on 'Meet the Rookies' series

The Chicago Bears will kick off the fourth season of "Meet the Rookies" on June 25, a series that profiles four of the team's 2018 draft picks for a behind-the-scenes look at their journey to the NFL.

The four-episode series will air on at 7:00 p.m from June 25 - 28 and will feature one rookie per night. 

Monday's episode will cover the Bears' first-round pick, Roquan Smith. Selected with the eighth-overall pick, Smith is expected to become an instant-impact player on defense. He's expected to make an impact off the field, too, as a high-character leader. Smith's linebacker-mate Joel Iyiegbuniwe is the focus of Tuesday's episode, with Anthony Miller (Wednesday) and James Daniels (Thursday) rounding out Season 4.

For a deeper dive into what's in store in "Meet the Rookies," check out this description.