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.

Under Center Podcast: What does it take to win a Super Bowl with David Diehl?

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USA Today

Under Center Podcast: What does it take to win a Super Bowl with David Diehl?

Host Laurence Holmes discusses what does it take for a team to win a Super Bowl with Chicago product and 2 time Super Bowl champion David Diehl. They also discuss his ties to Chicago, his extensive Jordan collection, and what he would do if he fixed the Bears.

(3:10) - His connection with Brother Rice High School

(6:20) - Blocking for Eli Manning during the Super Bowl runs

(10:27) - Is Mitch close to being a QB you can win a Super Bowl with?

(12:40)- His favorite Bears of all time

(14:30) - Jordan collection

Listen to the full episode in the embeded player below:

Under Center Podcast

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Is Marcus Mariota the most logical QB target for the Bears?

Is Marcus Mariota the most logical QB target for the Bears?

Bears fans are sick and tired of the quarterback conversation surrounding this team as we enter the most important two month stretch of the offseason. My Twitter timeline (and vicious replies) are evidence of that. 

Duly noted.

That said, it's an unavoidable truth that GM Ryan Pace has no choice but to do something at quarterback in free agency or the NFL draft. The most diehard Mitch Trubisky fan has to admit that. The former second overall pick hasn't developed into a franchise player through three seasons under center, and while the optimist would argue there's still time for him to become that guy, the realist is who must prevail when it comes to roster construction.

Marcus Mariota may be the perfect compromise. He doesn't have a resume that will immediately threaten Trubisky in 2020, but his sneaky upside combined with his youth and overall skill set is an ideal combination that could make him a long-term answer if Trubisky fails in the short-term.

According to Sports Illustrated, Chicago — and coach Matt Nagy — would be an ideal destination for Mariota, even if there's an inherent conflict of interest because both Mariota and Trubisky are represented by the same agent.

There are coaches out there—cough, Chicago, cough—who could slide him in easily under the guise that Mariota is a high-quality backup and develop him into a weapon under center who could take over when the starter falters.

Mariota, like Trubisky, hasn't lived up to the hype that he entered the NFL with back in 2015 when he was the second overall pick of the Titans. He's logged 61 starts and a career record of 29-32. He's completed just under 63% of his 1,110 career pass attempts and has 76 touchdown passes to 44 interceptions.

His stat sheet isn't impressive. His on-field play, at times, hasn't been, either. But he'd be an ideal reclamation project that the Bears can sell as the perfect backup even if the hope is for him to emerge as a starter.

There’s an advantage for QB-needy teams here who don’t want to deal with the public courting of Tom Brady, who don’t want to sacrifice mobility by signing Philip Rivers, who don’t want to roll the dice on every snap by signing Jameis Winston, and who don’t have the trade capital or cap space to go after someone like Nick Foles or Derek Carr.

Chicago won't be able to get into a bidding war for the bigger names like Tom Brady or even Teddy Bridgewater because of their limited cap space. Mariota won't command nearly as much to sign, and he's likely to get nothing more than a one-year commitment from a team hoping he can be like the guy who replaced him, Ryan Tannehill.

Of all the quarterbacks who've been pegged as a possible option for the Bears, Mariota feels like the most logical and, more importantly, cheaper targets who realistically could be lining up as Chicago's starter by Week 4 of the 2020 season.