Since Ian Scott is a defensive tackle and a decent one at that, one might think that bringing back the free-agent-to-be would be a priority for the Chicago Bears this offseason. He has proven to be a force to be reckoned with defending the run, something the Monsters of the Midway were not able to do at all in a 29-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts earlier this month in Super Bowl XLI. But with Smith's scheme predicated on getting pressure from the front four on passing downs, Scott may very well have played his last game for the Bears.
A fourth-round selection in the 2003 NFL Draft out of Florida, Scott is another in a long line of capable defenders discovered by GM Jerry Angelo at a bargain price. He was on the books for just $500,000 this past season, but he is now an unrestricted free agent and will assuredly receive a nice bump in pay. Whether that hefty raise comes from the Bears remains to be seen.
Scott lost his starting job to Tank Johnson early in the 2006 season and was even deactivated for the Week 5 matchup with Buffalo. The organization classified the action simply as a "coach's decision" because Scott had not been listed on the injury report at any time leading up to the game. The move was surprising since Scott, a former high school valedictorian, seemingly never had any character issues.
Not one to complain, Scott went about his business and continued to shine in run defense. But what he lacks is the ability to rush the passer, an essential element of Smith's defense. The Bears do very little blitzing with linebackers and safeties, so if the front four can't get after the quarterback effectively, big plays in the passing game usually result.
Nevertheless, Smith seemed pleased with Scott's play and praised him for the progress he had made.
"Ian Scott has really played well the last couple weeks, just solid games," Smith said after the Week 15 win over Tampa Bay in which Scott recovered a crucial fumble in overtime. "His overall play has really improved, and we really needed him to come around like that."
But the Bears suddenly went from deep to depleted on the defensive line in a matter of weeks. All-Pro Tommie Harris tore his left hamstring in Week 13 against Minnesota and missed the rest of the season on injured reserve. Shortly thereafter, Johnson ran afoul of the law and was deactivated for Week 15 against the Bucanneers before being suspended for Week 16 versus the Lions.
Scott was re-inserted into the starting lineup and again received some positive remarks publicly from his head coach.
"We have been pleased with how they played," Smith said about his defensive line after escaping Detroit with a nail-biting win. "Ian Scott has really elevated his game. Antonio Garay gave us good plays. Israel Idonije, [too]. So we have some options inside, but in the end we'll always play the best players."
If you read into those comments, Smith apparently doesn't feel Scott is one of said best players and would not have been a major contributor had Harris and Johnson been available.
Heading into the 2007 season, the Bears are currently about $17 million under the projected $109 million salary cap. The organization designated linebacker Lance Briggs as its franchise player on Friday, guaranteeing him a one-year tender offer of $7.2 million. That leaves about $10 million for the team to spend on free agents and the upcoming draft class, but there's a good possibility that Scott is not in the team's future.
Harris is expected to make a full recovery before next season and will re-join Johnson atop the depth chart. Idonije is a very valuable member of the defense because he can play both end and tackle, and he is signed through 2009 after being rewarded with a new contract last offseason. The Bears had high hopes for third-rounder Dusty Dvoracek before losing the rookie for the year due to a foot injury, but he will most certainly be in the mix very soon.
Plainly speaking, there just may not be enough room - or money leftover - to bring Scott back.
But this should be a no-hard-feelings situation for both parties. Run-stuffing defensive tackles are precious commodities in today's NFL, so Scott will probably be rewarded handsomely in free agency. The Bears can then move on with younger and more cost-effective players with higher ceilings.
These situations are seldom win-win, but that appears to be the case with Scott and the Bears.