A 1-3 record at home does not have those in attendance doing a happy dance anytime soon, but the team has broken even (3-3 record) on the road. With a lot of money invested in the offense, particularly quarterback Jay Cutler and split end Brandon Marshall, the front office was expecting a better bang for their buck than having that unit rank 19th in the league with just 215 points on the board after 10 contests.
The defense has been equally ineffective, and quite frankly, they have been bad, ever since unceremoniously dumping several veterans, including heart-and-soul leader Brian Urlacher, over the last few years. Their current motley crew has allowed 290 points. Only the equally struggling Carolina Panthers (300) have seen opponents put up more points.
What first began as whispers in the locker room during the preseason has now turned into the obvious – Marc Trestman and staff have no clue on how to stem the tide of losses and are having difficulties keeping the locker room quiet. The offensive line complains about the blocking scheme, the receivers fret over limited targeted tosses, the backfield is frustrated about a line that fail to clear out rush lanes. Through it all, overpriced, so-called field general Jay Cutler sits back and “plays the fiddle,” much like Nero while Rome was burning.
Tension between Cutler and his long-time favorite target, Brandon Marshall, spilled over into the media a month back. Marshall, who has claimed the title first held by Terrell Owens (the mouth that bored), has even taken on the social media, recently challenging a Lions fan to fight him for $25,000, if he would dare to step into the ring vs. the receiver.
The Lions fan had reminded Marshall of his comment last November when he referred to the Lions as “little brother” of the Chicago Bears, in addition to insulting the receiver’s mother. Marshall responded by challenging the fan to step into the ring with him for $5,000, later posting on Twitter that if he lost, he’d give up another $10,000. But if Marshall won, the fan would have to serve 100 hours at an orphanage, the receiver said.
The Lions fan later upped the ante, saying that if Marshall made the bet $25,000, the two could fight in Detroit. After agreeing to the bet, Marshall added: “And you have to apologize to my mom.” The fan didn’t respond immediately. So Marshall tweeted: “Deal or no deal bro? This is your chance to back up your talk and make 25k.”
The fan later responded, saying the fight could take place if the 3-6 Bears won three more games. He temporarily made his Twitter account private, before turning it back public.
Throughout the exchange, the Lions fan called Marshall “Brandy.” Marshall later took to Twitter as word of the exchange gained steam.
Now, if only the coaches can turn on that steam when the offense steps on to the playing field. The man assigned to “right the ship,” Phil Emery, was brought on board as general manager in 2012. He soon handed Lovie Smith his walking papers and headed north to Canada to bring in Montreal hotshot mentor Marc Trestman. Emery decided not to extend veteran contracts and outside of last year’s foray into the free agent market was pretty silent in that course of action during his first two years at the helm.
Perhaps his biggest mistake was where Emery decided to dole out the McCaskey Money Fund. He signed Cutler to a seven-year contract worth $126.7 million in January 2013, with $38 million becoming fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2014 league year. To make matters worse, the QB’s 2016 salary is guaranteed for injury upon signing with $10 million becoming fully guaranteed on the third day of the 2015 league year and the remaining $6 million becoming fully guaranteed in 2016.
Cutler’s contract contains roster bonuses from 2017 through 2020 that total $2.5 million. Each week that Cutler is active, he will earn $156,250 of that roster bonus. If Cutler fails to attend offseason workouts his salary will be reduced by $500,000. In March 2014, Cutler converted $5 million of his 2014 base salary into a signing bonus. The move created $4 million in 2014 salary cap space.
With that albatross of a contract hanging over them for the next few years, the Bears can ill afford to trade or let the quarterback go. Cutting him after this season will result in their 2015 salary cap taking a $43 million hit, but they do save $24.5 million. Keeping him until after 2015 will cost the team $19.5 million in dead pool money. 2016 is the first chance they can get out of the final $78.6 million they will owe him.
Even though the 2015 NFL salary cap is expected to exceed $140 million, the Bears are already obligated to close to $107 million of that figure. Eight players have salaries that exceed $5 million next season, lead by Cutler ($16.5 million cap number), defensive end Jared Allen ($12.5M), Marshall ($9.575M), tailback Matt Forte ($8.8M), guard/tackle Jermon Bushrod ($8.05M), defensive lineman Lamarr Houston ($6.99M), tight end Martellus Bennett ($6.125M) and aging cornerback Tim Jennings ($6.65M).
While they are likely stuck with Cutler, Marshall continues to contribute some on the field, grabbing 49 of 86 targeted passes and reaching the end zone eight times this year, but it is clear that Alshon Jeffrey has surpassed him as the Bears’ No. 1 receiver. The offense has gotten great value from their tight end, with Bennett snatching 53 of 76 balls tossed his way by Cutler. Forte has 67 grabs and has gained 733 yards rushing, but has had run-ins over contract issues with the front office that left him with a bitter taste.
Houston was supposed to be the pulse of the defensive front, a unit that currently ranks 15th in stopping the run. He is no longer available to help them this year, as he was placed on injured reserve when he suffered a knee ACL tear in Week 8 vs. the Patriots. Before the injury, he was deemed a big free agent bust, delivering just 11 tackles and one sack in eight starting assignments. Cutting their losses will save the Bears over $3 million next year, but they will also have to take a $3.96 million cap hit to send Houston packing.
Jared Allen has fared only slightly better than Houston on the field. Regarded as the elite pass rusher in the game entering the season, the Vikings balked at handing Allen the multi-year deal he wanted. He bolted to the Bears, getting $15.5 million guaranteed on a four-year deal that pays out $32 million during the life of the contract. He can void the deal after the 2016 season, if he records at least 12 sacks in the 2014-2015 campaigns.
That appears unlikely to happen, based on his performance so far. He has only 2.5 sacks and one forced fumble, but does rank fourth on the team with 37 tackles this season. With close to half of his deal guaranteed, the Bears would be foolish to let him walk after the season, especially since it will result in a $12.5 million cap charge for 2015.
The team will likely let both aging cornerbacks, Jennings and Charles Tillman, currently on injured reserve, find another home or head to retirement after the season. Tillman has stated he will retire if he is not in a Bears uniform, but with 2014 Kyle Fuller playing well before his recent injury, it is a forgone conclusion that ole Charles will be in a rocking chair on his porch back home in Louisiana next season. Cutting Jennings will save $1.4 in cap money, but the dead pool charge will be $6.65 million.
With all that money going to aging players or those with less than spectacular production, the Bears are still “sitting pretty” if they decide to jump all the way into the 2015 free agent pool. Currently, they have at least $35 million available, with more funds to come through retirement and the waiver wire.
The current team is carrying $17,390,868 in “dead pool” money, with those funds being doled out to 47 players. Those funds range from carrying $8.367 million after they let Julius Peppers leave after the 2013 season, to a low of just $250 for Tana Patrick. Nine former Bears are on the books for at least $500K, with Michael Bush’s numbers being $2 million, $908K to offensive tackle Gabe Carimi, $800K to former punter Adam Podlesh and $730K to receiver Domenik Hixon at the top of that list.
What the Chicago ownership needs to decide is if the current hierarchy will be around to make those needed moves. Emery will probably survive at least one more tour, but the same can’t be said about Marc Trestman and his staff. With six games left to play, nothing short of a miracle run to a wild card berth can possibly save the 2014 regime.
BEARS LEAGUE RANKINGS IN RECENT YEARS
OBSERVING FROM THE SIDELINES
Injured reserve…Charles Tillman (triceps), Zach Miller (foot), Lamarr Houston (knee) and Matt Slauson (pectoral).
Current Record…4-6 (3-3 vs. the NFC/1-3 vs. the AFC)…215 PF/290 PA
Team Needs…1. Outside Linebacker; 2.Strong Safety; 3. Right Offensive Tackle; 4. Left Offensive Guard; 5. Offensive Center; 6. Defensive End; 7. Cornerback; 8. Wide Receiver; 9. Punt and Kicking Specialists.
Team 2014 Cap Numbers…$130,937,946 (Top 51: $118,525,417)…Offense: $61,008,141… Defense: $37,113,610…Special: $3,616,327.
Potential 2015 Free Agents (Player/Current Salary)…Unrestricted: outside linebacker Lance Briggs ($6,500,000); offensive tackle Eben Britton ($536,471); long snapper Jeremy Cain ($570,000); quarterback Jimmy Clausen (($645,000); safety Christopher Conte (1,564,400); center Brian De La Puente ($795,000); center Roberto Garza ($1,500,000); safety Danny McCray ($630,938); cornerback Sherrick McManis ($635,000); tight end Zach Miller ($373,000); wide receiver Josh Morgan ($3,300,000); defensive tackle Stephen Paea ($1,172,787); H-back Dante Rosario ($570,000); defensive end Trevor Scott ($570,000); inside linebacker Darryl Sharpton ($948,824); cornerback Charles Tillman ($3,050,000); inside linebacker D.J. Williams ($1,291,875)…Restricted: safety Trevor Coston ($395,000)…Exclusive Rights: tight end Blake Annen ($197,647); offensive guard Ryan Groy ($172,941).
Chicago is currently ranked 13th in the NFL with 3,608 yards in total offense, taking the 10th spot with 2,595 aerial yards, but rank only 20th with 1,013 yards on the ground. The team’s total of 215 points is tied for 19th, but they have thrown 12 interceptions, tied for fourth worst in the NFL, along with being tied for eighth-worst with eight fumbles.
Quarterback…#6-Jay Cutler; #8-Jimmy Clausen…Practice Squad #12-David Fales.
Even if they wanted to part ways with starter Jay Cutler, the Bears’ hands are tied by the massive contract he signed after Phil Emery took over as general manager. Cutler’s total deal is worth $126.7 million over the seven-year term, having earned $38.47 million to date. Cutting the quarterback after this season will impact the cap to the tune of $43 million, a figure than even the most quarterback-needy team will balk at taking a deal with the Bears.
Cutler has completed 250 of 373 passes (67.0 percent) for 2,695 yards, 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions through 10 games this season. The Bears are 10th in the league with an average of 259.5 aerial yards per game. While he has produced just four victories this season, with the culprit being his interception total (second-highest in the league, with Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles the only passer with more picks – 14), Cutler is currently fifth in the NFL in pass completion percentage, tied for sixth in touchdown passes, seventh in passing yardage and 11th with a quarterback rating of 93.4.
The starting signal caller has had protection issues behind an injury-depleted offensive line. That has seen him get sacked 23 times, tied for eighth-highest in the league, turning the ball over three times via fumbles.
Backing Cutler up was supposed to be Jordan Palmer, younger brother of Arizona’s Carson Palmer, but he was cut by the Bears on Aug. 24 after Jimmy Clausen beat him out for the right to caddy for the former first-rounder out of Vanderbilt. The Carolina castoff has seen just brief action for Chicago this year, hitting on 3 of 9 tosses for 42 yards, but despite those paltry numbers, the staff is pleased with his playing skills. A new coaching staff might consider 2014 rookie David Fales a better option than Clausen next season, as the San Jose State product is currently being stashed on the practice squad.
No matter if the current staff remains intact next year, whoever is coaching the Bears will have this trio to deal with in 2015, as the team has too many pressing needs on the offensive line and at linebacker to use a draft pick for another young passer, especially with Fales still in attendance.
Receivers…Split End #15-Brandon Marshall; #82-Chris Williams…Flanker #17-Alshon Jeffery; #19-Josh Morgan; #10-Marquess Wilson…Tight End #83-Martellus Bennett; #88-Dante Rosario; #84-Blake Annen…Practice Squad WR #11-Josh Bellamy; WR #18-Rashad Lawrence; TE #85-Jacob Maxwell…Injured Reserve TE #86-Zach Miller.
The day of Brandon Marshall serving the Bears as their top receiving target appears to be over, as he’s handed that crown to Alshon Jeffery. The flanker has hauled in 55 of 90 targeted passes (61.11%) for 761 yards (13.8 ypc) and four touchdowns. A big target with great leg drive, Jeffery has totaled 275 yards after making the catch.
Dating back to their days together in Denver, Cutler still favors the physical Marshall inside the red zone, as the split end leads the Bears with eight touchdown grabs, pulling in 49 of 85 targeted balls (56.98%), but he’s lost quite a bit of his elusiveness, picking up just 181 yards after the catch. He makes up for his lack of tackle-breaking skills by collecting 34 first downs among his 49 grabs.
Former All-Pro Santonio Holmes was signed in-season due to injuries suffered by Josh Morgan and Marquess Wilson, but after producing just 67 yards on eight catches, he is again out on the unemployment line. Wilson has a chance to gain valuable playing time as the third receiving option, especially with Morgan still hobbled with shoulder problems. With a $3.3 million price tag next year, Morgan might not return to Chicago in 2015, as his six catches for 47 yards to date do not justify that paycheck.
One recent addition to the roster is former Pro Bowl return specialist Marc Mariani, who has missed the last two seasons due to injuries (broken leg in 2012 and a shoulder injury in 2013). He’s been idle since Tennessee released him in August, but his arrival might mean that Morgan will be out for longer than indicated. Presently, his availability will be with the return unit, possibly replacing Chris Williams in that role.
Look for the Bears to scour the mid rounds for big bodies to add to the receiving unit. One name that comes to mind by the fourth round is Central Michigan speedster Titus Davis, a 6-3 prospect with 4.45 speed. Later in the draft, other big wideouts like Rice’s Kerry Taylor or Connecticut’s Geremy Davis would be much cheaper options than keeping Morgan around.
The Bears were wise to bring Martellus Bennett into the fold, as he’s given Cutler a much-needed big target as a safety valve over the middle. Playing at an All-Pro pace, he’s pulled down 53 of 75 throws (70.67%) for 591 yards, including totaling 283 yards after the catch. He’s reached the end zone five times while posting 28 first downs.
Backup Dante Rosario is more of a move-oriented type, as he lacks the size you look for in a classic tight end. He’s only had 15 balls thrown to him, but made 11 catches in the process. Former college quarterback Blake Annen might be serious competition for Rosario in training camp next year. An effective pass catcher, he’s filling out his 6-5 frame and offers similar ability to Bennett’s. Rosario is an unrestricted free agent next year and with Annen breathing down his neck, a move out of the Windy City is advisable.
Running Backs…#22-Matt Forte; #25-Ka’Deem Carey; #32-Senorise Perry
The Bears handed Forte the fourth-highest contract accorded a running back in the NFL, paying him an average of $7.6 million ($30.4 million total) with $13.78 million guaranteed in 2012, ending what was a very heated battle between the running back and former GM Jerry Angelo in recent years. Forte is pocketing $7.9 million this season and will count $8.8 mil towards the cap in 2015.
Chicago seems to not be in any hurry to get a new deal on the table for their workhorse and Forte might not be too pleased about those current events. He leads the team with 733 yards on 173 carries but has little support behind him, resulting in Chicago ranked 19th in the NFL with an average of 101.3 yards per game on the ground.
With just three touchdown runs and 47 first downs, the front office feels that Forte might be winding down. He’s still a viable option as a receiver coming out of the backfield (leads the team with 67 receptions, having 83 balls targeted to him, for 575 yards and three more scores), but at close to $8.0 million in salary and the team really going nowhere this season, the Bears would be wise to audition rookie Ka’Deem Carey to see if he can step into Forte’s shoes, either as an injury replacement or as the future starter. A horrible performance at the NFL Scouting Combine, compounded by an equally ineffective Pro Day back in Arizona, saw this 2,000-yard rusher slide during the 2014 draft. Carey has touched the ball just 30 times as a ball carrier this season, but has done so at a 4.8-yard average. Ten of his attempts produced first downs. Built similarly to Forte, he’s nowhere near the all-around product the former Tulane star is, as Carey is sorely lacking as a receiver, but does bring good value as a pass protector and cut blocker.
Senorise Perry has yet to touch the ball in the Bears’ backfield and can easily be replaced by a draft prospect. Dante Rosario is usually called upon to block in short yardage situations, but with Forte in the backfield, Chicago prefers a one-back system rather than using a classic fullback to serve as a lead blocker.
With Forte and Carey serving as the big backs, a change of pace speedy ball carrier might be a nice fit late in the draft. Two third-day draft finds that could fill that role are Auburn’s Corey Grant (4.33 speed) and backup Nick Hill (Michigan State; 4.4 in the 40-yard dash). The team could also look to use a late-round pick to add a bulldozer in the backfield, and could bring in a fullback like 260-pound Oklahoma Sooner Aaron Ripkowski to widen the rush lanes for Forte and Carey.
Offensive Line…Left Tackle #74-Jermon Bushrod; #72-Charles Leno; #62-Eben Britton… Left Guard #70-Michael Ola; #78-Ryan Groy…Center #63-Robert Garza; #64-Brian De La Puente…Right Guard #75-Kyle Long; #78-Ryan Groy…Right Tackle #67-Jordan Mills; #72-Charles Leno; #62-Eben Britton…Practice Squad OG #71-Conor Boffeli; OG #78-Antoine McClain; OT #73-Jason Weaver…Injured Reserve OG #58-Matt Slauson.
The Bears’ starting offensive line started all 16 games together in 2013, but right out of the starting gate the 2014 campaign has seen this unit overcome by injuries. The left guard position was supposed to be manned by Matt Slauson, but a torn pectoral muscle has kept him on injured reserve most of the regular schedule. The team brought back Eben Britton after Slauson was sidelined, but he’s currently recovering from an appendectomy. Right tackle Jordan Mills missed the bulk of the preseason action and has had foot and rib injuries that have greatly affected his play this season.
Former New Orleans Saints All-Pro Jermon Bushrod is handling left tackle chores, but has been anything but the Pro Bowler he was while playing in Louisiana. With a cap figure of slightly over $8.0 million for next season, a new front office might not think he’s worth those hefty bucks. Cutting him will see the Bears take a $6.6 million cap hit, saving just $1.45 million in the process, though. However, his running mate on the right side, Mills, looks like the late pick he was on draft day. Michael Ola capably filled in for Mills during the preseason, but with the team playing “musical chairs” with injuries inside, he’s started games at left guard, left tackle and right tackle, leaving just rookie Charles Leno as the only other blocker with tackle experience until Britton is recovered from surgery.
Center Robert Garza has been a mainstay in the middle, but he’s getting close to social security age and the team did secure the services of former Saint Brian De La Puente to replace him. The New Orleans castoff has been relegated to a reserve role, though, as he’s not only giving Garza some relief, but also spelling both starting guards. He’s an unrestricted free agent after the season and could replace Jonathan Goodwin back in Saints camp next year.
Last year’s top pick, Kyle Long, is manning the right guard spot. Ryan Groy was recently elevated from the practice squad to add depth with Britton sidelined, but he played mostly at tackle during his Wisconsin days and there’s a reason he lasted until the end of the draft and toiled on the practice squad for Chicago until being promoted to the active roster. With the team regularly auditioning blockers, it was strange when they did not kick the tires on former Green Bay first-rounder Derek Sherrod when the Packers recently let him go.
This unit has struggled in the past to protect the pocket and with 23 sacks allowed this year, the eighth-highest total in the league, it is obvious the offensive line needs multiple choices in the 2015 draft to bring a much-needed infusion of youth and quality. With over $100 million invested in their quarterback, a few bucks wisely spent now will help save them some potential damages later (need to protect Cutler).
If the Bears opt to address the issues here, the right tackle and center positions will need someone who can quickly step in as a starter. For my money, Florida State’s Cameron Ewing might be the perfect “glass slipper” to protect Cinderella (Cutler), as he has starting experience across the front wall. He’s looked simply sensational in recent weeks, having moved inside to center after Jameis Winston had trouble staying vertical under fierce pass rushes.
Iowa’s Brandon Scherff is the top rated tackle, with most of his experience coming on the left side, but he can easily slide inside in a pinch. He’s a little stiff in the hips and might not be a fit on the right side. The Bears went through that bad process once before, when they tried to convert 2011 first-rounder Gabe Carimi into a right tackle, only to send him to the unemployment line after drafting Mills in 2013.
Outside of South Carolina’s A.J. Cann, there are no guards worth using an early first-round pick on. He might still be around early in Round 2, though, and has proven to be a versatile athlete, earning starting time at all three interior slots for the Gamecocks.
The defensive squad ranks 31st in the NFL, allowing 290 points, as they rank 17th for the most tackles in the league (647), but just 27th with 442 solo hits. Their total of 22 sacks is tied for 17th in the NFL, also ranking 17th with 131 lost yards via those sacks. They tied Jacksonville for 30th place with only 32 passes defended, tying Atlanta, Tennessee and Carolina for 15th with nine interceptions. They caused 13 fumbles, sixth-best in the NFL, but recovered just five of those miscues (tied for 19th)…Their minus-six figure in the give/takeway department is 26th in the league, also ranking 26th with just 14 takeaways, tying for 15th with nine pass thefts and 19th with five fumble recoveries.
Defensive Line…Left End #97-Willie Young; #91-David Bass…Left Tackle #90-Jay Ratliff; #93-Will Sutton…Right Tackle #92-Stephen Paea; #95-Egfo Ferguson…Right End #69-Jared Allen; #76-Trevor Scott; #94-Cornelius Washington…Practice Squad DT #98-Brandon Dunn…Injured Reserve DT #99-Lamarr Houston.
Houston, we have a problem – big bucks doled out to what the Bears hoped would be a dominant front wall, only to see their money foolishly spent on so-called pass rushers that have produced just 22 sacks through the first 10 games on the 2014 schedule. All told, the starting unit is eating up $13,790,156 in cap salary this year, but even with Stephen Paea expected to bolt via free agency in 2015, the remaining starters are on the charts for a cap number of $24,656,666 next season.
A breakdown of that money shows left end Willie Young being the only bargain. The Bears are into the former Lion for $2.7 million this year, which elevates to just under $3.2 million next season. Young has delivered 34 tackles, ranking 11th in the league with a team-high eight sacks for losses of 54 yards. In 46 games before joining the Bears, Young delivered just six sacks and 72 tackles, making his season worthy of Pro Bowl consideration.
The same success can’t be said for right end Jared Allen. One of the most feared pass rushers in the game, Chicago handed the Vikings castoff a four year, $32 million contract last March. The contract contains $15.5 million in fully guaranteed salary, which is comprised of Allen’s 2014 and 2015 base salaries and an $11.5 million roster bonus paid on the 10th day of the 2015 league year. The 2017 season can be voided if Allen has one season of 12 or more sacks in any of the first three years of the contract.
While his base salary is only $3 million this season, it jumps to $12.5 mil in 2015, all being charged to the cap, if the Bears want to part ways with their high-priced signee. To date, they have not received much “bang for the buck,” as Allen has 2.5 sacks and 37 tackles. There is no possible replacement on the current roster if the team does look for someone to take over for Allen in 2015, as Trevor Scott and Cornelius Washington have combined for five tackles as Allen’s understudies and David Bass has one hit playing behind Young on the left side.
Jay Ratliff has stepped into the breach after another big-money target struggled through eight games before hitting the injured reserve list. Ratliff was signed immediately after he was let go by Dallas last year and has served as the club’s starting three-technique ever since. He’s 10th on the team with 23 tackles and third with 3.5 sacks, earning his $2.7 million salary.
He will pull in under $3.2 million next season and should slot into either tackle spot, as Paea is expected to bolt as an unrestricted free agent, saving close to $1.2 million in cap funds. Meanwhile, it’s been a puzzling season for Lamarr Houston, who is on injured reserve after suffering a knee injury in Week Eight vs. the Patriots. Before going on “vacation,” he was playing like he was lying on a beach somewhere. Eleven tackles and one sack was not what Chicago envisioned for the $6.5 million cap numbers they are carrying on him this season. That number increases to $6.99 mil next year.
With rookies Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson not getting much playing time, the team needs to see what these youngsters can offer the rest of the 2014 schedule. With Paea one foot out the door and Houston a candidate to get the boot, the team needs to determine if defensive tackle becomes a major draft priority, or a spot they just bring in a mid-to-late round body or two to fill out depth.
Whether the younger players perform or not, you would think that Chicago wants to add an edge rusher, at the least, especially since few, outside of Young, have had any sort of success pressuring the pocket this season. Small college standout, Lynden Trail-Norfolk State is a quality pass rusher who could still be around in the late round area, but one player they have done a lot of homework on, Missouri’s emerging star, Markus Golden, will likely take a second0round pick to add him to the fold.
Linebacker…Strongside Outside #50-Shea McClellin; #59-Christian Jones…Middle #58-D.J. Williams; #57-Jon Bostic; #53-Darryl Sharpton…Weakside Outside #55-Lance Briggs; #52-Khaseem Greene; #60-DeDe Lattimore.
The end of the 2014 season should see Lance Briggs’ tenure as a Chicago Bear also come to an end, and he has publicly stated that fact. The veteran’s rapidly declining skills have resulted in undrafted rookie Christian Jones picking up extra reps in recent games. Briggs, pulling in a cap number of $6.5 million, has 29 tackles to reward the front office for that hefty paycheck. Khaseem Greene has 17 hits at the rookie minimum. Next season, the fourth-rounder is due just $693K, making him a very affordable option if the team decides to bolt both of their starting outside linebackers after this year.
Shea McClellin might be coming to the end of the line as far as his Bears days are concerned. He failed to make it as a defensive end earlier in his career and the results at strongside linebacker have not been much better, as he’s tallied 21 tackles with one sack. For that effort, he’s paid $2.25 million in 2014. Cutting him saves $741K next year, but also will result in Chicago carrying $1.9 million in dead pool money. Free agent Christian Jones has shown flashes, but many feel his lack of lateral agility makes him a better fit inside.
That is where D.J. Williams currently resides, but with Jon Bostic around, Williams has seen his playing time drastically decrease over the last month. Williams is pulling in a little under $1.3 million and has posted 36 tackles this season before hitting the free agent market for 2015. Bostic will earn $1.074 million next year and has collected 39 tackles, third-best on the team, and he appears to be the team’s MIKE of the future.
With Briggs all but assured of parting ways with the Bears and McClellin going to be a big decision for the front office, outside linebacker is a prime need in the 2015 draft. The team is desperately in need of a playmaker, with Mississippi State’s Benardrick McKinney the big, physical type that can play any of the linebacker spots, a nice fit in Round 1. Shaq Thompson (Washington) is another player with consistent pocket-pressure ability, adding to his resume as a short-yardage runner. Thompson and Greene on the outside in 2015 could give the Bears one of the speediest ball-hawking linebacker tandems in the league.
Secondary…Left Cornerback #26-Tim Jennings; #30-Demontra Hurst…Strong Safety #21-Ryan Mundy; #29-Danny McCray…Free Safety #47-Chris Conte; #45-Brock Vereen…Right Cornerback #23-Kyle Fuller; #27-Sherrick McManus; #39-Al Louis-Jean; #37-Terrence Mitchell…Practice Squad Strong Safety #35-Gary Shamiel…Injured Reserve CB#33-Charles Tillman.
With the man coverage scheme resulting in the Bears ranking 25th in pass defense (allowing an average of 256.4 yards per game), the culprit is their limited amount of big plays. The team is tied for 30th, worst in the league with just 32 passes defended and are tied for 15th with only nine interceptions.
With those paltry numbers, it is safe to say that the secondary is another unit primed for an overhaul, especially at cornerback, where Charles Tillman will either retire or audition for another team next year. Lost this season due to a triceps injury, both Tillman and Tim Jennings have become too “long in the tooth” to stay with the speedy receivers in the league. Jennings is the highest paid defensive back on the team, making $5.25 this year and next. Cutting him means the team takes a $6.65 million cap hit due to escalating bonuses. Jennings has 35 stops with four pass breakups and no thefts in 2014.
Kyle Fuller has been everything the team envisioned when they took him in the first round of the draft. He is second among secondary performers with 39 tackles, picking off three passes while deflecting six others and causing three fumbles. What makes those figures even more impressive is that he’s played through ankle, hip pointer and hand fracture issues in place of Tillman.
The team will need to fill Tillman’s roster spot in the draft, perhaps with an eye towards Jennings’ eventual replacement. Current backups Demontre Hurst (17 tackles), Sherrick McManis (seven hits), Al Louis-Jean and Terrance Mitchell have done nothing to ease the front office’s minds into thinking any of them can eventually emerge as a first unit contributor.
One very interesting prospect that could be an option is Washington’s Marcus Peters. Regarded as the best cornerback in college, he will likely split out of the top-10 range after fights with the new coaching staff led to his dismissal from the Huskies program a few weeks back.
If they opt to fix linebacker issues first, the Bears could take a chance on Notre Dame’s Cody Riggs in the second/third-round area. A clean medical on his injured shoulder could see Connecticut’s Byron Jones emerge as the steal of the draft at the cornerback position in the mid rounds.
The safety picture is muddled a bit, but once the team figures where the best place is for the pieces on the current roster, they might tinker with a draft pick or two, if not satisfied with the products they have at hand. The wild card is hard-hitting Brock Vereen, a “Crash Gordon” type that needs to play in better control. Right now, he’s colliding with returners on special teams, posting 15 tackles. Expect him to mount a challenge for either Ryan Mundy’s or Chris Conte’s job next year.
Ideally, Mundy slides into a reserve role, with Vereen taking over the strong side. The trio is known as hard hitters (Mundy leads the team with 54 tackles and Conte has 35 with two thefts), but also have had a high amount of missed tackles. Danny McCray also fits into the picture, as the nickel package performer has added 20 tackles in limited action.
Salary cap issues won’t affect the team’s decision at safety, as both Mundy and Conte are on the books for around $1.5 million each next season. Still, a big, physical, versatile type like Samford’s Jaquiski Tarrtt might be too tempting, if he’s still available in the third round.
Special Teams…Punter #16-Pat O’Donnell…Placekicker #9-Robbie Gould…Kickoff and Punt Returner #82-Chris Williams; Marc Mariani.
The numbers from this entire unit could see the team cleaning house and starting over again next season. The Bears recently took that first step, inking former Pro Bowl return specialist Marc Mariani, who has spent the last two years on IR with Tennessee before the Titans cut him in August. Williams will likely remain the primary kickoff returner, ranking 11th in the league with a 24.1-yard average on 24 runbacks, but scratch his 101-yard return for a score and his average dips to 20.78 yards. As a punt returner, Williams has gained just 7.5 yards per return.
During his better days before missing the 2012 season with a broken leg and the 2013 schedule with a shoulder injury, he had set the Tennessee Titans season-record with 1,530 kickoff-return yards and 61 runbacks in 2010. He also set the Pro Bowl record with nine kickoff returns for 326 yards in the 2011 clash.
The punting game is also no great shakes, as Pat O’Donnell has the team ranked 27th in the NFL with 36 punts, 29th with 1,595 yards, 25th with a 44.3-yard average and next to last with a net average of 36.8 yards. He is last among the league’s punters in placing his boots inside the 20-yard line (nine) and is 30th with just six fair catches. Opponents have returned 21 of his 36 kicks (58.33%) for an average of 11.1 yards, the seventh-worst average yielded by a team this year.
Late round/free agent punters that could be in Bears camp next year include Mike Sadler (Michigan State), who might cost the team a sixth-rounder. More likely, a free agent type like Spencer Roth (Baylor), Kyle Christy (Florida), Kyle Loomis (Portland State) and Tommy Hibbard (North Carolina) will also be strongly considered. Loomis has the best leg of the bunch, outside of Sadler, and at 6-2, 230, he has the size and leg drive that position coaches love from their punters.
Robbie Gould is not really having a down year – he’s just had limited opportunities to use his leg, one that is the second-highest paid in the league at $2.6 million in 2014. What the team has to decide is if he is worth $3.6 mil in 2015 with $4.1 million price tags for both 2016 and ’17. Cutting him will result in dead pool money of $1.8 million in 2015, 1.2 the next year and $600K in 2016.
So far this season, Gould ranks tied for last in the league with just eight field goals made and tied for 26th with a success rate of 80 percent. He has yet to attempt any long distance three-pointers and his extra point rate of 95.8 percent is 30th in the NFL. Four placekickers are projected as possible draft picks in 2015, led by Colorado State’s Jared Roberts, who could be selected as early as the fifth round (Detroit is said to covet him). The Eagles have eyes on Notre Dame’s Kyle Brindza, and Toledo’s Jeremiah Detmer and Justin Manton (Louisiana-Monroe) are also considered worthy of a seventh-round selection.
Capping The Future…The current roster is projected to have a cap figure of $107,114,687 in 2015, with the offense earning $60,435,558, the defense checking in at $42,437,797 and special team players costing $4,136,327. “Dead Pool” money for 2015 currently sits at just $105,005. The big chunk is targeted for practice squad quarterback David Fales ($85,668), with fellow practice squad performers Ryan Groy ($5,334) and Brandon Dunn ($5,334) following. A total of 10 players make up the 2015 dead pool cap fund.
2015 Top “Dirty Dozen” Salary Cap Players
|Name||Base Salary||Bonuses||Cap Number||Dead Money & Cap Savings|
If the Draft Was Held Today…The Bears’ current record would give them the ninth spot in the first round. The team will have a nice array of talent to choose from to reconstruct a vastly overrated defense. If they decide to bring in a playmaking linebacker, Washington standout Shaq Thompson could still be available. For dominance in the trenches, Shawn Oakman (Baylor) will seriously be considered. If they opt for pass-rushing expertise, Shane Ray (Missouri) is the perfect answer to apply pocket pressure. If they want to revamp the secondary, Alabama safety Landen Collins or cornerbacks Marcus Peters (Washington) and Trae Waynes (Michigan State) should all still be available.
If I Was Drafting For Chicago in Round One…I really feel that I can use that ninth pick to entice a needy team to package together a nice deal. Whether it brings two additional second-round choices and a future first-round pick (Oakland comes to mind), I would need several early-round selections to do that trade.
Staying with the ninth pick, Thompson and Oakman would bring the Bears an immediate impact type at crucial areas on the roster. Iowa offensive lineman Brandon Scherff is another possibility, but some liken him to Gabe Carimi and Bears fans know how well that first-round disaster went.
If I am able to trade down, it is with the intention of using the second-round choices on offensive linemen like Florida State’s Cameron Ewing and South Carolina’s A.J. Cann to fill the many holes up front. That would let me also take a flyer on a physical safety like Samford’s Jaquiski Tartt with the Bears’ own second-round pick, or gamble that Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu’s subpar 2014 season lets him slip out of the first round.