Posted by Matt Clapp | 2/11/2014 01:09:00 AM | Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall, Jay Cutler, Josh McCown, Kyle Long, Marc Trestman, Martellus Bennett, Matt Forte, Matt Slauson
In October, we graded the Chicago Bears position-by-position during the team's bye week.
While we're now in February and it would've been much timelier to do this immediately after the Bears' season ended (sorry, we're lazy sometimes/a lot), we decided to do some position-by-position evaluating for the Bears' entire season. This is also a way to look at what areas on the roster the Bears will look to improve heading into 2014.
First up are our grades of the Bears' offense in 2013...
The Bears' quarterbacks were highly productive in their first year under the tutelage of quarterback whisperer Marc Trestman (and of course their first year in his system). Jay Cutler and Josh McCown combined to throw 32 touchdowns (19 for Cutler, 13 for McCown) compared to just 13 interceptions (12 for Cutler, 1 for McCown).
Cutler had the best quarterback rating of his career (89.2) and the second-highest completion percentage of his career (63.1 %). Cutler ranked sixth by Pro Football Focus' adjusted quarterback rating, at 91.47.
And statistically, McCown was even better than Cutler by most measures. By a lot, even. McCown had a 109.0 quarterback rating, ranking him only behind Nick Foles and Peyton Manning. PFF graded McCown out as their No. 5 quarterback (tied with Aaron Rodgers) on the season as +16.6.
Prior to 2013, McCown's best quarterback rating for a season was 74.9 (2005 with the Arizona Cardinals). He only threw more touchdowns than interceptions in one season (2004 with the Cardinals, when he threw 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions). So, while Trestman, the system, and the Bears' weapons certainly helped the 34-year-old McCown, how well he performed in 2013 is still nothing short of stunning.
Running Back: B+
If I were grading this only on the starting running back, it's an easy 'A'. Matt Forte, once again, was outstanding. In fact, I personally feel that this may have been the best season of the star running back's career.
Forte set career highs in rushing yards (1,339), rushing touchdowns (9), rushing first downs (74), receptions (74), and receiving yards (594), while his 4.6 yards per carry was the second-best average of his career. He ranked second in the NFL in rushing yards, second in rushing first downs, tied for sixth in rushing touchdowns, and ninth in rushing average. His 83.7 rushing yards per game ranked fourth in the NFL. You can go on and on, across the board; he was a stud in 2013.
But, Forte's backup, Michael Bush, was a disappointment for the second straight season after signing a four-year, $14 million contract in the 2013 offseason. Bush only had 197 yards rushing and a 3.1 rushing average, with three touchdowns, while catching four passes for 48 yards and a touchdown. I was a huge fan of the signing when it happened, as Bush was a very productive running back with the Oakland Raiders and a bruiser that looked like he would greatly help the Bears' short-yardage game, but it hasn't quite materialized.
To be fair, I think Bush is a rhythm guy and the lack of touches he's had in Chicago may have had a negative effect on his game when he actually saw the ball. Combined between 2012 and 2013, Bush had 177 carries. With the Raiders in 2011, he had 256 carries for 977 yards, and over his four years in Oakland, he averaged over 4 yards/carry. But with Forte on the team, you rarely want to take the guy out; you want to get him the ball as much as you can. So it's been a tough situation for Bush.
Bush will be 30 in June, and has a cap hit of $3.85 million in 2014, although $2 million of that in dead money. So, the Bears would only get $1.85 million in cap savings to cut him, but given his lack of production and the Bears having major needs across the board defensively, it seems likely that Bush will be a cap casualty. The Bears could then turn to Michael Ford (very impressive in the preseason) or another cheap option to be Forte's backup.
Wide Receiver: A
After years and years of incompetent play at the wide receiver position for the Chicago Bears, wide receiver is now the team's strength. In fact, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery formed the best wide receiving duo in the entire NFL in 2013.
Jeffery's second-year emergence got most of the talk, but Marshall may have actually had his best all-around season yet. PFF would certainly agree with that suggestion, as they gave Marshall their best grade (+37.7) at wide receiver since they began grading in 2008. That grade is significantly better than PFF's second-best wide receiver on the season, Jordy Nelson (+23.7).
The main reason Marshall graded out so much than everyone else? Blocking. PFF gave Marshall a +17.0 blocking grade, the best blocking grade they've ever (again, going back to 2008) handed out, and far ahead of the second-best blocking grade at the wide receiver position in 2013 (Drew Davis, +6.2). Bears first-year offensive coordinator/offensive line coach, Aaron Kromer, put a big emphasis on the receivers blocking downfield and it turned Marshall into an absolute beast in that department.
And yeah, Marshall wasn't too shabby in the pass-catching department either. Marshall had 100 receptions (the fifth time he's reached 100+ catches in his career), 1,2695 yards receiving (the seventh straight year he's gone over 1,000 yards receiving), had a career-high 12 touchdown receptions, and led the NFL with 70 first-down receptions.
But like we said, Jeffery got most of the fan and media attention, and understandably so given that he was making circus catches weekly. After posting a 24/367/3 line in his rookie season (in which he only played 10 games, due to injury), Jeffery absolutely blew up in his sophomore campaign. The 6'3", 216-pounder had 89 receptions, 1,421 receiving yards, seven receiving touchdowns, 62 receiving first downs, and averaged 16.0 yards per reception. He also had 20 catches of 20 yards or more, good for sixth (tied) in the NFL.
PFF graded Jeffery as the eight-best receiver on the season at +18.7, and he was also great as a blocker, like Marshall. And a department nobody saw Jeffery contributing in, in which he ended up being a big factor? The rushing game. Jeffery had 16 carries for 105 yards and six first downs. The success Jeffery displayed on end arounds and fly sweeps allowed Trestman to simply put Jeffery in motion on many of those plays, while not actually giving Jeffery the ball, and it opened up many runs for Matt Forte.
So Marshall and Jeffery were far and away the stars in the receiving department for the Bears, but veteran Earl Bennett played a key role as well. Although fifth in targets on the Bears' offense, Bennett still had 32 receptions and four touchdowns. However, like Bush, Bennett's role in the offense may not be large enough to warrant bringing him back in 2014 given the amount of money he is set to make (a $2.45 million cap hit). And the organization seems very high on wide receiver Marquess Wilson, a rookie in 2013.
Tight End/Fullback: B
After watching the train wreck that was Kellen Davis as the team's starting tight end in 2012, Phil Emery signed free agent tight end Martellus Bennett, and Bennett went on to be a huge part of the Bears' 2013 offense. Bennett provided Cutler with a great target in the middle of the field (an area the Bears greatly struggled in 2012) and red zone, and Bennett also turned several seemingly minimal gains into first downs.
Bennett finished the season with 65 receptions, five touchdowns, and 40 first downs. The reception total and first downs are particularly impressive numbers when you consider that Marshall and Jeffery were in this same offense. Bennett's blocking was up and down on the season, but much of that had to do with a bothersome shoulder, and he figures to perform better in this area in 2014.
After Bennett, the Bears didn't get much production out of the tight end production though, and that's okay, because they were mainly just looking for blocking from Dante Rosario and Steve Maneri (although Maneri was released in-season). Rosario ended up being a very solid blocker after coming over from the Dallas Cowboys in September for a seventh-round pick.
At fullback, Tony Fiammetta did exactly what the Bears were looking for out of the position: Again, blocking. The 27-year-old even earned himself a contract extension with his performance, assuring that he'll be the team's starting fullback again in 2014.
Offensive Tackle: C
Jermon Bushrod was (unsurprisingly) a major upgrade over J'Marcus Webb at left tackle and gave the Bears stability at the most important place on the offensive line, serving as Cutler and McCown's blindside protector. PFF has Bushrod responsible for only four sacks allowed on the season, and he really only had one clearly bad game. That came against the St. Louis Rams, and Robert Quinn, a guy that dominated vs most every offensive tackle he went up against on the season, so we'll let that game slide for Bushrod.
Jordan Mills, however, had some struggles, and that's to be expected from a rookie fifth-round pick. Mills graded out as PFF's third-worst offensive tackle, and they had him down for 62 hurries allowed, the most they've ever recorded. However, Lester A. Wiltfong Jr. at Windy City Gridiron had a very nice write-up on how the hurries statistics are a bit misleading given what the Bears do schematically.
Overall, Mills' play didn't really hurt the Bears, but he didn't do anything to make you say, "This guy is definitely our right tackle of the future", either. Still, you would expect Mills to only improve going forward.
Eben Britton lined up in all sorts of spots on the Bears' offensive line, and even at tight end (but for blocking purposes only). He replaced Mills in week 17 when Mills left with an injury, and played extremely well. I have to think the Bears would like to bring Britton back given his versatility, and to add some competition for the right tackle position in camp.
The Bears' interior offensive line was extremely improved in 2013, and the headlining addition to the group was most definitely Kyle Long.
After being a highly questioned first-round selection out of Oregon last April, Long garnered much positive attention with a very impressive showing in the preseason. He had his ups and downs over the season, something you'd expect out of a rookie. But overall, Long gave plenty of reason to believe that Phil Emery made the right choice in selecting him with the No. 20 overall pick, and his upside is exceptional at guard. Long may even be considered as an option at right tackle going forward if the organization doesn't feel Mills is the right choice at the position, or if they simply want to get the most out of Long's tremendous ability.
Long was named to the Pro Bowl as the replacement for the San Francisco 49ers' Mike Lupati, after Lupati suffered a broken leg against the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship.
However, the truth of the matter is that Long wasn't even the best guard on the Bears this season. The best guard on the Bears' offensive line this season, and the most consistent player on the offensive line in general, was left guard Matt Slauson. In fact, Slauson ended up being one of the best free-agent bargains in the entire NFL for the 2013 season.
After spending the previous four seasons with the New York Jets, Slauson signed a one-year, $815,000 deal with the Bears in the 2013 offseason. Slauson played so well for the Bears (he graded out as PFF's no. 6 guard overall), that the team made sure to lock him up for the next four seasons with a contract totaling $12.8 million.
At center, Roberto Garza surprised with a decent 2013 season at center after a pretty awful one in 2012. Garza graded out as PFF's no. 12 center, and he also has immeasurable leadership qualities as the anchor of the offensive line. Keep in mind that he also had two rookies playing to his right on the offensive line in 2013.
Garza's a free agent and there's no doubt the Bears need to begin looking for his successor, but the organization may bring the 35-year-old (in March) back for one more season as the starting center. He's unlikely to command much money on the open market, and with so many needs on the defensive side of the ball, the Bears may not want to spend for a more expensive center in free-agency or use an early-round pick at the position. Re-signing Garza to a one-year deal and drafting a center in rounds 3-6 to groom behind Garza seems like a very possible scenario.
Offense Overall: A-
A team driven by defense in Lovie Smith's nine years as the head coach immediately became a team driven by offense in Marc Trestman's first year on the job. And that's not just because the Bears' defense was arguably the league's worst in 2013; the offense was damn good by most any measure.
One of the league's worst offenses year after year became one of the league's most explosive. The passing attack was behind only teams like the Denver Broncos and New Orleans Saints, and figures to only improve with more familiarity in Trestman's system.
While Josh McCown was statistically better than Jay Cutler in the system, Cutler was very good himself and showed many promising signs that would lead you to believe the best is yet to come from him in this offense. Many of the bad habits Cutler showed in the past with his mechanics and decision-making were much less evident in 2013, thanks largely to Trestman's coaching and scheming.
With that coaching (particularly Aaron Kromer in this department) and scheming -- in particular the focus on getting rid of the ball out of the quarterback's hands quickly -- also came an offensive line that only allowed 30 sacks (tied for fourth-best in the NFL), after allowing 44 sacks in 2012, 49 sacks in 2011, and 56 sacks in 2010.
And overall, the talent level on offense was certainly much higher than any Bears team in recent history. With Cutler, Matt Forte, and Brandon Marshall already high-level producers, Alshon Jeffery became a star at wide receiver, and Martellus Bennett provided a weapon at tight end the team hadn't had over the last few years.
The Bears' offense became one of the NFL's top-ten units in 2013, and (health-provided) there should only be growth from the offense in 2014.
While we handed out high grades for the Bears' offense, the same certainly won't be the case for our grading of the Bears' defense. Stay tuned for those grades in the coming days.
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Posted by Matt Clapp | 1/30/2014 03:40:00 PM | Brian Urlacher, Charles Tillman, Chicago Bears, Free Agency, Lovie Smith, Phil Emery
Charles Tillman has spent all 11 years of his decorated NFL career as a Chicago Bear, but the cornerback is an impending free agent, and speculation has been that he'll be playing elsewhere in 2014.
But, 'Peanut' made it clear on 670 The Score's The Laurence Holmes Show that he wants to be back with the Bears, that there is no bad blood between the two sides... and guaranteed that he will retire as a Bear:
“The Bears and I are in good spirits There’s no bad blood, there’s nothing. We are in good spirits. There’s no bad blood with myself or Coach Trestman. Like, everything is good. We’re are all on good terms.”
”In a perfect world, I will finish as a Bear. I guarantee you I will retire as a Chicago Bear. I guarantee that.”*Sniffle*
Keep in mind that "retiring as a Chicago Bear" does not necessarily mean Peanut would ever even play another game for the Bears. In August 2012, we saw defensive end Alex Brown sign a one-day contract with the Bears, just so he could retire as a Bear.
Whatever the case, it's pretty damn cool that Tillman intends to retire as a Bear one way or another.
It's also nice to hear that there is no bad blood between Tillman and the Bears, after the Bears have apparently not offered him a contract yet (or at least not one to his liking so far). The Bears and linebacker Brian Urlacher of course had an awkward falling out when the two sides couldn't agree to a deal last offseason, so it would be nice to make sure that doesn't happen again with the Bears and a longtime star (and fan favorite) of the team in Tillman.
I'm in the camp of trying to keep Peanut around for the 2014 season, but at a team-friendly price. And again, you want to make sure to not insult him, or you may end up with another Urlacher-esque uncomfortable relationship. But, it sure sounds like that won't happen between Peanut and the Bears judging by his comments.
Even if the Bears make Peanut an offer, odds are that he'll be offered more money by another team(s) on the open market. Perhaps the Lovie Smith-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers, for example.
Would Peanut take a bit less money to stay with the Bears? It would sure seem possible after he's guaranteeing he will retire as a Bear, right?
It will be interesting to see how Phil Emery and the Bears handle this situation, and it's possible the situation has already been handled as far as we know. But at least we know that Charles Tillman intends to exit his tremendous NFL career as a Chicago Bear.
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Posted by Matt Clapp | 1/29/2014 05:26:00 PM | Aaron Donald, Charles Tillman, Josh McCown, Martellus Bennett, Michael Bennett, NFL Draft, Senior Bowl, Terrence Brooks, Weston Richburg
DT Aaron Donald dominated Senior Bowl week & could be a Chicago Bears draft target.
The 2014 Senior Bowl week just took place, providing us with some quality new information on several draft prospects that could be of interest to the Chicago Bears (particularly defensive draft prospects in the Bears' case, of course).
Let's go to the links to get caught up about what was learned from the Senior Bowl, as well as taking a look at other notable topics in the world of the Chicago Bears.
Here At DBN
Josh McCown: "My Heart Is In Chicago And That Is Where I Want To Be
Around The Web
Norris: Senior Bowl Review- Rotoworld's NFL Draft expert Josh Norris with a very nice review of the 2014 Senior Bowl in this piece. Norris ranks the top Senior Bowlers from each position following the game (and overall Senior Bowl week), and also ranks the top 25 Senior Bowlers going forward.
And good news for the Bears' draft hopes in regards to Norris' rankings: His top five Senior Bowlers moving forward are all on the defensive side of the ball. (Josh Norris; Rotoworld)
Senior Bowl Wrapup: Winners And Losers From The Week Of Practice- Yahoo's Eric Edholm breaks down the winners and losers from Senior Bowl Week. Among Edholm's winners are Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald and Northern Illinois safety Jimmy Ward, two players that are likely on the Bears' draft radar.
Here's what Edholm has to say about Donald:
It was a banner week for Donald, and when we asked him Wednesday if he was just showing off at that point, he couldn't help but laugh. Donald consistently won one-on-one drills for three days of practice and was easily the most destructive interior lineman in Mobile, putting questions about his size (6-foot, 288) to the side. Watch the tape.
And his take on Ward:
Although Ward is not big, he will leave Mobile as the best safety from this group with a strong week of play from start to finish. He didn't make any true flash plays but was around the ball consistently, and his ability to cover the slot adds to his attractiveness. (Eric Edholm; Yahoo's Shutdown Corner)
Refocused: North vs South, 2014 Senior Bowl- The Pro Football Focus tape review of the Senior Bowl, which even included them grading the players as they do for NFL games. And like Eric Edholm, PFF's Steve Palazzolo came away extremely impressed by Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald, giving Donald a +6.4 overall grade for the game.
Palazzolo has a very nice breakdown of Donald's performance and much more from the NFL Draft showcase game, so make sure to give this a read. (Steve Palazzolo; Pro Football Focus)
10 Takeaways From The Senior Bowl- Adam Hoge with 10 in-depth thoughts after being at the Senior Bowl, with his No. 1 takeaway being that Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron made a bad choice by skipping out on the game. (Adam Hoge; 670 The Score)
Durkin: Senior Bowl Stock Report- Dan Durkin with a fantastic breakdown of the players whose stock rose, and whose stock fell after the Senior Bowl. (Dan Durkin; 670 The Score)
Five Senior Bowlers Who Could Fill Bears' Needs- Adam Hoge takes a Bears-specific look at the Senior Bowl, revealing five players that could fill the Bears' needs. One of my personal favorites is on Hoge's list, in Colorado State center Weston Richburg. I went to CSU myself and am a diehard fan of the Rams, so I've seen Richburg play most all of his college games; he really could be a great young replacement for Roberto Garza.(Adam Hoge; 670 The Score)
Bears Need DTs, But Whom They Pick Will Depend On Their Scheme- When talking about defensive tackle prospects the Bears could look at, we have to remember that we don't even know for sure what scheme the Bears will use on defense in 2014. The general feeling is that the Bears will not go with specifically a 4-3 or 3-4 defense, but a hybrid defense that shifts between 4-3 and 3-4 looks. If that's the case, the Bears are going to want defensive tackles that can transcend scheme, especially if it's an early-round pick.
Patrick Finley takes a look at some of the Senior Bowl defensive tackles and how they could fit in to what the Bears may do schematically on defense. (Patrick Finley; Chicago Sun-Times)
NFL Draft: Numbers Show Safeties, Defensive Tackles Good To Target Early- 670 The Score's Rick Camp with A+, in-depth stuff on how the safety and defensive tackle position (two of the Bears' biggest positions of need) have shown to be two of the highest-impact positions among early draft picks in recent years. (Rick Camp; 670 The Score)
Safety First For Bears? Florida State's Brooks Impresses- So, with the safety position in mind, how about Florida State safety Terrence Brooks for the Bears? Dan Wiederer writes about Brooks and adds that "the Bears are among the teams he has interviewed with here at the Senior Bowl." Chicago Tribune)
NIU's Jimmie Ward Could Be Bears Safety Who Doesn't Miss- Jimmie Ward, a guy we talked about earlier, could also be a Bears target at safety in the draft. (Patrick Finley; Chicago Sun-Times)
6 Late-Round Sleepers Who Would Be Perfect For The Bears- (Matt Eurich; Bleacher Report)
Bears Look To The Future At Center- Brad Biggs has more on Weston Richburg and how he could be of interest to the Bears. (Brad Biggs; Chicago Tribune)
A New Bears Defensive Era Is Here- Must-read stuff from Adam Hoge. (Adam Hoge; 670 The Score)
How Far Are The Bears From Being A Super Bowl Contender?- With Super Bowl week taking place, Sam Householder examines how far the Bears are away from being a true Super Bowl contender. (Sam Householder; Windy City Gridiron)
Charles Tillman Will Test Free Agency- "The Pro Bowl cornerback's (Charles Tillman) contract expires after the 2013 season, and Tillman will test the free-agent waters, NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported Saturday, per a source with knowledge of the player's thinking.
Tillman might return to the Bears, Rapoport added, but Tillman never has been a true free agent, so he will explore his options." (Mike Coppinger; NFL.Com)
Martellus Bennett Hopes To Lure Brother To Bears- Martellus Bennett wants to recruit his brother, Seahaswks defensive end Michael Bennett to the Bears. It's expected the Bears will show interest in Michael, but the free-agent defensive end recently said that he doesn't like the cold so he doesn't see the Bears in his future. Hopefully Martellus can change that thinking. (Patrick Finley; Chicago Sun-Times)
Chicago Bears Pro Bowl Recap- Bear Goggles On's Mike Flannery recaps how the Bears' Pro Bowl participants did in the game. (Mike Flannery; Bear Goggles On)
Tweet Of The Day
I really want my brother to come to Chicago so that I can pitch this idea to M&M. Michael & Martellus special blue and orange M&Ms. Lol
— Martellus Bennett (@MartysaurusRex) January 27, 2014
Video Of The Day
Senior Bowl highlights:
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Posted by Matt Clapp | 1/28/2014 09:44:00 PM | Free Agency, Jay Cutler, Josh McCown, Phil Emery
After putting together a sensational season in relief of Jay Cutler at quarterback for the Chicago Bears in 2013, it's been assumed that Josh McCown may seek a starting opportunity (or at least a better chance to start) on the free-agent market. Cutler of course signed a lucractive long-term deal in January to remain the Bears' starting quarterback, so as much as the Cutler haters/McCown backers want McCown to be the starting quarterback for the Bears in 2014, it's not going to happen (barring a Cutler injury).
But, the Bears have made it known to McCown that they would love to have him return as the team's backup in 2014, and Tuesday on Waddle and Silvy, McCown made it clear that he would like to return to the Bears:
"I think from both sides, when I left and was exiting and doing all those things, I think it was mutual that both [parties] want to keep working together," McCown said. "I think we understand what we are coming from there. It's just the things that I have to weigh and think about. If an opportunity does come along to start, where is that team? What kind of team is that? It's hard to leave a team, especially as a quarterback, in an offensive structure that we have and are building with the pieces that we have. So it's not so cut and dry that this team will give you an opportunity to be a starter so let's go there. I think it's weighing what all is there and what that opportunity entails. It's going to have to look really good for me to go someplace else because my heart is in Chicago and that is where I want to be."
"I think you approach the job that way you allow yourself the opportunity to improve. But again, my heart is heavy in Chicago for reasons, obviously, based on this past year -- not only for getting the opportunity to play but because of the guys in the locker room, the coaches and the organization. It's special to me. I've been a lot of places and gone through some of these things where you go in some place and compete to be a starter. So I'll take those situations as they come and evaluate them, if they do come. All of those things are still up in the air. We'll see some weeks from me, but right now as far as I'm concerned, I'm a Chicago Bear. My heart is there. Until something doesn't work out or it changes, that's where I hope to be."
Source: ESPN Chicago
McCown, who will be 35 in July, threw 13 touchdowns, just one interception, while having a completion percentage of 66.5% of and a quarterback rating of 109.0 in 2013. Take a quick look at McCown's career stats and you'll realize he's never had a season anything close to his 2013 campaign with the Bears. Along with wanting to remain with the Bears for the reasons he told Waddle and Silvy, McCown surely realizes that Marc Trestman, Trestman's system, and the Bears' outstanding weapons made him look like a much better quarterback than he'll likely look anywhere else.
Additionally, most NFL teams around the league probably feel the same way in regards to McCown's 2013 success. There are certainly teams out there that would love to have McCown's services and may view him as a guy that could at least compete for a starting job, but no team out there is going to pay him quite like a quarterback with his 2013 numbers would typically be paid.
If the Bears were to let McCown walk, they have no in-house quarterback option to back up Cutler, and using a pick in the draft to take a quarterback (and likely a pick in the first few rounds if the quarterback were to be Cutler's primary backup) is something the team doesn't want to do with so many needs on the defensive side of the ball. And if they were to look for another quarterback in free agency, that quarterback would likely be as expensive to sign as keeping McCown would be anyway (assuming McCown were to sign at a least a slightly discounted price).
Also, keep in mind Cutler's recent injury history (especially in the concussion department) when it comes to McCown, and how valuable McCown proved to be in 2013 when Cutler went down.
So, with all of the information we have at hand, it's hard to see the two sides not coming to an agreement. The Bears want McCown and McCown wants the Bears.
Honestly, I think the two sides may have already gotten a contract worked out... if they could have. Due to McCown signing a one-year deal for the veteran minimum with the Bears in 2013, the team would not be able to re-sign him until free agency begins on March 11. But, the Bears do hold exclusive negotiating rights with McCown until that date.
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DBN Reaction: Bears sign QB Jay Cutler to 7-year deal, CB Tim Jennings & LG Matt Slauson to 4-year dealsPosted by Matt Clapp | 1/02/2014 06:42:00 PM | Free Agency, Jay Cutler, Josh McCown, Marc Trestman, Matt Slauson, Phil Emery, Tim Jennings
We expected to get a few intriguing Bears nuggets from general manager, Phil Emery, and head coach, Marc Trestman, in the team's end-of-the-season press conference on Thursday morning at Halas Hall.
But we certainly didn't expect to learn on Thursday that the team had signed quarterback Jay Cutler, cornerback Tim Jennings, and left guard Matt Slauson to contract extensions.
Emery announced at the press conference that the Bears have signed Cutler (who turns 31 in April) to a seven-year contract, and NFL.Com's Ian Rapoport is reporting that the deal is worth $126 million over the seven years, with $54 million guaranteed:
#Bears QB Jay Cutler’s contract: 7 years, $126 million with $54M guaranteed.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 2, 2014
The $54 million guaranteed, which is all that really matters in this contract. And that money is over the first three years. ESPN's Andrew Brandt put it well:
Again, these are NFL contracts, not NBA or MLB. $120 million deal for Cutler translates to "we'll pay $50 million, then we'll see."
— Andrew Brandt (@adbrandt) January 2, 2014
So, the Bears are going to pay Cutler big money over these next three years, but after that, they could move on him from if they're not satisfied with his performance.
But, it seems like a pretty good bet that the Bears will want to keep Cutler around longer than just three years.
In the first year with "quarterback whisperer" Marc Trestman as head coach, Cutler showed some noticeable improvements mechanically and with his decision-making. He also has more weapons than he's ever had, with Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte, and Martellus Bennett leading the way (and all of those players will be back for 2014, at least). Cutler also finally has an offensive line and system to give him time to throw, and protect him from taking constant hits, a major issue the previous few seasons.
Cutler should only improve with more time in Trestman's system, the weapons aren't going anywhere anytime soon (and Jeffery is joining Marshall in superstar territory at wide receiver), and the offensive line's play should keep improving (remember that they started two rookies on the right side of the line in Kyle Long and Jordan Mills). Everything is in place for Cutler to finally get much more out of his unquestionable talent.
And for those questioning the move, let's just hypothetically say Cutler stays about what he is at the moment, as realistically over the next few seasons, it's hard to see him performing at a lower level than the player he currently is for all of the reasons I just went over. Let's just use 2013 as a "floor"-ish level for Cutler's projected performance over the next few years. Well, in 2013, Cutler had a career-best 89.2 quarterback rating and a completion percentage of 63.1%, good for the second-best percentage of his career. He also graded out as Pro Football Focus' No. 10 quarterback on the season with a +13.5 grade (a grade that likely would've been higher if he didn't miss five games), and PFF's adjusted QB rating ranked him sixth at 91.47. Even if Cutler only stayed at his 2013 level of play over the next few years, that's still a pretty good quarterback.
Here's some of what Emery had to say about Cutler in the press conference (quotes via ChicagoBears.Com):
"We're very excited to have Jay for the long term," said general manager Phil Emery. "He had his best season as a pro from a statistical outlook. I also think he had his best season as a pro in terms of his leadership, his improvement, his display of toughness, his ability to bounce back, his ability to handle pressure and his ability to come back and win games."
"The things that I felt certain about Jay as far as signing him into the future, No. 1 he's a demonstrated winner with the Chicago Bears," Emery said. "Two, this fall he showed us right from the beginning that he can be a key player in terms of a player being the reason you win."
Cutler made it clear in his press conference (following Emery and Trestman's) that he wanted to be a Bear, and it was going to take the Bears not wanting him back for him to test free agency (quote via ESPN Chicago):
"We wanted to stay here," Cutler said. "So it was going to have to come from the Bears not wanting me back for me to test" free agency.Emery said that the Bears would love to have Josh McCown back as Cutler's backup, but that McCown "has earned the right to have choices". What Emery's getting at is that McCown may find some starting opportunities on the free agent market, but if he wants to return to the Bears in a backup role again, the Bears would love to have him back.
We'll have much, much more on the quarterback situation over the offseason, but let's move on to the other players the Bears signed to contracts on Thursday, because these are two huge moves in their own right.
30-year-old (31 next Christmas Eve) cornerback Tim Jennings signed a four-year contract extension with the Bears after intercepting 13 passes over the last two seasons. In 2012, Jennings' nine interceptions led the NFL, and his four interceptions in 2013 were tied for 11th in the league. He was also tied for first in the NFL with two defensive touchdowns in 2013.
The financial details of Jennings' contract remain unknown, but it was assumed that he could get a very nice deal on the open market. Jennings is a ballhawk as the interception statistics clearly show, he's very good in coverage in general, and he's a solid tackler. He plays much bigger than his 5'8", 185-pound size. And at 30, coming off his two best seasons, Jennings should be a quality player over the duration of his four-year deal.
Jennings' +0.3 PFF grade was (sadly) the second-best grade on the Bears' awful 2013 defense, and it's actually impressive he graded out that well given the players around him. The safety duo was the worst in the NFL, and the Bears' pass rush was as bad as anyone's in the NFL. That makes things very tough for cornerbacks, but Jennings was still able to be an effective player. It's worth noting that in 2012, Jennings was PFF's ninth-best cornerback with a +12.4 grade.
And the other player to sign a new contract with the Bears on Thursday was left guard Matt Slauson, who, like Jennings, signed a four-year deal. I don't know if there's a 2013 NFL "All-Bargain" team, but if there is, Slauson should be a starting guard on it.
After spending the previous four seasons with the New York Jets, Slauson signed a one-year, $815,000 contract with the Bears last offseason. He went on to be the team's most consistent performer on the offensive line, and graded out as PFF's' No. 6 guard, with a +20.6 grade. Emery made such a huge effort to improve the Bears' offensive line play over the last two offseasons, so making sure to not let Slauson get away was a no-brainer for the Bears' general manager.
There's no financial details on Slauson's deal yet either, but one would think he'll getting paid quite a bit more than last year's deal, and deservedly so.
We're not even one week into the Bears' offseason, and Emery has already re-signed Cutler, Jennings, Slauson, kicker Robbie Gould (signed a four-year deal last week), and fullback Tony Fiammetta (signed a two-year deal last week). With several other key (2013) Bears players being free agents, look for Emery to try to keep some more players around before they can hit the open market in March.
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