Bears stay busy with signing of LB Mason Foster

Posted by Matt Clapp | 3/24/2015 06:33:00 PM | ,

In what was their third free-agent signing on Tuesday, the Chicago Bears agreed to terms with former Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Mason Foster on a one-year deal. Foster's agent, Steve Carric, confirmed the deal. And so did Foster basically on Twitter, before the report was even out there:
That was Foster tweeting in response to defensive end Jarvis Jenkins, whom the Bears signed earlier in the day (read more about that here).

This Foster move has been rumored since the initial days of free-agency as the Bears look for veteran depth and starting competition at inside linebacker in their new 3-4 scheme. The 26-year-old has been a starter in Tampa Bay since entering the league as a third-round pick by the Bucs in 2011.

Listed at 6'1", 241 pounds, Foster will likely be a two-down linebacker for the Bears as he struggles in pass coverage. Even with his limitations in pass coverage, Foster still managed to intercept three passes in 2013, and returned two of them for touchdowns. He also recorded two sacks in all of his first three seasons in Tampa Bay.

In the 3-4 scheme, you're in need of two starting linebackers on the inside, and the team is of course letting long-time linebacker Lance Briggs walk. The other inside linebacker options on the roster are Jon Bostic, Christian Jones, Khaseem Greene, and DeDe Lattimore. That's a lot of youth and uncertainty at the position. So, expect Foster to usually be at one of the two inside linebacker spots on first and second down, at least.

This appears to be another very cheap deal, and in that case, a very nice one given the Bears' need at inside linebacker:

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Bears finally land a 3-4 DE in Jarvis Jenkins

Posted by Matt Clapp | 3/24/2015 02:56:00 PM | ,

During the introductory press conference for recently signed outside linebacker Pernell McPhee at Halas Hall, Chicago Bears head coach John Fox was asked what players on the roster appear to be fits at defensive end for the team's new 3-4 scheme:
Pretty much. While Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, and Willie Young were 4-3 defensive ends, they appear better slated to officially be outside linebackers in a 3-4 scheme, and it appears the Bears will use them that way.

On Tuesday, the Bears finally addressed the position by signing veteran defensive end Jarvis Jenkins on a one-year contract.
Jenkins, who turns 27 in April, spent the last three seasons with the Washington Redskins after they selected him in the second round of the 2011 draft.

Here's how Rotoworld (Evan Silva, I assume) summarized the signing:

It's not a surprise Jenkins didn't draw much interest in free agency. A 26-year-old who offers nothing as a pass rusher, Jenkins finished 45th out of 47 qualified 3-4 defensive ends in Pro Football Focus' 2014 rankings. He's serviceable against the run, but still received a negative grade in that area over 552 snaps last season. Chicago's cellar-dwelling defense didn't improve with this minimum-salary signing. 

The 6'4, 315-pound Jenkins was a starter for the Redskins over that time, but clearly not a great one. He only has two career sacks, but also keep in mind that pass-rush productivity from defensive end in the 3-4 scheme isn't nearly as crucial as it is in the 4-3; the primary pass-rushing usually comes from your 3-4 outside linebackers. In the 3-4, you're looking for a bigger-bodied defensive end whose skills are somewhere between a traditional defensive end and defensive tackle. Still, you'd like to see more than two sacks over 33 career starts.

But, again, the Bears desperately needed 3-4 defensive ends and Jenkins is a capable option there, with veteran experience.

The draft is also lacking in quality 3-4 defensive end options at the No. 7 pick (most of the DE/LB prospects seem best-suited as 3-4 OLB for the Bears), so it was wise for the Bears to add veteran options instead of relying on mid-round draft picks, for example.

And according to Brad Biggs, the deal is a very cheap one as well:

The one-year contract is for the minimum salary benefit, according to a source, and contains a partial guarantee.
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The play out of the Bears' safety position has been downright embarrassing for years now, and it appears the new regime at Halas Hall is well aware of that (then again, who isn't?).

On Wednesday night, the Bears signed veteran safety Antrel Rolle to a three-year, $11.25 million deal, with $5 million guaranteed.

Rolle, 32, has played 10 seasons in the NFL, and is a three-time Pro Bowl selection.

While Rolle's Pro Bowl days may be in the past as he's lost a step compared to his earlier years, he's still a steady presence at safety with terrific instincts and playmaking skills. Rolle intercepted nine passes over the 2013 (six interceptions) and 2014 (three interceptions) seasons with the New York Giants. He also deflected 21 passes over those two seasons, and has forced a fumble in every season since 2009.

Aside from being a clear upgrade over what the Bears had at the safety position last year (and pretty much every year since Mike Brown's days ended), Rolle surely was attractive to the Bears because of his leadership skills. That's especially the case following the circus of last season and the new regime wanting to change the culture around Halas Hall (see: the Brandon Marshall trade, the Jay Cutler trade rumors, etc).

Tom Coughlin was Rolle's head coach with the Giants for the last five seasons, and raved about Rolle as a leader at the NFL Combine last month:

"He's an outstanding young man and really I've never come across a player that was more interested in his team and trying to help his team be better in any way they could," Coughlin said. "I think countless Tuesday's Antrel was in my office with, 'How can we get better? What can we do to get better?' Just thoughts going back and forth between coach/player, in terms of how our team could improve. 
"I don't think I was ever involved with a player that was more sincerely interested in how his team could improve. And I admire that very much in him as a young man and a leader."
Giants veteran punter Steve Weatherford tweeted similar thoughts:

There are several reports that the Bears and free-agent safety Ron Parker (also a potential starter) are meeting at Halas Hall, and that an agreement could be reached there as well. So, Ryan Pace and company are not messing around in their efforts to upgrade the safety position this offseason.

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The Chicago Bears and wide receiver Eddie Royal have agreed to terms on a three-year contract, as first reported by UT San Diego's Michael Gehlken:
The report was quickly confirmed by several reporters in the Bears' media.

The 29-year-old Eddie Royal is coming off a 62-reception season for the Chargers, and had 15 touchdowns combined over the last two seasons for the San Diego squad.

Royal really makes sense for the Bears, for some reasons that quickly come to mind:

1. As Gehlken noted, Royal has familiarity with Jay Cutler, and the Bears' coaching staff.

As a rookie with the Denver Broncos in 2008, Royal reeled in 91 catches for 980 yards and five touchdowns. His quarterback? Jay Cutler.

While Royal was with the Broncos in 2009 and 2010, Denver's wide receivers coach was Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase. And in 2011, Bears head coach John Fox was Royal's head coach in Denver.

So, the Bears' quarterback, head coach, and offensive coordinator know what they're getting out of a wide receiver they're bringing in. And Royal knows what Cutler, Fox, and Gase bring to the table. They all clearly have a great relationship working together. The value of all this familiarity is hard to quantify, but it definitely matters.

2. The 5'10", 185-pound Royal adds slot-receiver and speed elements  the Bears' offense greatly lacked. The terrific Matt Bowen tweeted about Royal's ability in the slot:
Royal isn't limited to the slot either; he has a very solid all-around skillset and can play outside, even with his smaller stature. He's elusive and a very good route runner with reliable hands. Gase will be creative with how he uses Royal in this offense.

3. I'm not sure if you heard but the Bears recently traded Brandon Marshall to the Jets. And with that, the Bears really needed to add an established wide receiver presence to play with Alshon Jeffery and company. We still don't even know what Marquess Wilson is, either. I'd expect the Bears to bring in more veteran camp competition, and they may even consider using their No. 7 pick on Amari Cooper and Kevin White. But the draft topic and such is for another day. At least they have begun the process of replacing Marshall's production (even if they can't truly do that) with the Royal trade.

4. The Bears' return game was miserable in 2014 after letting Devin Hester walk, and Royal has plenty of experience as a punt returner, at least (he hasn't returned kicks since 2009).

Royal returned 11 punts for the Chargers in 2014, with his long return being 58 yards. He has two career return touchdowns as well.

We're still waiting on the financial details of Royal's contract, but the dollar amount shouldn't be too large.

Royal joins Pernell McPhee and Antrel Rolle as Bears signings in the first two days of free agency.

UPDATE: The Bears have made the Eddie Royal signing official.

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It's been out there for a few days that the Chicago Bears and former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Pernell McPhee had agreed to a five-year contract, and on Wednesday the Bears finally made the signing official:

And what is also official, then, is Ryan Pace's first big move since being named Phil Emery's replacement as Bears general manager in January.

The signing also represents a major building piece in the 3-4 scheme that former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is bringing to Chicago.

McPhee, 26, is an ideal player to help start up a 3-4 scheme, due to his tremendous versatility. In fact, Pro Football Focus' Ben Stockwell called McPhee "arguably the league’s most versatile defensive free agent."

The 6'3", 280-pounder was primarily an outside linebacker backing up premier edge rushers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil in Baltimore's 3-4 scheme, but also played with his hand in the ground at defensive end, and even lined up some at nose tackle. Fangio is known as one of the more creative defensive coordinators in the game and is surely salivating at the ways he will be able to use McPhee in this defense.

Even with only being on the field for 47.8% of the Ravens' defensive snaps in 2014, McPhee still racked up 7.5 sacks, 27 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and four pass breakups. Per Stats INC, McPhee also had 38 combined quarterback hurries and knockdowns in 2014, good for 14th in the NFL.

What really stands out is how much Pro Football Focus loved McPhee in 2014:

It remains to be seen if the production will remain at that same level for McPhee with starter's snaps in Chicago, but those are some impressive statistics that really make the signing look like a great one on the surface, especially when you factor in McPhee's versatility and age. And McPhee should be considered a "young" 26-year-old in the NFL, given the limited snaps he's played; he should have fresh legs for a while.

As for the financial details of the contract, The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson reports that McPhee will get $39 million over five years:

Most reports over the last few days have said the guaranteed money in the deal was expected to be $16 million, but the official number is not yet out there.

We will surely find out more about the contract, McPhee, and how the Bears plan to use him at the introductory press conference, which will be at 2 PM CT today at Halas Hall.

You can watch the press conference live on the Bears' official website.

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