By Mario Granata
The Monsters of the Midway haven’t been a team to reckon with since 2010, and with an aging quarterback at the helm, and a switch at coordinator, it’s no surprise that the Bears are picking outside of the Top 10 in this year’s NFL Draft. Can the Bears turn it around for the 2016 season? They have a lot of new faces not just on the coaching staff, but also on the field that could make an impression going into another year. They have cap space, they have talent, but will they make it all come together to take on the division?
Head Coach: John Fox
Career Record: 125-99
Offensive Coordinator (Rank): Dowell Loggains
21st YPG, 23rd Pass, 11th Run
Defensive Coordinator (Rank): Vic Fangio
14th YPG, 4th Pass, 23rd Rush
With Adam Gase departing for Miami, this leaves Dowell Loggains to man the controls for only the second time in his NFL coaching career. Loggains is young (35) and hasn’t had a resume filled with quarterbacks that will be heading to Canton. Loggains will be the 6th offensive coordinator that Jay Cutler will have going into his 8th year with the Bears, which doesn’t do much for the consistency at the quarterback position. With a young team and the 11th pick in the Draft does Cutler have enough in the tank (and in his bank account) to make a run at a competitive NFC North division?
With the Bears standing just a shade over 60 million dollars under the cap, they don’t have to restructure any contracts, but could do so if GM Ryan Pace (who took over in 2015) wants to. Look no further than Jay Cutler. Cutler is 32 and has 4 years remaining on his deal. The Bears, unfortunately, cannot cut him or else they would be taking a huge dead money bomb, but if they were able to trade him, they save an extra 14 million on his contract. With the moves that are expected already for the Bears and the cap space that they have to work with, Cutler will probably be left alone, but the clock is ticking, and if he doesn’t have a significant playoff run in 2016, the Bears could cut ties with him. His contract details are below:
With the rumors that RB Matt Forte will not be resigned, coupled with the performance of Jeremy Langford, the Bears are headed in a new direction in 2016. The other notable names that are on the list for Chicago to resign are WR Alshon Jeffery, LT Jermon Bushrod and LB Shea McClellin.
A lot of the pundits are saying that Jeffery will be franchise tagged, however a deal has to be made for the star WR and the Bears would be wise to do so. With Kevin White (who was injured in 2015) coming back, Chicago would have a solid 1-2 punch to go along with TE Martellus Bennett. Bennett has one more year on his deal and White is locked up until 2019. With the direction that the NFC North is going, having three receivers that could put up the numbers that they have the potential to, you would be hard pressed to pass on that.
Bushrod is 31 and with the free agents that are to hit the market, his time in Chicago is probably done. Cutler was sacked the 5th worst of his 10-year career, only playing in 15 games. A change is in the works for the ‘blindside’ of Cutler.
McClellin is probably the most interesting of the Bears free agents. A former 1st rounder, he has played positions ranging from DE to LB and at 26 he has only started 31 games in 4 seasons. As you will read below in the Draft for the Bears, they are targeting 3 linebackers, and if anyone knows about Fangio in his 3-4 scheme, especially in San Francisco where it was the most effective, he will want to load up on them. Will McClellin be in his plans? Nah.
Taking a look at what the Bears are, and their history, they have always had top defenses and that is how they have won. By bringing in both John Fox and Vic Fangio, they wanted to continue that trend and will do so with the draft, given a few possibilities that could happen in free agency. The top names to watch out for are Darron Lee, OLB, Ohio State, A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama, Jaylon Smith, OLB, Notre Dame, or Reggie Ragland, ILB, Alabama.
What makes the drafting of Lee or Smith interesting is that in the 3-4 base that Fangio wants to run, he wants to have someone who complements Lamarr Houston. If that is the road that the Bears want to take, they wouldn’t be wrong as the 3-4 is predicated on stopping the pass (which the Bears ranked 4th) as well as stuff the big run plays (which they were awful). Both of these guys bring an interesting skill set to the table to say the least, with the nod going to Smith. He is described as a tweener, and if Telvin Smith from Jacksonville told us anything in 2015, being a tweener isn’t a bad thing when you can not only play sideline to sideline, but drop in coverage.
Robinson is a completely raw freak of nature. He is a project, and not many teams will take a project in the first round, but whoever gets him will not be disappointed. I mean, come on, a defensive tackle from Alabama? All those guys are coached to do is stop the run and generate a push. If the Bears think that their front needs that, and they aren’t impressed with their 2nd round pick, Eddie Goldman from last year, then they could target Robinson if he is on the board.
Keeping with the Roll Tide theme, is Ragland. Ragland, like Robinson, performed very well against the run, but has some question marks when it comes to the pass. IF the Bears are done with McClellin, or they think that he needs some help on the inside, they take Ragland. Smart money has them taking either Smith or Lee if they are on the board.
60 million dollars can buy a lot of toys. Depending on what type of splash that Pace makes during free agency could say a lot about what they do in the 2016 Draft.
Haloti Ngata is the biggest name of the linemen, and although he played in a 4-3 in Detroit, he has played and played well in a 3-4 during his time in Baltimore. Even though he is up there in age, he can still be a force for a couple seasons, and the Bears have the money to throw at him if they choose to.
Von Miller, who has played in a 3-4, and with Fox in Denver could be an interesting find. You could close the book on Smith and Lee if they throw a pile of cash at Miller. Look for the Bears and more notably Fox to make a few calls to Miller this offseason. He brings experience, explosiveness, and a ring to a team who is very young on defense, and a guy who could be a leader in the locker room. With the status of DaMarcus Ware in question, maybe Miller wants to play opposite of another stud (Houston) so he isn’t the focal point of a game plan, thus extending his career.
Recently James Laurinaitis was released from the Rams, and could pose an interesting signing for the Bears. Lets be honest, this guys is a tackling machine, and that is what is needed in Fangio’s defense, especially against the run.
A Quick Guide to the Rookie Wage Scale (First Round Breakdown)
On the Clock: 2015 Chicago Bears