The NFL offseason is a wonderful, eternal spring of hope for NFL fans everywhere. For all but two franchises, the NFL offseason will become speculation long before a victor is crowned in the Superbowl. For example, the offseason speculation for Jacksonville fans probably started somewhere soon after kickoff in September. As it stands right now just shy of Thanksgiving, the Bears are tied for first in the NFC North with plenty of opportunity left. However, the seemingly self destructive nature of our defense has led many WCG faithful to rightfully question the Bear's postseason hopes with rumblings of offseason moves set to resemble a low budget slasher film.
Let's take a moment to envision a possible universe with our 2014 Bears.
The offseason will officially start as soon as the confetti from the Superbowl is barely making its way to the trash dumps of New Jersey.
Coaches are fired and new candidates for Head Coaches and Coordinators are brought in to Front Offices nation wide
At this point Phil Emery will likely have one looming question, what to do with Mel Tucker?
The Coach will likely have little more than the leverage he's gained socially among his peers, because we all know that the defense he fielded will give him no clout in Halas Hall. This decision will have repercussions. Phil will most likely either give him free ideological reign over player choices moving forward or severely handicap him with possible midseason candidates to relieve him of his duties if little improves. The propensity of injuries in 2013 might just allow Mel Tucker to hobble into another year as the Bears Defensive Coordinator.
The Senior Bowl will have likely been played by this point and draft boards are taking shape in 32 organizations.
March- Free Agency and player contracts
This is where the Bears offseason gets interesting. Players will receive contract extensions that will suspiciously approach deadlines, while we fans cheer and vilify players and management alike. let's all take a moment to applaud the foresight of Phil Emery. It could have been very easy for the new GM to fold under the pressure of Lovie's defensive success in 2012 and offer defensive contracts carte blanche. Right now, we could be looking at a team completely burdened by a Atkins-esque contract for Melton, a large sum of money for older players past their prime, and considerably less leeway in determining the future direction of the Trestman era Bears. As it stand, there should be considerable amounts of money from which our GM can play. Let's examine what the Bears organization will like at the outset of the 2014 offseason.
Candidates for cut (c) or restructure (r)
none, $0 cap hit, no dead money
Matt Forte, $7,300,00 cap hit, $2,000,000 dead money
Michael Bush, $3,850,000 cap hit, $2,000,000 dead money (c)
Michael Ford, $496,166 cap hit, $2,334 dead money (c)
Brandon Marshall, $9,300,000, no dead money (r)
Alshon @Jefferies@, $1,240,317, $873,758 dead money
Earl Bennett, $2,450,000, no dead money (r)
Eric Weems, $1,600,000, $500,000 dead money
Marquess Wilson, $506,787; $35,360 dead money (c)
Martellus Bennett, $6,025,000; $3,375,000 dead money
Jake Byrne, $495,000; no dead money (c)
Jermon Bushrod $7,300,000; 8,800,000 dead money
Kyle Long $1,886,580; 6,031,898 dead money
James Brown $570,000, no dead money (c)
Jordan Mills $536,000, 123,600 dead money
Julius Peppers $18,183,333; 8,366,668 dead money (c)(r)
Shea McClellin $2,253,654; $4,141,690 dead money
Stephen Paea $1,172,787; $295,164 dead money
Cheta Ozougwu $570,000, no dead money (c)
Cornelius Washington, $520,947; $77,841 dead money (c)
Christian Tupou $495,000; no dead money (c)
David Bass $495,000; no dead money
Lance Briggs $6,500,000; $1,000,000 dead money (c)(r)
Jon Bostic $895,636; $934,527 dead money
Khaseem Greene $603,023; $324,069 dead money
Jerry Franklin $570,000, no dead money (c)
Isaiah Frey $495,000, no dead money
Chris Conte $788,400; $133,400 dead money (c)
Adam Podlesh $1,825,000; 800,000 dead money
Total Cap number $79,123,830
2013 Salary Cap $123,000,000
Contract restuctures happen throughout the offseason. If big names aren't cut soon after the outset of the offseason, it's most likely that a team is content with the player or at least trying to renegotiate the terms of the contract before releasing a player. This defense was bad.
It starts with the defensive line.
Melton injured. Collins injured. Paea injured. Peppers limped into the new season.
Shea McClellin can't defend properly against the run.
Bostic looks lost at times
Rookies mistakes at linebacker
Lance Briggs injured.
Pursuit angles for safeties.
Coverage issues for safeties.
Injury issues with Tillman.
First and Foremost, let's be reminded that this defense is one year removed from one of the best statistical seasons they've ever accrued. Lovie and Urlacher are gone. However, I don't see their absence as the defense's most critical failings. I genuinly believe that this defense needs two to three playmakers and a sophomore effort from Bostic and the defense could be vastly improved.
Whether the solution comes through the first round of the draft or through an aggressive free agent signing, the 3Tech DT has to be the first priority this offseason. Melton can be signed to a vet minimum, or very close, one year deal to see if he still has what it takes after his surgery. He will have to be ok with having to dethrone the new 3T from the draft. While technically the 3T has a one gap responsibility, they are the most pivotal defensive lineman.
Penetrating the B Gap in the defense is the most important responsibility in the Tampa 2 varietal, it's why Sapp was the most important member of the Superbowl Bucs. The penetration makes a play one dimensional and drastically alters what the offense can do. On run defense, it makes the job of the linebackers easier because they can use their agility and speed to cleanup the havoc created by the backfield penetration of the 3T. The DEs can cheat in favor of a pass rush and the Safeties won't be as burdened with Linebackers grossly out of position.
OK. So we've established that a dominant 3tech is the most critical position for the Bears to target next year. Let's evaluate remedies for that problem.
Free Agents (Notable)
I could see the Bears trying to bite on Randy Starks, as he's had a few good years, but other than him I only really see stopgap measures at best for a position that is of the utmost importance. Basically, there is no easy answer in Free Agency that even comes close to resembling a good investment.
The Bears should spend their money on one of the notable pass rushers available this year.
Let's look at possible first round candidates in this year's draft:
Ra'Shede Hagemen (Minnesota)
Louis Nix (ND)
Stephen Tuitt (ND)
Will Sutton (ASU)
Ego Ferguson (LSU)
Anthony Johnson (LSU)
Calvin Barnett (OkSU)
Aaron Donald (PITT)
Tim Jernigan (FSU)
The Bears will probably be looking down the barrel of another 16-20 pick if they fall just short of the playoffs. By that time the two most notable DTs on this board will probably be taken, Hageman and Nix. The NFL Combine, workouts and Senior Bowl are still to be played, so this list still has a lot of flux left in it. I believe someone from this list very probably could be a Chicago Bear next year if the Bears don't trade for help at the 3Tech position.
So to recap to this point. Coaches are retained. 3Tech DT is the offseason target.
Before we discuss who could be on the roster next year lets discuss cap space. As the Bears stand right now, they have 43M USD in cap space next year. That is with 29 players under contract for the beginning of next year. If you add 24 contracts at a veteran minimum for 2nd year players, the cap space is around 30M USD. (Using 123M USD Cap from 2013)
That figure doesn't sound like a lot when you consider that Jay Cutler might be looking at an annual contract value of $15M USD. We also need to add big ticket items to our defense, where will we find those players with only $15M?
Jay Cutler could sign a contract with an annual ticket value 15 Million for 4 years=$60 Million total and see very low cap hits in his first two years. The signing bonus is prorated over the life of the contract. Let me give a very crude example:
I really can't imagine a scenario where the Bears or Jay Cutler would want to get involved in a Mark Sanchez or Tom Brady-esque contract with more money guaranteed. However, with 50% of the money guaranteed, the Bears have a lot of leverage over Jay Cutler in Years 3 and 4 when the dead money of the contract are smaller hits if a young whippersnapper come around and looks ripe to take his job.
Also, I keep hearing that 2015 is the year when the NFL makes a significant bump in the NFL Salary Cap, which lessens the blow of most of the new QB contracts.
So lets assume that is exactly the contract Jay Cutler gets and his first year cap hit is 9.5M USD.
I'll make assumptions for the following players being retained as well (making them all one year contracts for ease):
Devin Hester (1,000,000)
Robbie Gould (2,500,000)
Eben Britton (715,000)
Pat Man (940,000)
Matt Slauson (3,000,000)
Jeremiah Ratliff (1,500,000)
DJ Williams (1,500,000)
Zackary Bowman (840,000)
Tim Jennings (3,000,000)
Charles Tillman (2,500,000)
Craig Steltz (840,000)
If we added these contracts and kept all other contracts the same our cap hit would be $107.5M USD with 41 players and 12 roster spots left to sign. If the Bears had all of their draft picks in order last year, they would've counted as 4.6M against the cap.
107.5+4.6=112M USD for 48 players. Then to get to the 51 players against the cap the Bears still need to count 3 walk ons at 1.2M for a total cap space of $9.76M.
$9.6 Million dollars isn't a lot of money considering the needs that this team has this year.
Clearing Cap Space
There are three obvious candidates for cap savings.
Julius Peppers, Michael Bush and Earl Bennett.
They won't all be cut.
Lets start with the easiest. Earl Bennett will see a pay cut, no doubt about it. He has no leverage as he has no guaranteed money and little production on the field. His cap hit is 2.45M in 2014. He will have to sit down with Phil and take less money or play for another team. I expect him to be around $1M next year.
$1.45M in savings
Michael Bush is looking like an early season candidate for being cut. He doesn't fit with what Marc Trestman does and can't get the job done on short yardage. The Bears just cut him and move on.
$2M in dead money, $1.85M in savings
Julius Peppers is an interesting case. His cap hit is high. $18.2M is hard to justify unless the player is still at a high level. If we just cut our losses we save $9.8M. His Salary is $13.9M. There is only one way he stays on this team. He has to voluntarily take a salary well below $13.9M. That figure probably has to be around 4 or 5 Million, and he still wouldn't be considered a steal at this point. If he did take a salary of 4 Million, we would be earning the same 1 year cap saving as if we cut him. I think there are proficient enough pass rushers available where we cut Pep and and decide to move on, less he comes to form in the next few weeks.
Unfortunately $9.8M cap savings.
Total Savings= $13.1 Million
That leaves Lance Briggs untouched and Brandon Marshall untouched. Both are players that could be negotiated with for more cap space.
Total Cap Space= $22.9M
So now we have about $23 Million to go shopping. Let's look at needs.
Backup QB- Sorry WCG, but if McCown maintains this level of efficiency someone will throw a contract of 4-6 Million at him, something that the Bears can ill afford. He will leave town like Nate Robinson of the Bulls and I'll welcome watching every one of his games next year as a stopgap starter.
Backup RB- We should be able to do this through the draft or relatively inexpensively through free agency.
Center- The time is quickly approaching to bid farewell to a long, well served career in Roberto Garza.
FB- we can do better than Fiametta. If he's going to expected to catch targets in the flats, he has to catch targets.
Defensive End- Without Peppers, this will be a huge priority. McClellin and Wootton get to battle for the opposite end.
Nose Tackle- Even with Paea and Ratliff, we should seek an upgrade if available.
3Tech- Great candidate for a first round pick
Cornerback- A succession plan for Tillman has to be drafted this year.
Strong Safety- Wright doesn't get a contract and we need a stand out Strong Safety.
Competition at almost every position.- Conte gets one last year to be a ranging Free Safety, it doesn't mean he's safe though.
Free Agency targets
Center - Brian de la Puente
This looks like a lay up. de la Puente joins his mentor, Aaron Kromer, to solidify the Chicago Bears line.
The list for Free Agent RBs is long, we shouldn't have to overpay for very good talent.
There are plenty of intriguing names on this list as well, the draft might be another option here in the later rounds.
FBs are commodities.
Of those prospects I like Michael Johnson or Michael Bennett. Greg Hardy is a nice consolation prize.
Nose Tackle- Paul Soliai (MIA)
There are more options but I think Soliai is the only upgrade to what is currently on our roster when healthy.
Lots of mid range talent is available at Corner. The Bears might be better off looking in the draft for a groomed replacement to Tillman.
Safeties- James Ihedigbo (BAL), Jairus Bird (BUF), TJ Ward (CLE), Ryan Mundy(NYG), Donte Whitner(SF), Bernard Pollard (TEN), Matt Giordano (STL)(Because his name sounds like a famous pizza establishment)
There are some headliners in this group to target, notably Whitner, Bird and Pollard. Jairus Bird wants to be the highest paid safety, we could still feasibly do that with our cap space. That means a cap number around 11 million, which is steep. Whitner and Pollard aren't bad players to target if we can get them. Also, we have a third round draft pick this year.
With the way contracts are structured, we could feasibly pick up three big ticket players from this free agency class.
QB- Jay Cutler
RB- Matt Forte
WR1- Brandon Marshall
WR2- Alshon Jeffery
WR3- Earl Bennett
TE- Martellus Bennett
LT- Jermon Bushrod
LG- Matt Slauson
C- Brian de la Puente
RG- Kyle Long
RT- Jordan Mills
LE- Corey Wootton
NT- J. Ratliff
3T- Stephen Tuitt *credit SuckMyDitka
RE- Greg Hardy
SLB- DJ Williams
NB- Frey/Rookie Draft Pick
SS- Bernard Pollard
FS- Chris Conte
What do you think?
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