The Bears have done a lot of work to build the roster since the end of the regular season and in free agency. What about an extension for wide receiver Brandon Marshall who is entering the final year of his contract? Is that in the cards for Phil Emery? -- Miguel R., Chicago
That’s a good question and one that is difficult to answer definitively at this point. Right now my take is that an extension for Marshall prior to the start of the coming season is unlikely. That’s just a hunch and it is certainly not based on the club’s feeling about Marshall and his future. He’s been as good or better than expected since arriving in the 2012 trade as he ranks second in the NFL in catches over the last two seasons with 218, fourth with 2,803 receiving yards and fifth with 23 touchdowns. Marshall is on the books this season for $9.3 million with $9.1 million in base salary and $200,000 in the form of a workout bonus. I base my opinion on the fact that the Bears have spent a lot of money already this offseason and going back to the very end of last season when contract extensions emerged for players coming out of contract.
If you look at the deal for Jared Allen, the Bears are paying him the big money in the contract in 2015 and generally speaking players want their pay day up front in free agency. Allen has an $11 million fully guaranteed roster bonus for 2015 and it was pushed back a year for probably two reasons -- cap space and cash budget. They go hand in hand. The Bears could have carved out more cap room to give Allen more dough this year but I am betting the cash budget came into play. My guess is the Bears had to get creative to give Allen the guarantee he sought while not having to pay the bulk of it until next year.
Some have suggested that an extension for Marshall could lower his $9.3 million cap hit for this season but I think it is going to be tough to lower his cap figure (at least significantly) while giving him a market-value deal and cap space isn’t a pressing issue for the Bears as I have detailed already this offseason. Marshall is going to command a big pay day and is certainly deserving of being one of the highest-paid wide receivers in the league provided he remains healthy. Durability has certainly been one of Marshall’s many strengths. He just turned 30 and the good news is elite wide receivers have a pattern of playing very well into their mid-30’s. The Bears have a recent track record of having players play out their contracts before being paid. Lance Briggs is entering the final year of his contract. Jay Cutler and Charles Tillman just played to the end of their respective contracts. Ditto Tim Jennings, Robbie Gould and Roberto Garza. So it’s not like Marshall would be in a unique position playing out his contract. The upside for a club in extending a player early is potentially getting the player at somewhat of a discount by maintaining the integrity of the existing contract. The upside for the player getting a deal done early is cash and long-term security. But the team inherits injury risk in extending a player early and Marshall has had three hip surgeries in his career. The Bears also have Alshon Jeffery’s future to consider. The soonest he can get a new contract is after this coming season. Emery might prefer to let the situation play out over the course of the season and then consider his options. The budget might dictate that he has to do that. Marshall has made it clear he wants to continue with the Bears so the risk in losing him via free agency is probably not what it could be. Marshall will be able to maximize his value by reaching the open market if he indeed gets there.
Aside from being the incumbent, what leads you to believe Roberto Garza is the starting center for 2014? -- @IBleedBluNOrang from Twitter
The Bears have told Garza and newcomer Brian de la Puente as much. Garza will be the starter in 2014.
Can you see a scenario in the preseason where de la Puente forces Garza to guard, Kyle Long to right tackle and Jordan Mills to the bench? -- @PatrickASchmidt from Twitter
Basically you’re talking about de la Puente replacing Mills in the lineup. I suppose that is possible but I deem that unlikely. For starters, the Bears are upbeat about Mills and his future and expect him to make significant gains in his second season. It’s also unlikely because you’re talking about three changes in the starting lineup to replace one player. Generally speaking, teams don’t want to shuffle their line that much, especially a unit that performed well last season. Coach Marc Trestman said at the owners meeting that Long is penciled in at right guard
What is the center position going to look like in 2014 and beyond with de la Puente in the fold? -- @coreyeldiablo from Twitter
Garza will be the starter and de la Puente projects as the top backup on the interior of the line. Beyond 2014, it’s up in the air. Garza has said he wants to take it year-by-year at this point in his career and the Bears are approaching him the same way. Maybe he plays well and could return in 2015. Perhaps this is his final season and then the Bears look at re-signing de la Puente, who will be 30 entering the 2015 season, as the starter. There is a lot of ground to cover before we get there.
Will Lamarr Houston be playing much three technique? Or will he just slide down in pass rush situations? -- @PagettAdam from Twitter
The personnel men I have spoken to believe Houston’s best position is left end. One of his strengths is that he can play on the right side and also has the ability to play inside. I envision Houston starting at left end and getting reps inside in pass-rushing situations. But he has the versatility to do a little of everything. Houston’s preference is to play on the outside and he’ll probably do that most of the time in the base defense.
Would Willie Young have signed thinking he'd be a starter? Or would they have explained to him there will be plenty of snaps for him? -- @giltius from Twitter
After starting most of last season in Detroit and getting $4 million guaranteed in a three-year contract from the Bears, Young likely figured he would be in the mix for a starting job. I am sure when Allen was added to the mix, the club reached out to Young to reassure him it has significant plans for him. Some games are going to dictate the Bears be in their nickel personnel close to two-thirds of the time and I would imagine Young will get solid playing time in those instances. He’s got upside and should see plenty of action.
I am very excited to have Allen in the fold. What do you expect the defensive end rotation to look like? I assume Allen and Houston are the starters with Young and Israel Idonije backing them up. I have much love for Idonije for all his years of service but was really impressed with David Bass last season. Wouldn't the Bears be better off continuing to develop Bass rather than plugging in the below-average and over-the-hill (if reliable) Idonije? He did nothing for Detroit last season. – Dave M., Portland, Ore.
The top three ends are clearly Allen, Houston and Young. Bass showed flashes of being a nice young player last season and needs to continue to develop. The Bears have some solid competition for the fourth end position that also includes Cheta Ozougwu as well as Austen Lance and Trevor Scott. Idonije could also figure in the mix inside at tackle and that could be where the Bears look to use him. Bass needs to get better and nothing is going to be handed to him. In a best-case scenario, the Bears have to make a difficult roster cut come September.
Did rookie defensive end Bass show last year that he is worthy of staying on the roster this upcoming season? -- @TannerDSports from Twitter
I wouldn’t say Bass did anything in 2013 that guarantees him a 2014 roster spot. The Bears certainly look better at defensive end than they did a year ago and that should push Bass to elevate his game. We’ll see what he can do. He will certainly have an opportunity to carve out a spot on the roster.
With less needs on the roster and more depth across the board after the moves in free agency, could you see the Bears trading up for Justin Gilbert? -- @haas24712 from Twitter
Some people like Gilbert as the top cornerback in the draft class but I don’t see the Bears being in a position to trade up. They need more picks -- not less -- and cornerback is one of the positions with good depth in this draft.
Any scenario where Bears trade all the way to No. 1 for Jadeveon Clowney? -- @benjbuns from Twitter
Let’s review what the Redskins traded the Rams in 2012 for the No. 2 overall pick: Washington traded the No. 6 overall pick in that draft as well as first-round selections in 2013 and 2014 and the Redskins’ second-round pick in 2012. That is three first-rounders and a second-round pick. There is no chance the Bears sell out to move up to the top of the draft board.
Are the Bears more likely to trade their first pick or use it? -- @Max_Delash from Twitter
Use it. But I am sure general manager Phil Emery will actively seek trade-down possibilities to add more depth to a draft that right now has seven selections for the Bears.
What does the running back situation look like behind Matt Forte? Is Michael Ford looked at as the No. 2 or is the team looking for competition? -- @deepdishdeclan from Twitter
Good question. Right now, Ford is certainly in the mix to be the backup to Forte. The good news is the Bears are going to stop a troubling trend of spending too much on a reserve running back. Chester Taylor, Marion Barber and Michael Bush averaged more than $4 million annually as the backup to Forte over the previous four seasons, money that could have been better invested elsewhere. But Ford is completely unproven so it’s a projection with him at this point. I wonder if the Bears will look to treat the position like it has the backup quarterback job and go with a veteran on a minimum-salary benefit deal. There is also an increasing chance the Bears look to use a mid- to late-round pick on a running back, especially with a reserve center like Brian de la Puente now in place. This should be a good job battle to watch in training camp.
Any chance the Bears look at drafting A.J. McCarron late in the draft to be the quarterback of the future? -- @MichaelDownes from Twitter
You get some varied opinions when it comes to the Alabama product and like a lot of the quarterbacks in this draft he’s a bit of a wild card. But I would be surprised if McCarron is available in the late rounds. Most project him to be a third-round pick with a possibility of sneaking into the second round. The contract the Bears signed Cutler to indicates he’s the starter for probably at least the next three seasons so I don’t know if it is time for the Bears to start wondering about their 2017 starter. When you look at offensive positions the team could target in the draft, running back, tight end and wide receiver are greater needs, in my opinion.
How have the special teams coverage units improved with all the free-agent signings? The Bears seemed pretty poor in that area last season. -- @rflashj from Twitter
Actually, the Bears were solid covering kicks last season. They ranked No. 1 covering kickoffs with an average opponents’ return of 18.78 yards. The Bears were sixth covering punts with an average of 7.4 yards. The signing of linebacker Jordan Senn, cornerback Sherrick McManis, wide receiver Domenik Hixon and safeties Danny McCray, Craig Steltz and M.D. Jennings were all made with special teams in mind. But it’s difficult to project special teams play from year to year. If Joe DeCamillis’ unit can match its effort in these areas this coming season, the Bears will be in good shape.
Would you put it past Emery to draft a tight end early to put in two tight end sets similar to what Bill Belichick did in New England? -- @3ricHare1 from Twitter
It wouldn’t be a stunner if the Bears drafted North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron at No. 14 overall but I’d say it is highly unlikely. Keep in mind, Belichick didn’t have wide receivers like Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery when he made Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez focal points in the Patriots’ passing game. A more likely scenario would be the Bears trading down at No. 14 if Ebron remains on the board, allowing a team that targets him to move up and select him. Ebron is the kind of player in a weak class for tight ends that could get some trade action brewing for the Bears as multiple teams could covet him. However, there is at least a decent chance Ebron is off the board before No. 14.
Are you surprised Earl Bennett has not landed with another team yet? – Sandy T., Santa Fe, N.M.
A little bit but the longer you track things in the NFL the more you learn there aren’t many true surprises. Often times when a player is presented with a pay-cut-or-else scenario, the agent will shop around to find a deal in the event the player chooses to be released. When Bennett elected to decline a pay reduction from the Bears, some figured he had a destination already picked out. That hasn’t happened since his contract was terminated March 18. One club with needs at the position told me Bennett’s asking price was too high but that was a couple weeks ago. Perhaps it has changed since. He’ll catch on somewhere.
If for some reason a stud offensive tackle falls to No. 14 (Taylor Lewan?), could you see the Bears taking advantage and adding competition for Mills? -- @chasesamuel from Twitter
For starters, if the Bears invested a first-round pick in an offensive tackle, especially a pick as high as the 14th overall, it wouldn’t be as “competition.” That player would be plugged in as a starter from Day 1. Rebuilding the offensive line was the top order of business last year. As I said in answer to a previous question, I think the Bears are confident in Mills entering his second season.
Why did Chris Conte wait until recently to have shoulder surgery if it was injured the majority of the season? -- @ _Migs_ from Twitter
Good question. Conte hoped a rehabilitation program without surgery would help stabilize a shoulder that he actually injured in 2012. Often times, players are going to choose this route if avoiding surgery is possible. When it didn’t look like that would fully solve the situation, he elected for surgery late last month and that puts him on track for a return around the start of training camp. It’s not an ideal situation for a player with much to prove but the surgery will make him better in the long run.
The Bears put a lot of work into bolstering the front four (I'll even give them the front seven if you're drinking the Kool Aid on a move to linebacker making Shea McClellin better) but they haven't addressed depth in the secondary. While they might hit on a starter or two in the draft, that porous defensive back unit needs more. What street free agent and/or draftees projected into the latter rounds intrigue you? -- Gregory M., Naperville
They haven’t done a lot for depth at cornerback but they did re-sign starters Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman. Zack Bowman is the one that got away as he went to the Giants. Kelvin Hayden is back in the mix for the nickel cornerback job with Isaiah Frey and Sherrick McManis is primarily viewed as a special teams player. They also signed Ryan Mundy at the outset of free agency and the plan is for him to start, probably at strong safety. You can’t get it all done in free agency and really you don’t want to go that route. The Bears need an infusion of young talent and that will come via the draft. I think they need to look at the secondary in the early rounds of the draft not the latter rounds. A cornerback and a safety are both needs. A street free agent isn’t going to solve any real issues.
We know the greatest draft needs for the Bears are the secondary and defensive tackle, but what if a Teddy Bridgewater, Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan or even Mike Evans are available at No. 14? Do you pull the trigger and take the best player available or let those guys go and draft for need? -- Mike M., Chicago
It’s great when you hear clubs talk about drafting the “best available” player but in reality that is more spin than anything else. Reality is clubs need to plug holes with top talent at specific positions at the top of the draft. Let’s say safety is the greatest need, at least for the purpose of this discussion. If the Bears have a significantly higher grade on a player at another position, then it’s time for a discussion. But Bridgewater isn’t going to help the team win games in 2014 and the signing of a player like Jared Allen is a clear indication the Bears are hoping to compete for a Super Bowl this year. Look at some of the core players on defense. Allen is 32. Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman are 33. Tim Jennings is 30. Also defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff will turn 33 before the season opens and D.J. Williams will be 32. The Bears need to invest high draft picks on defensive talent in order to avoid having to spend big dollars on short-term fixtures via free agency.
With Jordan Palmer as the only choice for backup quarterback is Matt Flynn too much money? What are your thoughts on him or another viable backup now that Josh McCown is gone? – Tim M., Trevor, Wis.
At this point, I think it is safe to say the Bears are clearly comfortable with Palmer as the backup to Jay Cutler this season. Otherwise, we would have seen movement at the position by now. That doesn’t mean Palmer is locked in as the No. 2 but in my opinion, the job is his to lose at this point. Clearly the Bears want to follow the path they took last year by signing the No. 2 quarterback to a minimum-salary benefit deal. Could Flynn command more than that? Possibly. At some point, there will be a competitor for Palmer and the team had Josh Freeman and Adam Weber in for visits on Monday at Halas Hall.
Doesn't the linebacker play have to improve just by the mere fact that with the new improved defensive linemen and those that will potentially be added via the draft will keep offensive linemen from attacking to the second level so easily? -- Tim M., Elgin
Sure, better defensive line play will benefit all levels of the defense. But the linebackers aren’t going to be better simply because the guys in front of them are more solid. The Bears identified this as a weakness in 2013 by virtue of the change in the position coach. Injuries were an issue last season but so was performance. The group needs to be better on its own to make proper strides.
Are you surprised more ex-Bears haven’t landed with the Bucs and coach Lovie Smith? What are your thoughts on why this is the case? – David, Fort Collins, Colo.
With the official signing of safety Major Wright on Monday, I count four players on the roster that played for the Bears under Smith, including quarterback Josh McCown, cornerback D.J. Moore and long snapper Jeremy Cain, who was a linebacker when he last played under Smith. The Bucs also signed tight end Steve Maneri, but his stint with the Bears took place after Smith was fired. I don’t think you’re going to build a playoff winner by simply scooping up Bears’ castoffs and free agents. The Bears have not reached the postseason since 2010. After Tampa released Darrelle Revis, it looked like the Bucs would be a landing spot for Charles Tillman but one source told me he did not receive a contract offer from Tampa during his visit there. Tampa has a strength at defensive tackle so Henry Melton didn’t necessarily fill a need for Smith. The Bucs are looking for young talent like everyone else and it’s not like the Bears had a lot of that heading to the open market. It’s possible Earl Bennett could also land in Tampa.
Any chance of the Bears bringing back Rex Grossman as the backup quarterback? – Paul, San Diego
I like Grossman as a possible No. 2 quarterback for some team because he’s smart and he will come in and let it rip. Too often I think backup quarterbacks are timid and too quick to check down when they’re forced into action. Grossman isn’t that guy and Josh McCown wasn’t that player last season. But I don’t think a second tour with the Bears is in the cards for the team’s former first-round draft pick.
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