Reader Q&A: Brad Biggs' Bears mailbag

Any chance the Bears will try to bring Brian Urlacher back? – Norm G., Sedona, Ariz.

When news of D.J. Williams’ season-ending pectoral tendon injury spread early Friday afternoon, this became a popular question via email and Twitter. A lot of people want to know if the Bears would consider bringing No. 54 back. I don’t believe there is any chance of this happening and I seriously doubt Urlacher would want to return. When the Bears announced the sides agreed they could not work out a deal, that was general manager Phil Emery charting a new path. It didn’t take too long for Urlacher to make the decision to retire. He’s doing television work now and won’t be back on the gridiron.

Williams was starting to play well and his loss will create an impact. That being said, I think most are excited to see what second-round pick Jon Bostic can do in the role. He’s got a learning curve ahead of him but the hope is he is a building block for the future of the defense. Returning to the past would not help the club.

What is up with Julius Peppers? Is it motivation? Not only is he not producing on the defensive line, but after the first interception of the Giants game, Peppers did not stay with his block. If Peppers maintains his block, Zack Bowman scores easily. Something isn't right. Also, wouldn't Israel Idonije look good in a Bears uniform this season?  For all of the good things Phil Emery has done, he dropped the ball on this one. – Keith L., Wichita, Kan.

There is no question the Bears are not getting the production and impact needed from Peppers. I noted in film review following the victory over the Giants that New York double-teamed him only twice and provided chip help against him four times on a total of 23 pass rushes.

I asked veteran Giants offensive lineman David Diehl, the Brother Rice and Illinois product, about Peppers after the game. Diehl played right guard but he’s been a tackle throughout much of his 11-year career and had plenty of NFC battles against Peppers.

“When you’ve got their two D-tackles that was hurt, you can’t do what they were doing at the start of the season, which was almost like hockey lines,” Diehl said. “They can’t shift and bring in all of those guys and keep everyone fresh which is tough for them. If they can get (Stephen) Paea back healthy and start getting a rotation, that will help. I’ll tell you what, Nate Collins was having a good season. Watching film, he was playing well and so that was a big loss for them after Henry Melton went down. Paea has been out the last two games. Those are guys that play well in that rotation and with them in there then you can get (Corey) Wootton back out at defensive end. That is the only thing that is different right now. Peppers is still an elite player. He is still a player you have to be alert for and a guy you have to get a back every once in a while to chip or keep a tight end in for protection because the minute you think you don’t, he will make a play.”

Opponents still respect Peppers but he hasn’t flashed like the Bears would like. I thought he was solid in the loss at Detroit but other than that, there hasn’t been a lot to get excited about, and that is an ongoing issue. When it comes to Peppers’ block on the interception return, he was blocking left tackle Will Beatty, who then turned around to pursue Bowman. Had Peppers blocked him from behind, that would have been an easy penalty for the officials to call. He didn’t do anything wrong on this play.

As far as Idonije, I don’t know that he wanted to return to the Bears badly. Here is what I do know: The Bears had a standing offer for Idonije for some period during the offseason. He didn’t take it.

Idonije wound up signing a minimum-salary benefit deal with the Lions. It is a one-year contract with a base salary of $840,000 and the deal included a signing bonus of $65,000 for a total of $905,000. Of that, $485,000 was guaranteed and he counts $620,000 against the Lions’ salary cap. So, the Bears put an offer on the table and he didn’t accept it because he was obviously seeking more money, right? He wound up going to the Lions for the minimum. The Bears did not get outbid in efforts to retain Idonije. Sure, Idonije would help right now. I don’t think he’s great by any stretch of the imagination. He’d be a role player at his age but the Bears didn’t want to pay over market and I don’t know if you can blame them. I sense Idonije wanted to leave as well. It’s a two-way street.

Everything we heard leading up to the season was how Julius Peppers was buying in and running sideline to sideline to make plays.  Right before the season the Bears asked him to restructure his contract. Did it cost Peppers any money now or in the future?  Some of the stories from Carolina when he first got here makes me wonder, is he staging a little "blue flu" to show his displeasure? – Tom B., Somonauk

When Peppers restructured his contract, all he did was allow the Bears to do some accounting work for salary-cap purposes. The move did not cost him a nickel this season so there was no downside to the move for him. The move reduced his salary cap number for this season to $14.383 million and in the process bumped it up in 2014 to $18.183 million and in 2015 to $20.683 million.

If Julius Peppers’ production stays flat will the Bears cut him? Trading him is unlikely due to his high salary, right? He is too pricey to keep with an average performance. -- @KobukWalks from Twitter

If you think he is too pricey to keep on the roster, consider how pricey he would be to pay to stay at home. Peppers is a vested veteran and his base salary is $9.9 million – or more than $582,000 per week of the season. If the Bears were to release him in-season, they would owe him the full $9.9 million in termination pay. You’re right, he is too expensive to trade. He’s also not going to be released.

With season-ending injuries to three defensive starters, what is this going to do to the defense? Even with Jay Cutler playing well, where will this put him in contract negotiations if the team fails to meet expectations? Will these setbacks be taken into consideration? – Chuck D., Guilin, China, from email

You’ve raised an interesting question here. The defense is going to have to scramble now with three starters gone for the season and really four of the top 12 players when you consider nickel cornerback Kelvin Hayden suffered a season-ending hamstring injury in training camp. The challenge is pretty obvious. The “next man up” is going to have to do all he can to prevent a significant drop-off in play. As to how that relates to Cutler, well, I don’t think a meltdown by the defense is going to do major damage to him. But it he was holding out hope for a Joe Flacco-style happy ending to his contract push, that might be difficult. Ultimately, quarterbacks are judged on how they perform in postseason. But Cutler can do just fine for himself at the negotiating table if he has a strong regular season.

That being said, there is an element of me that has wondered, since Lovie Smith was fired, if general manager Phil Emery would apply a similar (maybe not exact) measuring stick to Cutler as he did the former coach. Smith was dismissed because of his inability to guide the team to the playoffs. Will Emery use this criteria in evaluating Cutler? Not just this season but over the course of his career with the Bears? It’s worth wondering to a degree but in no way can the struggles of a defense wrought with injuries affect Cutler.

It seems both starting safeties have not been playing well. Do you think they should be given a message by one or both being benched in the next game? I think they're both just assuming they'll be starters no matter how bad they play. – Gary T., Allentown, Pa., from email

I got a number of inquiries about the play of Major Wright and Chris Conte. A lot of people have concerns about their play. I think the first point to consider is that the pass rush has not been what it needs to be this season. When the pass rush isn’t getting home, that affects the back end. It makes it more difficult for cornerbacks and safeties alike. A great pass rush can make an average defensive back look like a pretty darn good player. I thought Conte did a nice job in the open field against Giants running back Brandon Jacobs on Thursday night. He hasn’t been around the ball as much in the passing game as you would like. Wright has made some plays on the ball. He has two interceptions and two forced fumbles but his performance has been uneven. He’s also blown some plays and he was late getting to Giants wide receiver Reuben Randle on a 37-yard touchdown pass against Cover-2. The Bears have allowed 29 completions of 20-plus yards and that ranks 31st in the NFL. Certainly, the safeties should take some blame for this. But don’t forget the pass rush.

As far as giving a “message” to one or both players by benching them, I don’t believe in that. Coaches don’t send messages with depth chart moves, especially in-season. They make moves based on what they believe will give the team the best chance to win that week. I don’t know that a move to either backup at this point would be a positive change for the defense.

Is the rule against going to the ground for touchdown celebrations still in effect? Brandon Marshall dropped to his knees on both of his touchdowns but fortunately wasn't flagged. – Kevin, Ravenswood, from email

This is a good question and one of the rules that seems to be vague. If you look at the NFL Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1D it says, “Players are prohibited from engaging in any celebrations while on the ground.” Not only did Marshall go to the ground after each score, cornerback Tim Jennings did the same thing at the end of his 48-yard interception return for a touchdown.

But the NFL seems to allow some leeway if officials consider players are giving thanks to the Man Above for their great fortune. The issue is addressed here with former director of officials Mike Pereira joking that “I do not want to be struck by lightning.”

I noticed that Lance Briggs is wearing a quarterback’s helmet with a green stick on the back. Why is that? -- John W., from email

Briggs’ helmet is equipped with the same kind of communication device that the quarterback has. The green sticker signifies this because each team is only permitted to have one player on the field at a time with this. Plays are being radioed into Briggs like they were to Brian Urlacher in the past.

So, are the Bears going to change to a 3-4 defense over the bye?  I know it is kind of crazy to make such a major change in the middle of the season, but the Bears just don't have the bodies for the defensive line. They have lots of good linebackers, plus Shea McClellin. – Bill, Arlington Heights, from email

The Bears will not be switching their defensive scheme during the off week. If you think the Bears don’t have the bodies up front to play a 4-3 scheme, they are far less equipped to run a 3-4 front. They do not have the personnel for a 3-4 defense. Sure, McClellin might be a fit as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme but they don’t have linemen for that type of front. Moreover, Lance Briggs and Jon Bostic are not good fits for a 3-4 defense. Both are undersized and their skills would not be highlighted in a 3-4 scheme.

Is there any legitimate possibility for the Bears to sign a top-flight defensive lineman or two with low money this year and more money committed to them next year? -- @GuyNickelson from Twitter

I am afraid I don’t know of any “top-flight” linemen on the street right now. Richard Seymour is sitting at home but he wants top money and I think teams are weary of a player in a situation like this. Players that are motivated purely by money and not a passion for the game make it difficult for teams to sign big checks. What kind of shape is Seymour really in? There are plenty of other teams with needs up front and you don’t see them jumping for Seymour either.

Plus, consider what throwing good money at a player on the street would do to the locker room. General manager Phil Emery has said he’s not inclined to do any in-season extensions now. One of the reasons is real basic: The Bears have very little cap room to work with. They also have a lot of players in the final year of their contract. Players that would like a bite at the apple. Those guys have been here working since the offseason program began. What would it say to them if big money was spent on a newcomer even if it was backloaded? That is a tough message to send. But the biggest thing to keep in mind, in my opinion, is there are no top-flight defensive linemen sitting waiting for their phones to ring.

If you are Phil Emery and Marc Trestman, what do you do with Shea McClellin? And don't tell me, “hope he does a better job.” -- @prophets212 from Twitter

So, what would you propose? They’ve got to continue working with McClellin to develop him. Entering the Giants game, McClellin had five quarterback pressures, tied for second on the defense and one behind Stephen Paea. He hasn’t dazzled, no question about it. But the Bears are not going to give up on a 2012 first-round draft pick at this point. This isn’t Cedric Benson, a former first-round pick that wasn’t tuned in to what was going on around him. McClellin is a diligent worker and needs to improve. He hasn’t reached his draft potential yet, no question about that. But scrapping McClellin right now isn’t going to make the defense better.

When a player is cut from the practice squad does he stick around and attend practice or does he go home? – Lino C., from email

When a practice squad player is released, he doesn’t have to go home but he can’t stick around Halas Hall. The NFL has designated representatives that randomly drop in on practices of all 32 teams. This is done, among other reasons, to ensure a team isn’t working with players not on the 53-man roster or the eight-man practice squad. That would be a serious no-no and would result in strict penalties.

I know this question is out of left field especially with the defensive tackle injuries, but if the Bears offered a third-round pick to the Browns for Josh Gordon (not cost prohibitive with the cap), they could line up three wide receivers much of the time with Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte. With the improved offensive line, it might be enough to push the offense to the next level while hoping the defense improves until big additions in the offseason. Also it gives them cover if they decide to part with Brandon Marshall in the offseason should he become an issue now or if they don't want to extend him going into a contract year. Your thoughts? – Joe B., Oxford, Conn., from email

I like your outside-the-box thinking but Browns president Joe Banner recently told USA Today that the team is “absolutely not shopping Josh.” Now, a lot of times teams are not shopping a player up until the second the player is traded. But Gordon is a good player for them and giving him up on the cheap, for a third-round pick, probably doesn’t make the Browns a better team. Consider Gordon is one failed drug test away from a full-season suspension too. The No. 3 wide receiver position isn’t the problem for the Bears right now and it would be a mistake, in my opinion, to think Gordon would make up for the departure of Marshall next season. Gordon is a nice player but he’s not Marshall. General manager Phil Emery has expressed confidence in seventh-round pick Marquess Wilson. It’s a possibility Wilson is the team’s third receiver next season.

I keep seeing Eben Britton reporting eligible as a tackle but the Bears are not running his way. Is Marc Trestman using him as a decoy? -- @drewmolina from Twitter

Britton has gotten 51 snaps as a tackle eligible in the previous three games, getting 24 in the win over the Giants on Thursday. The offense isn’t going to run behind Britton every time he is on the field or that would be a dead giveaway to the defense. In fact, offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer pointed out the Bears are careful to monitor their run/pass ratio with Britton and said they were 50/50 the week before against the Saints with Britton on the field. I think he’s an extra blocker more for pass protection than anything else, but that is my opinion. He’s taken a lot of action away from tight end Steve Maneri, who has been inactive the last two games. I joked with Britton that he needs to get some work in on the Jugs machine catching some passes because sooner or later they’ll have to use him as the eligible receiver he is in these formations.

Is the rise of tight ends like Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski the response to the Cover-2 defense? @santucci_john from Twitter

Offenses are doing their best to spread defenses out and attack the middle of the field with prolific pass-catching tight ends to respond to the blitzes that they face. Instead of leaving more players in to block, offenses are sending more out in the pattern to challenge defenses. A big, mobile tight end is an easy target for the quarterback to find on a quick read and a challenge for the defense to defend with a safety or a linebacker. Really, I believe the rise of the tight end position in the passing game is in response to the complex blitz packages that have developed.

Should the Bears consider a different defensive scheme given injuries and the inability to get pressure with a four-man man rush? -- @RFR123 from Twitter

The Bears are not going to scrap the scheme in-season. They’ve had far too much success playing this defense for a long time. We saw defensive coordinator Mel Tucker mix it up in the win against the Giants with a variety of stunts up front. That is because the Bears have been unable to win one-on-one matchups. They’re searching for something to confuse the opponent and create an open lane to the quarterback. It wasn’t really successful in my opinion, but they did force Eli Manning into two interceptions at the start of the game and both were against the blitz. So, the blitzes didn’t produce sacks in those situations but Tucker’s bunch did come up with takeaways.

Can the Bears make a trade for Jairus Byrd? They need to make a move. Any chance? -- @CDouglass54 from Twitter

I suppose anything is possible but the Bears would need to create significant salary-cap room to be able to acquire Byrd, who is earning $6.9 million this season. The Bears will have less than $3 million in cap space remaining after they place linebacker D.J. Williams on injured reserve and fill his space on the roster. I don’t think safety is their biggest need right now either. Byrd isn’t going to do a lot to help the pass rush.

Are the Bears’ defensive issues due to injuries or change in defensive schemes? -- @JackJDonners from Twitter

They haven’t changed schemes. They have gotten older. Remember last season when there were storylines about the age of the defense? Linebacker Lance Briggs said they were “vintage.” Well, some of those vintage players moved on and some are still around. Injuries and some aging core players have contributed to some of the issues. No question about it.

Any reasonable chance that an extension gets done with Tim Jennings in-season? He's been big in three wins at Soldier Field this season. -- @nwfisch from Twitter

Yes. Phil Emery could do a very modest extension right now with the remaining salary-cap space and then be out of money for the rest of the season. The next injury would then force him to renegotiate a contract to make a move even for a minimum-salary player. See where this is headed?

The questions about in-season extensions continue to flow and I don’t know if everyone has realized that Emery’s hands are mostly tied by the salary cap here. Even if he wanted to do a deal, there just isn’t cap space. Jennings has played a big role in the success of the defense not only this year but last season when he led the NFL in interceptions. He was a terrific addition by former general manager Jerry Angelo and I think defensive backs coach Jon Hoke deserves credit for helping elevate Jennings’ career. Emery re-signed Jennings to a two-year contract before last season and you could make a strong case he has outplayed that deal. My guess is Jennings will be onbe of the players on an expiring deal that the Bears want to keep. But he turns 30 in December and difficult decisions will have to be made. Charles Tillman turns 33 after the season and I don’t know if the team will want to pursue two starting cornerbacks on the wrong side of 30. Eventually, the Bears need to get younger at this position – and also cheaper. As I noted Thursday, Tillman and Jennings combined count $13.1 million vs. the salary cap and that is the fifth-highest total for starting cornerbacks in the NFL. Jennings isn’t showing signs of slowing down. He didn’t have a perfect game against the Giants but the two interceptions he made were the difference. Let’s see how the remainder of the season plays out. I don’t believe there needs to be a rush to decide who gets paid and who doesn’t. There are 10 games to go and evaluations can shift. It’s a constant process. The undeniable fact here is the Bears don’t have the cap room to be doing a deal right now, especially the kind it would take to re-sign a starting cornerback.

Any 400-yard games (wins) coming for Jay Cutler in the Marc Trestman offense? -- @MorrComedy from Twitter

You nailed it there. The odds aren’t good for quarterbacks when they top 400 yards in a game because most of the time it means they’re playing catch-up – a lot of catch-up. Since 2008, quarterbacks are 28-43 in games in which they throw for 400 or more yards. That’s a .394 winning percentage. Cutler has passed for 400 yards once in his career – going for 447 in a 2008 Thursday night victory at Cleveland. His high for the Bears was 372 yards in the 2010 season-opening victory over the Lions.

Twitter @BradBiggs

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