Bears fans beware: the next few weeks are going to suck . . .
Yep, it’s the grind of the NFL off-season, but—thank the Lord for small favors—we’ve got some pretty good questions this week. That in mind, let’s get to it! As always, you can read the entire off-season Q&A series here.
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How do teams, like the Bears, determine how many players to keep on the roster at each position at final cut-downs? Is there a standard across the league? – Brian Rainey, via email subscription
Love this question, Brian, because I think the answer is probably a little more in depth that fans might think. Let’s get into it a little . . .
. . . It’s all about the way coaches evaluate players—whether that be based on talent, position, potential, size, and/or athleticism. It would be a really simplistic approach to set your numbers in advance, based on the NFL limit, and then plug in the best players until someone gets left off, but that’s just not how teams do it. Some measurables are valued more highly than others. For example: big guys (guys with good size but maybe not great talent) are often evaluated higher than skill position players. Lovie Smith in particular likes athletic players, so guys who show that high level of athleticism will ultimately be evaluated higher in his system.
Teams will, in fact, set limits on how many players they will keep at a position—a floor and ceiling thing. For the Bears, they may head into final cuts knowing that they will keep no less than five wide receivers on the roster and no more than six. When it comes to more interchangeable positions, like offensive and defensive linemen, they may technically only keep three or four defensive ends, while knowing that some of their tackles can step in if needed. So those positions are a little more open-ended.
Finally, teams have to protect their talent, and so, many times, the goal is to keep as much talent as possible, while also staying within your range at each position. Take the Bears’ wide receivers, for example again: I tend to think they might actually keep six this season. Why? Because if they only keep five, they have to cut someone like Devin Thomas or Eric Weems, and that’s even if they send Johnny Knox to IR. Because both guys have more than four years of service, neither would be subject to the waiver wire as vested veterans, and both would be free to sign with any team (clarification: after the trade deadline, veteran or not, every player is subject to the waiver process). By doing that, the Bears risk losing a very talented special teams player to a team potentially in their own division. And divisional opponents love to pick the brain of a guy who’s just spent all off-season with their competition and who can also contribute. You don’t want to giftwrap your game-plan for the opponent.
All these things factor in to the final roster, and the Bears have their work cut out for them this season with some potentially tough decisions to make.
Do you see Shea McClellin being a future replacement for Urlacher or Peppers? – Thomas Smith, via Twitter
Here’s what I see: I see him being the Bears’ starting left defensive end this season. What I don’t see is the Bears attempting to mold their first-round Draft selection to fill a need he was not chosen to fill. The idea that he might be a future replacement for Brian Urlacher seems more born from the fact that he’s a white guy (sorry) than it does any real evaluation. Shea McClellin’s not a middle linebacker. More than that, the role that Urlacher has on the Bears is fairly unique around the league. More so still, we don’t know what the Bears’ defensive scheme will be a year from now. If Lovie gets canned and the Bears, say, move to a 3-4, McClellin would move to outside linebacker. So, in that scenario, he would not take the place of a middle linebacker or a defensive end. The bottom line is this: fans should stop thinking in terms of who he is going to replace. He was brought to Chicago to fill an existing hole at left defensive end. That’s his position.
If Matt Forte does not sign a long-term deal before the deadline of July 16 passes, but he does sign his franchise tender, when can the Bears re-open contract talks? – Chris Krogman, via Twitter
Great question. The bottom line is that whether Forte signs the tender or not, if he and the Bears do not enter into a contract agreement by July 16, they will not be allowed to do so until 2013, and Forte will only be allowed to play under the tag designation this season. They could still “talk,” sure, but the Bears would have no real incentive to do so. It will be interesting to see what happens in a few weeks. As I’ve said, Forte has zero reason to sign the tender before the deadline, and it’s possible that he accepts whatever the Bears offer currently is at the last minute. It’s also entirely possible that he decides to hold out of training camp and the preseason, thereby limiting his exposure to injury, although he would be fined for it. He would still, however, be paid his full salary. He won’t hold out of regular season games.
I know you hate predictions, but can you predict the starting offensive line at week one, eight and 17? – Chris Krogman, via Twitter
Week one through 17, barring injury:
LT – Chris Williams
LG – Chris Spencer
C – Roberto Garza
RG – Lance Louis
RT – Gabe Carimi
Do you see Jay Cutler reaching the 30 TD mark this season? – Jeff Glawe, via Twitter
Jay Cutler has averaged 1.5 TDs per game throughout his career. On a 16-game season, that puts his numbers right a 25. He came closest his first year in Chicago, throwing for 27 TDs (but tacking on 26 INTs to boot). I’m not sure if he adds five more to that average this season or not. I think the Bears want more out of Matt Forte in the scoring department, and I think they will get some goal-line contributions from Michael Bush. I also think, as most seem to agree, that the passing game will be vastly improved. So the potential is there for sure.
With all the new additions, why did Phil Emery fail to address the offensive line? Jay still seems to have doubts. – Jason Henry, via Twitter
It won’t go away, will it?
Here’s what I think Phil Emery likely saw when he came to Chicago: he saw a team that has ignored the need for a true No. 1 receiver for that last . . . well just about forever. He saw a team that has drafted two offensive tackle in the first round of the Draft the last four years. He saw a team whose window of opportunity was closing, and an offensive line that has seen as many configurations as there are lineman in the last couple seasons. He saw an offensive line that, despite some real tough injuries, managed to improve as their season progressed. I think he didn’t want to disrupt that chemistry—something an offensive line so desperately needs—by adding a new player when that window was so close to closing. It’s a tactical move, and it could pay off in spades, or bite the Bears in the rear. Cross your fingers, Jason.
Filed under: QandA