It’s been a busy offseason so far for the Chicago Bears, but not in the way anyone might have expected.
So far the Chicago Bears have removed players from their roster, not added players. Normally that might seem less unusual, but this season seems to be the year that everyone is jumping the gun already.
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And it’s not a matter of just not signing some players – Chicago has actively removed at least one.
Brandon Marshall was traded to the New York Jets (as discussed in the linked NJ.com piece) last week and writers like Chicago Tribune’s Brad Biggs wonder if Jay Cutler and his large contract might not be far behind.
Lance Briggs will also not be back next season, per Comcast Sportsnet, who also thinks Charles Tillman will not return. Ditto Chris Conte, per David Schuster of WSCR Radio-Chicago. NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport feels defensive tackle Stephen Paea will depart as well.
Some of these changes are bigger than others. There are a lot of them, though, and one could imagine some Bears fans might be nervous.
Chicago isn’t saying it, but are they rebuilding?
While they are doing a lot of moving of pieces, they probably aren’t.
First, just because they aren’t making a big splash signing (excuse me – agreement to sign despite not being able to negotiate), doesn’t mean they are being idle. ESPN’s Josina Anderson has indicated that the Bears are among teams interested in the Denver Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton.
And while Marshall was a critical piece to the offense his first two years in the Windy City, last season was marred by injury and kept him from 1,000 yards for only the second time in his career. Meanwhile Alshon Jeffery played very well and had no trouble picking up the slack.
Briggs has aged relatively well, but ultimately the Bears need to get younger on defense which is why he and Tillman will likely be gone. Paea is coming off a very good season and financially the Bears clearly feel like they can get plenty out of the position for a lot less money with Ego Ferguson. Or, if they can get Knighton, that problem will be solved anyway.
They won’t miss Tillman as much as fans might worry they will with Kyle Fuller coming off a strong rookie year.
The real question revolves around Cutler though. If they have him on the roster by Thursday, they will effectively have committed to him for the next two years. According to Biggs, a $10 million guarantee for 2016 kicks in on Thursday, three days after the beginning of the new league year. He’s already owed $15.5 million this year. That’s a lot of money and there are very few teams who will take that on.
Here’s another thing—as frustrating as Cutler can be for fans, who do you replace him with? Jimmy Clausen? Not likely. And the free agent market is terrible for signal-callers—the top shelf option being Brian Hoyer.
Trading (or if someone really dislikes him, cutting) Cutler doesn’t make sense. You aren’t getting any better at quarterback—even if the rumor that the Bears want to draft Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota that ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio told a Chicago radio station is true.
Either you are sitting Mariota for two years while Cutler plays and Mariota refines his game or you are trading Cutler and hoping that Mariota is there at No. 7 or wherever you can trade up to.
And there is no guarantee he will be, unless you can swap picks with Tampa Bay or Tennessee or trade one of them Cutler. It’s not likely Lovie Smith wants him and Tennessee seems all in on Zach Mettenberger and isn’t close enough to contention to spend the money on Cutler.
So if you get rid of Cutler, you may have Clausen and whatever you can scrape together elsewhere.
But let’s say for a second Mariota is there or the Bears trade up to the top two spots.
Now you have Mariota—a guy who has tremendous upside but is not ready to step into a pro-style offense—learning the ropes as you pay Matt Forte a ton of money and have Jeffery wasting his rookie contract and some of the more productive years of his life.
I happen to like Mariota a ton, but he isn’t a day one guy—especially for a team which is not built to his strengths.
So while there is some upheaval in Chicago, the Bears aren’t rebuilding right now. Reloading? Sure, but not rebuilding.
They have too much invested in the team they have now to do more than add pieces and Improve what is already there.
Andrew Garda’s work can currently be found on Fansided as well as SportsonEarth.com and the fantasy football site Footballguys.com. You can follow his NCAA basketball work at NJ.com, where he is trying to explain just what is happening with Rutgers and Seton Hall. Garda is also a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. You can follow him on Twitter @andrew_garda.
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