With the hot start and the offense progressing, do you see the Bears initiating contract extension talks with Jay Cutler before the end of season? -- @Benyaminr from Twitter
I got exactly a one-week reprieve from a mailbag packed with questions about how to spend Phil Emery’s money -- or I should say the Bears’ money. Here’s the deal: Emery has made it clear he is not going to “initiate” contract talks with any players during the season. That doesn’t mean those talks won’t happen but I don’t see Emery picking up the phone and reaching out to Cutler’s agent Bus Cook. He’ll certainly accept phone calls from Cook and the representatives for all of the other players on the roster. That kind of stuff happens with regularity.
Currently, the Bears have $3.505 million in available cap room. That’s not enough room to make any kind of significant deal for Cutler moving forward -- or any other frontline starter. It’s the kind of space teams need to have to operate during a season as injuries happen, like the one that occurred for Henry Melton on Sunday night in Pittsburgh.
Emery has also given indications with so many players coming out of contract, he doesn’t want to pick and choose one player or two right now and thus leave a large contingent of other players upset they didn’t get their turn at the negotiating table. In-season contract talks are delicate matters that can make things uneasy for both parties. They are the hardest contracts to do former general manager Jerry Angelo used to say. Now, if the Bears are sitting on a small chunk of cap space at the end of the season, could they apply it toward a modest extension in December? That is certainly possible. Emery hasn’t ruled anything out. He’s just said he is not inclined to do contract extensions in-season. Last December is when the team extended long snapper Pat Mannelly. Who knows? Maybe Mannelly gets another deal just before the holidays?
Let’s consider this from another angle too. Do you think Cutler is driven to do a contract right now? Doing a deal in-season might wind up costing Cutler a lot of money and it takes two parties to get a deal done. Consider the Joe Flacco situation for a minute. He rolled the dice on himself and came up big. Real big. If I am a general manager, I want a quarterback that is willing to bet on himself too.
It’s not a perfect analogy but when the White Sox signed pitcher Gavin Floyd to a $15.5 million, four-year extension with a $9.5 million option in 2009, it was reported that John Danks was also offered the same contract. Danks turned down the deal and I said to myself at the time I’d rather have Danks pitching for me because I would want the ball in the hands of a pitcher that wanted to gamble on himself. Two years later, Danks had a $65 million, five-year contract. Maybe Cutler wants to gamble a little too.
How do you think the Bears will deal with Henry Melton after this year in the wake of his season-ending injury? They obviously won't franchise him again, and I would be really nervous giving him a significant extension considering nobody knows how he'll respond coming back from such a major injury. On the other hand, pass-rushing defensive tackles are so hard to find and Melton is still in his prime, playing perhaps the most critical position on this defense. -- Wally Flanigan
This was a popular topic this week and for good reason. Lot of questions about Melton. Once again, he was in a contract season playing under the franchise tag and that means he will be an unrestricted free agent come March provided the team does not place the tag on him a second time, something I view to be not likely. So where is Melton’s value? That is something only the open market can establish. He earns $8.45 million this season by virtue of the franchise tag.
Melton turns 27 next month and I believe he remains in the prime of his career. His agent Jordan Woy said on Twitter that he expects Melton to be ready to roll by May or June. Overly optimistic? Who is to say? But it’s certainly feasible Melton could be on the field playing by the start of the 2014 season, there is no question about that. Melton will maintain value for the Bears unless they are able to find a replacement three-technique. Is Melton going to be able to command what he would have had he put together another Pro Bowl season? No. But I would be surprised if he finds himself in a position where he is fielding offers for the veteran minimum. ACL reconstructions are far from uncommon in the NFL and front office personnel are not as concerned about them for linemen as they are for skill position players. Plus, look what Vikings running back Adrian Peterson did last season returning most expeditiously to capture MVP honors.
Melton could be in a situation where he mulls a multi-year offer or the possibility of playing on a one-year prove-it deal that would then put him back in the marketplace trying to hit a home run at age 28 the next year. He will surely seek long-term security as soon as possible. What frustrates players who receive the franchise tag is their inability to shop their services on the open market. Now, Melton may have a chance to get there. It’s not an ideal situation for him, but even if he does wander into the marketplace the Bears could bring him back. Keep in mind, he’s not a fit for every defensive front but some teams will covet his skills. I wish I could give you a dollar range right now but we’re far out and it’s just too early to even speculate on something like that. I think Melton will have good value, though, assuming everything with his surgery and rehabilitation goes as planned.
If Bears want to switch to a 3-4 defense, they would have to start drafting players for that scheme right away, right? -- @mmmmmmmmpizza from Twitter
If Phil Emery and Marc Trestman made the collective decision to make a conversion to a 3-4 defense the Bears would have to completely overhaul the roster on that side of the ball. They don’t have many pieces that would fit that scheme right now, in my opinion. There isn’t a player on the roster that could play the nose tackle in that scheme and I’m not sure how many players they have would profile as an end in that scheme other than Corey Wootton, who 3-4 teams coveted as a five-technique when he was in the 2010 draft. The Cowboys were likely going to draft him in the fourth round before the Bears selected him. Shea McClellin would be an outside linebacker in that scheme but what would you do with Julius Peppers? I don’t think Lance Briggs would be ideal for that scheme. Ditto Jon Bostic. That’s just my opinion. You’re talking about sweeping change on that side of the ball.
What do you see as the greatest area of concern for the defense this year? Mine is passing yardage. -- @al_molinaro from Twitter
The yardage isn’t as concerning as the lack of a pass rush from the defensive line and the chunk plays that are being allowed, sometimes when blitzes don’t get home. But you make a valid point. Through three games the Bears have allowed 18 passing plays of 20 yards or more -- 10 to the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger. That puts them on pace for 96 this season. They allowed 47 passing plays of 20 or more yards all last year. As the defense settles in, I’d expect things to improve. Roethlisberger’s yardage didn’t end up doing too much damage in what turned out to be a 17-point victory but there were two defensive scores and the Bears cannot count on those every Sunday.
How are the Bears preparing for the loud crowd in Detroit that they will be facing on Sunday? -- @swibbers from Twitter
The Bears are piping in crowd noise during practice again this week, something they did last week as well to prepare for the trip to Pittsburgh. Coach Marc Trestman said he expects it to be even louder at Ford Field. Crowd noise is nothing new for the Bears. Lovie Smith used it regularly during his tenure and the Bears even used it for the defense to prepare for home games at Soldier Field and for the offense in the red zone. The previous staff felt the home crowd was too loud when the Bears were in the red zone.
Will we see sets with Michael Bush and Matt Forte in the backfield together? -- @thelifei from Twitter
We saw just a little of that in preseason and the Bears have used it sparingly through three games, once in the victory Sunday night at Pittsburgh. Forte was split out wide as a wide receiver to the right and Bush was in the backfield with Cutler in shotgun on the second offensive play of the third quarter. It resulted in an eight-yard completion to Alshon Jeffery.
The Bears also used this “pony” personnel group twice in the season opener against the Bengals. On the first play, Forte was lined up wide right as a receiver again and Bush missed a block on Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who hit Cutler and forced an incomplete pass. On the second, Forte was again wide right and Jeffery caught a short pass.
The same personnel group resulted in a 32-yard touchdown catch for Forte in the preseason at Oakland. In that instance, both backs were in the backfield and Cutler hit Forte on what was essentially a wide receiver screen that was very well blocked downfield. Expect to see more of it but the Bears are not going to make a living out of this package.
What is the solution to the Bears' lack of pass rush from just the front four? -- @nakzokulah from Twitter
I think a little bit of patience is required. It’s not where they want to be yet but I also don’t believe it is time to panic. The Vikings game was played in wet conditions which did not allow for optimal footing so I’m going to kind of forget about that game. The defensive line did better at Pittsburgh. Coaches credited Stephen Paea and Corey Wootton with two quarterback pressures each and gave one to Nate Collins, Henry Melton, Shea McClellin and Julius Peppers. They’re going to be in a road environment this Sunday at Ford Field but it’s a fast, artificial surface. Let’s see how they do in efforts to get after Matthew Stafford.
Who is the fourth defensive tackle as of right now? -- @davesmith3 from Twitter
Unless the Bears sign a defensive tackle to the roster before Sunday’s game, it sounds like Corey Wootton will be moved inside in a pinch. Wootton already gets some action on the interior in the sub package when the Bears use three defensive ends and one tackle in an effort to enhance the pass rush. Undrafted rookie free agent Zach Minter will serve as the third tackle behind starters Stephen Paea and Nate Collins.
Do the Bears get salary-cap relief for Henry Melton going on injured reserve? -- @Poobah90 from Twitter
No. His $8.45 million salary will count against the salary cap in that amount for the entire season. That is the primary reason why I wrote above that the Bears need their cap room right now -- $3.505 million – in order to handle roster moves necessitated by injuries throughout the season.
What will Mel Tucker do to offset the big plays secondary has surrendered? -- @Mitlane from Twitter
The turnovers have sure come in handy to this point in the season and as I wrote above, I think there was some empty yardage in some of the Steelers’ production in that game. Tucker rolled the dice a good deal. He came up with some wins and Ben Roethlisberger hit the Bears for some plays. It’s about striking a balance when it comes to blitzing.
“We’re asking for more pressure,” Tucker said. “We’re asking to be more physical, to play faster, better run fits. Better coverage in the back end. Better coverage from the linebackers. We’re just asking for more. More, more, more. That’s what we want. That was the mantra this week — getting better. Staying focused on getting better. Doing our jobs, to the best of our ability. Trust the defense and then work hard to get better and take it to the next day. Just focus on today. We just want more.”
We’ll see if Tucker gets more on Sunday against the Lions.
Do you foresee Corey Wootton kicking inside more on passing downs? If so, will Cornelius Washington get on the field as a result? -- @MrRyanCox from Twitter
Wootton playing inside on passing downs isn’t a plan that is being hatched now that Melton is out for the remainder of the season. Yes, it could happen some more but we’ve seen Wootton and Julius Peppers play inside in the nickel package already. Whether any of this leads to Washington, the sixth-round draft pick, getting on the field remains to be seen. I reported Wednesday that defensive end Cheta Ozougwu might wind up being promoted to the 53-man roster to take the place of Melton. Ozougwu rejoined the Bears on the practice squad on Tuesday. If Ozougwu is indeed signed to the 53, my hunch is he would get a chance to contribute before Washington. But that’s just a guess on my part at this point. We’ll see how this shakes out.
Why aren't the Bears stretching the field more? Let Jay Cutler air a few out, no? -- @ericrung from Twitter
Coach Marc Trestman said after the season-opening victory over the Bengals that his No. 1 goal was to create a comfort level for Cutler in the pocket with a revamped offensive line that includes two rookie starters. The deep drops and the shots downfield are what got the offense in trouble under previous coordinators at times, right? I think we can all agree on that. Cutler has still been getting shots downfield and the 41-yard strike to Brandon Marshall on third down in the fourth quarter was a perfect example. The Bears have been looking to throw downfield off play action and it has worked. They’ll continue to do that but they want to keep Cutler upright.
Cutler is averaging 6.9 yards per attempt and while that ranks 18th in the NFL through three weeks, I’d expect that figure to rise a little in the months to come. He’s playing well and the line is doing a good job of protecting him. The opportunities downfield are going to come.
Is it concerning at all the Bears are only activating two running backs on game days? -- @nwfisch from Twitter
There is an element of risk to it, sure. If Matt Forte and Michael Bush were both injured the Bears would be down to fullback Tony Fiammetta in the backfield. But I think you can find one position where you can say that about the 46-man game day roster for every team. “Aren’t they a little thin here?” What it tells you is the Bears are not confident third running back Michael Ford is ready to be a significant contributor on special teams because that is what a third running back would have to do.
Any reason the Bears can't think creatively like the Colts and fill a need on the defensive line via a trade? Is there anything that keeps them from doing this? -- Dan Foote, Cranford, N.J.,
I think we’d all agree a special circumstance led to the Browns trading running back Trent Richardson, the third overall pick in last year’s draft, to the Colts for their first-round pick in 2014. The Browns have a new coaching staff and management team in place since Richardson was drafted. They’re looking to do a total rebuild in Cleveland -- again. They sold while value was probably as high as it was going to be for Richardson.
I know this: Personnel men will tell you that special defensive linemen are even more difficult to come across than running backs. They are certainly more coveted. Rarely is a team going to trade a top-flight defensive lineman. It’s a shame the Browns didn’t previously have a Cover-2 based defensive scheme. Maybe then they’d be looking to unload some talent up front. They run a 3-4 scheme so there isn’t a match there. General manager Phil Emery has tried creative ways to add linemen. Remember, the Bears took a low-risk approach with Brian Price, the former second-round pick of the Buccaneers last summer. They brought him via trade with hope he could re-start his career after some hamstring injuries. It didn’t work out. I don’t see any sellers out there with defensive tackles but maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Emery will find one. You also need to remember the club kept Zach Minter, an undrafted free agent from Montana State, on the roster for a reason. The Bears believe he can play. So, it makes sense to see what he can do. If he doesn’t pan out, I would imagine Emery will hold another tryout or contact Landon Cohen or Daniel Muir, the two tackles that worked out at Halas Hall on Tuesday.
What's more concerning: The lack of a pass rush or a reliance on turnovers? Or neither? -- @pkjm887 from Twitter
The lack of a pass rush is concerning, no question about it. But as I wrote above, I don’t think the Bears are in a panic situation at this point. I don’t think they are as reliant on takeaways as they may have been in the past. Consider the strides the offense is making. The season is early. Marc Trestman’s unit should continue to grow. The Bears have benefitted from turnovers, sure, but everyone strives to win that ratio because there isn’t a better statistical indicator of success than the turnover margin. A beefed up pass rush would help them win the turnover margin some too.
Do you think the Bears could try Jon Bostic at defensive end during passing situation? Try to get him on the field to make plays. – Tim
Bostic is not a fit as a defensive end in the NFL. That is not going to happen. His time on the field will come, and I suspect he is the first man off the bench if anything happens to any of the three starting linebackers. Right now, he’s relegated to making plays on special teams and he did a very nice job on one kickoff at Pittsburgh, shedding a block and making a play. D.J. Williams showed up in a big way too and if he keeps playing that way I suspect the questions about Bostic will be reduced somewhat. But I understand a lot of people are anxious to see the second-round draft pick play.
Has Alshon Jeffery been thrown to at all outside of 10 yards this year? His average per catch looks like that of a running back, not a receiver. Is nobody aware of the bomb for a touchdown he caught in his very first game against the Colts last year? If they're going to keep using him like this, they might as well make him the slot receiver. What's going on here? -- Dennis G. Waco, Texas
No one has forgotten the impact Jeffery made last season or that long touchdown off a play fake in the fourth quarter of that blowout victory. Cutler has taken some shots for Jeffery this season, they just haven’t connected yet. Those will come. I think it’s important to note the offense is doing a better job of spreading the ball around and keeping defenses honest. I suspect he will have a big game here at some point and his average of 8.0 yards per catch is no doubt on the rise.
I have a rules question about a punting team downing punts. Late in the fourth quarter Sunday, on the Bears’ last punt of the game, several Bears coverage players surrounded the ball as it slowly rolled to a stop. As the clock continued to tick, you could hear several of them yelling "don't touch it." Finally, one of them did and the clock stopped. My question is, how long can a coverage team just surround a stationary ball and let it sit before downing it? Obviously, there must be a rule to limit it, but with a late lead it would seem the more clock that you could wind down the better. -- Jason, Moline, Ill.
Once the ball has stopped moving, officials will blow the play dead whether the punting team has touched the ball or not. A punting team cannot run an abnormal amount of time off the clock by surrounding a kicked ball without touching it.