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.