That is a bad idea right now, in my opinion. I am not saying Ratliff will not be a contributor for a team in 2014 but if the Bears were to consider him, I think it should be done after general manager Phil Emery pursues other avenues to reshape the defensive line. For starters, Ratliff is 32 and will turn 33 before the start of the 2014 season. The goal for Emery needs to be to get younger players for the aging defense, building blocks for the future. Now, maybe Ratliff would be a wise stop-gap player or a bridge player for next season but it’s entirely too early to even consider him for a role like that. You fill in with bridge players after you know what you have to work with for the long haul. Ratliff was a four-time Pro Bowl performer for the Cowboys and a very successful player in Dallas’ 3-4 front. The Cowboys expected he would make a fine transition to the 4-3 defense but there was obviously a disconnect between the player and the organization over his health. Ratliff underwent surgery last December and his agent has said he will not be ready to play this season. Moreover, Ratliff battled plantar fasciitis last season and was in decline. The Cowboys are going to eat $6.9 million in dead space next season because of Ratliff. This is the kind of player you approach cautiously, not a guy you rush out to sign even if it is for the future.
Do you think Corey Wootton can become a successful under tackle in the Bears’ defense? Can he be even better inside than he is at end? Physically, he reminds me of Richard Seymour, who played both end and tackle in his career. -- Dan M., La Crosse, Wis.
Wootton has been solid for the Bears in a pinch moving inside with injuries causing problems on the interior of the line. I think it is possible Wootton will still be used inside even as Stephen Paea looks ready to return after missing the previous two games with a toe sprain. Wootton’s displayed a team-first attitude while admitting he would prefer to be playing end. That is a testament to his character in what is a contract year for him. He’s made adjustments to playing inside. It’s like moving from an island to a phone booth and it requires a different set of skills. I’d be careful comparing Wootton to a seven-time Pro Bowl player like Seymour, who is one of the best linemen of the last 20 years or so. Seymour was listed at 6-foot-6, 317 pounds, so he was much thicker than Wootton, who the Bears list at the same height and 270 pounds. The experience inside could enhance Wootton’s value by making him more versatile but entering this season the Bears were hoping he would improve as an edge rusher and I think that is where he would prefer to be right now. It will be interesting to see how things unfold for him as the season wears on.
With so many players coming out of contract, how much cap room will the Bears have after the season? -- @xbecuk from Twitter
This is a good question. Right now, the Bears have $81 million committed to their 2014 salary cap. That means using $123 million as a very rough salary cap, the team projects to have some $42 million in space. That is a ton of room. But before fans get exuberant about the possibilities this gives general manager Phil Emery in free agency, consider one very important factor. The team has only 29 players under contract right now for 2014. So, let’s assume for the sake of this exercise that quarterback Jay Cutler receives the franchise tag. That is expected to be more than $15 million. Carve $15 million out of that amount and there are a lot of players left to add to the roster and a budget to consider. Remember, more significant to teams than the salary cap is their cash budget. The Bears, of course, could create more space by shedding Julius Peppers, who would carry a lot of dead space, but the goal is going to be to get younger. There is a lot of football remaining in 2013 before we will consider the ways Emery can apply this cap room. Suffice to say, he will have ample room to operate.
Why not try Tommie Harris or Anthony Adams with the needs at defensive tackle? Could work? -- Lou S. from email
I’ve touched on this topic and continue to get inquiries about both former Bears. Harris last played in the league in 2011 and his best days are long behind him. Adams also last played in the league in 2011 and has transitioned into a media role with the organization. When thinking about players that could help the Bears, the focus needs to be on current players. If the Bears had any interest in kicking the tires on Harris, I think that would have happened by now. He did have a tryout for the Buccaneers in the summer but nothing came of that. Usually, players are on the street for a reason. Eventually, we have to accept they are former players. I think Landon Cohen has been OK considering the Bears plucked him off the street and undrafted free agent rookie Zach Minter got a chance for the first time last week.
Are the Bears the only team in the NFL that has never run a 3-4 defense? If so, I think they should keep it that way considering they invented the 4-3 with Bill George way back in 1954 and subsequently the middle linebacker position as well. I think history and tradition should count for something in today's NFL and I hope every coaching staff and front office from now on is made aware of our glorious past, at least on defense. By the way, is there any significant proof about which of these two fronts is more effective? – G. Ryan, Carthage, Ill.
The Bears have never relied on a 3-4 front as a base defense to my knowledge. They are certainly not the only team to not utilize it. The Jacksonville Jaguars, around since 1995, have also never used a 3-4 as a base defense although they are currently using a hybrid 4-3. I am going to disagree with you though. I don’t believe anything that happened in the '50s or since should have any relevance on what the current coaching staff does. The best coaches adapt their schemes to accentuate the strengths of their personnel. Just because George, Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary and Brian Urlacher have roamed the middle of the defense for the Bears doesn’t mean that they should be married to a 4-3 defense. I don’t know how glorious you can consider the Super Bowl era for the franchise, either. The Bears own one Lombardi Trophy. As far as which front is more effective, they both work wonderfully if the personnel are there to make it happen. The outcome of games on Sundays is determined by players far more than coaches and schemes. Talent wins out. For those that are regularly recommending a shift to a 3-4 front for the Bears, the team does not have the personnel to run that scheme effectively right now and a transition would require a considerable overhaul. The Cowboys made the switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 this season but I think moving in that direction was relatively easy for them because they had some players that transcend schemes, namely middle linebacker Sean Lee and outside linebacker turned defensive end DeMarcus Ware.
In years past, the Bears have seemed to be one of the healthier teams in the NFL, but then Mike Clark replaced the retired Rusty Jones. According to a June 1, 2013, Chicago Tribune article written by Dan Pompei, Clark's program “is a subtle shift from the previous strength program, which was more geared more toward sustainable strength and injury avoidance.” Now this year's team has suffered a rash of injuries. Coincidence? – Ryan, Streamwood
Clark’s program has placed a greater emphasis on power and explosion with players lifting heavier weights but I don’t think that can be attributed to the injuries that have affected the defense. The ACL tears suffered by defensive tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins were freak injuries when you watch the replays. I don’t know that there is a strength coach out there with a prescribed program for avoiding ACL injuries. They happen. Middle linebacker D.J. Williams was lost to a torn pectoral tendon, again, a freak injury that can happen from time to time, especially when a player’s arm is extended at an awkward moment. We’re not talking about soft-tissue injuries. I received a couple questions that were very similar and I can tell you the Bears don’t have any concerns about the direction Clark has taken the team in the weight room.
Ironically, I think the crumbling defense has assured that Jay Cutler will be signed to a multi-year deal for two reasons. First, the defense looks like it will require an overhaul next year, and Phil Emery won't be able to use a high pick on a quarterback in the draft. Second, there will be rookies, new players and question marks on defense next year. Does Emery dare to have a huge question mark on offense as well without Cutler? I think it's a lock Cuter is with the team next year (long-term deal or franchise tag). What do you think? – Steve
I think it would be potentially disastrous to make a decision on a quarterback for the long haul, particularly when you’re talking about one that will command a big pay day, based on the other side of the ball. Getting the quarterback position right -- and keeping it right -- is the No. 1 goal for all organizations. I understand what you are suggesting here but of all the factors Emery will include when making a decision on Cutler, the Bears’ defense will not be one of them. It can’t be. It’s completely unrelated to Cutler and if Emery had doubts about the quarterback (I am not saying he will), re-signing him because of doubts about the defense would be the worst thing he could possibly do. Because a quarterback with questions paired with a defense with questions only creates a team with a LOT of questions.
Brian Urlacher was insulted the Bears offered him "only" $2 million, but no one else offered him more than the minimum. Israel Idonije signed with Detroit for less than the Bears offered. I'm already resigned to Charles Tillman turning down $2 million from the Bears next year only to sign with the Packers for the veteran minimum. When will veteran players realize that a salary-cap system prevents teams from paying them based on past performance? – Mark E., Arlington, Va.
The Packers have got some pretty good younger cornerbacks right now and general manager Ted Thompson has shown an aversion to free agency over the years, so I would not pick that as a possible destination for Tillman before his career ends. I am not positive the Lions offered less to Idonije than the Bears, either, but that doesn’t really matter at this point. Charles Tillman is earning $8 million this season and it is premature to speculate on his value to the Bears and/or on the open market in March. He turns 33 in February and has been hampered by some injuries through the early portion of this season. Let’s see how the remainder of the year plays out. I don’t begrudge players, veterans or not, from trying to earn as much money as they can either. If a player is in his 30s and has had a long, successful career, it’s up to them if they want to put a price on their services moving forward. Some players simply don’t want to go through the physical grind of a season if the money isn’t right in their mind.
I know this is far away but could you see Phil Emery pulling off a trade similar to Cleveland and Atlanta to move up and select defensive end Jadeveon Clowney? -- @james23white from Twitter
Emery has shown a tendency to be far more aggressive in the draft than his predecessor Jerry Angelo, who almost never made a move to trade up in the draft. By my recollection, Angelo traded up in the draft on only two occasions -- to select defensive tackle Stephen Paea in the second round in 2011 and wide receiver Justin Gage in the fifth round in 2003. That was it. Of course, Angelo tried to trade up for Gabe Carimi and we all know how that botched deal with the Baltimore Ravens went down. Right now, Clowney projects to be a wonderful pro prospect and the Bears look like they will have needs on the defensive line at both end and tackle. But if the Bears make the playoffs and therefore are drafting at No. 21 or lower in the first round, you’re talking about a potentially huge deal and one with major ramifications. Let’s revisit that 2011 trade between the Browns and Falcons that allowed Atlanta to land wide receiver Julio Jones with the No. 6 pick. In order to move from No. 27 to No. 6, the Falcons gave up that first-round pick and four others. They also traded their second-round pick (No. 59), fourth-round pick (No. 124) and first- and fourth-round picks in 2012. That is a bounty of draft picks. Given Emery’s stated goal to acquire more draft picks, I think such a bold move up the draft board is unlikely. The Bears need to rebuild their defense and they’re going to need a multitude of picks to do so. The Falcons thought they were one player away on offense when they added Jones, an elite talent. The Bears will also have needs at cornerback as starters Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are headed to free agency and on the wrong side of 30. In the right situation, sure, I see Emery being the kind of bold thinker it would take to make such a huge trade. I don’t think the time will be right for that come May.
How does D.J. Williams going to injured reserve affect the Bears’ salary cap situation? -- @tgtatro from Twitter