Forte coming up in trade what-if's

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Forte coming up in trade what-if's

The contract impasse between Matt Forte and the Bears is among the more closely watched personnel stories in the NFL this offseason. Fortes presence or absence projects as a factor in any balance-of-power discussion in the NFC North specifically and the NFC in general.

The team, from President Ted Phillips to GM Phil Emery to coach Lovie Smith, has been consistent that Forte will be in Chicago, period, this season. But some other teams can be forgiven for playing what-if with the unhappy running back.

CSNNE.com colleague Tom Curran and columnist Rich Levine elaborate on a Rotoworld.com assessment that Forte might be a trade prospect for the New England Patriots.

No scenario has been floated by credible Bears sources where that has been a possibility. But it wouldnt be the first time that the Bears and Patriots talked about a deal involving a major running back.

The Pats wanted to trade with the Bears on draft day 1998, giving the Bears the 18th and 22nd picks of the first round in exchange for the Bears at No. 5. The target was running back Curtis Enis.

No deal was concluded (the Jacksonville Jaguars offered more but Jags chief Tom Coughlin so angered Mark Hatley that the Bears hung up the phone and took Enis). And one isnt likely in the Forte case as well.

The problem, as it is right now in Chicago, is money. Forte has not agreed to the Bears long-term offer with guaranteed money in the double-digit millions, and the Patriots not too long ago went through a testy situation with an unhappy player under a franchise tag (guard Logan Mankins). Theyre unlikely to take on another without working out the money, and they are a team that has not invested heavily in running backs in the past.

Besides, if Forte holds out, the Bears wont have their No. 1 back but they signed Michael Bush and would be saving more than 450,000 per Forte-less game.

The Bears did not cave in on Lance Briggs during his franchise-tag contretemps. They will listen to offers everyone does but that should be as far as it goes.

Bears DL Akiem Hicks making the most of a chance the Saints never gave him

Bears DL Akiem Hicks making the most of a chance the Saints never gave him

Living well is indeed the best revenge, and sometimes nothing feels sweeter than proving doubters wrong. Akiem Hicks is savoring that exact feeling.

When the New Orleans Saints made Hicks their third-round pick in the 2013 draft, they typecast their big (6-5, 318 pounds) young defensive lineman as a one-trick pony.

“There were people in New Orleans that said, ‘You can’t rush the passer,’” Hicks recalled after the Bears’ win Sunday over the San Francisco 49ers. “They told me from my rookie year, ‘You’re going to be a run-stopper.’”

This despite Hicks collecting 6.5 sacks and 3 pass breakups as a senior at Regina in Canada. The Saints forced Hicks into the slot they’d decided he fit – nose tackle – then eventually grew disenchanted with him and traded him to New England last year – where he collect 3 sacks in spot duty.

Interestingly, Bears GM Ryan Pace was part of the Saints’ personnel operation. Whether Pace agreed with coaches’ handling of Hicks then isn’t known, but when Pace had the chance to bring Hicks to Chicago for a role different than the one the Saints forced Hicks into, Pace made it happen.

Pace likely saw those New England sacks as a foreshadowing or a sign that the New Orleans staff had miscast Hicks. The Bears defensive end now is under consideration for NFC defensive player of the week after his 10-tackle performance against San Francisco. Signing with the Bears last March 13 as a free agent was the career break Hicks has craved. For him it was a career lifeline.

“They have given me the ability to go rush the passer,” Hicks said. “So I love this organization – [GM] Ryan Pace, coach Fox, Vic [Fangio, defensive coordinator] – for just giving a guy the capability to put it out there and do what you feel like you can do.”

[MORE BEARS: Back from scary concussion, Leonard Floyd playing like franchise pass rusher Bears craved]

Hicks has been showing what he can do, to quarterbacks. For him the best part of win over the 49ers was the two third-quarter sacks of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Those sacks gave the massive lineman, who the Saints said couldn’t rush the passer, 6 sacks for the season – more than any member of the Saints defense this season. It has been a classic instance of putting a player in position to maximize his skills, not jam someone into a bad fit.

“Akiem has been in a couple of different types of packages before with New Orleans and New England,” said coach John Fox. The Patriots switched from a long-time 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 but “we’re more of a New England-type style. But we’re playing him more at end; he played mostly a nose tackle [in New Orleans]. He’s fit really well for us as far as his physical stature.

"But he does have pass rush ability. It shows a little about his athleticism. So he’s got a combination of both.”

That “combination” has been allowed to flourish at a new level, and the Bears’ plan for Hicks was the foundation of why he wanted to sign in Chicago as a free agent. The Bears do not play their defensive linemen in a clear one-gap, get-upfield-fast scheme tailored to speed players. Nor do they play a classic two-gap, linemen-control-blockers scheme typically built on three massive space-eaters on the defensive line.

They play what one player has called a “gap and a half” system, which requires being stout as well as nimble.

One Hicks rush on Kaepernick featured a deft spin move out of a block, not the norm for 336-pound linemen. He got one sack with a quick slide out of a double-team.

“I’m not freelancing,” Hicks said. “But I’m rushing ‘fast.’ There’s a portion of the defense where you have the [run] responsibility and don’t have the freedom or liberty [to rush]. It’s a great system for me and I love what they’ve let me do.”

Bears In-Foe: Matt Barkley about to get a different type of test

Bears In-Foe: Matt Barkley about to get a different type of test

If the Lions can intercept Drew Brees three times in the Superdome, and keep him without a touchdown pass in his home digs for the first time in seven years, what does that mean for Matt Barkley in his third NFL start, and first on the road?

Teryl Austin's unit held its sixth straight opponent to 20 points or less without its leading tackler, middle linebacker Tahir Whitehead (knee). The reason Whitehead's stepped up is due to the absence of stud linebacker DeAndre Levy, who's practicing, but has yet to play since the opener, due to leg injuries. This on the heels of playing just 17 snaps a year ago. 

It's remarkable what Austin's been able to do with a taped-together defense (sound familiar?) that was rocked by the loss of Ndamukong Suh a year ago (much less Levy's health issues).

[SHOP: Get your Bears gear right here] 

Who's stepped up? Undrafted fire hydrant lineman Kerry Hyder (seven sacks). Devin Taylor (heard of him?) has 4.5 sacks. How about Armonty Bryant (3.0 sacks)? This as Ezekiel Ansah, who came into the season with 30 sacks in 46 NFL games (14.5 last season) has ZERO so far this season. He missed the first meeting with the Bears, which helped in a 17-14 win. 

Haloti Ngata is the linchpin along the line, the 32-year-old rebounding from an injury-plagued 2015. Second-round rookie A'Shawn Robinson and Tyrunn Walker also rotate in effectively.

With their linebacker health woes, they've loaded up on three-safety setups, and will throw in a fourth to serve as undersized help on the second level. Glover Quin and Tavon Wilson are the listed "starters" but Rafael Bush and 6-foot-2 rookie "hitter" Miles Killebrew roll into their packages.

[RELATED: Bears In-Foe: Since last meeting, Lions roar restored]

Opponents tend to stay away from shutdown corner Darius Slay, who approached that status (and four-year, $48 million July payday) last season, and whose late Thanksgiving pick vs. Minnesota set up a game-winning field goal. Nevin Lawson may be "just" 5-foot-9, plays physical and fast on the opposite side, but the Lions may face a dilemma at what to do in their nickel package after Quandre Diggs reportedly suffered a season-ending pectoral injury Sunday in NOLA.

Special teams

Matt Prater kicked the longest field goal in NFL history for John Fox in Denver back in 2013 (64 yards in Mile High altitude), but still consistently connects from distance. He's 5-of-5 from 50-plus this season in going 26-for-29 overall (while missing two extra points).

Andre Roberts handles both kickoff and punt return duties. His 14.6-yard average on the latter leads the league, courtesy of two touchdown returns. The Lions also rank seventh in punt coverage and 10th in kickoff coverage.

Their "Teams" overall? Special.