Building the ultimate Bears: Coaching, draft & more

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Building the ultimate Bears: Coaching, draft & more

Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011
Posted 6:41 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

In the first of a four-part examination of the 2011 Bears, CSNChicago.com looks the four main areas at issue for a team that considers itself just a few players away from another run at a championship:

Part I Coaching, free agency and the draft

Part II Offense

Part III Defense

Part IV Special teams

The Lovie Smith deal

GM Jerry Angelo was clear in his season epilogue: The Bears want Lovie Smith back in 2011 and beyond as their head coach. But do not by any stretch take that as a pronouncement that a contract extension is a fait accompli.

It isnt.

Smith is under contract for the 2011 season at 5.5 million. At that pay grade he ranks among the best-paid of his peers, meaning that he is unlikely to be looking at a new deal with a significant raise.

Other than the 5 million-per-season ransom the San Francisco 49ers were pressured into paying first-timer Jim Harbaugh, teams have been shrinking payroll for field bosses. The financial considerations are reasons are obvious. Uncertainty over the future of the collective bargaining agreement is working against teams lavishing money on head coaches who may not have teams to coach this season.

Experience countssort of

Also, the head coaches in this years Super Bowl Mike McCarthy for Green Bay and Mike Tomlin for Pittsburgh were newbies when they took their jobs. McCarthy was never a head coach at any level before Green Bay hired him in 2006, yet he has been to the playoffs three of the four years after a .500 first season.

Tomlin succeeded Bill Cowher with the Steelers a year after McCarthy went to Green Bay. He too was never a head coach before becoming one on the NFL level, was a coordinator just one year (Minnesota) and then won a Super Bowl as a rookie head coach.

Smith was never a head coach previously, yet won in Chicago. Same as Mike Ditka. Now Smith is in the ironic position of being the expensive proven head coach in a market that is turning away from those (see: Fisher, Jeff; Tennessee Titans).

Whose price?

With Angelo and Cliff Stein structuring contracts, the Bears have done consistently sound contracts with little over-extension to require cutting players for cap reasons. They took care of Smith in 2007 with a market deal and he will play that one out, at least.

The tightrope for the Bears will be to make the genuine effort, which they will, to get Smith done, possibly for a year or two at the current money, possibly longer for a lower figure, without poisoning the situation in a way that will leave scar tissue on Smiths side if it doesnt work out.

Which it may not.

Best strategies:

The Bears offer to add one year at 5.5 million and a second at 5 million, securing Smith through 2013, when Angelos own deal is up.

Smith? Two alternatives. Acknowledge a serious offer made in the right spirit and market conditions, then gamble on his team keeping upward pace with the leaders and gamble on himself that hell be worth even more with another deep playoff run to his credit.

Or, more sensibly, accept the market deal. If the Bears slip, hes bargaining this time next year from a weakened position, possibly in a further reduced market if one of the newbies this year do extremely well. And if the Bears do well, just not NFC Championship well, he is still signed for two more years in the NFL coaching-salary penthouse.
Free-agent bonanza

The constricted market of 2010 will be replaced by one with as many as 500 free agents hitting the market this year, with four and five years experience. In a supply-and-demand business, that is not at all good news for the supply but potentially very good news for the demand side.

Elite players will command contracts of the magnitude, relative to a possibly reduced salary cap, that the Bears gave Julius Peppers last year, that the New York Giants signed Antrel Rolle for, that the Miami Dolphins used to secure Karlos Dansby.

The cap is indeed the wild card. The Bears have paid elite money for free agents (Peppers, Muhsin Muhammed, John Tait, others) and cannot be faulted if they dont make a preemptive signing as theyve done in some situations.

Baltimore defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, Oakland cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, San Diego receiver Vincent Jackson and New England guard Logan Mankins are available (pending tags or new deals with their existing teams) at need positions for the Bears. If the Bears go to that level, of player and price, it will be a surprise.

But rarely has Angelo let an area go unaddressed that he views as a major need.

In-house first
The Bears will endeavor to re-sign nose tackle Anthony Adams and the expectation is that they will fortify defense perhaps ahead even of offense; keeping a strength strong is a must.

But they have what they view as three defensive ends (Peppers, Israel Idonije, Corey Wootton) and tackle help with former Kansas City ChiefCarolina Panther Tank Tyler to go with an emerging Henry Melton, steady Matt Toeaina and still-developing Marcus Harrison.

The fate of Tommie Harris remains to play out but he is unlikely to be back with his roster bonus and salary hits facing the Bears.
Feeling the draft

The Bears have the 29th pick of the first round, the same slot where Angelo selected Marc Colombo in the 2002 draft, his first as Bears GM. The draft is expected to go off as scheduled in April irrespective of the collective bargaining agreement but trading players in draft scenarios wont be possible, so some limits may be in place.

The draft is not a sure call for the Bears to plan on needed help. For example, when you look at the guard situation right now, theres nobody that really jumps out at you and says theyre going to wow somebody and be a guaranteed first- or second-round pick, said ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr.

Theres nobody at that position unless you move some tackles inside. There arent that many guards who are going to be those immediate hole-fillers.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Bears add another assistant coach to John Fox's staff

Bears add another assistant coach to John Fox's staff

John Fox and the Bears have added another assistant coach.

Zack Azzanni is leaving the University of Tennessee to become the Bears' new receivers coach.

Azzanni has been with Tennessee since 2013 as a receivers coach and passing game coordinator. Prior to that, he spent time at Wisconsin, Western Kentucky, Florida, Central Michigan and six seasons at Bowling Green.

Azzanni was on Urban Meyer's coaching staff at Bowling Green in 2001-02 and also coached Pittsburgh Steelers superstar receiver Antonio Brown at Central Michigan. Under Azzanni's tutelage at CMU from 2007-09, Brown totaled 305 receptions for 3,199 yards and 22 TDs, earning a sixth-round draft selection in 2010.

Curtis Johnson spent 2016 as his first season in the role of Bears' wide receivers coach, but announced he was leaving after the Senior Bowl to take a job with the New Orleans Saints.

It's unknown if Azzanni will get a chance to coach Alshon Jeffery (who is currently a free agent) but the incoming coach will have an important job in molding young receivers like Kevin White and Cameron Meredith.

The Bears also announced the additions of assistant coaches Brandon Staley and Derius Swinton II Wednesday morning:

Staley will replace Clint Hurtt as outside linebackers coach and Swinton will be the assistant special teams coach under Jeff Rodgers.

Swinton is reprising his role he held on the Bears coaching staff in 2015 before leaving to take a promotion with the San Francisco 49ers special teams. 

Hurtt left the Bears to take a position as the defensive line coach with the Seattle Seahawks. Staley spent last season as the defensive coordinator at Division-III John Carroll University, the alma mater of New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Hall of Fame coach Don Shula.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will there be any takers for Bears QB Jay Cutler?

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will there be any takers for Bears QB Jay Cutler?

In the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast, Hub Arkush (670 The Score/Pro Football Weekly) and Brian Hedger (NHL.com) join Kap on the panel.

ESPN is reporting that the Bears have begun shopping Jay Cutler. Will there be any takers? 

Meanwhile, Jimmy Butler doesn’t think he’s going anywhere. Would that be a mistake?

Miguel Montero makes his peace with Joe Maddon but was this even a big deal? Sammy Sosa says he put Chicago on the map, and compares himself to Jesus. When he will the Cubs welcome him home?

Plus, Pat Boyle drops by to talk Blackhawks and the “Roly Poly Goalie” is looking for work all because he ate a pie.

Check out the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast right here: