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 release Omar Bolden, sign Charles Tillman to one-day contract

Bears release Omar Bolden, sign Charles Tillman to one-day contract

The Bears released a player who was expected to be a special teams contributor next season and signed a player who officially retired from the NFL on Friday.

After signing Charles Tillman to a one-day contract to retire as a member of the Bears, the team terminated the contract of defensive back Omar Bolden.

Bolden originally signed a one-year deal with the Bears last March after spending the first four seasons of his career with the Denver Broncos, including the first three years under current Bears head coach John Fox and special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The 27-year-old Bolden, who won a Super Bowl with the Broncos in 2015, has amassed 27 special teams tackles and 24 defensive tackles in 56 career games. Bolden has also added 1,085 yards on 44 kickoff returns and 123 yards and a touchdown on five punt returns.

The Bears 90-man roster currently sits at 89.

Bears: The one thing Charles Tillman will miss the most in retirement

Bears: The one thing Charles Tillman will miss the most in retirement

When Charles Tillman arrived at Halas Hall Friday morning, after a season in Carolina as a Panther but now retiring from the game, Bears President Ted Phillips was there to bring Tillman back where he and the Bears knew he belonged.

“Welcome back home,” Phillips said to Tillman.

For Tillman, it was a 13-year love affair with a passion of his – football – that officially ended on Friday, with the 2003 second-round draft choice of the Bears signing a one-day contract that allowed him to retire as a Chicago Bear.

“I think I’ve done OK,” Tillman reflected as his family and members of the Bears organization looked on.

But Tillman, named the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2013, was also clear beyond the “I” part of his observation: “I didn’t do this all by myself,” he said, repeatedly remembering Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher, Tommie Harris, Chris Harris and a litany of teammates he credited with much of what he was able to do.

[RELATED - Athletes react to Tillman's retirement]

Bears Chairman George McCaskey spoke of Tillman in terms beyond football.

“Every once in a while a player comes along with uncommon ability and tenacity on the field and unsurpassed compassion and charitable spirit off the field, the kind that makes us grateful as fans and proud as an organization,” McCaskey said. “Charles Tillman was such a player and is such a person.

“For 12 seasons, he made life miserable for Bears opponents, revolutionizing his position and adding ‘Peanut Punch’ to the football vernacular. In the community, in countless hospital rooms, he counseled the worried parents with a 'been there' perspective and a sympathetic ear and offered them hope. He also supported the brave men and women who defend our great country.”

The decision to leave the game after starting 12 games last season with the Carolina Panthers was not difficult in the end for Tillman.

“I woke up one day and said, ‘I’m done,’” said Tillman, who’d been talked out of several retirement impulses by his wife over recent years, the last three of which ended with him on injured reserve.

A career marked by myriad highlights contained a couple that were the most notable. The first one that Tillman mentioned was the game in 2003 when he got the better of legendary wideout Randy Moss of the Minnesota Vikings, including out-fighting Moss in the end zone for a game-saving interception.

“It showed the world I could play with anybody,” said Tillman, acknowledging that he carried a chip on his shoulder, coming out of a small unknown college (Louisiana-Lafayette) and working to overcome doubters.

Tillman also cited the 2006 season, which ended in the Super Bowl in no small part because of efforts like Tillman’s in the comeback win at Arizona, in which he returned a fumble for one of the Bears’ second-half touchdowns in the 24-23 win over the Cardinals.

But it was less the highlights than one specific off-the-field part of his football life that will miss. Asked what he in fact would miss the most, Tillman’s answer was immediate:

“The locker room. The locker room, more than anything. Not the games, not the… just the locker room in general. The games that we played in there: the ‘box ‘em up,’ the ‘4-square’…

“You know, we’d have a 10-minute break out a meeting and we would literally, I called it ‘Team Got Boredom.’ You get bored so you just make up a game. And we would make up some of the craziest games. We had a soccer game that we used to play. I think the most volleys we had off this little soccer ball was like 90 and the entire team was playing. So more than anything that’s what I’ll miss the most.”

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Tillman has been hired by FOX to be part of their NFL coverage. But as for staying involved in the game as, say, a coach?

“Absolutely not,” Tillman declared.

He will be coaching his kids in their various activities, but overall, “I’m going to try to enjoy retirement, being the dad, I drive all my kids around, so I call myself the ‘d’uber guy. I’m a duber. Really, just be a family guy. I’ve got the Fox gig, so I’m one of [the media] now. So I guess I’m a journalist. I’m a black anchorman. That’s what I’m going to do. The black anchorman. We’re going to get into fights. We can meet up at like Jackson Park. I’ll have my crew. You’ll have your crew. We can get down. Get a little anchorman fight going on. Something like that. But we’ll keep it casual, respectful.”

Former NFL, Northwestern coach Dennis Green - famous for Bears rant - dies

Former NFL, Northwestern coach Dennis Green - famous for Bears rant - dies

Former NFL coach Dennis Green passed away Friday morning, according to Adam Schefter:

Green was the head coach for Northwestern from 1981-85, his first head coaching position. 

He later went on to become head coach for the Minnesota Vikings for 10 years from 1992-2001 and held the same position with the Arizona Cardinals from 2004-06.

It was in 2006 when Green really became a household name.

Following a loss to the Bears, Green delivered maybe the most memorable postgame press conference tirades in the last couple decades, if not ever:

In that game on Oct. 16, 2006, the Bears clawed back from a 20-point deficit to beat Green's Cardinals 24-23.

The Bears committed six turnovers and were trailing 23-3 with less than a minute remaining in the third quarter when safety Mike Brown recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown.

From there, Charles Tillman also recorded a fumble return TD and then Devin Hester put the finishing touches on the comeback with an 83-yard punt return TD. 

During his time at Northestern, Green was named the Big Ten Coach of the year in 1982. He was also the second African-American head coach in Division I-A history.