Market, Phillips' history could hold up Lovie extension

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Market, Phillips' history could hold up Lovie extension

Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011
9:01 AM
By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

A Lovie Smith contract extension is a virtual certainty if the Bears advance to the NFC Championship game with a win over the Seattle Seahawks. It becomes a virtual lock if they reach a second Super Bowl in four years under Smith. The only real question sets up as when. Along with the obvious, how much.

Two things will hold it up, however.

The first is the the market. It is one of the reasons why the Bears held off on any substantive look at an extension before this season. Until the collective bargaining situation is resolved, teams wont be rushing into huge financial commitments.

The number of first-time coaches (Leslie Frazier, Jason Garrett, Jim Harbaugh, Ron Rivera) is generally in line with that, with Harbaughs deal at 5 million per year a bit out of the inexpensive pattern. Fold the Dolphins retaining Tony Sparano at a modest NFL money number in here also.

Teams are cutting back financially, not giving out substantial raises as a rule. Smith already is in the 5 million range and no one is bidding against themselves in a rush to bump the pay grade to 7 million-8 million.

Best case for Smith, and for the Bears, would be to add years to Smiths deal but not real dollars, in the manner done with Sparano. The Bears dont have the guilt factor that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross introduced with his flirtation with Harbaugh.

If Smith will extend for 5 million-5.5 million for perhaps two more years, both sides should have what they want, at a figure both can work with: more than most teams are paying at this point but less than Smith might have hoped for in an uncapped coaching year.

Smith doesnt need to sign an extension. Hes got a contract. And hell have little trouble landing his next gig if its not in Chicago.

The Bears dont need to do an extension. Smith has a year to go and the Bears arent likely to collapse in a lame-duck year under him. John Fox suffered a nightmare final year in Carolina and Marvin Lewis went out with another dip in his mercurial run in Cincinnati.

But Fox lost his best defensive player (Julius Peppers), his quarterback (Jake Delhomme) and had one winning season since his Carolina Panthers upset the Bears in the 2005 playoffs.

Lewis tenure was marked by character embarrassments for the franchise, he had two four-win seasons in his last three and, like Fox, just one winning season since 2005.

On the other hand

A problem for Smith and agent Frank Bauer is that extensions havent worked out well for the Bears, including Smiths own after the Super Bowl season. Before this season and since Mike Ditka, the Bears had never reached the playoffs after giving a coach an extension.

And significantly perhaps, President Ted Phillips has been intimately involved in all of the recent ones. As a finance guy, he will not be in any rush to extend a pattern that he has seen produce little, particularly when Smith has little real leverage in terms of options (hes still under contract) and market conditions.

And there is the matter of Phillips particular experiences:

Wannstedt worries

Michael McCaskey gave Dave Wannstedt a multi-year extension after the 1995 season. Wannstedt had just come off a second winning season in three years, a playoff near-miss. The Bears thought a pre-emptive strike was in order to keep Wannstedt from again hitting the market as the hot coach, the way he was when the Bears had to beat the New York Giants to him in 1992.

The Bears immediately nosed over from 9-7 to 7-9, 4-12 and 4-12. The Bears fired Wannstedt and ate the final years of his deal. That experience so scarred the Bears that it led to the blowup of the subsequent Dave McGinnis negotiations. McCaskey wanted a buyout added to McGinnis four-year contract proposal, allowing the Bears an out after two years. (Theres more to the story but suffice it to say that McGinnis didnt walk because of any premature press release).

Jauron jolt

After Dick Jaurons 13-3 high-water mark in 2001, the Bears were forced by market practice to extend Jauron with a year remaining on his contract. It was a negotiation filled with severe acrimony as neither Phillips nor Jerry Angelo wanted the extended presence of a coach they had no real role in hiring.

Jauron got his extension and the Bears got an 11-21 record over the next two seasons before Jauron was jettisoned. Keeping Jauron hadnt been Phillips choice; paying his final years wasnt a positive on the balance sheet either.
Smith struggle
Phillips and the Bears dallied in extending Smith the first time, when they had the NFLs lowest-paid coach with time on his contract and willing to extend for a reasonable raise. Then Smith went to a Super Bowl and the price went dramatically up.

The extension was done and Smith was in the 5-million pay class. The trouble is that the Bears were two games under .500 with zero playoff appearances in the first three years after Smiths extension.

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.

Not enough injury woes? Bears now losing players to rampant stomach virus

Not enough injury woes? Bears now losing players to rampant stomach virus

John Fox could be excused for wondering if someone somewhere is sticking voodoo pins in a Bears doll. If it weren’t for bad luck, the 2016 Bears might have no luck at all. And now things have gotten worse, not better.

The Bears coach has overseen the M*A*S*H unit working to look like an NFL team while dealing with a sick bay situation that some days has made it seem easier to list the Bears who ARE practicing rather than the ones who aren’t.

Besides the injury tsunami that has beset them, the Bears this week are dealing with a flu/stomach virus that has hit as many as a dozen players, some more severely than others, and had one Bears higher-up facetiously (or maybe not) reaching for the Walter Payton Center door handle with his hand covered.

“We've got about six illnesses,” Fox said Wednesday, a list that included rookie cornerback Deiondre’ Hall, right tackle Bobby Massie and fullback Darrel Young for the first time.

Not all of practice was a study of absenteeism. Kicker Robbie Gould capped off Wednesday’s indoor session with a 57-yard field goal, consistent with his standing as one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history.

Gould has converted a respectable 83.2 percent of attempts in the wind tunnel known as Soldier Field. He has converted 90 percent of his kicks in NFL stadiums with either a dome or retractable roof.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Tight end Zach Miller and wide receiver Eddie Royal practiced again on Wednesday wearing don’t-hit-me red jerseys throughout practice, emblematic of their return from preseason concussions. They represent critical elements in the Bears’ passing offense, with Royal signed to put in place a steady veteran for three-receiver packages.

“We’re at a point now where we’re like, 'hey, we’ve got some time here with you guys; let’s get you guys back to 100 percent,’” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “We know what they can do on the field. It’s just a matter of us getting into game week and getting them back in the flow.”

How did Royal look coming back from his missed time? “Fresh,” Cutler said, smiling. “As he should be.”

Three Bears making strides with unfortunate opportunities from injury epidemic

Three Bears making strides with unfortunate opportunities from injury epidemic

Injuries will remain a swirling Bears story until the start of the regular season in Houston on Sept. 11, at which time the injuries will be separated from what coach John Fox termed “owies” on Tuesday. Players are trained to know the difference between pain (which you can play through) and injury (which you can sometimes worsen by playing on) and the next couple weeks, more than Saturday’s preseason game No. 3, will see all that play out.

In the meantime, however, projected roster decisions are being affected by what a handful of Bears are revealing about themselves in the vacuum created by injuries to front-liners.

These three do not automatically translate into changes at the top of the depth chart. Players lose jobs, not because of injury, but because their replacements play better than they were, and that hasn’t necessarily happened. But a team looking for quality depth is getting glimpses of some while starters are sidelined.

1.   Jeremy Langford/Ka’Deem Carey down, Jacquizz Rodgers rising.

Over the past couple weeks, the Bears’ running back committee has been expanding even as certain key figures have coped with injuries. Carey was put in the concussion protocol after a hit on special teams during the Denver game, and Langford was in a walking boot from a minor foot injury suffered in the New England game.

Rodgers, the senior member of the running-back committee, may have been an outsider in a roster squeeze, particularly after the drafting of Jordan Howard this offseason. But Rodgers has materialized with the No. 1 offense with increasing frequency, even with Carey back.

“You know 'Quizz was a big part of what we were doing early last year and then he got injured, he broke his arm,” said coach John Fox. “You know he's a real pro's pro as far as he approaches the game. He's a leader in that running-back room, you know he's a big contributor on 4th down as well as a guy who can go in and tote the rock. 

“But we didn't get a lot of looks at that last year and I've liked what I've seen this year.”

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2. Grasu/Long down, Cornelius Edison rising.

First it was center Hroniss Grasu going down with a torn ACL. Over the past week it has been right guard Kyle Long sitting out with a worrisome shoulder injury. The first occasioned installing Ted Larsen, edged out at left guard by rookie Cody Whitehair, at center. The second sent Larsen to right guard and moved Cornelius Edison up into the center spot with the No. 1 offense.

Edison, who’d spent part of his rookie year on the Bears’ practice squad, went undrafted out of Portland State and was far from a player to watch when camp began, even mistakenly ID’d as a linebacker in team literature.

Not anymore. Long is expected back at some point and Larsen the presumptive starter at center. But Edison has earned time with the No. 1 offense and done enough with it to be a serious candidate to stick on a roster in need of interior insurance.

“[Edison] is athletic,” Fox said. “He doesn’t have quite the experience that Ted has but he’s a good young prospect and the more snaps he gets [the better]. He got quite a few snaps Thursday night in New England and I thought he performed pretty well.”

3. CB’s down, Kevin Peterson rising. 

Kyle Fuller required knee surgery a week ago. Bryce Callahan has been hobbled and held out of practice. Jacoby Glenn started at New England but went out with a concussion. All are favorites for roster spots, but their absences has allowed Peterson onto the field and into situations where he has played his way into position to surprise when final cutdowns are done.

An undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma State, Peterson is an obvious prospect for practice squad. “He's been here all through the off-season and into training camp,” Fox said. “He hasn't had a lot of opportunity until we got nicked up at the [cornerback] position. So [the Kansas City game] will be a big opportunity for him as well as the final preseason game against Cleveland.”

'Owies,' injuries, and the Bears trying to fuse together for Week 3 preseason

'Owies,' injuries, and the Bears trying to fuse together for Week 3 preseason

Bears coach John Fox draws much the same distinction as your Mom might have, between real injuries and “owies,” those nicks and things that she could put a band-aid on and you would be back out playing before you’d missed a turn at bat.

Owies won’t keep players out of the Bears’ Sept. 11 opener in Houston against the Texans, so conclusions about whether it’s an injury or an owie don’t mean much at this point when thinking ahead for Week 1 availability.

But the seemingly endless drumbeat of players missing practice time – typically more than a dozen out of 90 on any given practice day – takes players out of the sessions they need to become parts of a whole on offense, defense or special teams. It means, for instance, that rookie outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, working to master pass-rush moves at the NFL level, misses time to work on those desperately needed moves against tackles and tight ends.

This time last year, linebackers Lamarr Houston and Willie Young were coming off injuries that ended their 2014 seasons. They were established veterans and it still took time, arguably the better part of a half season, for them to come all the way back physically, but also to integrate fully into the scheme with teammates.

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Now with one of the NFL’s youngest rosters, the Bears could more than some other more veteran teams feel the effects of that lost time and chances to develop cohesion.

Fox has seen this situation before, and every preseason has injury stories. “I think it's pretty much the same in the other 31 [NFL] cities,” Fox said. “It's been about the same for me the last 15 years. So there's a difference between injuries and owies, so we've had a couple injuries and now it's just about getting everybody healthy for Houston.”

The sick-bay list by the time the Bears visit Houston is not expected to include guard Kyle Long, tight end Zach Miller, running back Jeremy Langford or nickel corner Bryce Callahan. But Long (shoulder) was working off to the side with right tackle Bobby Massie on footwork, not at full speed in practice. Callahan (hamstring) was just doing some light running, not in pads and not in concert with the rest of the nickel secondary projected to include him. Miller (concussion) was in a no-contact red jersey that called attention to his history of injury susceptibility.

They and others are not in any sort of game-week schedule.

“Everything is a schedule,” Fox said. “I don’t care who you are or where it is at home or at the office, there's a routine and a schedule. You like getting guys acclimated to the point of where we've got a 12 o'clock kickoff for a preseason game, which is a typical Sunday kickoff for us in our routine so I think the more you can expose guys to scheduling, kind of what you're expecting in the preparation, I think the better.”

Injuries, and owies, are doing that schedule no favors.