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.

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for coaching staff

Bears training camp preview: 3 burning questions for coaching staff

With Bears players reporting for training camp Wednesday, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz have been spending the last two weeks looking at three burning questions at each position group. The series concludes with Boden’ s look at the coaching staff.

1. Can John Fox find a balance between necessary snaps, and staying healthy?

Unless he’s practicing this team every day (he’s not) and hitting every day (he’s not doing that, either), a coach really can’t be blamed for injuries. That out-of-his-hands factor has kept his first two years from a true evaluation, yet every team has to deal with them. He and Ryan Pace have been particularly hamstrung (pun intended) by the fact so many key, high draft picks/building blocks and impact free agent signings (see Pernell McPhee, Danny Trevathan, Eddie Royal) have spent significant time on the sidelines. 

Fox tweaked the workout schedule in Bourbonnais with more consistent start times (all in the 11 a.m. hour), mixing in off-days and walk-throughs. Yet there are heavy competitions to sift through, particularly at wide receiver, cornerback, and safety, and projected starters must learn to get used to each other (and the offense get used to Mike Glennon) so that miscommunication is at a minimum. The Falcons, Buccaneers, Steelers and Packers won’t wait for them to get on the same page over the first 19 days of the regular season.

2. How does Dowell Loggains divide up quarterback snaps?

His starting quarterback basically hasn’t played since 2014 and is trying to master a new system, working with new receivers. All while Mike Glennon tries to be “all systems go”-ready on Sept. 10. Loggains is also in charge of developing the quarterback of the future, who never previously worked under center or called a huddle. If Mitch Trubisky isn’t the backup to start the season, Mark Sanchez, who missed all of minicamp with a knee injury, has to gain enough of a comfort level with the playbook and his receivers to slide in in the event of an emergency. These practices usually top out at about two hours, maybe a bit longer. Will there basically be two practices going on at the same time? If so, how can Loggains and the offensive assistants not overdo it for those at other positions?

3. Are Vic Fangio and Leonard Floyd tied at the hip?

The defensive coordinator still oversees all the position groups, but will focus particularly on the oustide linebackers and the prized pupil, Leonard Floyd. Fangio says he liked what he’s seen of the 2016 first-round pick this off-season, once he recovered from his second concussion. But he said all the bumps, bruises, strains, pulls, and bell-ringing didn’t mean anything more than an incomplete rookie grade. At this point, he’d probably like to be joined to Floyd’s hip in Bourbonnais, because that means he’ll be staying on the practice field, learning. “3b” in this category would be Ed Donatell sorting through a long list of young defensive backs to find the right pieces to keep for the present and future, in addition to finding four starters who’ll take the ball away a lot better than they’ve done the past two seasons.

Bears training camp preview: Three burning questions for the offensive line

Bears training camp preview: Three burning questions for the offensive line

With training camp starting next week, CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden and JJ Stankevitz are looking at three burning questions for each of the Bears’ position groups heading into Bourbonnais. Friday's unit: the offensive line. 

1. Will Kyle Long and Josh Sitton flip spots, and will it be effective?

One of the more intriguing storylines to come out of the Bears’ offseason program was the possibility of a Kyle Long-Josh Sitton guard swap, with Long moving from right to left and Sitton to left to right. The prevailing wisdom is that Long’s athleticism would be better suited for the pulls needed at left guard, while Sitton has made Pro Bowls at both positions. But is it prudent for the Bears to make this switch with Long still recovering from November ankle surgery and some nasty complications that came after it? He’s shown he’s skilled enough to already make one position switch on the offensive line (from right tackle to right guard), so there’s no reason to doubt he couldn’t handle another so long as he’s healthy. We’ll see where he is next week. 

“You want flexibility,” coach John Fox said. “You don’t want as much flexibility as we had to use a year ago because we had to play so many guys due to injury. But we’re messing around with (Sitton) and Kyle both playing opposite sides, whether one’s on the left, one’s on the right. We’ll get those looks in camp, we got plenty of time.”

2. Can Charles Leno Jr. capitalize on a contract year?

Leno has been a pleasant surprise given the low expectations usually set for seventh-round picks. He started every game in 2016, checking off an important box for John Fox — reliability. Whether Leno can be more than a reliable player at left tackle, though, remains to be seen (if the Bears thought he were, wouldn’t they have signed him to an extension by now?). He has one more training camp and 16 games to prove he’s worthy of a deal to be the Bears (or someone else’s) left tackle of the future. Otherwise, the Bears may look to a 2018 draft class rich in tackles led by Texas’ Connor Williams and Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey. 

“I know if I take care of my business out here, everything else will take care of itself,” Leno said. 

3. Will Hroniss Grasu survive the roster crunch?

A year ago, Grasu was coming off a promising rookie season and was in line to be the Bears’ starting center. But the Oregon product tore his ACL in August, and Cody Whitehair thrived after a last-minute move from guard to center. If the Bears keep eight offensive lineman this year, Grasu could be squeezed out: Leno, Long, Whitehair, Sitton and Bobby Massie are the likely starters, with Eric Kush and Tom Compton filling reserve roles. That leaves one spot, either for fifth-round guard Jordan Morgan or Grasu. The Bears could try to stash Morgan, who played his college ball at Division-II Kutztown, on the practice squad and keep Grasu. But Grasu doesn’t have flexibility to play another position besides center, which could hurt his case.