What if the Bears can't re-sign Brian Hoyer? They aren't alone in the hunt

What if the Bears can't re-sign Brian Hoyer? They aren't alone in the hunt

Several of the Bears’ options at quarterback for 2017 – they have, unofficially, somewhere between 10 to 15 – involve veteran Brian Hoyer being re-signed, an interim solution for a team with an empty developmental pipeline but expected to be moving on from the largely failed Jay Cutler Era.

But what if they can’t get Hoyer?

The Bears may find themselves in a situation not entirely dissimilar from where they stood in the 2014 offseason and were faced with a decision on Josh McCown after his career-best stretch in relief of Cutler. Then-GM Phil Emery wanted Cutler over the feelings of the coaching staff and signed Cutler to that $126 million contract. McCown’s price rose to eventually $5 million per season and the organization went in another direction with Jimmy Clausen.

McCown is back on the market after his release this month by the Cleveland Browns. He would be cheaper than Hoyer but is also 37 and possibly headed for a coaching job rather than back under center.

The conventional sense has been that Hoyer will be back with Chicago after his dramatic burst of four straight 300-yard games before going down for the year with a broken arm suffered at Green Bay. And he very well could be. Agent Joe Linta has some positive history with the Bears (Hoyer, Vlad Ducasse, Jim Miller) and the Bears offer Hoyer a starting job, at least in the near term after his interception-free run of 200 passes last season. Hoyer was a locker-room fit and arguably the best option not only as a veteran starter, but also a quality mentor/teammate for young quarterbacks with the organization’s goal of replacing him.

But Hoyer took a visit with the New York Jets last offseason and the Jets have youth (Christian Hackenberg, Bryce Petty) in training, with a short-term opening ahead of them. The Dallas Cowboys are even deeper in a true win-now mode behind Dak Prescott, and Dallas isn’t expected to keep Tony Romo as Prescott’s (very expensive) backup. Hoyer is a topic within both organizations, although the Cowboys do not offer Hoyer a shot at starting even on an interim basis.

The Jets just hired Jeremy Bates as their new quarterbacks coach, the same Bates who worked with Cutler as Denver QB coach in the latter’s Pro Bowl 2008 season, and later (2012) in Chicago. But ESPN’s Rich Cimini reported that the Jets are not in the Cutler market. However, Jets coach Todd Bowles has a known preference for a veteran, Bowles is now under job pressure after a disastrous 5-11 season in 2016 and the Jets were considered more likely to lean toward Hoyer than Cutler, anyway.

But back to the Bears...

The injury riddled outcome of the season makes any projection beyond mediocrity appear laughable in hindsight. But the Bears’ signing of Hoyer last offseason, to a one-year deal worth $2 million, was a statement that the Bears believed they were in a win-now mode in addition to the rebuilding process that, frankly, every NFL team does in some degree every offseason.

Hoyer is a quality veteran, the kind of quarterback signed as a backup only amid serious expectations. Otherwise, the pipeline behind Jay Cutler is filled with youth, beginning in the draft, which the Bears didn’t do. Connor Shaw was in fact “the promising young guy” in development, a decision that was looking good right up until Shaw broke his leg late in the third preseason game.

Shaw will be back, and presumably he will be joining a depth chart that will include a drafted QB. The early handicapping here is Clemson’s Deshaun Watson but this is way too early to start making mock draft picks. Plenty of time for those.

But the name at the top of the depth chart, best case scenario, has been and is Hoyer. The problem is, the Bears’ may not be the only ones holding a door open for Hoyer.

Bears’ Markus Wheaton says wide receiver group is 'definitely underrated'

Bears’ Markus Wheaton says wide receiver group is 'definitely underrated'

No doubt, there are doubts about the makeup of this 2017 Bears wide receiver corps. But as the departed Alshon Jeffery created doubts, health-wise, the past two years about whether he could stay on the field to prove himself worthy of a big payday (which he didn’t even get from the Eagles), Ryan Pace brought in a handful of replacements who’ve flashed in this league before. But recent history’s shown each of them has something to prove as well.

From Rueben Randle to fellow former Giant Victor Cruz. From former first rounders Kendall Wright to Kevin White, taking a third swing at making it though an entire NFL season.

Then there’s Markus Wheaton, the only free agent signee at the position this season to receive a two-year deal ($11 million total, with $6 million guaranteed). Like the rest of the group, though, he’s at a career crossroads. Following seasons with 53 and 44 catches in Pittsburgh in 2014 and 2015 (with a 17-yard average in the latter), the quick-twitch former Steeler was limited to three games a year ago before eventually undergoing surgery for a torn labrum in January.

“Everyone’s new, so we don’t know what it’s gonna be,” he said of the group at the team’s recent minicamp in Lake Forest. “In Pittsburgh you kind of have a clue `cause they’ve done it for so long. Everybody’s new, everybody’s trying to find their niche, so we’ll see how it goes. Anything’s possible. We’ve got a lot of guys who are looking for opportunity. A lot of guys that are hungry and have something to prove. Anything’s possible. Anyone can come out on top. The ultimate goal is to win games and I’m sure the coaches will put us in position to do that.”

The former third-round pick out of Oregon State (where he’s the Beavers’ all-time career leader in receptions, one ahead of Brandin Cooks) played all three receiver positions in Pittsburgh at various times, and while he seems most natural in the slot, is working to make himself as versatile as possible here. But that comes with some risk as a quarterback room that’s also gone through its share of turnover tries to get on the same page with all the targets. But Wheaton is more than confident the results will come from within this group.

“I think we definitely are underrated," Wheaton said. "We’ve come in and worked to get to where we wanna be. We will get there, and it’ll show up on the field.”

The incumbents in the room include Joshua Bellamy, Deonte Thompson, Daniel Braverman, Cam Meredith, and, of course, White. Wheaton can see the potential in the ex-seventh overall draft pick.

“I couldn’t imagine all the stuff he’s been through, all the pressure that’s been put on him," Wheaton said. "But he’s a down-to-earth guy who works extremely hard, so I think he’s gonna get his. He’s a big-time playmaker, so I’m excited to see him play.

“They welcomed me with open arms. Everybody’s down to earth, been easy to talk to so when I have questions, I’ve been getting answers, so it’s been real easy for me.”

That surgically-repaired shoulder was cleared for full participation just in time for minicamp two weeks ago. And Wheaton won’t allow himself to become hesitant physically as he aims to conquer what hesitation he could have within the offense, working with quarterbacks not named Ben Roethlisberger.

“I really don’t think there’s time for that. When you’re ready to go, you just go,” Wheaton told us. “You come in, you work, you rehab. And for me personally I had to rehab a lot to get back to where I wanted to be. There’s a level I want to be at. I’ve been just working to get there, so there’s no time for that.”

That last statement comes even if some observers hesitate to call Wheaton and these wideouts “underrated.” They’ll start attempting to prove that when the Bears report to Bourbonnais exactly one month from Monday.

Can Deiondre' Hall overcome on- and off-field hurdles to make an impact with Bears?

Can Deiondre' Hall overcome on- and off-field hurdles to make an impact with Bears?

Rookie Deiondre' Hall flashed in the preseason a year ago, leading the Bears coaching staff and fans to believe they found something amidst their trio of 2016 fourth round draft picks. 

He’s hoping to do the same this August after overcoming one physical hurdle, while waiting to see if he can get past a legal hurdle he created for himself.

Let’s start on the field, where, just days after his first NFL interception in the fourth game last season, he sustained an ankle injury in practice, sidelining him for two months. Once his walking boot and scooter were finally put away, he was active for the final four games. But what progress he’d been making on the field was difficult to recapture.

“Just coming off the injury, there was a little rust here and there, but the training staff here’s great and I had to push through it,” Hall said at last week’s minicamp in Lake Forest after he was one of numerous Bears hit by the injury bug, but not one of the 19 who wound up on Injured Reserve. “(I was) getting comfortable with the defense and in myself playing with those guys out there, getting the opportunity in the red zone and making plays. But the injury kinda sucked because I haven’t really had an opportunity to play since Week 5, so I’m not necessarily starting fresh.”

As the offseason unfolded, Hall was informed the coaching staff was going to try him at safety, if not permanently, then as an option for the 6-foot-2, 201-pound Northern Iowa product. 

But Hall’s not totally foreign to the position. He was a free safety his first year in college, then transitioned to outside linebacker/nickel as a sophomore, moved to cornerback as a junior before breaking his hand his senior year, playing through it back where he started at safety. So the decision wasn’t a big deal, especially if it enhances his chances to get on the field. But his preference?

“Defense. Opportunity,” Hall responded. “You get in where you fit in and the more you can do, the better it is for the team. If opportunity presents itself at corner, then I’m at corner. But right now at safety, I’m making strides (there) and keep pushing for that.”

“We’re gonna float him back and forth,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said last month, after the Bears signed free agent cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper in the off-season, while Bryce Callahan and Cre’Von LeBlanc are expected to battle for slot duty and former first-rounder Kyle Fuller and veterans Johnthan Banks and B.W. Webb hope to impress. “He (Hall) had some experience there in college. When it comes down to picking your team and you’re taking nine or 10 DBs, if someone’s got versatility to play both of those spots, that helps, so we’re gonna see if he’s one of those guys.”

But before Hall gets back to work in Bourbonnais, he’ll find out if he has some other dues to pay. Hall was back at his alma mater’s Cedar Falls campus March 26th when he and a former UNI teammate were arrested outside a bar called Sharky’s. Police had responded to a call, and by the time all was said and done, Hall needed to be tased before being arrested on charges of public intoxication, interference (with an arrest), and disorderly conduct. 

The case was continued late last month and Hall’s jury trial is scheduled for July 11th. Pending the outcome, he could face disciplinary action from the team and the NFL. He’s told his side of the story to Bears management and while expressing remorse for putting himself in the situation, Hall says it wasn’t in character and feels confident in what the outcome will be.

“People make mistakes and the truth always comes out,” the 23-year-old said, adding the situation isn’t weighing on his mind or affected his preparation in off-season workouts. “You gotta let people make their own mistakes. I won’t shed light but the truth always comes out, and (I’ve learned) just don’t take anything for granted.”

“My main focus is football and keep pushing to make strides to become good, and great.”