Who is on hot seat if Bears' struggles continue?

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Who is on hot seat if Bears' struggles continue?

Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011
Posted: 10:26 a.m. Updated: 5:48 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com Bears Insider Follow @CSNMoonMullin
Sick bay

Marion Barbers eagerly awaited Bears debut may be at hand. The physical No. 2 tailback was able to practice in full Wednesday, the first time for that since he injured a calf muscle in the Tennessee Titans preseason game that has idled him on game days ever since.

The secondary also received a huge boost with the return to full participation of safeties Chris Harris (hamstring) and Major Wright (head), potentially giving the Bears their full complement of safeties in time for a Carolina offense in which two of the top three receivers (not including running back Jonathan Stewart) are tight ends Greg Olsen, Jeremy Shockey.

We have to play better at safety, its kind of as simple as that, coach Lovie Smith said. Youre always anxious to get your starters back out there. And for us, Chris Harris gives us an awful lot, another worldly veteran back there. Big hitter that can make plays. And of course getting Major back. Those guys did a good job. Brandon especially is making progress. But we want to have the entire group on hand this week.

The offensive line has been without two starters since the end of the first half in the New Orleans game. Thats when right tackle Gabe Carimi went down with a knee injury and joined right guard Lance Louis (ankle injury vs. Atlanta) on the sidelines.

Louis was active for the Green Bay game but only for emergency purposes. Chris Spencer started and played the entire game. This week Louis is a better bet to return as his ankle improves.

Lance Louis had a good day, coach Mike Tice said Wednesday. He was working hard and well keep getting him in there and see how hes doing and build the confidence up in his leg. Hopefully as the week progresses hell be more crisp and sharp and continue to get better. Coach Smith will make a decision on which direction were going to go.

It wasnt personal....

In the first game of last preseason, with the Bears adjusting to a new coordinator (Mike Martz) and his offense, they went into San Diego to open the preseason against the Chargers. Eight plays into the game, under a hail of blitzing from the Chargers, coaches pulled quarterback Jay Cutler.

The San Diego defensive coordinator: Ron Rivera, now head coach of the Carolina Panthers, whom the Bear host next Sunday. One belief at the time was that Rivera was intent on embarrassing the team that had let him go as defensive coordinator after the 2006 Super Bowl season.

Not so, says the architect of that evening of preseason mayhem.

One of the things we were doing, and if you watch all of last years preseason when I was in San Diego, we blitzed every game because we wanted to be a blitzing defense, Rivera said. We wanted to be aggressive. We wanted to attack people and it paid off.

It did indeed. The Chargers finished No. 1 in total yardage defense. They were No. 2 in sacks per pass play. They had 47 sacks, compared to the NFL average of 35.

From the day we came into mini-camp in the 010 season, we came in blitzing, Rivera said. Its what coach Turner wanted me to do. It was the mentality we wanted to develop. It just so happened we played the Bears in week one. The following week we played Dallas and did the same thing against New Orleans. That was just really what we wanted to do.
Who's on the hot seat?

ProFootballTalk.com is a must-read (usually quite a few times a day) for whos who doing whats what around the NFL, and Mike Florios hit on The McNeil and Spiegel Show at 10 a.m. on WSCR-AM 670 is always worth the time. Mike obviously tracks more than just the Bears, which means he puts the local gridders into an NFL perspective.

Mike posed the question of who will be on a hot seat Jerry Angelo or Lovie Smith if things continue to sour. If they struggle or lose to Carolina, theres going to be real trouble for Lovie Smith or Jerry Angelo, Mike suggested.

Not sure how true that will be internally, since the Bears have had four winning seasons in the past six. But Halas Hall likely will become an increasingly grumpy place to be.

Mike also pointed a questioning finger at O.C. Mike Martz, who is not turning the offense in any substantively positive direction. The reason: He wants to dictate to the defense without the horses to dictate, Mike said. That stubbornness has to go away.

Sundays Carolina game is a matchup between two 1-2 teams, but one with questions-in-waiting (Bears) and the other with a variety of axes to grind (Ron Rivera, Greg Olsen). Panthers-Bears is going to have some subplots that make this a compelling story nationally, Mike said.

The Detroit Lions are starting to make Bears fans more and more nervous but that could escalate exponentially after Sunday. The Lions travel to Dallas, and Mike noted that the defining eye-popper for the 85 Bears was the 44-0 annihilation in Dallas of the Cowboys. So as far as the Lions, you go into Dallas and come out with that pelt on the wall, you will definitely have everyones undivided attention.

Ill check in with Mac and Spiegs at our regular Thursday 10 a.m. spot. By then well have heard from Martz, Rivera, Cutler, Cam Newton and Mike Tice. Shouldnt be too hard finding a few things to noodle on.

Crammin Cam

Newton has spent time privately talking with Tom Brady about the craft of quarterback. He enlisted Warren Moon as an advisor even before the draft. For all of his athleticism, he has quietly studied the game and the people who play it right. The results, for a rookie quarterback, have been jaw-dropping.

The one who is perhaps least surprised is Newton. He was listening and it shows.

I admire the guys like Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, who is a professional at what they do, Newton said. No offense to those guys, but they might not run the fastest 40, they may not jump the highestthey might not jump the farthest in the broad jump, but I guarantee you from what I've heard from their teams, you're not going to outwork them.

They're in the film study or they're watching film before the offensive coordinator is watching film. So I respect somebody that treats their job they way they go about handling it each and every day."
Yeah, but is he allowed to audible?

Not Carolina quarterback Newton. Tight end Greg Olsen.

Carolina coach Ron Rivera remarked recently that the former Bears tight end is a particularly cerebral player. His quarterback isnt quite so sure about that.

Uhhmm, Newton began, well, knowing Greg, he probably thinks that he is. And he makes every situation bigger than it really is. Numerous times, in each game, Greg's moment has been something that everybody laughs at.

Greg just thinks he's the guy that changes plays, and he over-thinks it while we're in a timeout. Just talking, you know: What's the play? Well, you know Cam, if they give us this...

Newton gently has to remind his guy, Greg, I've been practicing all week, too, I know this thing. He thinks he's the coach off the field, which is a good thing. You need guys like that, and that just shows you his professionalism for the game.

Olsen was traded last offseason to the Panthers despite catching 54 passes in 2008, second to Matt Forte, and 60 in 2009, leading the team, under then-coordinator Ron Turner. He was deemed a bad fit for the Mike Martz offense, the Bears declined his request for a contract extension and he was dealt.

Through three games Olsen has caught 12 passes, projecting out to a 64-catch season.
Not quite Ditka-Ryan II

This wont quite be Mike Ditka vs. Buddy Ryan but Lovie Smith vs. Ron Rivera does have some flavor beyond the normal coaching matchup. Ryan left by choice (he was never tired of reminding Ditka that hed been hired by George Halas, not Ditka), where Rivera simply was dis-invited to remain as Bears defensive coordinator after an assortment of differences with Smith.

But dont look for acrimony. The game obviously is of epic significance to Rivera, who was drafted by the Bears in 1984, played for them until the arrival of Dave Wannstedt, worked as an unpaid quality control assistant just to stay around the organization and get some experience with coaching, and came back as defensive coordinator under Smith. You never completely forget who gave you a major career break, which Smith did.

Rivera expressly said that this was not a normal game for him, which is understandable both from the standpoint of his Bears connections and also because he is exactly three games into his first job as head coach.

Smith has been at this a while and its been five years since he and Rivera split up. So Smith isnt looking at this as Lovie vs. Chico.

I dont think Ron is going to be out there but his football team is doing a heck of a job, Smith said. They lost a couple of tough games before this one Sunday. They found a way to win. Their record is the same as ours right now. Its a football game we both need to win.
Remember him?

If Matt Forte is wondering whether his offense went off and left him (right when he was hoping for a contract extension), how must DeAngelo Williams feel? Prior to the season the Carolina tailback signed a five-year, 43 million extension with 21 million guaranteed. Now Williams has all of 61 rushing yards on 27 carries and hes third on the Panthers in rushing behind Newton and Stewart.

The Panther have been led in rushing by each one for a game, none for much. Williams led in the week-one-loss to Arizona with 30 yards. Newton ran a team-high 53 yards in the loss to Green Bay. Stewarts 59 led in the win over Jacksonville.

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 reportedly won't franchise tag Alshon Jeffery, so what's next?

Bears reportedly won't franchise tag Alshon Jeffery, so what's next?

NFL.com's Insider Ian Rapoport dropped a news bomb in the middle of the night, Tweeting in the wee hours of Monday morning that the Bears will not sign receiver Alshon Jeffery to a franchise tag:

Jeffery played under the franchise tag in 2016, when he earned roughly $14.6 million. 

The Bears could still re-sign Jeffery to a longer deal in free agency, but the market on the 27-year-old receiver may climb out of their desired range.

The $17 million franchise tag was an awful lot of salary cap to spend on a guy who has missed 11 games over the last two seasons to injury and a PED suspension that stretched to four games in 2016.

When he was on the field last year, Jeffery turned in his worst stat line since his rookie season, catching only 52 balls for 821 yards and 2 TDs.

Still, his departure would leave a gaping hole in the Bears receiving corps as Cameron Meredith and Kevin White would emerge as the leaders of the group.

Meredith went undrafted out of Illinois State, but he has impressed in his two pro seasons, leading the Bears in receptions (66), targets (96), yards (888) and TDs (4) in 2016.

White was the Bears' first-round pick in 2015 (7th overall) but has played in just four games due to leg issues and has only 19 catches for 187 yards and 0 TDs under his belt.

David Kaplan believes if Jeffery does depart Chicago, it sends a bigger message about the state of the Bears:

Bears face decisions on Jay Cutler, Alshon Jeffery and 2017 roster

Bears face decisions on Jay Cutler, Alshon Jeffery and 2017 roster

What we "knew" most about the 2016 Bears heading into the season is that, offensively, Jay Cutler and Alshon Jeffery would be the straws that stirred the offensive drink. 

Thanks to injuries, suspension and a perfect storm that resulted in a 3-13 season, the straw had a hole in it, the team still couldn't collectively close out games and a fifth-round rookie (Jordan Howard) and a second-year undrafted free agent (Cam Meredith) turned into the greatest causes for optimism on that side of the ball. 

The news that the team is shopping Cutler is hardly news-bulletin worthy. We've written about Cutler Fatigue here and discussed it on CSN's BearsTalk Podcasts for some time now. A breakup has seemed inevitable after eight years of .500 ball when he's been behind center. The tricky part is finding an alternative that would be a marked improvement for a coaching staff that might need to finish .500 to continue on the job in 2018. Yet that's the gamble that must be taken for a franchise that almost needs to move on, for better or worse, in order to find a way out of the muddy ditch it's found itself in.

Cutler must first be deemed healthy enough after labrum surgery on his throwing shoulder - something similar to what Buffalo did with Tyron Taylor this week following groin surgery. But Taylor might be a safer bet to stay with the Bills than Cutler is here. Those medicals might be out there already around the league if shopping has truly begun. And while a new destination for Cutler might not earn him the same salary (roughly $15 million) he'd make here, the thinking here is he'd prefer a fresh start just as much as the Bears want one. 

So let's go shopping.

Cleveland? No. 

San Francisco as a stopgap starter? Maybe. There's tons of salary cap space while a successor is groomed, and there's the Shanahan (Kyle/Mike) Factor. But more losing. 

How about Jacksonville to push his young clone, Blake Bortles? Perhaps. There's still a loaded, talented young defense that has yet to reach a promising ceiling, and a couple of talented receivers. 

The Los Angeles Rams could provide a push for Jared Goff (though it's hard not to see Goff being the starter, for better or worse). But if something should happen, Cutler would be ready, with Todd Gurley, what should be a respectable defense and a location close to where wife Kristin Cavallari can return to actressing. 

Jay in Buffalo? Good one! 

Arizona has already shot down interest. 

We don't see Denver wanting him back as they await Paxton Lynch's maturity with Trevor Siemian as a bridge. 

Reuniting with Adam Gase in Miami could be an option with Ryan Tannehill's health still a mystery. 

Then there's always Houston. I'm looking for Tony Romo's ultimate destination impacting Jay's. 

But retiring, as some reports this week suggested? No. Despite the public perception, Jay is a competitor, and I truly believe that still runs through him. He may not get to prove his reputation wrong before he retires, but despite what body language experts feel, I believe he'd still like to prove something. But I'm also not counting on any team giving up a draft pick for him. Teams know the Bears will release him, but if a club lower on the waiver claim wire truly desires him, Ryan Pace has squeezed something out from teams for his players on the discard pile before.

As for Jeffery, all remains quiet on the franchise tag front. The seal remains tight at Halas Hall over whether there have been any negotiations this past week, and if so, whether they've moved in a positive, long-term direction. 

Two things to keep in mind: the Bears did not tag him last year until the day before the deadline to do so. That deadline this year is March 1. The other is the fact that other teams in similar situations (such as Washington with Kirk Cousins and Kansas City with Eric Berry and Dontari Poe) have yet to make moves either, as that deadline looms. If the Bears determine they'll cut ties with Cutler, Eddie Royal and Lamarr Houston, that will free up another $24 million in cap space on top of the $60 million-plus they have already. Perhaps that factors into the decision on Jeffery, who'd get paid $17 million in 2017 under a second straight franchise tag for a team that needs play-makers and a coaching staff that needs wins next season. Letting him go would require attention and a portion of those dollars to replace him in the draft and/or free agency.

We leave all our internet/talk radio caller GM's with this question: Would you REALLY want to be in Ryan Pace's shoes this offseason? Can you be as shrewd, wise and run the table to the extent he must, especially at the most important, franchise-shaping position (which, granted, he's put on the back-burner his first two years)? And "get it right" to build momentum moving forward for a franchise that's reached the playoffs just once in the past decade? The rebuild remains substantial. And so are the decisions he faces in a crucial offseason.