Bears remain active in three get-better avenues as draft approaches

Bears remain active in three get-better avenues as draft approaches

First, truly sad notes...

On top of news that Gale Sayers is battling dementia and that Lance Briggs is talking of symptoms he links to CTE comes the very sad news that former 49ers tight end Dwight Clark has ALS. Clark, co-author of "The Catch" with Joe Montana, put the information out on Sunday night that he has the dreaded illness that has afflicted a number of former NFL'ers.

Take a moment before you read any further. Maybe hug your wife/husband/kids, call someone you haven't talked to in too long, something...

OK, now you can read some more...

After the initial crush of a less than spectacular 2017 free agency pool, the Bears have quietly continued to work at the task of upgrading themselves from the nightmare that was 2016. To wit:

Healing their own

How much better would the 2017 Bears be if they added a wide receiver with a top-10 draft pick, an emerging standout nose tackle at the center of their defensive line, a Pro Bowl guard, and they committed $24 million on a middle linebacker to anchor the defense?

Because those are among the projected starters the Bears anticipate getting back in 2017 from season-ending injuries: Kevin White, Eddie Goldman, Kyle Long and Danny Trevathan. Injuries were not an allowable "excuse" for the travails of 2016, but to critique the Bears without those four, plus the occasional Zach Miller, is silly.

The Bears' run defense allowed 4.8 yards per carry without Goldman, 3.8 with him, which would have ranked among the NFL's best. The Bears allowed 30 or more points in five games last season; four of those occurred when Trevathan was out injured.

And White, coming off season-ending bone breaks his first two years, leading the team after four games last season, is part of the plan, but how much is yet to play out. "He's rehabbed, been cleared medically," said coach John Fox. "He's a guy I think that's got good size, quickness, explosion, big hands. I think yards after catch can be a positive. But at the end of the day he has to go prove that. It's going to take some time. We've got time, and he's healthy."

Looking for new kids

Whether through the No. 3 or No. 36 picks or subsequent picks, or iterations spawned via trades, the Bears already are reportedly setting up some of their 30 allowed visits with prospects. The early names are on defense, and from Alabama: defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and linebacker Ruben Foster.

The process has been ongoing, obviously, involving the Senior Bowl, Combine, Pro Day's and soon the trips to Halas Hall. Notably, and not surprisingly, the Bears met at the Combine with Miami's Brad Kaaya, DeShone Kizer from Notre Dame, Pat Mahomes from Texas Tech, Nate Peterman from Pitt and North Carolina's Mitchell Trubisky. And that's not including the task force the Bears sent to watch the workout of Clemson's Deshaun Watson.

Also notably, according to WalterFootball.com, the Bears' Halas Hall pre-draft guest list last year included Leonard Floyd and Cody Whitehair, their No. 1 and No. 2 picks.

More, many more, to come.

Vet looks

The Bears signed a backup nose tackle (John Jenkins) last week and also had former Washington defensive end Ricky Jean-Francois in for a visit last weekend, first reported by ESPN's Josina Anderson last Thursday. Jean-Francois tweeted about getting used to cold weather again but was then off to Seattle for a visit with the Seahawks.

Visits don't always turn into signings, but just as he did with the addition of QB Mike Glennon, GM Ryan Pace is making moves that dramatically lessen pressure to draft for position need. With Jenkins in place and if the Bears could secure Jean-Francois, for instance, using the No. 3 pick on Alabama's Allen seems increasingly unlikely.

Bears free-agency analysis: Better does not necessarily mean good

Bears free-agency analysis: Better does not necessarily mean good

This is the last in a series analyzing the Bears' decision-making during the 2017 free-agency period.

From 3/13: Bears free agency analysis: Alshon Jeffery non-deal left an understandable void

From 3/14: Bears free-agency analysis: Offseason OL pattern holds with Tom Compton

From 3/15: Bears free-agency analysis: Ryan Pace overhauls secondary

As the first and second waves of free agency recede, a handful of observations as to the effects the Bears' spate of signings will have on the bigger, 2017 picture, with the overall conclusion that the Bears are better than a year ago, although "better" does not equate to "good," which the Bears need more than a few signings to be.

It would be difficult for the Bears not to emerge from the signing period any worse off than they finished the 2016 season. And while the dozen signings did not carry the splash factor of a handful of others (cornerback Stephon Gilmore to the New England Patriots, defensive lineman Calais Campbell to the Jacksonville Jaguars, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery to the Philadelphia Eagles), at the very least the Bears upgraded themselves, if not as much as they or their fan base might've preferred.

But the reality is that at the positions of need, the Bears got incrementally better over where they were in 2016, like the additions or not.

Quarterback: Mike Glennon for Jay Cutler/Brian Hoyer? Cutler and Hoyer are career mid-level NFL quarterbacks at best. Until Glennon proves something, he's not there yet. The Bears are gambling that he has upside that none of their incumbent options had; until then...       +/-? Minus

Defensive line: The Bears defense suffered when nose tackle Eddie Goldman was down with an ankle injury. Opponents averaged 3.8 yards per carry in the six games Goldman played, 4.8 in the 10 he missed, replaced by chiefly by Will Sutton. Bears signed former New Orleans Saints/Seattle Seahawks nose tackle John Jenkins on Friday. Jenkins or Sutton? +/-? Plus

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Cornerback: Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper will not make Chicago forget Charles Tillman anytime soon. And they did not rate on a par with Gilmore, A.J. Bouye or Logan Ryan. But the Bears started Jacoby Glenn, Bryce Callahan, Cre'Von LeBlanc and Johnthan Banks at the corner opposite Tracy Porter. Callahan has upside but the signings are steps up from the 2016 collage. +/-? Plus

Safety: Quintin Demps at 32 is a de facto bridge rather than long-term solution. And with two picks in the first 36, the Bears will be in position to add a top-shelf safety via the draft. In the meantime, Demps or Harold Jones-Quartey? Or Adrian Amos? +/-? Plus

Receiver: Losing Jeffery created a void in the passing offense, taking away a wideout with 304 catches over the past five years. The Bears expect Cam Meredith and Kevin White to provide size on the outside, and went for speed in signings of Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright, who combined for 387 catches over those same five years. +/-? Minus

Tight end: Zach Miller is the usual known unknown, coming back from IR. The Bears already re-signed Daniel Brown. Logan Paulsen among the NFL's most-penalized tight ends, with more infractions (6) than pass receptions (3), including none over the final eight games. Dion Sims graded out as a better blocker and had 26 receptions, including four games with as many or more as Paulsen had all season. +/-? Plus

Offensve line: The offense changed starting offensive lines five times last season, primarily because of injuries at guard (Kyle Long, Josh Sitton). Tackles Charles Leno and Bobby Massie accounted for a combined 31 of 32 starts, with Mike Adams stepping in at right tackle for one game (New York Gaints). Signing Tom Compton creates competition for Massie in particular, but also puts a proven swing tackle behind the starters. +/-? Plus

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: