Chicago Bears

Toews skates again, return remains a mystery

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Toews skates again, return remains a mystery

Jonathan Toews skated for the second consecutive day, but coach Joel Quenneville said the captain is "kind of the same that hes been."

Toews (concussion) had been off the ice for more than a week before skating Tuesday and again today. Still, there's no timetable for his return. Quenneville said it's just seeing how Toews responds the day after he does his on-ice workouts.

"I think thats kind of the measuring stick every day. Your body tells you what youre able to do and thats all part of the process," he said. "On consecutive days you keep progressing, get more every day and see where youre at."

Steve Montador (concussion) also skated; again, there's no timetable for his return.

Nick Leddy, who was boarded midway through the Blackhawks' game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night, is fine and will play tonight against the Vancouver Canucks. Corey Crawford will get the start, his fourth in a row.

Mark Sanchez on fast food runs, shutting up and policing a QB controversy

Mark Sanchez on fast food runs, shutting up and policing a QB controversy

When the Bears signed Mark Sanchez March 24, some fans panicked that it meant Ryan Pace would avoid selecting a quarterback for a third straight draft. And when Pace boldly (or, stupidly, to some) traded up a spot to second overall to secure Mitch Trubisky for the future, those critics emerged, too. 

Sanchez signed as Mike Glennon's backup, and according to Pace Wednesday, that's still what he is. For the former fifth overall pick of the Jets, starting would be great. But he's only done that ten times over the past four years after starting all but two games in his first four seasons under the media microscope in New York.

"I thought this team was on an upper trend and it'd be great to help somebody like Mike," Sanchez said Thursday in his first interview with Chicago reporters. "I know they went through a serious injury bug last year and a lot of guys would be getting healthy."

The man is only 30, and things were never better professionally than in his fresh-faced, first two NFL seasons, helping the Jets win two playoff road games in both 2009 and 2010 (including one at New England) before getting knocked out in AFC Championship games on the road. Now, he's not considered a starter, unless it's an emergency.

"It has been a different role, and adjusting your perspective is not always easy, but that's the mental side of this game and that's why I love playing it, no matter what," Sanchez said. "I wanna be competing my butt off in practice, and then pushing the starter as much as I can."

With Tony Romo hurt yet again in Dallas last year, Sanchez was picked up as insurance by the Cowboys after the Broncos decided to go with two other young quarterbacks, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, following Peyton Manning's retirement. But fourth-round rookie Dak Prescott's performance kept him on the field and Sanchez in a mentor role. Just as he will be with Glennon and Trubisky.

"Whatever it takes to win," Sanchez said. "And if that means getting him ready to play, and if that's what the role is, which is what it looks like here, then I'll push Mike, get ready to play myself and make sure he's ready to go in. It's been exciting working with him, because he can really play. I think he's a special player. He's decisive, he's got great feet for a big guy, and he can make all the throws so I'm excited to see how well he does."

Sanchez was Prescott in 2009, being chosen as a rookie over veteran options on a contending team.

"I had Kellen Clemens, Kevin O'Connell and Mark Brunell," Sanchez said of his NFL baptism under fire. "And all three of them, my first couple years, were amazing guys. Whether it was body language, footwork, where to live, where to eat, anything, you name it. We got so close. That kind of stuff transcends football when you get close off the field like we did those first couple of years, things take off. That kind of stuff I learned right away. We're still building that here."

There's no telling the degree of influence Sanchez may have had on Prescott's success. He arrived in Dallas late (after opening last preseason with a long touchdown pass to Demaryious Thomas at Soldier Field), too. But he hopes the NFL life lessons he'd been through, from winning, to butt-fumbling, to being cut, will help Glennon and Trubisky as he hope it did with Dak.

"That was a heckuva run," he said. "When you look at these teams, especially heading into year nine, you know from the first practice what you have, what you're searching for, what guys lead, what guys follow. You can feel it right away.

"It's a young team, but the emphasis is for the veterans to help push guys. Speaking from a number two role, I have to push Mike with everything I see. I had the conversation with Dak last year, 'Hey, I'll tell you everything I know, I'll push you as hard as a I can. But if at any point, you need me to turn it off, I'll do that. I'll shut up and won't say a word.' That's the same relationship I have with Mike and I'm pushing him hard, helping him compete, and I think he's gonna do really well.

"The best compliment you can give a rookie is not have to tell him to shut up," the USC product said of the seniority pecking order. "Just keep your head down and work, and that's really been his mentality. That's huge. And that's not easy, especially coming from where (Trubisky's) come from. The status you build as a college player... then a team trades up to get you, all those things, you start to believe all that.

"I remember getting ready to fly to divisional games, championship games, and two hours before the plane takes off I'm going to like, three different places. Popeyes Chicken, Quiznos, and I'm thinking, 'Geez, this is crazy.' But there's Brunell and Kellen Clemens saying, 'Just keep your mouth shut.  Do it or it'll be worse.' But (Trubisky's) done a great job. He's worked hard, doesn't say much and doesn't need to. Just keep working, keep learning, playing hard."

And despite his own desire to play, he won't fan the flames for change when Glennon has a bad practice, series or game. All four quarterbacks (including Connor Shaw) are ready to accept and follow the gameplan that's in place for the most scrutinized position in sports.

"There's no chance that happens here," Sanchez said of a divided room. "It's been defined clearly, and that's what you need. It's already been addressed by Ryan Pace, by Coach (John Fox), and you can't say it enough. You guys (the media) have a job to do, and I totally understand how papers sell, and some don't. Certain quotes, certain headlines, I've been around a bit, so I know. But we're not gonna have that issue because Mike's gonna play his butt off. If anything happens, I'll be ready. Mitch is gonna be ready. We have a great room so, I like where we're at and I like where we're headed."

NBA economic reality could speed up Bulls rebuild

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USA TODAY

NBA economic reality could speed up Bulls rebuild

In case you missed it this morning, ESPN's Tim McMahon and Bobby Marks collaborated on an excellent piece detailing how the irresponsible spending by NBA teams last summer could impact a star-studded free agent class in 2018.

Which is music to the ears of Bulls' front office executives John Paxson and Gar Forman, who are hoping to be a major player on the free agent market next year.

The ESPN report projected only nine teams having cap space to bid on a free agent class that could include Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, Chris Paul, Isaiah Thomas, Carmelo Anthony, DeAndre Jordan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Avery Bradley, Brook Lopez, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Wilson Chandler, Danny Green, Enes Kanter and Greg Monroe, along with restricted free agents like Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Gary Harris, Jusuf Nurkic, Marcus Smart, Rodney Hood, Julius Randle, Dante Exum, Aaron Gordon and Clint Capela.

Bad summer not to have any spending money.

But that's exactly what Paxson and Forman were anticipating when they chose not to get involved in the reckless spending triggered by the league's new TV deal last summer. We all know about some of the terrible contracts handed out including a four-year, $72 million deal to Joakim Noah, four years, $64 million for Timofey Mozgov and Portland spending almost $150 million to lock up reserves Allen Crabbe and Evan Turner for four years.

The Bulls signed Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and Isaiah Canaan last summer, but avoided any salary commitment beyond two years. Both Rondo and Canaan were bought out of the team options the Bulls held for next season.

Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers are now in such a deep luxury tax hole that they basically gave Crabbe away in a trade with Brooklyn earlier this week, immediately waiving the player they got back, power forward Andrew Nicholson, under the league's stretch provision. Portland figures to be one of at least 10 teams paying the luxury tax for the 2018-19 season.

I know what many of you are thinking, "Why will 2018 free agency be any different than in years past?" Yes, the Bulls missed out on primary targets James, Wade and Chris Bosh in 2010, and they failed to land Anthony in 2014. But with so many teams capped out, the Bulls will face less competition in pursuing the players they want most next summer.

We've all heard the rumors about James wanting to finish his career in L.A., and it's unlikely Durant, Westbrook, George or Paul would have any interest in coming to Chicago. But the Bulls could get significantly better right away in a weakened Eastern Conference by adding one or two players from a list of unrestricted free agents that could be looking for a new situation, including Cousins, Jordan, Bradley, Thomas, Caldwell-Pope, Kanter, Chandler and Green. They also could use their cap space to make a massive cap offer to a restricted free agent whose team is already in the luxury tax.

Of course, the Bulls have decisions to make with their own roster as well. They still haven't re-signed Niko Mirotic, and any contract beyond one season will reduce their cap space next summer. Plus, the key player coming back in the Jimmy Butler deal, shooting guard Zach LaVine, will be a restricted free agent next summer, and if he comes back 100 percent from ACL surgery, could command a multi-year contract starting at $20 million or more.

The Bulls have contract options on the rookie deals of Bobby Portis, Kris Dunn, Cam Payne, Jerian Grant, Denzel Valentine and Lauri Markkanen, while Paul Zipser's $1.5 million salary is not guaranteed for 2018-19.

Paxson said the Bulls are committed to re-building through the draft, and the hope is they'll wind up with a top 3 pick after next year's lottery to grab a franchise changing talent like Missouri's Michael Porter, Jr., International star Luka Doncic and 7-footers DeAndre Ayton of Arizona and Mohamed Bamba of Texas.

Looking at the big picture, if LaVine comes back 100 percent, Dunn emerges as a legit starting point guard and Markkanen shows potential as a stretch 4, the Bulls rebuild could move quickly. Adding one of the top players in next year's draft would be the first step, then Paxson and Forman would be armed with somewhere between $40-50 million dollars in cap space to pursue an impact free agent or two.

Bulls fans remember how long it took to re-build the team after the end of the Jordan era in 1998. Jerry Krause couldn't land a major free agent, and the Tyson Chandler-Eddy Curry experiment failed badly.

Let's hope Paxson and Forman have more luck this time around. At least they'll have a built-in advantage when the 2018 free agent market opens for business next July with the Bulls projected to have more cap space available than any other team in the league.