Chicago Bears: Josh McCown

Three things we learned at combine: Bears

February, 19, 2015
Feb 19
INDIANAPOLIS -- Chicago Bears coach John Fox and general manager Ryan Pace met Wednesday with the media at the NFL combine, and several other interview sessions commenced Thursday involving general managers and head coaches around the league. Here’s what we’ve learned about the Chicago Bears:

Revisiting Bruce Arians: In explaining that quarterback Carson Palmer was nearly a month ahead of schedule in his rehabilitation, Arians knocked on the lectern here at Lucas Oil Stadium and said, “Don’t jinx me, baby.”

Engaging, detailed and surprisingly open about Arizona’s needs in free agency and the draft, Arians wowed the crowd in Indianapolis more than any other coach or general manager conducting sessions with the media, which begs the question: How did former general manager Phil Emery spend several hours with him in an interview setting and come away thinking he needed to hire Marc Trestman?

We can’t say with any real certainty that Arians would have been more successful than Trestman. But Emery’s decision to go with the latter over the former after firing Lovie Smith coming off a 10-6 season will always register as one of moves that ultimately doomed him in Chicago.

Some teams would love Chicago’s QB problem: Seeing most of the league’s 32 teams represented at the combine in interviews with general managers and head coaches helps to put Chicago’s issues with Jay Cutler into proper perspective.

At Tampa Bay, Lovie Smith recently released Josh McCown and the Buccaneers currently have only one quarterback on the roster in Mike Glennon as they eye the possibility of adding Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota with the No. 1 pick. “If you have to be in the position [holding the No. 1 pick], you’re always looking for a franchise quarterback,” Smith said. New Buffalo coach Rex Ryan, meanwhile, praised EJ Manuel despite the Bills bringing in McCown for a visit. “This league’s proven when you’ve got a great quarterback, it’s rare that you don’t go to the playoffs,” Ryan said.

Quarterback issues in Cleveland led up to Browns general manager Ray Farmer on Thursday apologizing for his involvement in the texting scandal that could lead to a suspension and the team possibly losing a draft pick as well as receiving a fine.

So if you’re thinking the Bears have it bad at the quarterback position, think again. Most of the teams referenced above would love to have Cutler.

Willie Young, Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston will be LBs: At least, that’s where the Bears plan to play the defensive ends initially in the new 3-4 scheme. Bears coach John Fox was asked specifically whether Young and Allen were now linebackers.

“We’ll line them both up there. What they become is up to them,” Fox said. “In Willie’s case, he’s coming off an Achilles surgery. You know, same thing with Lamarr Houston coming off an ACL. You know, I had two guys a year ago, Chris Harris and Von Miller coming off ACLs, and they both had Pro Bowl seasons. So that’s all part of the process, you know, getting guys healthy medically and getting them ready to play. We’re working on that as we speak daily.”

Young, Allen and Houston combined in 2014 for 16.5 sacks. Young led the way with a team-high 10 sacks.

Marcus Mariota to Bears not impossible

February, 19, 2015
Feb 19
INDIANAPOLIS -- A day after Chicago Bears coach John Fox and general manager Ryan Pace danced around any commitment to Jay Cutler, the quarterback's potential replacement addressed the media assembled for the combine at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Oregon's Marcus Mariota seems a long shot for the Bears, which own the No. 7 overall pick in the draft. But the club's brass left open that possibility Wednesday when asked about the quarterback position. The team also brought in former backup Josh McCown for a Wednesday morning breakfast in the restaurant of the team's hotel.

"We're gonna look at all avenues, whether it's free agency, whether it's evaluating and aligning our roster correctly," Fox said when asked about potentially drafting a quarterback. "Obviously [in] the draft because that's where you get young players you can build in your system that can be core guys. All those avenues are going to be things you look at to get better."

But are Fox and Pace being realistic, considering they've got an experienced and talented, yet inconsistent quarterback in Cutler already in the fold? If Mariota tumbled to No. 7 overall, would the Bears seriously ponder making him the team's selection?

That's unclear at this point, but the Bears appear to be leaving open all options.

"That's the hardest position to find, and I recognize that," Pace said. "But that's what we do. That's my challenge and we'll evaluate that.

Having spent considerable time working in New Orleans with Drew Brees, one of the NFL's elite signal callers, Pace admitted to being spoiled by strong quarterback play. Pace was asked whether he preferred to draft and develop a quarterback over bringing in an experienced veteran such as McCown.

"I think it can come either way; just getting the best guys at that position," Pace said. "I know [Hall of Fame former Packers GM] Ron Wolf used to draft a quarterback every year. It's such a critical, critical position, that that's something we're always going to look at. And we want competition throughout the entire team. So competition at that position is just as good as competition anywhere. There's different ways. All these quarterbacks, if we went through them all, they all have different personalities; just like we do. I don't think you have to be just like [Brees], and I think it would be wrong for me to be that focused in on that that's the guy it has to be."

That potentially bodes well for Mariota, should he fall out of the top five and into Chicago's range at No. 7. But as the evaluation process intensifies at the combine for Fox and Pace, surely the club's personnel staff is focusing in on finding answers to many of the questions concerning Mariota's potential as a pro.

Mariota excelled in Oregon's high-octane no-huddle attack, and it's logical to ponder whether the quarterback's big numbers in college were manufactured mostly by the system. There are also concerns about Mariota's arm strength.

Mariota admitted to experiencing some awkwardness getting accustomed to huddling again, and he's also working on many of the minor details of a traditional pro-style offense such as three-, five-, and seven-step drops from under center.

Mariota confirmed Thursday he'll throw during Saturday's workouts, and also revealed he's been working closely through the pre-draft process with quarterback specialist Kevin O'Connell, a former third round pick by the New England Patriots, who was hired by the Cleveland Browns. Mariota has also been working with San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who told the former Oregon star "to be myself and enjoy this process as much as you can."

"It's nice, but it's all about control," said Mariota when asked about all the speculation concerning where he might be drafted. "People will always talk, there will always be rumors. But for the most part right now in this process for me, I'm trying to be the best player I can be in order to make an impact on whatever team I go to."
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- According to Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, Tampa Bay’s Josh McCown “isn’t much of a bettor.”

So don’t expect the quarterbacks to place any friendly wagers on Sunday’s matchup between the Bears and Buccaneers at Soldier Field.

“I wish him well except for this week,” Cutler said of his former backup. “We’ll go at it head to head and see what happens.”

 Cutler experienced somewhat of resurgence last season, his first under head coach Marc Trestman, and credits his working relationship with McCown as one of the factors in his improvement. Cutler produced a career-high passer rating of 89.2 last season as the Bears finished eighth in total offense.

Filling in as the starter for five games while Cutler was injured last season, McCown threw 13 touchdown passes and only one interception. Both quarterbacks combined for five 300-yard passing performances in 2013, which tied a franchise single-season record established in 1954 and tied in 1999.

The synergy between Cutler and McCown in the meeting room resulted in both quarterbacks excelling.

“I think Josh is good for a lot of people,” Cutler explained. “I think you could pair him up with probably most of the people in this room, and he’d find a way to help make you better. He’s not going to make you worse. I know that. He’s just one of those types of people. So I know he’s doing good things for that quarterback room in Tampa, just like he did for us.”

So why did they click?

“He’s played the position at a lot of different places,” Cutler said. “So we were coming into a new system [in 2013]. He had been through a lot of new systems like I had. We helped each other learn. His journey and as many places as he’d been, he’s been through some ups and downs. So he knew what the position was about, what it took to play the position. So he could relate really well.”

Bears general manager Phil Emery and Trestman have also been complimentary of McCown’s time in Chicago, with both expressing happiness when the quarterback signed a two-year deal in free agency to join the Buccaneers.

“It’ll be fun to see the guys and all that, but at the end of the day our focus is on going up there and getting a win because we need it for our team,” McCown said. “When you’re 2-8, you need wins. So that’s my focus. But I’m looking forward to it. It’s fun. I have so much love for all those guys up there, and anytime you get to do that -- against guys you know -- it just makes it more fun because you know how they’re going to prepare, and you know they’re going to give you their best. So I’m looking forward to that.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown remains in contact with Jay Cutler, but with both players' teams struggling, their relationship has been one of encouragement.

McCown spent the 2011 and 2013 seasons working alongside Cutler as a backup quarterback in Chicago prior to joining the Bucs.

"Obviously we have a great relationship," McCown said. "So we stay in contact for sure. I'm involved in my own season, so it's hard to really pay attention to what another guy is doing because we're engulfed in what we've got going on. With our situation and our [2-8] record, our focus is here and we check in more on how families are doing and stuff like that. We do talk a little ball every now and then. But we both, I think would say our teams aren't where we want them to be, and we've both been able to encourage each other in those areas."

In fact, Cutler offered McCown words of support after the latter tossed a couple of interceptions in a 27-17 loss Nov. 9 to the Atlanta Falcons. McCown held back tears during an emotional postgame news conference.

"Yeah, we talk about every week," Cutler said Monday during the "Jay Cutler Show" on ESPN 1000. "I really didn't get into the details about it. I just tried to be supportive to him; try to help him out if I can. He's always there. Josh is a great guy. He's still got a lot of relationships and connections here in Chicago. He cares for a lot of guys on this team."

McCown and Cutler developed a synergy in the team's quarterback room last season, which allowed both to perform at high levels. Starting five games for the Chicago Bears last season, McCown passed for 13 touchdowns and one interception with a passer rating of 109.0, which registered as third best in the NFL.

Meanwhile, Cutler produced a career-high passer rating of 89.2 last season, leading to the team rewarding him with a seven-year contract worth $126.7 million.

McCown attributed the synergy in the quarterbacks room last year to quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh and head coach Marc Trestman.

"I think it started with Marc and Matt in the room, and just us understanding the importance of that position, and what we wanted to get out of it. And I think the place I was in my life and where he is, it worked. So I was excited about helping him kind of take that next step, help him continue to play good football. I was ready to do that. He was ready for that to happen in his career and excited about that. So I just think it was a perfect mix of guys who had opportunity to do things they were passionate about. With Matt and Marc passionate about playing that position at a high level and being efficient, me passionate about helping a young player, any young player play better, and Jay wanted to play better. So all of us together it was a good room."
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Tampa Bay quarterback Josh McCown spent 2013 as the backup in Chicago, and admitted Wednesday “it is a little surprising” to hear the leadership of Bears coach Marc Trestman is being questioned.

“I’m just thinking about it as you say it,” McCown said. “I’m not in that room now. So I don’t know if things have changed or whatever. As far as how I understood and what I understood last year, I felt like he was consistent with his message and didn’t waver from that. I don’t know if that’s changed or not. Like I said about [Buccaneers coach] Lovie [Smith], that’s a hard thing to do to stick to your guns and stick to what you believe is right in the midst of turmoil or things that aren’t going your way.”

Trestman has remained true to the principles he expressed would be a part of the Bears under his watch, according to several players in the team’s locker room. But with the team having lost three of its past four outings, skepticism about Trestman’s leadership abilities have surfaced.

McCown started five games for the Bears last season filling in for an injured Jay Cutler, and threw 13 touchdown passes and only one interception in producing a passer rating of 109.0, which ranked as third best in the NFL. McCown attributed his success in 2013 to Trestman’s steady approach.

“I appreciate that from Marc, and felt it last year,” McCown said. “I think that was one of the main things that helped me play at the level I played at. I guess I would say, if [Trestman's leadership is being questioned], it surprises me."

The Buccaneers rewarded McCown last offseason for his strong showing in Chicago by signing him to a two-year contract worth $10 million, which could reach $15 million if the quarterback hits certain incentives.

“We were happy for him and his opportunity to continue his journey, and I don’t think anyone here feels any differently about that now,” Trestman said.

When Tampa Bay hired Smith last January, the coach considered McCown to be an important component for what he wanted to build with the Buccaneers.

“Coming into a new environment, there are some key positions you’d like to know as much as possible about,” Smith explained. “Of course it starts with the quarterback position, and in my year out [of football], I had a chance to watch a lot of football. [I] saw Josh, had a chance to be around him the year or so I had a chance to coach him [in 2011], and just knew what he would bring. I felt like as a new team, young team, we needed his leadership; and not just leadership, his play. I believed in him as a starting quarterback in the league. All those things kind of played a big part in it.”
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman called Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown “a great teammate” and “unselfish player,” but declined to elaborate if he misses McCown’s veteran presence inside the building.

“I don’t know if I want to go there,” Trestman said. “We all have our own relationships with Josh and I’d rather keep it at that. I’ll just stand by what I said when Josh left here is that we were happy for him and happy for his opportunity to continue this journey. I don’t think anybody around here feels any differently about that now. The fact of the matter is that we are not playing Josh on Sunday; we are playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. We are playing the whole team. We have to get focused on that and doing our part on that.

I think Josh is a guy who is a great teammate. He’s a very good teammate, and an unselfish player.”

McCown signed a two-year, $10 million contract in the offseason with Tampa after he went 3-2 in relief of Jay Cutler last year, throwing for 13 touchdowns and one interception. McCown even developed a strong bond behind the scenes with Cutler, who leads the NFL with 17 turnovers in 10 games.

The Bears and Bucs battle Sunday at Soldier Field.

It’s been anything but a smooth transition for McCown in Tampa under ex-Bears head coach Lovie Smith. McCown enters Week 12 with a 1-4 record, having missed five games due to injury. The quarterback has passed for 1,009 yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions with three lost fumbles (82.6 passer rating).

Smith is 2-8 overall in first year back in the NFL after the Bears fired him at the conclusion of the 2012 regular season, despite posting a 10-6 record. Smith has the third most wins in Bears history (84-66).

While Trestman acknowledged he has a great level of respect for Smith, he was unwilling to discuss whether Smith’s past success and leadership can be detected in the holdovers from the Smith era that remain on the roster.

“I’m not going to go through a dissertation like that,” Trestman said. “The thing I can tell you about Lovie is that I’ve watched him for years and played against him for years and I know him as a person and I have tremendous respect for him as a person in all areas. That’s the only thing I can speak of at this point and I truly mean that.”

Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall wanted nothing to do with questions pertaining to Smith’s return to Soldier Field.

“It’s just another Sunday,” Marshall said. “I won’t get into it throughout this week. I won’t get into it with you now.”

Palmer, Clausen to battle for No. 2 QB

July, 23, 2014
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Jordan Palmer, 30, showed the Chicago Bears' coaching staff enough in the offseason program to enter training camp as the No. 2 quarterback, but Palmer's spot on the roster is far from secure.

The most immediate threat to Palmer appears to be former Notre Dame standout and 2010 Carolina Panthers second-round draft choice Jimmy Clausen. Clausen was a late addition to the offseason roster, but he clearly impressed the coaching staff at the tail end of organized team activities and during the veteran minicamp after signing a one-year deal with the Bears on June 5. The Bears also spent a sixth-round draft choice on quarterback David Fales, who passed for 8,382 yards and 66 touchdowns in two seasons at San Jose State.

"Right now, Jordan Palmer has the first shot at being No. 2, [but] it's a competition," Bears head coach Marc Trestman said on Wednesday. "There are three guys who are up for the No. 2, but it's going to start with Jordan. We feel very good about Jimmy and we felt very good about David's performances as well. So we're going to work it like that. We're going to give Jordan the first shot. He's been here the longest. Jimmy Clausen has the most experience so we're going to work him in there, and we're going to provide David with opportunities throughout camp to play and perform not just in practice, but in games.

"It'll be an on-going process [that takes place] day-to-day. We don't have to make a decision for quite some time and we'll get a chance to see a lot of plays of practice and certainly in the preseason games as well."

Bears general manager Phil Emery described Clausen as having "a chip on his shoulder" and "eager to prove people wrong" after the quarterback started just 10 games for Carolina from 2010-13.

Palmer has appeared in only four regular-season games (zero starts) since 2008 with the Cincinnati Bengals, completing 10-of-15 passes for 59 yards and two interceptions.

Finding a serviceable No. 2 quarterback is essential for the Bears after injuries have forced incumbent starter Jay Cutler to miss 12 games over the past three seasons. Josh McCown thrived in the backup role in 2013, but the veteran signed a lucrative contract in the offseason to be the new starting quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"It's going to be interesting," Cutler said of the battle for No. 2. "There's not going to be a lot of reps for them. I think a lot of it is going to play out in the preseason games. Because I'm going to get a lot of the reps in camp. Jordan, he's been around a long time, his older brother, he's been able to watch him a lot. Jimmy, he's played in big games at Notre Dame and kind of got the pedigree. He's a high-round pick; he was in a tough position in Carolina. They're both very hungry, they've both worked extremely hard this offseason putting in the time mentally, which is probably more important for them right now, just trying to figure out the playbook so they can go to the line of scrimmage and be fluent in what they want to do. We'll see how it goes."

McCown, Mills win Piccolo Award

May, 6, 2014

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – The Bears honored quarterback Josh McCown and right tackle Jordan Mills as the 2013 Brian Piccolo Award winners at a news conference at Halas Hall on Tuesday.

The Piccolo Award is voted on by Bears players, who select a teammate they feel best exemplifies the courage, loyalty, dedication and sense of humor of late Bears running back Brian Piccolo, who died in 1970 at the age of 26 from embryonal cell carcinoma.

A Bears rookie has won the award every season since its inception in 1970. In 1992, the award was expanded to include a veteran player, as well.

McCown, who signed a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency, was not present at the awards ceremony. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler accepted the honor on McCown’s behalf.

“It’s impossible to replace a person like Josh McCown,” Cutler said. “I couldn’t be happier for him in his next journey down in Tampa. There isn’t a more deserving player in the league this past year than Josh McCown. [He played] 13 seasons on seven or eight different teams with just as many offensive coordinators and new playbooks each and every year, so to get this opportunity near the end of his career is very deserving for him.

“My only regret is that I would have met him earlier in life.”

McCown had a breakout year for the Bears in 2013 when he completed 149 of 224 pass attempts for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns and one interception. His 109.0 passer rating was the third-highest in the NFL.

Beyond the numbers, Cutler lauded McCown for the veteran’s ability to connect with teammates from all backgrounds and age groups.

“It’s rare to find a teammate that makes you not only a better player, but also a better person,” Cutler said.

Mills started all 16 games for the Bears at right tackle after the club selected him in the fifth round out of Louisiana Tech. Mills actually broke his foot during pregame warm-ups before the Bears' critical Week 17 matchup versus the Green Bay Packers at Soldier Field, but tried to play through the pain before leaving the game following the opening series.

“That’s the kind of courage Jordan exemplifies,” Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said. “That’s why the team chose him. He’s a great teammate. He plays next to another rookie, Kyle Long, and those two rookies working together, with his calmness and Kyle’s craziness, had a lot of success. It just shows the humor that can keep that thing together when you are a rookie.

“Jordan showed a lot of dedication to come from small-town Louisiana, to go through Louisiana Tech, to become a fifth-round pick, and then be a starter as a rookie.”

Palmer early favorite at No. 2 QB

May, 1, 2014
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Quarterback Jordan Palmer's actual NFL regular-season game experience is limited to four appearances and 15 pass attempts over parts of six years, but Bears general manager Phil Emery thinks Palmer is capable of being the team's primary backup to incumbent starter Jay Cutler in 2014.

Josh McCown's exit to Tampa Bay leaves Palmer and former practice squad member Jerrod Johnson as the only two reserve quarterbacks on the current roster with the NFL draft one week away.

"Absolutely [Palmer can be the No.2]," Emery said Thursday. "And I told him that the other day -- the same thing I told Josh: 'Glad you're here, looking forward to your contributions and we're counting on you.' And Jordan, since the time that he came last year has been nothing but a positive. He performed well in a preseason game and I understand that's the fourth preseason game, normally that's the second and thirds and the back end of the roster, but you still want people to show that they have upside and perform well. There are people that make squads in that game, so that game is important. And he did well.

"He has been a backup in the league, obviously in Cincinnati, so he knows what the weight of that position is and how to carry himself and how to contribute positively to the team in that role. And to get himself ready to go every week in case there was an injury. So yes, comfortable with him and excited to see Jerrod on the field for longer than a week or two. You know, we brought him in to take a look at him, but we had to release him because we had other needs on our practice squad at the time depending on what had happened with our 53-man roster. So I told him when we released him that we would like to bring him back and we did."

Eventually, the Bears will need to find a replacement for Cutler, whose new contract essentially locks him in for the next three seasons. But Emery was quick to caution against the idea of the Bears drafting a developmental quarterback in the mid-to-late rounds. The Bears used sixth and fifth round picks on quarterbacks Dan LeFevour [2010] and Nate Enderle [2011] and neither player panned out.

"I just did a little study. It's very interesting," Emery said. "That developmental theory doesn't hold a whole lot of water. There's entire classes of quarterbacks, since '06, I went back and looked at from Jay's on -- when people say developmental quarterbacks, OK, so who has gotten developed? There isn't a single quarterback after the third round since 2006 that has been a long-term starter. So you're either developing thirds, and most of them have been wiped out of the league. So to get a quality quarterback, you've got to draft them high. That 2012 class is a blip on the radar that's unusual, highly unusual.

"Most of the starters in this league come from the first and second round. So that's where you need to take a quarterback. So when you talk about quarterback every year, they have to be somebody that you truly believe will beat out the second and third quarterback that you perceive on your roster. And if not, history shows that you shouldn't make that pick."

If the Bears bypass a quarterback in the draft, Emery is likely to continue to explore the free-agent market. The Bears worked out several quarterbacks, including former Bucs first round selection Josh Freeman, but failed to offer any of them contracts.

Bears schedule: 5 key games

April, 24, 2014
Here is a look at the five key matchups on the Chicago Bears' 2014 regular-season schedule:

1. Sep. 14, Bears at San Francisco, 7:30 p.m. CT, NBC: The 49ers have been one of the NFC’s elite teams under head coach Jim Harbaugh with a 36-11 regular season and 5-3 postseason record (including a berth in Super Bowl XLVII) over the past three seasons. This Week 2 battle will be the first game played in the 49ers’ new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. The California stadium development is fantastic news for the Bears. San Francisco’s old venue, Candlestick Park, was a house of horrors for Chicago teams. The Bears lost their final seven games at Candlestick by a combined score of 230-49. That is not a typo. 49ers 230 -- Bears 49. Hello, Santa Clara.

2. Oct. 12, Bears at Atlanta, noon CT, FOX: The Falcons fell apart last season because of injuries and finished 4-12. With better health and a couple new pieces on defense, Atlanta figures to contend for the NFC South title in 2014. But the Georgia Dome is another place that has played tricks on the Bears in recent years. The Bears were poised to knock off the Falcons in 2009, but lost 21-14 after a series of costly mistakes that included: Jay Cutler throwing an interception in the red zone, Matt Forte fumbling on two straight runs from the one-yard line, and former offensive tackle Orlando Pace being whistled for a false start on 4th-and-1 from the Atlanta 5-yard line on the game’s final drive. The Bears also allowed the Falcons to escape with a 22-20 victory in the Georgia Dome in 2008 on a late botched coverage that led to a winning field goal as time expired.

3. Oct. 26, Bears at New England, noon CT, FOX: The Bears' most recent visit to Foxborough occurred in the Super Bowl year of 2006 when the teams played a tight game that featured a massive amount of turnovers. The Patriots eventually won 17-13, and four years later New England routed the Bears at a snowy Soldier Field, 36-7, leaving ex-head coach Lovie Smith winless against Bill Belichick. Second-year Bears’ boss Marc Trestman now has the opportunity to match wits with the perennial AFC powerhouse and arguably the greatest coach in the history of the NFL. Since the Patriots are always good, this figures to be one of the NFL’s marquee matchups in Week 8.

4. Nov. 9, Bears at Green Bay, 7:30 p.m. CT, NBC: This all looks so familiar. The Bears, fresh off their bye week, travel to Lambeau Field for a nationally televised night game. Where have we seen this before? Oh, yes, it was last year when Shea McClellin knocked Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers out of a Monday night game with a fractured collarbone as the Bears pulled out a 27-20 victory. Can the Bears do it again? Keep in mind the Packers will also be coming off a bye week when the Bears arrive in Green Bay, so it’s not as if the Bears are expected to be fresher. But having extra time to prepare for Rodgers and company is never a bad thing. In a scheduling twist, the Bears won’t see the Packers again after Week 9 unless the teams meet in the playoffs.

5. Nov. 23, Bears vs. Buccaneers, noon CT, FOX: Welcome back, Lovie and Josh. The return of Lovie Smith and Josh McCown to Soldier Field will be highly anticipated in Chicago. Expect McCown, the new Tampa Bay quarterback, to receive a warm ovation from the Soldier Field faithful. Why wouldn’t he? McCown had a career year for the Bears in 2013 when he completed 149-of-224 attempts for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns and one interception. Sure, McCown signed with the Bucs in free agency, but the Bears never made him an official offer. You can’t blame McCown for jumping ship. On the other hand, the reception for Smith is unlikely to be as positive, even though he won 81 regular-season games and three division titles in nine years before the Bears fired him. But Smith probably won’t care. He never struck me as the nostalgic type.

Source: QB Josh Freeman visits Bears

April, 7, 2014
CHICAGO -- Free-agent quarterbacks Josh Freeman and Adam Weber visited the Chicago Bears on Monday, a source with direct knowledge of the situation confirmed.

UPDATE: Freeman worked out for the club, but the Bears do not plan to sign him, according to a source familiar with the decision.

The Bears also worked out tight end Matthew Mulligan, per a league source.

The Bears are in the market for a reserve quarterback after Josh McCown signed a two-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency. The club brought back veteran Jordan Palmer on a one-year contract on March 9, but general manager Phil Emery told reporters at a recent news conference the Bears would investigate the available free-agent class of quarterbacks.

Freeman entered the NFL in 2009 as a first-round draft choice of the Bucs (No. 17 overall). The 6-foot-6 Freeman started 56 games over his first four seasons in Tampa, throwing a career-high 27 touchdowns in 2012. But Freeman’s best year occurred in 2010 when he posted a 95.9 quarterback rating plus 25 touchdown passes and just six interceptions.

However, Freeman fell out of favor with the Bucs and former head coach Greg Schiano and was released on Oct. 3, 2013. Freeman eventually signed with the Minnesota Vikings but started only one game, going 20-of-53 for 190 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception.

Weber signed with the Denver Broncos as an undrafted rookie free agent out of the University of Minnesota in 2011. He also spent time on the Bucs' practice squad.

Mulligan has made 24 starts since entering the NFL in 2009. He played for the New England Patriots last year after previous stops with the Rams and Jets.

In other news, the Bears agreed terms on a three-year deal with former CFL long-snapper Chad Rempel; veteran long-snapper Patrick Mannelly continues to recover from offseason hip surgery.

Free-agency review: Bears

March, 18, 2014
Most significant signing: The Bears made Oakland Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston their most expensive acquisition ($15 million guaranteed), but the price could actually turn out to be a bargain if he can replace some of the production lost with the release of Julius Peppers. Houston is a young, ascending player who has a reputation for physicality, which is exactly what Chicago wanted. Houston also provides the Bears versatility in the scheme because of his ability to be impactful as a pass-rusher from defensive end or defensive tackle. As well as Houston played in Oakland, it’s expected he’ll play his best ball in Chicago.

[+] EnlargeJosh McCown
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJosh McCown threw for 1,829 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.
Most significant loss: Even though Josh McCown was serving as the backup quarterback, his departure to Tampa Bay was significant because of all he did behind the scenes with starter Jay Cutler and the team’s skill-position players. It’s also worth noting that Cutler hasn’t played a full 16-game schedule since 2009. So the chances of the Bears needing the backup to play in 2014 would seem fairly reasonable. The Bears have expressed confidence in Jordan Palmer’s ability to fill McCown’s shoes as the No. 2 quarterback, but they’ll continue to see if they can upgrade at that position.

Biggest surprise: Chicago’s judicious handling of free agency to this point is somewhat of a surprise. Despite several needs on defense, the Bears have resisted the temptation to overspend just for the sake of filling spots. The front office has identified the types of players it would like to add to the defense, and it hasn’t waffled. The club is also staying patient, knowing there are still bargains to be had in the later stages of free agency.

What’s next? It’s difficult at this point to say how free agency will affect Chicago’s draft because free agency for the Bears will likely go all the way until May as the team continues to exercise restraint in its search for impact players. The Bears will still be active in the second and third wave of free agency, and it’s likely the club will land at least one more defensive starter. Even with that, Chicago’s draft will still be focused on defense because it’s time to start looking toward the future. Defensive tackle would appear to be the main target in the draft, and that could still be the case, even if the Bears managed to bring back free agent Henry Melton.
On the eve of free agency last week, our four NFC North reporters -- Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers), Ben Goessling (Minnesota Vikings), Michael Rothstein (Detroit Lions) and Michael C. Wright (Chicago Bears) -- compiled a list of the top-15 free agents in the division.

A week has passed and nine of them already have come off the market, including six who re-signed with their old teams.

Perhaps the biggest-name free agent from the NFC North, former Bears defensive end Julius Peppers, did not make the original list because he was not a free agent until he was released last week. He signed with the Packers on Saturday.

You can follow all of the NFL free-agent moves in Bill Polian's free-agent tracker, but let's revisit the NFC North top 15 and see what has changed:

1. Sam Shields, Packers CB: Signed a four-year, $39 million contract just a few hours into the open negotiating period on March 8. His $9.75 million per year average made him the fourth-highest paid cornerback in the league behind Darrelle Revis ($16 million), Brandon Carr ($10 million) and Aqib Talib ($9.8 million).

2. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions TE: Re-signed with the Lions for four years and $16 million, including a $4 million signing bonus.

3. Jermichael Finley, Packers TE: Remained unsigned after a visit to the Seattle Seahawks last week. It’s not known what the Seahawks' medical staff thought of Finley's C-3/C-4 neck vertebra fusion surgery that he had last November following his season-ending neck injury.

4. Charles Tillman, Bears CB: Signed a one-year contract to return to Chicago last Friday after missing half of last season because of a torn triceps. The deal is worth about $3.5 million.

5. B.J. Raji, Packers DT: Less than a year after reportedly turning down a multi-year offer that averaged $8 million per season, he returned to the Packers for a one-year deal signed on Friday that was believed to be worth $4 million plus incentives.

6. Matt Cassel, Vikings QB: Opted out of his 2014 contract after the Super Bowl but signed a new two-year, $10.5 million deal with the Vikings on March 7, just before teams could start contacting his agent and will likely head into training camp with the inside track on the starting job.

7. Willie Young, Lions DL: Signed a three-year, $9 million contract with the Bears. Former seventh-round pick received his first extensive playing time with the Lions in 2013, becoming a full-time starter after Jason Jones was injured for the season in Week 3.

8. James Jones, Packers WR: Remained unsigned after the first week of free agency and has not had any known visits even after he ranked second on the Packers last season in receptions (59) and yards (817), the latter of which was a career high despite missing nearly three full games because of a knee injury. Three years ago, coming off the NFL lockout, Jones did not draw strong interest on the free-agent market and re-signed with the Packers for three years and $9.6 million. Could the same thing happen again?

9. Jared Allen, Vikings DE: Remained unsigned after the first week of free agency but reportedly visited the Seattle Seahawks over the weekend. After three All-Pro selections in six years, Allen's time in Minnesota is over.

10. Josh McCown, Bears QB: Signed a two-year, $10 million contract to rejoin his old coach, Lovie Smith, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

11. Henry Melton, Bears DL: Coming off a torn ACL, Melton went unsigned during the first wave of free agency but has a visit scheduled with the Dallas Cowboys this week.

12. Devin Hester, Bears KR: Remained unsigned more than a week after the Bears said they would not bring him back.

13. Rashean Mathis, Lions CB: Remained unsigned after playing in 15 games and taking over as a starter early in the season last year.

14. Everson Griffen, Vikings DE: Cashed in on March 9th by signing a five-year, $42.5 million deal that included $20 million guaranteed to return to Minnesota.

15. Louis Delmas, Lions S: Signed a one-year, $2.25 million contract with the Miami Dolphins after the Lions released him with one year remaining on his contract in February, in part because of a cap number of $6.5 million in 2014.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Bear with me a minute for this anecdote that best illustrates what the Chicago Bears lost Wednesday when backup quarterback Josh McCown signed a two-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he joins former Bears coach Lovie Smith.

It wasn't long after Marc Trestman took over the head coaching job in Chicago last year when driving around near the club's practice facilities, he decided to drop by the hotel where the team houses rookies during the offseason. Trestman figured he'd pop his head in, take a look and see who might be milling around the hotel.

Trestman walks in, and in the hotel lobby, McCown had gathered the rookies for an impromptu film session in an attempt to help the inexperienced players digest the copious amounts of information they'd soon be trying to process on the practice field. As they watched film, McCown drew up the X's and O's on a grease board he'd borrowed from the front desk.

He'd pulled together everyone for film study without anybody ever asking him. Soon, starting quarterback Jay Cutler was doing the same thing with the rookies at that hotel.

That's the type of influence the Bears lose in McCown's departure to Tampa Bay. General manager Phil Emery once called McCown "a glue guy," while others within the organization have described him as "fatherly." That's why the team held supreme confidence in McCown's ability to get the job done in 2013 during the times Cutler was unable to play because of injuries.

Cutler will probably miss McCown the most.

"I'd like to see him come back," Cutler said back in January. "There are talks about him getting other opportunities, which I think, rightfully so he'll have. We've had candid talks about what he wants to do. I'll let Josh address that when he wants to. I know we'd love to have him back. I know Phil talked on it. We'd like to have him back in the building: Just the amount of work he does behind the scenes with the younger players and myself, just the experience he brings to the quarterback room, it's very valuable. The guys in the locker room are hoping we see 12 back next year."

They will, but McCown will be standing on the other side of the field playing for Tampa Bay -- possibly as the starter -- next season when the Bears host the Buccaneers at Soldier Field.

In weighing his options, McCown hoped for an opportunity to compete for a starting job, and it appears the Buccaneers will grant such a chance.

"To leave Chicago, it will be a situation where I'm looking to compete to start or to start, and be able to kind of grow more as a player," McCown said. "The only way as a player that you can do that is on the field. That will definitely be something that we are looking at. So we'll see. We'll see what opportunities come and where we are at tomorrow."

McCown is expected to receive a significant bump in pay from the one-year, $840,000 veteran league minimum salary he received from the Bears last offseason that included a $25,000 signing bonus and $5,600 workout bonus for a total compensation package of $870,600.

He'll be missed in Chicago. But Emery put it best Wednesday in reacting to the news McCown is headed elsewhere.

"We all want to congratulate Josh. He's been provided with a great opportunity to be a starter down there in Tampa. We're very happy for him and very proud for him," Emery said. "Obviously we look forward to competing against him on the field; very happy for him that he's had this opportunity. Josh has earned the right and respect to be given the opportunity."

Source: McCown to visit Bucs, Texans, Jets

March, 11, 2014
CHICAGO -- Free agent quarterback Josh McCown will visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Houston Texans and New York Jets, in that order, according to a source familiar with the situation.

McCown reported on Monday the Bears, Bucs, Texans and Jets were the four teams to show the most interest in McCown, who is fresh off a career year in Chicago.

"To leave Chicago, it will be a situation where I’m looking to compete to start or to start and be able to kind of grow more as a player, McCown said Monday on ESPN Radio’s “Mike and Mike”. “The only way as a player that you can do that is on the field. That will definitely be something that we are looking at. So we’ll see.”

All three potential destinations should provide McCown with the opportunity to compete to be the starting quarterback.

McCown is expected to field multi-year offers from the interested parties that the Bears might not be inclined to match because of the money invested in starting quarterback Jay Cutler. He signed a lengthy contract with $54 million in guarantees at the conclusion of the regular season.

McCown, who turns 35 in July, had a career year in 2013 when he completed 149 of 224 pass attempts for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns and one interception. McCown, who appeared in eight games last season with five starts, finished the season as the NFL’s third highest-rated quarterback with a 109.0 passer-rating -- the highest single-season quarterback rating in franchise history.

McCown set additional Bears all-time records with three straight 300-yard passing games, 36 completions in a single game versus the St. Louis Rams on Nov. 24 and an overall single-season completion percentage of 66.5.

McCown also had the best interception percentage in the NFL last year with one pick in 224 attempts (0.4 percent).