Chicago Bears: Nfl
Fox came away from the brief talk with Allen encouraged about the veteran’s prospects for 2015.
“I don’t know that  was his best season. I think there were reasons, not excuses,” Fox said. “I talked to him briefly out here. He lives out here. So it’s good to touch base, air and share some ideas. He’ll get that opportunity to compete. He could be one of those guys that might make a big jump.”
Having played defensive end his entire 11-year career, Allen makes the switch to outside linebacker in Vic Fangio’s 3-4 front in 2015, and faces competition for time on the field from players such as Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and recent signee Pernell McPhee.
Houston and McPhee possess enough bulk to play inside at defensive end in base packages, but Allen will play exclusively at outside linebacker, according to Fox and general manager Ryan Pace. Based on Fangio's past, it's expected the Bears will deploy Allen in creative ways in the team's substitution packages.
Allen played in 15 games last season, producing 64 tackles and just 5.5 sacks. Prior to the 2014 season, Allen had racked up double-digit sack totals for seven consecutive years, including eight of the last nine seasons.
Allen missed the team’s Week 4 loss to Green Bay due to pneumonia, which caused him to lose 15 pounds, and ended a streak of 113 consecutive starts.
Fox also cleared up confusion regarding the expected role for 2012 first-round pick Shea McClellin, who moved to linebacker last year, after spending his first two seasons at defensive end. Fox plans to try McClellin at inside linebacker in the club’s base package, which means he’ll be fighting for playing time alongside new signee Mason Foster, Jonathan Bostic and Christian Jones.
McClellin started 10 games in 2014 and contributed 84 tackles and a sack.
“We don’t really know. I think the biggest success I saw of him was when he came out of Boise State was as a 3-4 outside backer,” Fox said. “It hasn’t gone as well for him as far as position fit, in fairness to him, and that’s not being judgmental on anyone. I think we’re going to start him inside because it’s a harder position to learn, but he will be both. So we don’t really have a position per se. A linebacker is a linebacker, and he’ll get a chance to compete at both. But more likely, we’ll start him inside.”
Chicago Bears coach John Fox plans to implement changes to the club’s offseason conditioning program, tweaks he believes should help Alshon Jeffery as he ascends to the role of No. 1 receiver with Brandon Marshall out of the picture.
“I really liked Alshon coming out [of college],” Fox said Wednesday from the NFL owners meetings. “One of the things I’d say is we had a lot of soft-tissue injuries last year as a football team. We’ve kind of changed philosophically in the weight room. I think you’ll see we’re going to do things a lot different from offseason conditioning, the approach to how we handle that. I don’t think we had a soft-tissue injury a year ago in Denver other than one particular guy.”
In Chicago, the Bears finished up the 2014 season with 10 players on the injured reserve, with Jeffery spending most of the year battling through nagging hamstring issues. Still, Jeffery put together his second-consecutive 1,000-yard season, catching 85 passes for 1,133 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Set to enter the final season of his rookie contract, Jeffery wasn’t approached by the team’s brass about doing a contract extension.
Jeffery tied for 11th in receptions among receivers last year and tied for seventh in receiving touchdowns and receptions for gains of more than 25 yards (12).
“I think [the new conditioning approach] will help him,” Fox said. “There have been times in his career when he might have been a little bit overweight, but obviously a beast as far as size, and a guy we’re looking forward to getting to know better.”
The Chicago Bears have six selections in the 2015 NFL draft, which will be held April 30 to May 2 in Chicago. Here's a breakdown of the Bears’ selections:
First round: 7th overall selection
Second round: 39th overall selection
Third round: 71st overall selection
Fourth round: 106th overall selection
Fifth round: 142nd overall selection
Sixth round: 182nd overall selection
Seventh round: No selection. Pick sent to New York Jets in exchange for their fifth-round pick as part of Brandon Marshall trade.
The Chicago Bears took a measured approach after the initial big-money first wave of free agency, and the club's patience may have actually paid off Tuesday with the expected additions of defensive ends Jarvis Jenkins and Ray McDonald.
After spending approximately $31 million guaranteed to land outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, safety Antrel Rolle and receiver Eddie Royal, the Bears continued into the second wave of free agency looking to land bargains as they attempt to fill out the defense for the switch to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's 3-4 scheme.
With plenty of options at outside linebacker, including McPhee, Jared Allen, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston, the Bears needed to add a couple of interior defenders to play defensive end. The Bears appear to have filled the void at those spots with a couple of steady performers in Jenkins and McDonald.
Jenkins played the run solidly last season at Washington, but has posted just two career sacks. Jenkins told ESPN Redskins reporter John Keim he plans "this offseason to do 100 pass rushes every day on a lineman. I have to work on it if I want to be a dominant player in this league. It's obvious my downfall [is] sacks. [Redskins coach Jay] Gruden explained it to me and said guys like you that are athletic, you're supposed to have sacks. This is a sack league. It will be the main thing I work on, to get my sacks up."
In Fangio's 3-4 scheme, that really won't be necessary, as outside linebackers are charged mostly with the responsibility of netting sacks, while defensive ends serve primarily as run defenders.
That brings us to McDonald, an acquisition sure to stir up some controversy given his recent past. The 49ers released McDonald back in December for what they called a "pattern of poor decision-making" after learning police were investigating the defensive end on suspicion of sexual assault. McDonald was never charged in that case, and the defensive end is suing the woman who accused him of the assault.
McDonald was also implicated in a domestic abuse case involving his fiancée last August, but it was announced in November he wouldn't be facing charges in that case with authorities citing insufficient evidence as the alleged victim declined to cooperate with investigators.
"I feel like what I am doing is the right thing because I know that I am not this bad person that people are making me out to be," McDonald told ESPN last week. "I've been fired from my job. I know some teams don't even want to talk to me because of this past accusation. All I am trying to do is clear my name and move on with my life."
There's a good chance that won't be easy in Chicago, at least not initially. According to a source, the Bears, internally, are bracing for the potential backlash likely to accompany the signing of McDonald. But while the accusations concerning McDonald are certainly serious, he hasn't been formally charged in either of the investigations, and according to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, "the matter is under review" with regard to the defensive end potentially facing league discipline.
Ultimately, though, it's unlikely McDonald would have landed on Chicago's radar anyway without a strong recommendation from Fangio, the defensive end's former coordinator in San Francisco. McDonald played for Fangio from 2011 to 2014, having joined the 49ers in 2007 as a third-round pick out of Florida.
McDonald became a starter in 2011 under Fangio, and developed into a strong run-stopper capable of providing an added dimension as a pass-rusher. McDonald started 14 games for San Francisco in 2014, finishing fifth on the team in tackles. Pro Football Focus rated McDonald No. 12 among 3-4 defensive ends.
So on the surface it appears the Bears landed a couple of solid potential contributors as they look to restore the club's reputation for annually fielding one of the league's toughest defenses.
If Jenkins and McDonald pan out, along with new general manager Ryan Pace's other recent additions, the Bears could be well on their way to turning around last season's 5-11 mark without having to break the bank to make it happen.
The NFL announced on Monday that fans interested in attending the 2015 NFL draft in Chicago from April 30-May 2 can register here starting on Tuesday for a chance to win two free tickets.
Fans can register from noon ET on Tuesday until Sunday, April 5 at noon ET. Winners will be randomly selected.
According to the league, a limited number of tickets are available for Auditorium Theatre and Selection Square areas for the first round of the draft and Rounds 2 and 3. There will also be a limited number of tickets available for the final day of the draft as the Selection Square and Auditorium Theatre will be open to the public for tours and photo opportunities. Seating is free in the Auditorium Theatre and Selection Square areas, but limited.
Here are a couple of important dates announced by the league for fan ticket distribution:
April 6: Ticket winners will receive an email on or around April 6 containing the date, venue and instructions for confirming attendance. The league said email notifications will be distributed to fans who didn’t win at a later date.
April 8: The deadline for fans winning tickets to confirm attendance. After submitting acceptance information, winners will automatically receive final email confirmation, which will include check-in details for the specified draft day.
April 30-May 2: Fans winning tickets need to present a government issued photo identification and their unique Fan Mobile Pass QR code at Draft Town to check in and receive wristbands. Their guests need to present government issued photo identification (if over 18 years old) on the selected day during designated hours. Wristbands are required to secure tickets for entry into the draft. Fans winning tickets will receive instructions detailing the time and location to exchange wristbands for tickets and access to the venue.
First off, apologies for skipping out on the mailbag last week. We decided to put it on hold because we expected the Bears would more active in free agency than they've been up to this point.
Anyway, let's get started:
First off, apologies for skipping out on the mailbag last week. We decided to put it on hold because we expected the Bears would more active in free agency than they've been up to this point.
Anyway, let's get started:
— FabianD (@FabianD_inAZ_54) March 19, 2015
@mikecwright: Thanks for the question. The way it looks right now, there's definitely going to be a logjam at outside linebacker because the plan is to play Jared Allen, Willie Young, Lamarr Houston and Pernell McPhee at outside linebacker. Both head coach John Fox and general manager Ryan Pace have said as much recently. I'd encourage you to take a step back, take a big-picture perspective and match up that with what you know about new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Fangio is a creative schemer, and if all those guys stick on the roster (which I anticipate happening), he'll find a way to incorporate all of them. The Bears plan to play base defense out of a three-man front. But when the team goes into substitution packages, which will likely be more than 50 percent of the time, it will probably execute out of four-man fronts designed to get the team's best four pass-rushers on the field at the same time. We don't yet know which players Fangio plans to deploy in those positions because he doesn't know, and won't know until the team gets out on the field for practice. Fox said that once the guys start working out, they'll define their roles through their play.
— Ed Ryan (@edryan1015) March 19, 2015
@mikecwright: That's a good question that, for me, is difficult to answer because I really don't know the scope of Pace's plan. That's typically what happens with a new regime. But once we spend enough time getting to know Pace and Fox, it becomes easier to figure out. Outside of maybe Ndamukong Suh and Darrelle Revis, I don't think there were many must-have players in free agency. And you know the Bears weren't about to spend what it took to land Suh and Revis. It would have made sense to go after Denver receiver Demaryius Thomas, but he was franchised. Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton was asking for more than $8 million per year and ended up signing a one-year deal worth $4 million. One source told me "his weight was a problem" last year. So Chicago was wise to not overpay to land Knighton. Devin McCourty would have made sense, but I think the Bears could get comparable production out of Antrel Rolle. And obviously, Randall Cobb re-signed with Green Bay. So although nobody really wants to hear it, the Bears have handled free agency wisely. New York Giants president John Mara recently said this year's class of free agents was mediocre, and he anticipated that because of the increased cap, teams would overspend for that mediocre talent. Well, the Bears exercised self-control throughout this process, which you should see as a positive sign from the new regime.
— Michael DeWall (@mjdewall) March 19, 2015
@mikecwright: When the Bears pick at No. 7, if a receiver is the highest-rated player remaining on their board, then why not? The Bears traded away No. 1 receiver Brandon Marshall, elevating Alshon Jeffery into that role. And the truth is I'm not sure how Jeffery will handle being a No. 1. How will he handle the extra coverage consistently devoted to him by opponents with Marshall out of the mix? So I think the Bears could and should help out Jeffery by bringing in a legitimate No. 1 or No. 2. Defensively, the Bears need another corner and inside linebacker. But I honestly don't think either of those needs is more important than receiver. I think they're all just about equal in terms of needs.
— Tim Gioia (@TheRealTimGioia) March 19, 2015
@mikecwright: It would certainly make sense to be concerned. But Pace ultimately makes the final decision on personnel moves with input from the scouts. So while Pace will certainly listen to what the scouts have to say, he'll need to cross check all their reports with his own work because he's the one the organization will hold accountable. I think Pace brought in enough of his own people to alleviate any concern about some of the scouts from the old guard still being in place.
— Jayy Lenyo (@TheeMackJayy) March 19, 2015
@mikecwright: I'll tell you this: Bears assistant director of college scouting Jeff Shiver was certainly in the house Wednesday at Michigan State for Trae Waynes ' pro day. So the Bears are certainly showing some interest in Waynes, expected by many to be the first defensive back off the board. Could he be Chicago's pick at No. 7? I think it's certainly possible, because he's talented enough, in my opinion, to be a top-10 pick. Waynes moves well. He's fluid, smooth and fast with decent size (6-foot, 186 pounds). When you watch Waynes play, he appears to be an ideal bump-and-run corner because he's aggressive at the line, but also disciplined with his eyes. Waynes played quite a bit of man coverage at Michigan State, and I anticipate the Bears utilizing plenty of man with Fangio now running the show with his aggressive schemes. So on the surface, Waynes seems to fit what the Bears are expected to be doing in the secondary. And Waynes also fits a need. Having said that, it's important to note, though, that Pace believes in drafting the best available player, regardless of the team's needs. He said as much during his introductory news conference.
Current Bears jumping into the bracket challenge included cornerback Tim Jennings, defensive tackle Ego Ferguson, and defensive end Cornelius Washington and running backs Senorise Perry and Ka'Deem Carey. Interestingly, each of those players attended schools that advanced to the tournament.
Jennings and Washington played at Georgia, while Carey, Perry and Ferguson attended Arizona, Louisville and LSU, respectively.
Ex-Bears participating in what the team's official website is calling the "Bragging Rights challenge" include our own Merril Hoge, Adrian Peterson, Jerry Azumah, Kevin Butler, Rosevelt Colvin, Alex Brown, Matt Suhey and Kevin Butler.
You can check out their brackets here.
As expected, the majority of the contestants predicted Kentucky would win the tournament.
Larry Mayer, senior writer over at the team's official website, also participated in the challenge. Here's his story about it.
In advance of the league’s annual meeting, which kicks off on Sunday, the Chicago Bears last month submitted two of the 23 NFL playing rules proposals for 2015 to be reviewed by the competition committee.
The club’s first proposal involves an amendment to reviewable plays.
Currently, the league’s replay system covers the position of the ball with respect to first down and whether more than 11 players were on the field at the snap. But the Bears want the rule amended to include whether time had expired on the play clock before the ball was snapped.
So Chicago’s proposal would add review of the play clock to the instant replay system, and the team’s reasoning behind the amendment is it would permit the replay system to correct a potential officiating error.
The Bears also proposed a rule change that would allow both teams to receive at least one possession in overtime.
Under current rules, if the receiving team in overtime proceeds to score a touchdown on its possession, the game comes to an end. If that team doesn’t score a touchdown and ends up kicking a field goal, the opponent receives a possession.
So with Chicago’s proposed change, both teams would receive a possession in overtime, which in turn “maintains equity in overtime and ensures a fair outcome,” according to notes sent out by the NFL.
Interestingly, Chicago’s proposed change here would have given division rival Green Bay a better chance to advance to the Super Bowl. During the NFC Championship back in January, Seattle won the overtime coin toss and elected to receive. Seattle marched 87 yards in six plays by completing a pair of 35-yard passes, the second resulting in the game-winning touchdown by Jermaine Kearse.
Under Chicago’s proposed change, the Packers would have been given a chance to answer with an overtime possession.
Financial terms of the deal weren't immediately disclosed.
Gafford, 32, reportedly took part in a tryout Tuesday at Halas Hall featuring a group of long-snappers.
An eighth-year veteran, Gafford joins the Bears after spending seven years with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he played in 105 contests. Prior to the signing of Gafford on Wednesday, Chicago's roster didn't feature a long-snapper.
Gafford has produced 19 tackles on special teams throughout his career in addition to recovering a fumble.
Gafford came into the league as an undrafted free agent with the Packers in 2006.
In case you missed it, ESPN Insider Field Yates put together a rundown Tuesday of the most significant roster holes remaining after teams completed the first wave of free agency.
No surprise here that Yates thinks the Bears need to add at least one more receiver, because they do; even after reuniting former Chargers and Broncos receiver Eddie Royal with quarterback Jay Cutler. New general manager Ryan Pace sent receiver Brandon Marshall and a seventh-round pick to the New York Jets in exchange for a fifth-round selection.
Obviously, Marshall is only one player. But he served as Chicago’s No. 1 receiver opposite Alshon Jeffery. Since coming into the league, Marshall ranks No. 3 in receptions (773), fifth in receiving touchdowns (65) and sixth in receiving yardage (9,771). So Pace left a huge hole in the roster at the receiver position by jettisoning Marshall, and it’s important to note Jeffery is coming up on the final year of his original rookie contract.
So while Royal is coming off his most productive season in three years with the Chargers (778 yards and seven touchdowns), playing in a full 16-game season for the first time since 2010, he spent the majority of his time in San Diego operating out of the slot.
The Bears need production on the outside opposite Jeffery, and the reality is it will be difficult to find a player at that position even close to Marshall’s caliber. We outlined a few of the team’s potential options in the draft at receiver here.
The Bears own the No. 7 overall pick of the draft.
“I would say the receiver position, we are looking at that,” Pace said. “We are exploring that in free agency, in the draft,” Pace said. “There are guys, honestly, on our own roster that we could see have ascending roles. We’ll add talent to our entire roster. But, yeah, we are looking at receivers.”
Pace never indicated which receivers on the current roster will assume those roles, saying “I don’t want to get on an individual basis on every player on the roster.” But the logical choice to put into Marshall’s position would be third-year receiver Marquess Wilson, who started six games last season, finishing with 17 catches for 140 yards and a touchdown.
He’ll need to make major progress this offseason for the Bears to feel comfortable with moving him into the starting lineup.
The club lists Wilson at 6-foot-4 and 184 pounds, but he’ll need to add some bulk in the team’s conditioning program as he’s not considered a speedster capable of blowing past corners at the line of scrimmage. The club held out high hopes for Wilson headed into last season, but the receiver suffered a fractured clavicle diving for a deep ball at training camp and spent the first nine games of last season on injured reserve.
“We’re building this thing going forward,” said Pace, when asked how Marshall’s departure might affect the locker room. “We have a lot of time, guys. Free agency’s occurring as we’re speaking. We have the draft going forward, as we’re speaking. So we have a lot of time to continue to build the roster and build the chemistry and build the locker room. So to speak exactly on how [the Marshall trade] changes the locker room, I’m not too sure about that.”
Most significant signing: The addition of outside linebacker Pernell McPhee should give the Chicago Bears the most long-term value of the team's three signings. But in the short term, the addition of safety Antrel Rolle should be Chicago's most significant signing to date in part because of the horrid play at the position in recent years. The Bears haven't fielded a defense with consistent playmakers at safety in more than five years. So although Rolle is 32 years old, he brings a playmaking element (nine interceptions and two forced fumbles over the past two seasons), but more importantly, he provides leadership on a defense that has lost its way over the past three years. Chicago ranked 30th against the pass in 2014, and was one of just three teams to give up an average opponent passer rating of 100 or better. The defense ranked No. 30 overall in each of the past two seasons and also ranked 30th and 31st in points allowed in 2013 and 2014, respectively.
Most significant loss: The Bears traded a seventh-round pick and receiver Brandon Marshall to New York in exchange for the Jets' fifth-round pick. The move sent away perhaps Chicago's most significant weapon on offense, and instead of working to replace Marshall's production with a top-flight receiver, the team added veteran Eddie Royal, signing him to a three-year contract worth $10 million guaranteed. Over the past two seasons, Chicago's quarterbacks put up a total QBR of 70.2 with Marshall on the field and just 3.33 when he wasn't in the lineup, according to ESPN Stats & Information. So there's no doubt Marshall helped to make Chicago's quarterbacks better. Can Royal do the same? Royal possesses the ability to play opposite Alshon Jeffery as a No. 2 receiver. But it's more likely the Bears ask Royal to operate out of the slot mostly in 2015. So Chicago will definitely be in the market, whether through free agency or the draft, for a No. 2 wideout.
Biggest surprise: Given all the needs on defense, especially in the secondary, it's somewhat surprising the Bears have moved so slowly in making acquisitions. In the first week of free agency, the Bears signed McPhee, Rolle and Royal. McPhee is an ascending talent, but the Bears need to bring in more players on defense who fit that description. Chicago did attempt to sign Kansas City safety Ron Parker to pair with Rolle, but he ultimately decided to re-sign with the Chiefs. The Bears have also been in discussions with Tampa Bay linebacker Mason Foster, but the sides remained far apart on terms.
What's next? Teams all around the league seemed to be making major moves through trades or big-money acquisitions, while the Bears remained mostly quiet during the first wave of free agency. But Chicago isn't done by a long shot, and it's expected most of the team's moves will come during the second wave of free agency, where the Bears might be able to scoop up some deep discounts. The Bears need to continue adding to the defense, and could be looking to bring in at least one more safety, another cornerback and inside linebackers. New general manager Ryan Pace seems to be taking a meticulous approach toward building the 2015 Bears. So don't expect the Bears to come out of free agency labeled as winners, which is fine by Pace and new coach John Fox, as games aren't won on paper.
A native of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Ducasse brings versatility to the Bears, having started six games at left guard, four at right guard and one as a sixth-eligible lineman.
Ducasse came into the league in 2010 as a second-round pick by the Jets out of the University of Massachusetts, and joins a fairly deep Bears offensive line, which features Pro Bowler Kyle Long at guard opposite Matt Slausen, who finished last season on the injured reserve due to a pectoral muscle.
Michael Ola, who started 12 games (seven contests at left guard, two at left tackle and three at right tackle), currently serves as the team’s top reserve at guard.
With options in free agency dwindling for Chicago, let's take a quick look at a few potential draft options for the Bears at receiver. Chicago owns the No. 7 overall pick of the draft.
Round 1 prospects
Amari Cooper, Alabama
2014 stats: 124 receptions, 1,727 yards, 16 touchdowns.
Why he fits: In the debate between Cooper and former West Virginia receiver Kevin White, coaches seem to prefer the former, while scouts tend to give the edge to the latter. That's primarily because coaches view players with an eye toward them helping right away, while scouts take more of a long-term perspective. Cooper (6-1, 211 pounds) ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine. So he's speedy enough to provide Chicago a legitimate deep threat opposite Alshon Jeffery. Cooper's quickness allows him to gain a clean release off the line of scrimmage consistently, and he possesses a burst that allows him to separate from defensive backs. Cooper also seems to have a natural feel for the receiver position.
Quotable: "You don't want to give the defensive back any signals about what route you're going to run. Every time I run a route, I try to make it seem like I'm running a different route than I'm actually running so I can get open. I certainly want to be the best receiver, not just in this class, but overall, wherever I go, and I'm going to work hard to try to be that. I take good pride in the way I release off the line and coming out of my breaks. That's really the only two ways you can get open. I think that's probably what would separate me from someone else." -- Cooper
Kevin White, West Virginia
2014 stats: 109 receptions, 1,447 yards, 10 touchdowns.
Why he fits: White (6-3, 215 pounds) ran a 4.35-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, and flashed explosiveness with a 36 1/2-inch vertical leap. So White would give the Bears a speed element they lacked in Marshall with similar run-after-catch traits and that knack for overpowering defenders. Like Marshall, White wins most contested-ball situations, but like most receivers coming from college to the NFL, he could improve as a route runner. White fits the mold as an attacking receiver, and might be the ideal type of player to pair on the outside with Jeffery.
Quotable: "I think I put a lot of fear in defensive backs just because I block so well, and when I come off the line I'm quicker than they expect. By the time they realize it, it's already a done deal. When you talk trash, you've got to back it up. That just puts more pressure on me to back it up. I love getting in defender's heads. Once I do that, it's definitely game over. Blocking separates receivers. I feel like to have a successful offense, receivers have to block, and that's what separates me. I love to block. I love to manhandle guys. I'll continue to do that." -- White
Outside of Round 1
Nelson Agholor, Southern Cal
2014 stats: 104 receptions, 1,313 yards, 12 touchdowns.
Why he fits: Agholor (6-0, 198 pounds) appears to be very similar to former Trojans Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, and like them, he's got experience in a pro-style offense, which should ease his transition to the NFL game. Projected as a second-round pick, Agholor clocked a 4.42-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, but couldn't complete the workout after dislocating a finger on his left hand during receiving drills. Agholor runs crisp routes, and provides extra value because of his return ability. Agholor scored a USC-record four touchdowns on punt returns, but he might project in the NFL as more of a slot receiver. The Bears need a bona fide No. 2
Quotable: "I'm very different compared to a lot of guys [in the draft class]. I think a lot of these guys have a lot of traits. I'm multiple in many ways. I want to be the guy you keep in the game 25-7. If a team already has a No. 1, I want to contribute the equivalent to a No. 1 or be the No. 1. I progressed from Year 2 to Year 3. It was always about progressing, and when I left college, I look back at everything and I say, 'You know what, I never took a step back each day.' I never missed a practice. I didn't face injury. It was about progressing each day. I thought my mentality was to be on the rise. In terms of character, professional, everything I do, I want to do it the right way. I want to prepare. As a player, I want them to know that." -- Agholor
Justin Hardy, East Carolina
2014 stats: 121 receptions, 1,494 yards, 10 touchdowns.
Why he fits: Hardy (5-10, 190 pounds) lacks elite speed, having run a 4.56 time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, but he's quick enough off the line of scrimmage to consistently get clean releases. Like Agholor, Hardy seems to project as a slot receiver in the NFL. While his speed and measurables don't jump out at you, Hardy is a natural ball catcher capable of making explosive plays after the catch. Hardy also provides extra value in the return game as he returned punts his last three years at East Carolina. Despite Hardy's calm demeanor, he's a confident competitor, and you can't overlook his monstrous college production (387 receptions, 4,541 yards and 35 touchdowns) as the NCAA's all-time leading receiver.
Quoteable: "A lot of guys, I tried to look at what they do to be great. Growing up, Jerry Rice, you know, a great guy, kind of like me, not being that fast, but got the job done. It's been fun. Coming from no D-I offers, to walking on at ECU, earning a scholarship and getting to this spot. [I'm] trying to be the best that I can be and go from there." -- Hardy
"It depends," Marshall said Friday during a conference call with the New York media. "The new coach was brought on, and our new general manager. They don’t know us. All they can go on is what they hear, what they see, what they saw from afar. I’ve always described our relationship this way -- and it hasn’t changed -- that we’re brothers. We’re the brothers that we love each other, but also get into it. And it’s always been that way and it will never change. I love him, his family. I love his sons. And I wish him the best."
But on Dec. 8, Marshall was asked about a report on NFL Network's "NFL GameDay Morning" in which Chicago was described as grappling with buyer’s remorse regarding Cutler. Marshall mentioned all the club's issues weren’t the quarterback's fault, but also said he understands the situation and "would have buyer’s remorse, too"
In three seasons with the Bears, Marshall racked up 100-plus yards receiving in a game 15 times. Since entering the league in 2006, Marshall ranks third in receptions (773), fifth in receiving touchdowns (65), and sixth in receiving yardage (9,771).
Marshall had 279 catches for 3,524 yards and 31 touchdowns during his Chicago tenure.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace said the decision to trade Marshall came after a thorough evaluation of the club's roster.
"It’s kind of analyzing the whole roster and just looking at what’s best for the Chicago Bears and what’s best for Brandon Marshall," he said. "That was our decision going forward. He was understanding [of the move], but I like to keep a lot of those conversations internal. I think we both feel good about where we’re at right now."
Prior to finishing the season with 721 yards on 61 receptions in 2014, Marshall had put together seven consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Marshall fought through nagging leg injuries most of last season, and finished on Injured Reserve because of fractured ribs and a punctured lung.
On top of the production dipping, Marshall participated in a couple of instances that were construed as distractions; most notably, a postgame locker room rant after a loss to the Miami Dolphins. He also challenged a Detroit Lions fan to a boxing match on Twitter, and also spent time during the work week performing as an analyst on Showtime’s "Inside the NFL."
Marshall turns 31 on March 23, and was asked whether he could maintain the production he’s churned out in recent years.
"No, I don’t feel like I’m the same guy. Absoluetly not," Marshall said. "If you’re staying the same, you’re getting worse. Every year I set the bar really high. I have high standards. I’ve heard those rumblings. What people don’t understand is a couple of years ago, I had to make a decision within myself. Everywhere I’ve been I’ve always been 'the guy.' I’ve always been the guy getting thrown 170, 180 balls. When we bring Alshon [Jeffery] down [to Florida to train] and help him take his game to the next level and he has a breakout year, now we have another 'guy.' Then you bring in Martellus Bennett. That’s another 'guy.' We had the workhorse, Matt Forte in the backfield. We had four guys who could really carry a team or an offense. We all had to make that decision to be selfless. Those targets were going to come down from 180, 190 to 150. It was going to go from 118 catches to about 90 catches."
“God, I pray that you just give me a level head,” Rolle explained Friday to WFAN in New York. “I pray that you just give me a sign to lead me in the right direction, and I’ll follow your lead.”
Rolle picked up his cell phone hours later, awakened by an email alert at 4:33 a.m.
It read: Orbitz alert: Flights to Chicago, discount fare.
The Chicago Bears announced Rolle two days later as the club’s newest acquisition in the secondary, after signing him to a three-year contract, worth $11.25 million, including $5 million guaranteed. The plan now for Rolle is to acclimate himself in Chicago as quickly as possible to prove, even at 32 years old, he can serve as a key contributor in the new Bears defense under new coordinator Vic Fangio.
“They wanted me there. They wanted me badly, everything I can bring to their organization,” Rolle said. “My skill level was still top notch, even at the age of 32. They wanted me to be a part of their ball club. From Day 1, they’ve shown the most interest out of any team.”
Rolle plans to reward Chicago’s belief in him through his play. While concerns exist regarding Rolle’s age, his track record on the field speaks to consistency, durability and leadership. Rolle signed a five-year contract worth $37.1 million with the Giants prior to the 2010 season, and participated in every game that season. In 2011, Rolle played in every game, including the four postseason contests on the way to the Giants’ Super Bowl XLVI title.
Rolle served as a team captain the past two years for the Giants, and was selected to two Pro Bowls during his tenure with the team, while earning a reputation among peers and coaches as a leader and consummate team player. During the NFL combine in February, Giants coach Tom Coughlin spoke highly of Rolle, saying, “I don't think I've ever been involved with a player who was more sincerely interested in how his team could improve. I admire that very much in him as a young man and as a leader."
Rolle expects to bring leadership to Chicago as well, but it won’t be through fiery rhetoric.
“I think you earn your leadership. I don’t plan to come in there overnight and start trying to take over things,” Rolle said. “I’ve never wanted to ever take over anything. If I lead, it’s going to be by example. If I’m a leader, it’s because my peers see me as a leader, not because I see myself as a leader. So I’m just trying to go in there, man, and just be the best safety I can be. Be the best teammate I can be, and play between those white lines, just go out there and bring everything I know; bring that University of Miami old-school mentality to that locker room.
Apparently, that’s fine by Bears coach John Fox.
In five seasons with the Giants, Rolle racked up 464 tackles and 14 interceptions to run up his grand total to 801 tackles and 26 interceptions over a 10-year career.
“Coach Fox told me, ‘I want you to go in. I want you to be yourself. I want you to let it loose the way you know how to let it loose,’” Rolle said. “That’s all I needed to hear because I’m ready to let it loose.”