Profootballtalk.com first reported the visit.
Released by the Miami Dolphins to clear cap space, Hartline caught 39 passes for 474 yards last season and scored a pair of touchdowns. A fourth-round pick in 2009, Hartline's role gradually shrunk last season to the No. 4 option in the team’s passing game.
The Bears likely view Hartline as a potential option in the slot.
Hartline reportedly visited the Cleveland Browns on Tuesday, but could wind up re-signing with Miami as team owner Steve Ross reportedly called the receiver shortly after his release. A source said the Dolphins remain interested. So Hartline could be using his free-agent visits to determine his value on the open market.
Hartline started all 16 games for the Dolphins in 2014, yet produced the fewest receiving yards (474) of his career after putting together back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2012 and 2013.
In six seasons with the Dolphins, Hartline has 298 receptions for 4,243 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Interestingly, Hartline and Marshall have maintained a close relationship since the latter joined the Bears. They were teammates for two seasons in Miami (2010-11).
So although it’s apparent the Bears are interested in Hartline, the team could also be using the free-agent visit to glean more information about Marshall.
Remember, Bears general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox held off on committing to Marshall for the 2015 season when asked last month at the NFL combine about the receiver, who is due $7.5 million next season in base salary and counts $9.575 million against the cap.
Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, who enters the final year of his deal in 2015, are tied for ninth in the NFL with the most 100-yard receiving games (eight) in the NFL since 2013.
It’s likely that the Bears view Hartline as a potential secondary target as former seventh-round pick Marquess Wilson, after a training-camp injury, struggled during a 2014 season that was supposed to be his breakout year.
Wilson played in seven games last season with six starts, but generated just 17 receptions for 140 yards and a touchdown.
2014 pay: $1.431 million ($1.421 base salary, $10,000 workout bonus).
By the numbers: Played in 44.4 percent of the team’s snaps in 2014 over 12 games, with 11 starts, and contributed three interceptions to go with 38 tackles. Was inactive for a total of four games, missing time due to back and eye injuries, in addition to spraining both shoulders. Conte was also diagnosed with at least two concussions on the season.
The case for keeping him: Upset Bears fans don’t want to read this, but Conte is one of the most athletic players on Chicago’s defense, and although he’s not a strong run supporter, he can be a major asset in coverage. Conte has picked off three passes in each of the past two seasons, and has the coverage ability -- in part because of his college experience as a cornerback -- to handle man-to-man responsibilities against slot receivers. Prior to the 2013 season, Conte, 26, appeared to be on the verge of ascending to one of the league’s best at the position. Perhaps a new coaching staff can rejuvenate what once appeared to be a promising career.
The case for letting him walk: Since Conte’s dismal 2013 season, multiple coaches believe the safety has lost his confidence. Besides that, Conte’s recent injury history gives cause for concern. Conte missed the entire 2014 offseason program after undergoing shoulder surgery, and he couldn’t continue games in Weeks 2 and 3 because of shoulder-related issues. Conte was also diagnosed with at least two concussions during the season. Chicago has plenty of cap space to bring back Conte if it so chooses, and the safety’s overall skill set would seem to make him a viable candidate to return. But Conte’s style of play probably isn’t aggressive as new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio would like.
Prediction: Conte only returns in 2015 if the Bears present his only offer in free agency. Otherwise, Conte is likely to bolt because for him it’s time for a change of scenery. Conte is a more talented player than given credit for, and it’s likely Fangio could coax that out of him on a consistent basis. But given all Conte has gone through during his Bears tenure, it’s likely his preference is to start fresh somewhere else.
No: 10: Darryl Sharpton.
No. 9: Danny McCray.
No. 8: Eben Britton.
No. 7: Jimmy Clausen.
No. 6: D.J. Williams.
The Plaza at Park Grill, which is located on Michigan Ave. at the entrance of Millennium Park will serve as headquarters of the Bears Miller Lite Draft, and fans can purchase general admission tickets for $45 starting on March 12 at 11 a.m. CST on the team’s official website.
Fans looking for reserved premium seating can call the team’s ticket office at 847-615-BEAR (2327) for availability.
According to a release sent by the team, the two-night draft even will include live draft coverage and analysis, as well as specials in the team’s pro shop and chances to win prizes, including autographed merchandise and NFL draft Autograph Stage Passes for a guaranteed autograph from current and former NFL players.
On April 30, former Bears linebackers Dick Butkus and Brian Urlacher make appearances along with the club’s first-round draft pick. On May 1, former Bears coach Mike Ditka is scheduled to appear along with the team’s first-round pick.
Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-hosts Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) and Mike Wells (Indianapolis Colts reporter) Will be joined by four other NFL Nation reporters throughout the show.
Michael Rothstein (Detroit Lions reporter) will take us behind the Lions' decision to avoid franchise-tagging defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, and also give us an idea of where the prized lineman might end up.
Mike Reiss (New England Patriots reporter) will join to make sense of New England's decision to place the franchise tag on kicker Stephen Gostkowski, instead of potentially doing so with free-agent defensive backs Darrelle Revis or Devin McCourty.
Todd Archer (Dallas Cowboys reporter) will give us an update on the Cowboys' apparent decision to let DeMarco Murray, 2014's rushing leader, test the open market.
Sticking with offense, Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers reporter) checks in to outline why the Packers may be content doing the same with receiver Randall Cobb, who reportedly was looking to stay in Green Bay for $12 million a year.
As always, viewers are encouraged to log in and ask the panelists questions as well as contribute in the chat feature.
2014 pay: $645,700 ($645,000 base salary, $700 workout bonus).
By the numbers: Played in 12 games with 10 starts, and contributed 73 tackles, a pass breakup and two quarterback pressures, but was placed on the injured reserve on Dec. 11 due to a nagging neck injury that forced him out of the team’s sixth game. Williams participated in 412 snaps last season.
The case for keeping him: Williams provides an experienced veteran presence in the locker room, and has played in the past for new coach John Fox. An 11-year veteran, Williams played two seasons (2011-12) in Denver with Fox before signing in 2013 with the Bears. Williams projects as an ideal fit at inside linebacker in the team’s new 3-4 front, but hasn’t produced in the 90-tackle range since 2011, Fox’s first season in Denver. Williams won’t command much when he hits the market, and he could serve as a bridge player in the team’s transition to a new scheme.
The case for letting him walk: Williams turns 33 before the start of the 2015 season, and he’s finished the past two years on injured reserve due to a torn pectoral muscle in 2013, and the neck injury in 2014. Williams seems to be more of a two-down linebacker at this point in his career but could be rejuvenated playing again for Fox. Williams likely won’t have many options in free agency and won’t be able to command a huge salary. But Williams’ recent injury history could scare off the Bears. He’s played in 18 games over the past two seasons.
Prediction: The Bears will look for younger upgrades at the position this offseason, which means it’s likely Williams won’t be brought back. Like many free agents his age, Williams will likely have to wait until after the draft to sign with a team looking to fill out its final training camp roster. Williams, no doubt, can still play. But he won’t be a high priority in free agency for the Bears.
No: 10: Darryl Sharpton.
No. 9: Danny McCray.
No. 8: Eben Britton.
No. 7: Jimmy Clausen.
At least 10 former Chicago Bears staffers from the Lovie Smith and Marc Trestman regimes said recently they believe the team can't consistently compete for championships as long as it fields a lineup with Jay Cutler under center.
That sentiment might explain why head coach John Fox and general manager Ryan Pace remain uncommitted to Cutler as the team's starting quarterback for 2015. Deciding whether to commit to Cutler has a time element. If Cutler is on the Bears' roster on March 12, $10 million of his 2016 salary is guaranteed.
Cutler declined comment through a team spokesman. His agent, Bus Cook, said questions about whether the Bears feel they can win with Cutler should be directed to the team.
Two teammates, who also asked to remain anonymous for this story, characterized Cutler as a divisive figure with whom they'd rather not continue to play.
In six years with the Bears, Cutler has gone through four offensive coordinators, two head coaches and a pair of general managers. Yet Cutler remains very much in play as the team's potential long-term solution at the position, in part, because of the seven-year, $126.7 million extension the quarterback signed in January 2014.
One more former staffer said the Bears could win with Cutler as long as the coaches handcuff him to the system.
Although Smith let Martz go after the 2011 season, there's no denying Cutler played some of his best football as a Bear during a six-game span that year in which he completed 60.7 percent of his throws for 1,359 yards and eight touchdowns with three interceptions for a passer rating of 91.3. Cutler led the Bears to a 5-1 record during that stretch before breaking his right thumb in a Nov. 20 win over the San Diego Chargers.
“We're going to take our time on this,” Pace said recently. “We really have until mid-March. We're going to maximize that time and make thorough decisions through this whole process.”
But video evaluation of Cutler may not prove as beneficial as speaking with teammates and perhaps his former coaches. Remember, Pace worked with former Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer in New Orleans, and it would come as a surprise if the new GM didn't pick Kromer's brain about Cutler. Kromer is the same coach who apologized during a team meeting for admitting he was an anonymous source in a story that characterized the Bears as harboring buyer's remorse for signing Cutler to the long-term contract. When the Bears cleaned house in December before Pace came on board, Kromer's contract was the only one terminated of all the assistants remaining on the staff.
“I don't think there's any question that there's ability and talent there,” Fox said recently of Cutler. “[But] there's a lot more that goes into it, and we're evaluating that as we speak.”
Despite Pace's and Fox's refusal to commit to Cutler publicly as the starter, it appears -- based on the staff they've set up -- the Bears are prepared to give the quarterback one last shot. The Bears hired two pro-Cutler coaches in offensive coordinator Adam Gase and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains.
According to multiple sources, Cutler started to grow close to Gase after spending time with the former Broncos offensive coordinator at the wedding of former Bears quarterbacks coach Shane Day, a disciple of Martz. Cutler has wanted to work with Gase for a while, the sources said. Martz tried to hire Gase in 2010 as Chicago's quarterbacks coach, but Denver wouldn't allow him out of his contract, which led to the hiring of Day.
It's unknown how Cutler and the new staff will get along if he's still on the roster in 2015, and one former coach said he believes it's time the organization stops catering to the quarterback until he delivers a return on the club's investment.
One staffer said that while Cutler was injured and Josh McCown was flourishing as the replacement in 2013, there was a significant faction in the locker room that believed the latter should've remained the starter. Another coach said that fairly early in the 2014 season, it was apparent the team had made two mistakes: (1) not re-signing McCown, and (2) continuing to stand behind Cutler after it was clear he was not going to consistently operate within the confines of Trestman's offense.
That same coach said he believed McCown gave the Bears a better chance to win than Cutler because he simply executed the scheme the way he was asked, without freelancing.
Pace and Fox met with McCown during the NFL combine, but there will be no reunion as McCown signed with the Cleveland Browns.
Some may view the disparaging remarks from Cutler's former coaches as sour grapes on the part of scorned staffers. Nobody on the current staff has told Cutler he's on the way out or that his tenure in Chicago is in jeopardy.
But every one of the former staffers interviewed from the Smith and Trestman regimes pointed out similar flaws in the quarterback. Two “R” words -- “renegade” and “rogue” -- were often used by the former staffers when asked about Cutler's ability to play within the confines of an offensive system.
They all also questioned Cutler's leadership abilities. One former staffer said McCown was the offense's leader in the locker room during his final season in Chicago, adding that for Cutler “it's just not him” to embrace such a role. The staffer said that Cutler doesn't have to be a leader for the team to succeed.
But it's difficult to ignore that the most successful teams in the NFL have strong leadership at the quarterback position.
"There's a lot of things outside of the building that I think are maybe a little misunderstood. When you get to know somebody, things are different when you get to talk face to face. So yeah, that's going on,” Pace said. “I know he's a very talented player, and again it's just getting to know him as a person and kind of how he ticks.”
Ahead of the start of free agency, Insider is providing buyer's guides for all 32 teams: biggest need positions from Football Outsiders, top targets from Matt Williamson and predictions on how everything will play out from our NFL Nation team reporters.
Included below are links to every team's article. This is the entry for the Chicago Bears.
Defensive line: The Bears' problems on defense start up front. A season after finishing 32nd in adjusted line yards (which measures a defense's control of the line of scrimmage), the Bears improved ... all the way to 30th. They ranked 29th or worse in runs marked left tackle, middle/guard and right tackle. Vic Fangio brings his 3-4 defense, and a good nose tackle should be a priority.
2014 pay: $645,700 ($645,000 base salary, $700 workout bonus).
The case for keeping him: It’s difficult to find young, backup quarterbacks with experience. A five-year veteran, Clausen has 11 starts, with the majority (10) coming during his time playing for new Bears coach John Fox in Carolina. During his lone start in 2014, a Dec. 21 loss to the Detroit Lions, Clausen performed well enough to cement status as a bona fide No. 2 option who can get a team through a game in a pinch if the starter goes down.
The case for letting him walk: Fox was forced to throw Clausen into the fire during the quarterback’s rookie season, and that decision ultimately resulted in him losing his job with the Panthers. Although Clausen didn’t play much for the Bears last season, he put enough on tape for teams to feel confident about him as a strong backup option. So there is a good chance Chicago could be competing for Clausen’s services, which in turn could drive up his asking price.
Prediction: Just last season, the Bears chose Clausen as the starter over Cutler, because of the latter’s inability to consistently execute the scheme the way he was asked. If the Bears decide to keep Cutler, it would be a smart move to keep Clausen on the roster, too. In fact, the team should probably open up competition for the starting position. Cutler hasn’t played a full 16-game season since 2009, and it’s unclear how he will get along with new quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains and offensive coordinator Adam Gase, provided the team keeps him. So it would be a good idea to keep an experienced player such as Clausen on the roster. It’s doubtful the Bears will have much competition for Clausen’s services. So they should be able to bring Clausen back on a one-year deal very similar to the one he signed last offseason when joining Chicago.
Miller suffered the injury in the second quarter of the team’s win in the second preseason game over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Prior to that, the Bears had been experimenting more with Miller in the lineup opposite starter Martellus Bennett in double tight-end formations.
Miller played in 29 games over his first two years in the NFL (2009-10) with the Jaguars, but since 2011, he’s participated in just four contests as injuries continue to keep him sidelined. Miller hasn’t been a part of an active roster since 2011. He spent 2012 on the injured reserve in Jacksonville, and in 2013, Miller worked with Tampa Bay in the offseason, but was waived prior to the start of the regular season.
In all, Miller has played in 33 games with five starts, contributing 45 catches for 470 yards and four touchdowns.
The Bears signed Milller originally in December of 2013.
Let's get started.
@mikecwright: I'm not sure about "fits" as you say, but the Bears are definitely interested in David Harris of the New York Jets, and Tampa Bay's Mason Foster as potential fits at inside linebacker. I think linebackers such as Jonathan Casillas and O'Brien Schofield are also players to keep an eye on as free agency approaches. I think San Francisco has some interesting things going on at linebacker as well. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman appear to be close to returning to full health, which means that last year's starters Chris Borland and Michael Wilhoite could be relegated to backup roles. So perhaps new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, given his familiarity with all four players, could talk Ryan Pace into trying to trade for one of his former 49ers pupils.
@mikecwright: I could definitely see that happening. The names to look out for would be linebacker Nate Irving, safety Rahim Moore and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, aka "Pot Roast," as all three are free agents. Knighton is reportedly looking to make somewhere in the neighborhood of $7.5 million per year, which seems a tad steep. Knighton played in Jacksonville and Denver for new Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio. So there's a good chance Del Rio could be looking to add Knighton as well. Irving is coming off a torn ACL, which means he probably won't have much leverage in terms of landing a big-money deal. But Irving became a full-time starter in 2014, and seems to be an ascending player. Moore, meanwhile, will be one of the better safeties on the market along with New England's Devin McCourty. So there's a good chance Moore could be looking for more than the Bears would be willing to pay. In the past, the Bears didn't value the safety position in terms of handing out big-money deals. Perhaps that's changed with Pace as the GM.
@mikecwright: I think you got it right. But I go back and forth between where to put Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall. In fact, I'd say Marshall probably has a better chance of returning to Chicago than Cutler.
@mikecwright: I'm sure that 5.64 time in the 40-yard dash hurt him in the eyes of some scouts, but I don't believe that will affect his draft position. What you've got to realize is that Danny Shelton has rare power and strength, and he did put up a 30.5-inch vertical leap, which means he's got the explosion that personnel evaluators covet. He's also got the strength and power to command double-teams, which in turn would keep offensive linemen off the linebackers to allow them to run around and make plays. Shelton met with several teams at the combine, including Chicago, Indianapolis, Arizona, Green Bay, the New York Giants and New Orleans, and I don't think any of those teams' interest has waned after that time in the 40. Ultimately, what the player put on tape in games is what Shelton will be judged on; not a 40-yard dash time.
@mikecwright: I like him. Personal side note: Petty's coach at Baylor, Art Briles, was head coach of the Stephenville [Texas] Yellow Jackets back when they defeated us (Wichita Falls, Texas -- Hirschi High School) 49-40 in the first round of the playoffs my sophomore year. Anyway, as much as I like Petty, I don't think he's quite ready. I think he'll need a few years to learn the nuances of an NFL system before he's ready to be a starter. So if the Bears were to draft Petty, they'd have to let him sit and learn a few years before thrusting him into any real action.
Even Petty admitted that it's difficult at this point to project how he'll fare in an NFL system because of his background in a spread offense, but said he's more of a pocket passer than most spread quarterbacks.
"We were in the spread, but at the same time, I feel like I am a pocket passer," Petty said at the NFL combine. "I want to extend plays, extend plays within the pocket. That might be a little bit different than most spread quarterbacks who want to run it out of the pocket. For me, I feel like my game can translate easier in that, and the fact that I want to play within the pocket, and I want to extend plays within the pocket and beat you doing that."
We'll go in reverse order.
2014 pay: $730,000 ($730,000 base salary).
By the numbers: Played in 10 games as the club's sixth offensive lineman, and participated in 11.6 percent of the team's snaps last season. Britton missed five games after having his appendix removed in October.
The case for keeping him: Britton possesses the versatility to play either of the tackle spots, but he can also kick inside to guard and contribute. Britton was usually the player utilized when the Bears lined up with an extra offensive lineman at the tight end spot -- providing Chicago a proven swing tackle. Given Jordan Mills' struggles in 2014, Britton could potentially compete for a starting job in 2015 if he's brought back.
The case for letting him walk: Britton missed plenty of time at training camp in 2014 due to a hamstring injury, which led to the Bears terminating his contract at the end of camp during final cuts. Britton's experience and versatility makes him an attractive addition for other teams. But the Bears don't need to overpay because they could probably get by with 2014 seventh-round pick Charles Leno Jr. assuming the swing-tackle role.
Prediction: Despite all Phil Emery's mistakes with personnel on defense, he built a deep offensive line for the Bears with proven players such as Britton assuming backup roles. Surely the new brass will recognize Britton's worth and bring him back at a veteran minimum rate if another team doesn't overpay.
No: 10: Linebacker Darryl Sharpton.
No. 9: Safety Danny McCray.
Asked on ESPN "Mike & Mike" on Thursday what would go into the final decision regarding Cutler, Gruden said, “I think John Fox is going to look at the body of work. They’re going to see that he didn’t get it done really with Lovie Smith or Marc Trestman, and now I’m the next head coach. I think you need to give some other people an opportunity to play. I think some of these quarterbacks get too many chances. There are good enough players out there that deserve a chance to be the quarterback of the Chicago Bears.”
The new regime’s intense evaluation of Cutler stems from his seven-year, $126.7 million extension signed last January. Cutler’s $15.5 million base salary for 2015 is already fully guaranteed, but if the quarterback remains on the roster on the third day of the new league year (March 12), he’s guaranteed another $10 million of his 2016 salary.
“I know he has talent,” Gruden said. “But I don’t think he warrants that salary for sure. I think Chicago needs to look at getting a different leader under center.”
It’s clear the new regime has at least explored that possibility. The club met recently at the NFL combine in Indianapolis with former backup Josh McCown for breakfast in a restaurant inside the team’s hotel.
"[The] meeting went really well. [I] enjoyed spending time with them," McCown told ESPN.
McCown played for Fox in Carolina (2008-09) and spent three seasons with the Bears (2011-13) before signing a two-year deal to join former coach Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers released McCown on Feb. 11.
McCown played a significant role in Chicago, helping the club to implement a new offense under Trestman and former offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, and was often described by former Bears general manager Phil Emery as "a glue guy" in the locker room.
McCown played eight games during his last season in Chicago (2013), winning three games in five starts while filling in for an injured Cutler. McCown performed well enough to stir debate about whether he should be the full-time starter over Cutler.
“Two years ago, the Bears were on the brink of going to the playoffs because of Josh McCown’s play,” Gruden said. “Josh McCown played great for Marc Trestman. He fit that system. He understood it. He looked like he was in rhythm. He won a lot of games just two years ago for the Bears. He’s available. You can bring Josh McCown back. Jake Locker, possibly. There are some quarterbacks out there that need a new place to go. We were in Super Bowl XXXVII with Brad Johnson, I think he was on his third team. Rich Gannon was on his fifth team. Steve Young never started until he was 30 years old. We live in a day where everything has to happen right now, or let’s get him out of here. Some of these guys are going to prove to you that they can play. They just need a new setting.”
Perhaps that also includes Cutler.
Here’s No. 9:
Danny McCray, safety
2014 pay: $796,538 ($730,000 base salary, $60,938 roster bonus, $5,600 workout bonus)
By the numbers: McCray played in 15 games for the Bears in 2014, contributing 19 tackles on defense and 10 stops on special teams. McCray participated in 16.1 percent of the team’s snaps on defense, but played on 274 of the club’s 435 snaps on special teams.
The case for keeping him: Former general manager Phil Emery gutted Chicago’s special-teams units, which resulted in one of the team’s worst performances in that facet of the game in recent history. McCray is a core special-teams player and one of the unit’s top players. McCray also adds value as a reserve safety and made 10 tackles in the team’s Sept. 22 victory over the New York Jets. McCray turns 27 in March and still appears to have some upside.
The case for letting him walk: McCray can come into the starting lineup in a pinch, but the Bears might be able to find a better player in free agency to serve as a backup on defense and as a top contributor on special teams.
Prediction: McCray might be one of the team’s best players on special teams, but on defense he’s been somewhat of a liability in coverage. McCray will be one of the late signings of free agency, and it's more than likely he won’t be signing with the Bears.
No: 10: Linebacker Darryl Sharpton.