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Thursday, October 10, 2013
Mailbag: What do Bears do with Peppers?

By Jeff Dickerson

Here is this week's installment of the Bears mailbag:

1. If Julius Peppers doesn’t want to play football anymore, why don’t they bench him and put someone in who is ready and willing to play and play hard? – Ron Soderholm, Placentia, Calif.

Dickerson:
Ron, here is the likelihood that Peppers is benched: zero. The Bears paid Peppers a $3 million signing bonus to renegotiate his contract on Sept. 3, and they still owe him a $9.9 million base salary on top of that. If Peppers is healthy, he will be on the field. Maybe his playing time decreases slightly, but Peppers will never be out of the equation. On another note, who exactly is going to replace Peppers at defensive end? Corey Wootton is expected to line up more inside at defensive tackle because of injuries. Shea McClellin is not an ideal 4-3 pass-rushing defensive end. And David Bass is a rookie who just appeared in his first NFL game last week versus the Saints. A young Michael Strahan isn’t walking through that door, or at least not until next May’s draft. Moving forward, I don’t know if Peppers will be on the Bears in 2014 with a $18,183,333 salary cap number, but he’s secure in Chicago for the next 11 regular season games, at the very least.


2. Do you think Brandon Marshall will be targeted more and be a bigger part of the game on Thursday? – Liam Gallagher, Chicago

Dickerson:
Marshall made such a production about being targeted only five times (4-30-1) versus the Saints that I assume he will see the ball early and often against a porous New York Giants’ defense that ranks No. 26 overall and No. 22 defending the pass. I can’t even imagine the reaction from Marshall if he isn’t featured Thursday night. But the reality is that Marshall is still a huge part of the offense and leads the team with 31 receptions through five weeks. It’s not as if the Bears' passing game struggled when Marshall took a backseat to Alshon Jeffery last Sunday. Jeffery set a franchise record with 218 receiving yards and Jay Cutler threw for 358 yards and had a 128.1 quarterback rating, his highest of the season. The offense is designed for more than one player to be involved. That’s why the Bears spent money on tight end Martellus Bennett in the offseason, extended Matt Forte in the summer of 2012 and traded up in the second round to snag Jeffery out of South Carolina that same year. This whole episode is bizarre. But I expect it goes away for a while when Marshall has 100 yards and a couple of touchdowns on national television.


3. What do you think the problem has been on defense this year, besides the pass rush. I can’t take any more stories about the Bears’ failures to sack the quarterback. -- Jack, Highland Park, Ill.

Dickerson:
That’s easy; the Bears are giving up way too many big plays on defense. In just five games, the Bears have allowed 25 pass completions of 20 or more yards. Eight of those completions have gone for 30 or more yards. Three have been for 40 or more yards. As much as you don’t want to hear it, Jack, breakdowns in deep coverage usually occur when a quarterback has too much time to stand in the pocket and survey the field. The Bears had 41.0 team sacks last season and finished No. 8 versus the pass. So far this year the Bears have eight sacks and rank 23rd in passing defense. There is definitely a correlation.


4. How has Cutler done against the Giants in his career? He had the one game where he got knocked out, but what about the rest? -- Thomas Morgan, Tampa, Fla.

Cutler
Dickerson:
Thomas, Thursday night marks just the second time Cutler will face the Giants in a regular-season game. The first time, as you mentioned, didn’t go so well for Cutler. In what will go down as one of the worst displays of play calling and pass protection in the history of the NFL, Cutler was sacked an NFL record nine times in the first half of the Bears’ 17-3 Sunday night loss to the Giants at New Meadowlands Stadium on Oct. 3, 2010. Cutler left the game with a concussion and missed the next game in Carolina. He finished the night having completed 8 of 11 passes for 42 yards and one interception. Former Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz kept calling for seven-step drops even though it was obvious the Bears were not having success blocking the Giants up front. No. 2 quarterback Todd Collins had even worse numbers, 4-of-11 for 36 yards and one interception, before he got knocked out of the game in the fourth quarter. The Bears hope it goes a little smoother this time around for their quarterbacks.


5. Jeff, explain this to me, the Bears suffer all these injuries at defensive tackle and they don’t sign Richard Seymour. What is wrong with Phil Emery? Does he want to win a Super Bowl, or what? -- Pete, Grayslake, Ill.

Dickerson:
I think Emery wants to win a Super Bowl, but the Bears don’t have a ton of available salary-cap space. Seymour reportedly wants around $5 million to play this year for a contender. The Bears don’t have that kind of money to sign a player off the street. At last check, they’re around $3 million below the salary-cap threshold, unless they were able to restructure another contract in the last week or so. The Bears aren’t really in a position to add to the roster at all this year, outside of a couple inexpensive players here and there in the event of injuries. It’s also difficult to envision the Bears cutting ties with an underperforming vested veteran because the team would still be on the hook for the remainder of that salary, and then be forced to sign a replacement on top of it, eating up even more valuable salary-cap space. Emery could also be reluctant to trade draft picks away for players because, quite honestly, the Bears need a surplus of picks next May to replace all the veterans, especially on defense, who might potentially leave via free agency.