Chicago Bears: Justin Durant

Looming: Three huge QB contracts

October, 25, 2012
10/25/12
4:32
PM ET
No NFC North teams appeared on John Clayton's list of the NFL's 10 worst contracts, and I really can't come up with an obvious nomination. There are no abominable contracts in this division at the moment, at least none any team entered by choice that will limit its flexibility moving forward.

Some of you might note the five-year, $25 million contract the Minnesota Vikings gave tight end John Carlson last spring. Carlson has played sparingly (27.2 percent of snaps), caught three passes and is currently sidelined by a concussion. But as Tom Pelissero of 1500ESPN.com points out, the Vikings could void his contract after this season (provided he is not still injured) for a modest $4 million cap hit.

[+] EnlargeCutler
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireJay Cutler's contract is up following the 2013 season.
What Clayton's project did bring to mind is that the NFC North is primed for three monster-truck contracts that will be the types of deals that entire salary caps are structured around. For different reasons, quarterbacks Jay Cutler, Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford are all closer to new contracts than you might have realized.

Cutler's deal with the Chicago Bears expires after the 2013 season. He's making $8.2 million this year and is due to make $8.9 million next season. Would the Bears go into 2013 with their franchise quarterback in a free-agent year? It wouldn't be ideal, and if they want to avoid it, they would need to address it this offseason.

We've discussed Rodgers' situation several times. He is signed through the 2014 season but has obviously outperformed a deal that will pay him $9.75 million in 2013 and $11 million in 2014. You would assume it's a matter of when, not if, Rodgers gets a new deal. The current benchmark is the five-year, $100 million contract the New Orleans Saints gave quarterback Drew Brees.

Stafford's situation, meanwhile, is no less urgent even though he is technically signed through 2015. The final year of his deal is voidable and, more importantly, Stafford is due to count $20.320 million against the Detroit Lions' 2013 salary cap after two years of renegotiations. The Lions could conceivably deal with a cap number that high, but you wonder if they'll seek an extension in order to lower his cap hit over the next few years. They will have a busy offseason given the pending free agency of seven starters: cornerback Chris Houston, safety Louis Delmas, linebacker DeAndre Levy, defensive tackle Corey Williams, right tackle Gosder Cherilus, linebacker Justin Durant and place-kicker Jason Hanson.

Investing in a franchise quarterback is usually a sound policy, but it'll be costly in each instance.

NFC North free-agency primer

March, 8, 2012
3/08/12
11:12
AM ET
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Free agency begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET

Chicago Bears

Key free agents: Tight end Kellen Davis, running back Matt Forte (franchise), cornerback Corey Graham, quarterback Caleb Hanie, defensive end Israel Idonije, cornerback Tim Jennings, quarterback Josh McCown, safety Brandon Meriweather and receiver Roy Williams.

Where they stand: The Bears will have the most salary-cap space among NFC North teams, upwards of $30 million, and have plenty of potential uses for it. Quarterback Jay Cutler needs more targets in the downfield passing game, whether it's at the receiver or tight end position. And new general manager Phil Emery must start restocking a defense led by four players more than 30 years old: Linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, defensive end Julius Peppers and cornerback Charles Tillman.

What to expect: It's widely believed the Bears will be in the running for free-agent receiver Vincent Jackson. But Jackson's price tag could be steep and no one knows if Emery will prove to be a big spender. It seems likely he will re-sign Davis, and Emery should also save some of his cap space to extend Forte's contract. Secondary receiver targets could include Marques Colston. Bears fans are hoping the team will pursue defensive end Mario Williams, but it's hard to imagine the Bears budgeting for Williams two years after breaking their bank on Peppers.

Detroit Lions

Key free agents: Defensive end Cliff Avril (franchise), left tackle Jeff Backus, safety Chris Harris, quarterback Shaun Hill, linebacker DeAndre Levy (restricted), running back Maurice Morris, running back Kevin Smith, quarterback Drew Stanton, linebacker Stephen Tulloch and cornerback Eric Wright.

Where they stand: The Lions are tight against the salary cap after franchising Avril and aren't likely to be big spenders on the free-agent market. They could relieve the situation by reaching long-term agreements with Avril and/or receiver Calvin Johnson, who has a $22 million cap figure for 2012. Tulloch made a big impact last season after signing a one-year deal, but so far the Lions' attention has turned elsewhere.

What to expect: The Lions' best-case scenario is to keep their 2011 core together without mortgaging their future relative to the salary cap. That would mean getting Tulloch re-signed to preserve the linebacker group they upgraded last season by signing him and veteran Justin Durant, moves that allowed Levy to play on the outside. Hill seems likely to re-sign as Matthew Stafford's backup, while Stanton might test the free-agent waters to see if he has a chance to do better than third on a team's depth chart.

Green Bay Packers

Key free agents: Cornerback Jarrett Bush, quarterback Matt Flynn, running back Ryan Grant and center Scott Wells.

Where they stand: The Packers took care of a big challenge by signing tight end Jermichael Finley to a two-year contract last month. They will let Flynn depart for a possible starting job elsewhere and it appears Grant will test the free-agent market. Discussions with Wells haven't led to an agreement, but the Packers often go to the final moments before reaching a deal. There are no obvious internal replacements for Wells, making his return a priority.

What to expect: The Packers will have some flexibility with the salary cap, but general manager Ted Thompson's aversion to veteran free agency is well known. It's been three years since he signed a veteran unrestricted free agent in the offseason. The Packers have needs at defensive line, outside linebacker and possibly at center if Wells leaves. But let's put it this way: Thompson's strong preference is to find depth and future replacements in the draft, not on other teams' rosters.

Minnesota Vikings

Key free agents: Safety Husain Abdullah, receiver Devin Aromashodu, receiver Greg Camarillo, defensive lineman Fred Evans, defensive lineman Letroy Guion, linebacker E.J. Henderson, linebacker Erin Henderson, safety Tyrell Johnson, quarterback Sage Rosenfels, cornerback Benny Sapp and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.

Where they stand: The Vikings seem poised for a major roster overhaul in their first offseason since Rick Spielman was promoted to general manager. Players like Shiancoe, E.J. Henderson, Camarillo and Johnson all seem poised to move on. There aren't many positions on the team that appear secure.

What to expect: If the Vikings don't plan to draft USC left tackle Matt Kalil at No. 3 overall next month, the first clue will be if they pursue a free-agent left tackle. That seems unlikely. But they'll need to combine their draft with at least a few veteran free agents if they intend to compete for a playoff spot in 2012. Cornerback could be a point of focus, where Brandon Carr and Cortland Finnegan are among those available. Another could be receiver. The Vikings had major interest in Jackson two years ago.

Bears interested in Jaguars LB Durant

July, 26, 2011
7/26/11
11:42
AM ET
[+] EnlargeDurant
Kirby Lee/US PresswireJustin Durant has started in 42 career games with the Jaguars at every linebacker position.
In their attempts to add competition for the starting spot at strong-side linebacker, the Chicago Bears reached out Tuesday -- the day teams were officially allowed to contact other teams’ free agents -- to Jaguars unrestricted free agent Justin Durant.

The Chicago Tribune originally reported the Bears’ interest in Durant. But the team has shown interest for quite some time, according to multiple sources.

The problem for the Bears, however, is they appear to have plenty of competition for Durant’s services. According to two NFL sources, seven teams -- including three in the NFC North -- have already contacted Durant and his representatives in an attempt to strike a deal, and the linebacker is still mulling his options.

Bears coach Lovie Smith said during the NFL owners meetings in March that the club planned to bring in multiple linebackers, including potential candidates to start alongside Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. As of right now, Urlacher and Briggs are the only linebackers under contract. But the team hopes to re-sign free agent Nick Roach and Brian Iwuh.

According to a league source, the Bears' desire to upgrade at linebacker doesn't mean they don't want Roach back. But it could indicate the Bears envision Roach staying in the same role last year as a fill-in linebacker/special teamer.

Tinoisamoa, meanwhile, is also an option being discussed within the organization.

A second-round pick out of Hampton and the younger brother of Canadian League quarterback Darian Durant, Justin Durant (6-foot-1, 240 pounds) started nine games last season, and posted 55 tackles. Nagging injuries limited Durant to just 10 games last year, and have been somewhat of a hindrance throughout his four-year career.

Durant has started in 42 career games with the Jaguars at every linebacker position, which would appear to be a plus for the Bears who value versatility, and has also been a top contributor on special teams.

While the Bears could officially contact all free agents on Tuesday, they won’t be able to sign them until Friday.

ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson contributed to this report.


The possible acquisition of a big-bodied receiving threat dominates discussions concerning the Chicago Bears with the NFL lockout lifted.

What about the man responsible for delivering the ball?

Let’s not forget that quarterback Jay Cutler absorbed a league-high 52 sacks in 2010, in addition to leaving one game with a concussion, and another with a sprained knee in part because of shoddy protection along an offensive line that went through five combinations of starters before eventually settling on continued inconsistency.

Twenty-four of Cutler’s sacks came over the final eight games -- after the Bears supposedly fixed the line -- begging the question: How do they expect to improve protection in 2011 utilizing virtually the same players (with the exception of first-round pick Gabe Carimi) as the year before?

They can’t. That’s why the receiver position, while important, shouldn’t take precedence over the offensive line during this upcoming period of unrestricted free agency. Without adding more than just a rookie first-round pick to the offensive line, there’s no way the team can realistically expect the unit to significantly improve.

“Free agency is a big part of our team,” running back Matt Forte said. “We’ve signed a lot of big free-agency deals the last couple of years, [and] I could see us picking up some more linemen in free agency.”

Surely, Cutler hopes so, too.

Here’s a list of positions the Bears might address in order of importance, and potential free-agent targets. Because of his uncertain status, Patriots guard Logan Mankins was excluded from consideration for this list.

OFFENSIVE LINE


Roberto Garza gradually improved after missing two games due to arthroscopic surgery. Still, the team needs to acquire Garza’s eventual replacement, while upgrading the left side, where former first-round pick Chris Williams played inconsistently.

With a rookie (Carimi) and second-year player (J'Marcus Webb) penciled in as starters at tackle, depth at that position might also be addressed in free agency. But it’s doubtful the club pulls the trigger on expected big-ticket players like Jared Gaither (Ravens), Willie Colon (Steelers) or Doug Free (Cowboys).

Harvey Dahl, Falcons: Dahl flashes the type of nastiness coveted by Bears offensive line coach Mike Tice. Because the Falcons have to find a way to re-sign three offensive linemen, Dahl -- who represents an upgrade -- might be in play for the Bears.

[+] EnlargeDallas' Kyle Kosier
Howard Smith/US PRESSWIREOffensive guard Kyle Kosier allowed just one sack last season with the Cowboys.
Kyle Kosier, Dallas: He allowed only one sack last season, but his age (32) and salary demands might be too much for the Cowboys, who appear to be approximately $18 million over the $120 million salary cap. Might be too rich for the Bears’ taste, too, but would start right away.

Evan Mathis, Bengals: Mathis makes this list because he could turn out to be a bargain-priced steal. Mathis didn’t start most of last season, but played well with limited opportunities. At worst, Mathis -- who possesses starting-caliber ability -- could provide strong interior depth.

LINEBACKER


Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are the only Bears linebackers under contract, and the team needs to find a starter to play on the strong side. Nick Roach appears to be the most likely candidate, but Lovie Smith said the team will bring in competition at the position.

[+] EnlargeCarolina's James Anderson
Chuck Cook/US PresswireCarolina's James Anderson is the top free-agent target among outside linebackers.
James Anderson, Carolina: Coming off a breakout season (130 tackles, 3.5 sacks, five pass breakups), Anderson, 27, fits Chicago’s system. He’s indicated he’d like to re-sign with the Panthers quickly, but a lucrative contract could lure him away.

Keith Bulluck, N.Y. Giants: Bulluck has said he wants to play for a contender. His age (34) and recent injury history (torn ACL in 2009) are a concern, but his track record and leadership are undeniable. His salary demands may be more than what the Bears would pay.

Justin Durant, Jacksonville: The Jaguars don’t plan on bringing back Durant, who fought through nagging injuries during somewhat of a down 2010 season. Although he’s the type of run-and-hit style of linebacker the Bears like to utilize in their system, Durant would seem like an ideal fit for a two-down role.

RECEIVER


Although the Bears would like to add a veteran to the group, several in the organization feel the team could get by with the players already on the roster. Santonio Holmes, Santana Moss and Mike Sims-Walker appear to be the most likely candidates, but players such as Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith figure into the mix, too.

[+] EnlargeSantonio Holmes
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicSantonio Holmes emerged as the Jets' big-play threat in 2010.
Santonio Holmes, N.Y. Jets: At 27, Homes is in his prime. But surely, Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum will do everything he can to retain Holmes’ services, which means the Bears might also have a shot at players such as Edwards and Smith. Holmes likely will be highly coveted.

Santana Moss, Redskins: Despite his age (32), Moss is an explosive deep threat, who fits what the Bears do offensively. Bears receiver Devin Hester told the Chicago Tribune he’d like to play with Moss. But Moss has stated his desire to remain a Redskin.

Mike Sims-Walker, Jaguars: Sims-Walker is somewhat of an enigma considering his size (6-foot-2, 214 pounds), deceptive speed and smooth route-running ability. Injuries and life outside of football (let’s be clear that he doesn’t have off-the-field issues) have kept Sims-Walker from reaching his full potential. The Bears may be able to acquire him relatively cheaply.

PUNTER


The Bears brought in Richmond McGee as a potential replacement for veteran free agent Brad Maynard, who isn’t expected to be brought back. But surely the Bears don’t trust the unproven McGee, which means there’s a chance they will bring in another player whether it’s an established veteran or rookie free agent.

Sam Koch, Ravens: He has a 43.7-yard career punting average (38.1 net), and he’s landed a Ravens franchise-best 149 punts inside the 20.

[+] EnlargeAdam Podlesh
AP Photo/John RaouxAdam Podlesh ranked fifth in NFL in net average (39.12 yards) last season.
Adam Podlesh, Jaguars: Podlesh was tendered, but is a four-year veteran, which means he’s not expected to be a restricted free agent under the new CBA. Considered a free-agent priority by the Jags, Podlesh ranked fifth in the NFL in net average (39.12 yards).

Steve Weatherford, Jets: Posted a 38.1 net average in 2010, and is believed to be the Bears' targeted player to replace veteran Brad Maynard. Weatherford punted a league-high 42 balls inside the opponent's 20-yard line last season.

OTHER POSITIONS


Depth along the defensive line and secondary certainly make sense in free agency.

Strong safety Danieal Manning isn’t expected to return, meaning the team will need to find a capable backup to play behind Chris Harris and Major Wright.

At cornerback, the Bears are happy with Charles Tillman starting on one side, with Tim Jennings and Zack Bowman competing for the job at the opposite corner in training camp. Second-year man Joshua Moore figures into the mix, too, according to Smith. So with five players -- counting nickel corner D.J. Moore -- capable of contributing already on the roster, it’s unlikely the Bears use free agency to add a veteran unless they can swing a deal for a major upgrade.

Prior to the draft, the Bears wanted to add to the defensive line, and they did just that by drafting second-round pick Stephen Paea. There’s still a possibility they bolster the position in unrestricted free agency.

The Bears are reportedly interested in Seattle’s Brandon Mebane, who has ties to Tim Ruskell, the Bears' vice president of player personnel, and defensive line coach Mike Phair.

SPONSORED HEADLINES