Chicago Bears: Roberto Garza

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- Arguably the best drill conducted in full pads is the one-on-one pass-rush competition between offensive and defensive linemen.

Granted, football is not an individual sport, but players are required to win individual battles in the trenches for the betterment of the team.

Collins
Perhaps no defensive lineman flashed as often as fifth-year defensive tackle Nate Collins did on Sunday during the 15-minute exercise. That is an encouraging sign for the Bears. Collins missed the final 11 games last year because of an ACL tear that required surgery, and the Bears depth on the defensive line suffered because of it.

Collins spent months rehabbing the left knee before returning to the Bears on a one-year deal in March. Equipped with a bulky knee brace, Collins received medical clearance to participate in the offseason program in May and has been relatively full-go ever since.

"I have a mentality where the moment you get comfortable something bad can go wrong or something unexpected can happen," Collins said. "I do everything I can and focus on what I can control and everything else will work itself out. I just know if I come out here and perform my best every single day then good things will happen."

Collins showcased a variety of moves the handful of times he lined up opposite reserve offensive linemen in the drill, relying on his speed and technique on certain rushes, and brute power to push up the field on others.

"It really felt good to get out there. There was a lot of adrenaline and energy running through me. I'm just glad I was able to come out here and do what I love because I love football. I love football, I love these guys and I love this team. It's a blessing I was able to come out here and compete with my brothers."

Other observations from the drill included: defensive tackle Stephen Paea winning a memorable one-on-one matchup with veteran center Roberto Garza. Defensive end Trevor Scott continued his strong start to camp by beating an offensive tackle off the edge on one rush, then winning another matchup with an inside move. Rookie second-round pick Ego Ferguson ended up on the ground on two separate occasions, but Ferguson did manage to push his way into the backfield on one snap. Left tackle Jermon Bushrod got the best of defensive end Jared Allen the one time they squared off in the session. Right tackle Jordan Mills held his own versus ends Lamarr Houston and Willie Young.
Overview: Keeping the interior of the pocket clean allows the quarterback to step up and follow through on throws, and in 2013 the trio of starters Roberto Garza, Kyle Long and Matt Slauson certainly allowed the Chicago Bears' signal callers to do that with relative ease.

"We want the protection system to start from the inside out," offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said.

It's probably safe to say the interior of Chicago's offensive line is its strength, and should only improve with the team bringing back all the starters while ramping up the competition at some of the backup spots.

"It's exciting," Slauson said. "This is the first time in my career where all five guys have stayed the same. Hopefully we can build off all the progress we made last year."

Battle to watch: This isn't expected to materialize into a full-blown battle, but surely all eyes will be on the play of Garza and Brian De La Puente at the center position. Garza has started every game the last three seasons at center, and in 2013 put together arguably his best campaign since taking over for Olin Kreutz at the position. Although Garza hasn't shown any signs of a drop off, his age (35), and the fact the Bears brought on De La Puente -- who also has familiarity with Kromer -- as the potential heir apparent at the position will lead to speculation the team might be looking to replace the team captain. The potential speculation should lead to intense competition at training camp between Garza and De La Puente, who has also spent time during the offseason at guard. Garza's spot likely isn't in jeopardy, and the truth is some of the battles for the backup roles might wind up being more compelling.

Dark horse: The Bears put together such strong depth at the interior positions there probably won't be a dark horse to make the team at center or guard, and certainly no player on the roster will push either Slauson or Long for their starting jobs.

Who makes the cut: The Bears entered the 2013 regular-season finale with 10 total offensive linemen on the active roster and six of those players including Taylor Boggs, Eben Britton, James Brown, Garza, Long and Slauson can play interior positions. Well, every one of those players is back for 2014, in addition to De La Puente. De La Puente will make the team, which means one of the other players won't make the cut. There's a good chance that player winds up being Brown.

Observations: Vereen challenging at FS

June, 11, 2014
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Based on the organized team activities (OTA) portion of the Chicago Bears' offseason program, rookie fourth-round pick Brock Vereen looks to be a serious contender to earn a permanent place in the starting lineup.

[+] EnlargeBrock Vereen
Nam Y. Huh/AP PhotoBears safety Brock Vereen, who participated in the team's rookie minicamp in May, is adjusting to playing in the NFL.
Vereen took all the first-team reps at safety alongside free-agent signee Ryan Mundy on Wednesday, as veterans Chris Conte and Craig Steltz continue to be sidelined due to injuries. M.D. Jennings and Danny McCray handled the reps on the second team.

"I wouldn't say [I'm] shocked [by the starters reps], but I know nothing is set," Vereen said. "I'm just coming in and working hard. If that gets me on the field, then so be it.

"It's really starting to slow down for me out there. Now I'm able to react rather than to have to think about it."

Vereen played multiple defensive back positions in college for Minnesota, but appears best suited to line up at free safety in the NFL. Mundy is built like a strong safety at 6-foot-1, 209 pounds, but the safety spots are generally viewed as interchangeable.

Here are other observations from Wednesday's OTA, the final session open to the media:

• With Matt Slauson still recovering from shoulder surgery, Brian de la Puente worked with the starters at left guard. Many consider de la Puente to be the heir apparent to Roberto Garza at center, although the former New Orleans Saints starter signed only a one-year contract with the Bears in the offseason.

• Cornerback Charles Tillman and defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff were present this week after being absent from last week's open OTA to the media.

• The Bears' trio of linebackers in their base defense during the majority of team drills consisted of D.J. Williams (MLB), Lance Briggs (WLB) and Shea McClellin (SLB). However, both Williams and McClellin came off the field in the nickel package in favor of Jon Bostic.

• Rookie first-round draft choice Kyle Fuller continued to run with the No. 1's in nickel as Tim Jennings mainly bumped inside to cover the slot with Tillman at the opposite cornerback spot.

Jay Cutler connected with Brandon Marshall and Marquess Wilson in the end zone on back-to-back passes during a red zone drill. Marshall did have a couple drops over the course of the afternoon.

• Marshall did return a punt at one point on Wednesday.

• Reserve quarterback Jerrod Johnson saw action on special teams when he lined up as one of the two cornerbacks tasked with slowing down the gunner on punt return. Hard to remember a quarterback wearing the orange "off-limits" jersey ever participating on special teams before. But Johnson held up just fine during the drill and flashed some impressive speed trailing the gunner down the field.

• New quarterback Jimmy Clausen received fewer reps than Johnson and rookie David Fales, but the former Carolina Panther had some zip on the ball and seemed to have a decent understanding of the offense whenever he went under center.

• The Bears have one final OTA scheduled for Thursday in advance of the club's three-day veteran minicamp next week. Cutler is expected to meet the media next Tuesday for the first time since the start of the offseason in April.
Brian de la PuenteAl Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesBrian de la Puente will push starter Roberto Garza in what should be spirited competition.
The addition of free agent center Brian de la Puente fills two important needs for the Chicago Bears.

In the short term, de la Puente provides the Bears with a proven and experienced center behind team captain Roberto Garza, who turned 35 years old at the end of March.

Garza has been incredibly durable throughout his career, missing just two games in nine seasons with the Bears. But in the event he suffers an injury, de la Puente can step in and fill the void. Not only did de la Puente start 44 games at center for the New Orleans Saints over the last three seasons, he should be able to quickly pick up the Bears' offense after playing for Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer for two years in New Orleans.

But even if Garza stays on the field for all 16 regular season games in 2014, as most expect him to do, the Bears eventually need to address the position long term.

Garza’s tenure in Chicago has been nothing short of terrific. That’s not an exaggeration. After the Bears signed Garza off the street in 2005, he went on to start 133 games at both right guard and center.

But the Bears will need to replace him on the field. That’s just a part of life in the NFL.

If the Bears are satisfied with the 28-year-old de la Puente next season, even if he doesn’t start a single game, the club will be in position to offer him a longer deal in the 2015 offseason. Really, inking de la Puente to a one-year contract is actually a steal for the Bears. They get a first-team caliber player at a fraction of the cost, with nothing guaranteed beyond 2014.

There is also the issue of de la Puente pushing Garza when the team returns to the field. Competition is a wonderful thing. With so many veteran players on one-year, league minimum deals, the Bears have set the stage for fierce preseason battles for roster spots at several positions. While Garza is penciled in as the No. 1 center, he is not the type of player to rest on his laurels. But even a 13-year NFL veteran can benefit from a younger player applying a little pressure behind him on the depth chart.

This is really a win-win scenario for the Bears.

Bears, TE Dante Rosario agree to terms

February, 27, 2014
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The Chicago Bears agreed to terms on a one-year contract with veteran tight end Dante Rosario, the team announced on Thursday.

Earlier on Thursday the Bears re-signed starting center Roberto Garza to a one-year, $1.5 million contract that included a $100,000 signing bonus and $75,000 workout bonus.

Rosario, a seven-year NFL veteran, was acquired by the Bears via a trade with the Dallas Cowboys on September 2. Rosario appeared in 15 games (three starts) and caught just one pass for 13 yards but did record five special teams tackles.

For his career, Rosario has 100 receptions for 1,119 and eight touchdowns in 106 games and 29 starts.

The Bears could still look to add another tight end to the mix in free agency or the NFL draft to compliment starter Martellus Bennett, who caught a career-high 65 balls for 759 yards in 2013, to go along with five touchdowns.
So what if Chicago Bears center Roberto Garza turns 35 in less than a month? The team absolutely made the right decision in shrugging off age and instead focusing on production in deciding to bring back Garza for what will be his 1oth season in Chicago.

The Bears also made the right move to come up from the original minimum offer the sides discussed shortly after the conclusion of the regular season.

Garza
A captain for each of the past three seasons, Garza has started in eight postseason contests, and anchored a revamped offensive line in 2013 that featured four new starters. The Bears finished last season as one of just three teams in the NFL to start the same five offensive linemen for all 16 games.

So bringing back Garza only enriches the continuity along the offensive line, which should be even better in 2014 in Year 2 in Marc Trestman's offensive system.

Bears general manager Phil Emery referenced Garza's consistency when discussing in January the potential difficulty of bringing back the starting center after a 2013 campaign which was arguably Garza's best in Chicago.

“A year ago, he was at 11 total [hits, sacks and knockdowns allowed] for the season,” Emery said. “This year, he was at five. So I've told him I thought he made a big push up. He got a lot better with his overall body position and his hip placement. He's obviously very important in terms of calling signals for our offensive line and making point adjustments.”

Garza also brings a selfless attitude that has proved to be contagious in the locker room. In making a decision on whether to sign the seven-year extension with the Bears, quarterback Jay Cutler talked about the desire of teammates to win championships over chasing dollars.

“I talked with [Matt] Forte, [Brandon Marshall], Garza and all the guys,” Cutler explained. “We're here to win championships, not to make so and so amount of dollars.”

It's apparent the Bears used the recent deal signed by Detroit center Dominic Raiola, who is 35, as the framework for Garza's contract. Raiola signed a one-year deal earlier in February worth $1.5 million.

So while Garza's deal doesn't exactly break the bank, it's cap friendly and rewards one of the fixtures on Chicago's offensive line who hasn't shown any signs he's regressing.
The Chicago Bears announced Monday they signed center Taylor Boggs and safety Derrick Martin to one-year contracts.

Financial terms of the deals weren’t disclosed.

A three-year veteran, Boggs (6-foot-3, 285 pounds) played in one game last season, after spending the prior two years with the New York Jets after joining them in 2011 as an undrafted free agent out of Humboldt State.

Boggs served as the primary backup last season to veteran Roberto Garza. So it’s unclear what the signing of Boggs means for Garza, a pending free agent. The club has said it would like to bring back Garza for 2014. But all indications point to the Bears wanting to do so with a veteran minimum type of deal, which means there’s a good chance Garza will wait to see if other teams are interested in bringing him in as a potential starter.

Garza has started in 133 of 142 regular-season games for the Bears, and served as the leader on an offensive line that featured four new starters in 2013.

Martin, meanwhile, is an eight-year veteran who played in seven games for the Bears in 2013, primarily as a special-teamer. He produced six special-teams tackles and one stop on defense in 2013, and has played on five teams (Baltimore Ravens, Green Bay Packers, New York Giants, New England Patriots and the Bears) over eight seasons.

Martin has posted 66 tackles on special teams, 38 on defense, and three interceptions, eight pass breakups, a sack and a fumble recovery.

Countdown to Combine: Bears

February, 21, 2014
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With the NFL combine starting Feb. 22, here’s a look at Chicago’s positions of need and which prospects the Bears might be looking taking a closer look at in Indianapolis. Positions of need are listed in order of importance.

Position of need: Center

Finally, the Chicago Bears achieved stability along the offensive line in 2013, but that’s already in jeopardy with veteran center Roberto Garza set to hit free agency.

Garza
On an offensive line that featured four new starters in 2013, Garza was the club’s lone holdover from the 2012 team but put together one of his finest performances since switching to the center position full time. Garza received $2.05 million in base salary in 2013, but moving forward the club isn’t inclined to pay in that range for the veteran, who next month turns 35.

So given the club’s current cap situation, all indications are Garza will strongly consider moving on in 2014.

“I’ve let Roberto know that I was proud of his season and obviously we will work through it, but we would like him back,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said. "I’m sure he’ll have some choices to make and we’ll see how it goes. But very pleased with his season. We use STATS, Inc. to give us an independent source of disruptions, hits, sacks [and] knockdowns given up. A year ago he was at 11 total for the season. This year he was at five. I’ve told him I thought he made a big push up. He got a lot better with his overall body position and his hip-placement. He’s obviously very important in terms of calling signals for our offensive line and making point adjustments. He did a lot of good things. Obviously there are some dynamics about where he’s at in his career. He’s 35-years-old, not to get too far into the discussion. But Roberto knows that we want him to come back.”

Garza would like to return, too. But he’d also what he deems a fair contract.

“I’m going to definitely want to come back. I feel like I can still play. I can still go out there and help the team by going out there and playing as good as I can. So hopefully it all works out,” Garza said. “It’s the first time I’ll be in this situation since I got here. So we’ll see what happens, see what the future holds. I definitely want to keep playing.”

Outside of Garza the Bears have few options at center, which means there’s a sure bet the team looks to add at the position through the draft or free agency. Even if the team brings back Garza, it still needs to start making contingency plans for the future.

Taylor Boggs was Garza’s primary backup last season, and he’s an exclusive-rights free agent (a player with an expiring contract who has less than three accrued seasons. He can only sign with the Bears if he’s offered a one-year tender. If the team doesn’t offer a tender, he can sign with any team) while Eben Britton, who took reps at center during training camp, is set to hit unrestricted free agency.

Three players the Bears could be targeting

Travis Swanson, Arkansas: Drew mixed reviews at the Senior Bowl, where he played both center and guard. Swanson moved well during drills at the Senior Bowl, but wasn’t dominant. At Arkansas, Swanson started all 50 games of his career, becoming the first player at the school to start 50 consecutive outings. So the durability is there. Swanson was also elected a team captain in each of his last two years, which speaks to his leadership abilities. He should be an immediate starter in the NFL.

Weston Richburg, Colorado State: Like Swanson, Richburg receives high marks for durability (started every game over the last four years, including three starts at guard). He surprised scouts at the Senior Bowl with his quickness and ability to neutralize some of the more powerful interior defenders. Richburg projects to be a second- or third-round pick, but if he continues to perform the way he did at the Senior Bowl, his stock should rise.

Marcus Martin, USC: An early draft entrant, Martin isn’t as experienced as Swanson or Richburg because he played guard his first two seasons before making the switch last season to center. Martin possesses the frame scouts covet, in addition to impressive quickness, flexibility and natural leverage. Martin also plays with the nastiness coaches covet. Martin is expected to be taken in the third round or below, and could be a solid prospect the Bears could spend a year developing behind Garza, provided he’s brought back.

Melton drops weight, Bears want him back

February, 20, 2014
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Henry Melton's recovery from a torn left anterior cruciate ligament has progressed to the point where Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery said on Thursday the club's preference is to re-sign Melton who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent on March 11.

"We do want to bring back Henry and we'll work through that process," Emery said at the NFL combine. "He's made progress. He's made positive progress."

[+] EnlargeHenry Melton
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastHenry Melton collected 13 sacks combined in 2011 and 2012, but played in just three games last season.
Slapped with the franchise tag by the Bears last season ($8,454,725) after posting 33 tackles and six sacks in 2012, Melton started just three games before landing on injured reserve on Sept. 27 -- Melton has 15.5 sacks in 48 career games.

After undergoing surgery and sitting out the final three months of the regular season, Melton has apparently dedicated himself to strengthening his injured left knee over the past couple of months.

"He's in every day early," Bears head coach Marc Trestman said. "He's got to drive in from downtown. If you see him, you'll see that he has been training and he has been working. He's very focused. You'll see he dropped some weight. He looks very good physically right now. Obviously he's in there working the knee, but he's been on time, he's working hard with [Bears head athletic trainer] Chris [Hanks].

"As I said, I spoke with him yesterday for 30-45 minutes and he's committed to getting himself back and he's got work to do to get there, but he's in a very good place right now and we all understand the situation and we'll see where it goes."

The Bears' ability to retain Melton is expected to boil down to money. Considered one of the top defensive tackles scheduled to reach free agency, there is no way of knowing how much other teams are prepared to offer Melton when the new league year begins on March 11.

The Bears find themselves in the same situation with the other unrestricted free agents the organization wants to return, namely quarterback Josh McCown, cornerback Charles Tillman and center Roberto Garza.

While the Bears cannot officially re-sign McCown until the beginning of free agency, the team does hold exclusive negotiating rights with the veteran quarterback and can agree in principle to a new deal. McCown posted the third-highest quarterback rating (109.0) when he completed 149 of 224 passing attempts for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns and one interception in eight appearances (five starts).

"I talk to Josh pretty much weekly, or bi-weekly, I've talked to him two or three times anyways and I've texted with him. He's in the loop into what's going on. I've just called him on a personal level just to catch up with him and see how he sees the league and what's going on," Trestman said. "We just like to talk football. He knows exactly where he stands with us. I think that he's going to take his time, see where things are at, when he's ready to say ‘I want to come back,' I know Phil's going to do everything he can and we're going to do everything can to make sure he is."

Tillman, the 2013 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award winner and two-time Pro Bowl cornerback, has publicly stated on multiple occasions that his decision to return to Chicago for a 12th season will be determined by the kinds of contract offers he receives.

Meantime, Garza, a 13-year NFL veteran center/guard, will likely have to accept a one-year, veteran-minimum contract with a relatively low signing bonus to stay with the Bears. However, Garza is a respected team captain and the leader of the team's revamped offensive line that started all 16 games together.

"It's a tough business," Trestman said. "We want Roberto back. He knows we want him back. We believe he should finish his career with the Bears. He does so much in our community. He's such a leader in our locker room. He knows how we feel about him. We just need to let this thing evolve and hopefully it's going to work out best, No. 1 for Roberto, because that's No. 1. And from his standpoint, and it should be, he deserves that respect. And hopefully it will work out for the Bears as well. We certainly want to see him back."

Emery also praised free-agent veteran middle linebacker D.J. Williams who battled injuries for much of last season. Emery sounded as if the door is still open for Williams to return, and if he does, Williams is expected to compete with Shea McClellin, Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene for a starting spot.

"Saw a good football player [in Williams]," Emery said. "Saw a guy that has legitimately very good burst. Saw a player that has good instincts, gets around the ball and plays with a relentless style. We were not displeased with his effort. We were very pleased with where he was going and how he was progressing. Obviously, he had some injuries in camp, he had to get his feet back under him and once he did he started producing at a high level."

Other notable unrestricted free agents for the Bears include: defensive lineman Corey Wootton, defensive tackle Nate Collins, return man Devin Hester, safety Craig Steltz, defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff and cornerbacks Zack Bowman and Kelvin Hayden.

Four Downs: Go defensive line at No. 14?

February, 14, 2014
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Jernigan & Nix III & Tuitt USA TODAY SportsTimmy Jernigan, Luis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt could be options for the Bears in the NFL draft.
Decimated by injuries, the Chicago Bears' defensive line turned in a nightmarish 2013 season. The Bears allowed 2,583 yards rushing, more than 400 worse than the 31st-ranked Atlanta Falcons, and their 30 sacks were good for 30th in the NFL.

Will the Bears address their glaring need for help up front with the 14th pick in the May NFL draft? Our panel weighs in on that and more in an offseason edition of Four Downs:

First Down

Fact or Fiction: The Bears' first pick of the draft will be on the defensive line.


SportsNation

What position should the Bears address with the 14th pick in the draft?

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    18%
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    4%
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    16%
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Discuss (Total votes: 3,022)

Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Teams need to be flexible in the draft, but the Bears' most glaring need is on the defensive line. Two years ago, the Bears' No. 1 need was to find a pass-rushing defensive end, and the club selected Shea McClellin at No. 19 overall. Last year, the Bears badly needed to upgrade the offensive line and took guard Kyle Long at No. 20. While the actual picks themselves (McClellin and Long) came as a surprise to many, the Bears did target the position groups most believed they would. We are weeks away from free agency, and three months from May's draft, but there seems to be a surplus of talented defensive linemen who could be available when the Bears go on the clock at No. 14. I never rule anything out. Maybe a top-notch cornerback is still on the board at No. 14. Or a safety. We should have a better idea the direction the Bears are leaning after the club makes some moves in free agency. But this far out, it seems like a safe bet that a young defensive lineman is fairly high on the team's wish-list.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. And they better get it right this time. Premier defensive line help is expensive on the free agent market, so it makes sense to get some help on a rookie deal. Phil Emery whiffed two years ago when he selected McClellin out of Boise State to play defensive end. He should look for inside help, given the Bears' lack of depth at tackle, unless there is a can't-miss defensive end waiting for them. Every defense starts up front, and the Bears' injury problems at defensive line led to the defense's demise last season. Go big or go home, Phil.


Second Down

Fact or Fiction: The Bears will consider Missouri DE Michael Sam in the third round.


[+] EnlargeMichael Sam
Matthew Visinsky/Icon SMIMichael Sam won SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors, helping Missouri win the SEC East title.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Sam was a 6-foot-1, 260-pound 4-3 defensive end in college. Despite all his impressive accomplishments at Missouri, Sam fits the description of a tweener in the NFL. Does he have a position at the next level? McClellin is 6-3. Most would argue he is between positions in the NFL. Do the Bears really want to go down that road again? If Sam falls to the late rounds and the Bears view him as the best player available, then perhaps the team considers drafting him. That's not a knock on Sam. He is the SEC's reigning Co-Defensive Player of the Year, and the Bears, like the rest of the NFL, covet players out of that conference. But the third round sounds kind of high for a player with Sam's modest measurables.

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. I would love for the Bears to draft Sam. His story is inspiring, and given that Chicago has a thriving gay community, he could have a seamless transition to living as an adult in an NFL city. I also think the Bears' locker room would welcome him, and all the fears about "the NFL not being ready" would be proven garbage prognostication. But here's the thing. They already have an undersized defensive end in McClellin. The signs are pointing to the Bears moving him to outside linebacker. That's a move that a lot of NFL scouts and draftniks believe is in Sam's future. I hope he ends up here, but I don't think it happens with the Bears' other defensive needs.


Third Down

Fact or Fiction: Roberto Garza's career in Chicago is over.


[+] EnlargeRoberto Garza
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesWill Roberto Garza see a 10th season in Chicago?
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. But if you read between the lines at the Bears' end-of-the-year news conference, there is a strong likelihood the team will only offer Garza a one-year veteran minimum contract. Garza has been a great player for the Bears, but the NFL doesn't usually pay players for their past performances. You get paid in the NFL based on what the team projects your contributions will be in the future. Garza is nearing the end of an outstanding career, but if 2013 is any indication, he has more left in the tank. Personally, the way Garza keeps himself in top physical condition, I can envision him playing at least two more seasons. But just because I feel that way doesn't mean the Bears will offer Garza a multi-year deal. He'll probably have to test the market. But at the end of the day, I predict Garza returns to Chicago for a 10th season. He's built up so much good equity in the organization, I'd hate to see the sides part on less than amicable terms. But in this business, who knows?

Jon Greenberg: Fiction. I think the Bears get another season out of Garza. Their offensive line thrived last season, and Garza was integral to the group's development. I think the Bears need to draft a young center, but Garza should be able to get another year out of his body. He takes good care of himself and has a fantastic attitude. Of course, Emery has shown little nostalgia in his short tenure, with good reason. So maybe they just move on and grab a veteran center in free agency. But I'm leaning toward a one-year return.


Fourth Down

Fact or Fiction: The Bears will have a new No. 2 running back next season.


[+] EnlargeMichael Bush
Ron Schwane/USA TODAY SportsMichael Bush's production didn't merit his price tag last season.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Michael Bush carried the ball 63 times for 197 yards (3.1 yards per carry) and three touchdowns in 2013. He is to count $3.85 million against the Bears' salary cap next season. That doesn't add up. Either Bush takes a pay cut or the Bears need to go in a different direction, even though cutting Bush would force the Bears to carry $2 million worth of dead salary-cap space. Having a dependable No. 2 tailback behind Pro Bowler Matt Forte is important, but Bush's current contract just doesn't make much sense given his minor role in the offense. If the Bears are going to pay decent money to another skill position player, give it to another pass-catching tight end to complement Martellus Bennett. Forte stays on the field too much for Bush's deal to be considered cost-effective for the Bears.

Jon Greenberg: Fact. Bush has a $3.85 million cap hit next year. He's been a decent backup, but not for that price. The now cost-conscious Bears will likely save money by getting rid of him and finding a replacement on the free agent market or through young Michael Ford. Maybe that's the offensive position they draft. Don't rule it out. Regardless, Forte will continue to be the man in 2014. Given his dual roles as running back and pass-catcher, he looks like a bargain with a $7.5 million cap hit.
2014 free agents: Roberto Garza, Eben Britton, Jonathan Scott, Taylor Boggs.

The good: With four new faces on the offensive line, the Bears used the same five starters up front for all 16 games last season and were one of just three teams in the NFL (Washington and Philadelphia were the others) to start the same five for the entire season. Garza was the only starter in 2013 returning from the 2012 team, and the right side of the line consisted of two rookie starters in Kyle Long and Jordan Mills, who were the first rookie starters on Chicago’s offensive line on opening day since 1983. The offensive line paved the way for the team to set multiple franchise records on offense, and allowed 30 sacks, which tied for the fourth fewest in the NFL. The 30 sacks were the fewest allowed by the Bears since 2008.

The bad: Despite the improved sack numbers, the argument could be made they were a result of the quarterbacks getting rid of the ball quicker than they had in the past. At Philadelphia, the offensive line gave up five sacks, and on occasion, the group struggled to provide sufficient push in short-yardage situations. After all the punishment Jay Cutler has taken over the years, it’s hard to find much “bad” about the 2013 offensive line. Perhaps the most concerning issue the group will having moving forward is whether the front office will bring back Garza, the quarterback of the offensive line, who is set to become a free agent.

The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Jermon Bushrod ($7.3 million), Matt Slauson ($2,747,500), Long ($1,886,580), Mills ($536,200), James Brown ($570,000), Gaines Rogers ($420,000), Joe Long ($420,000).

Draft priority: Moderate. Even if the Bears bring back Garza, they’ve got to start thinking about the future of the position, and they can possibly address that with a mid-to-late-round pick. Boggs served as Garza’s primary backup in 2013 as well as the top reserve at left guard. But Boggs is about to hit free agency. So the Bears need to decide whether to bring him back, along with pending free agents Britton and Scott, who have proved to be quality backups capable of starting. Reserve right guard James Brown is entering the final year of his contract as well. So while the starting offensive line for the most part appears set for the next couple of years (starting left guard Matt Slauson recently signed a new deal), the Bears might need to start developing younger players at the backup positions that can eventually become starters.

The next big thing: Bears

January, 23, 2014
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The Chicago Bears took care of some of the heavy lifting by signing quarterback Jay Cutler to an extension, in addition to bringing back guard Matt Slauson, cornerback Tim Jennings and kicker Robbie Gould.

The Bears now need to turn their attention to three areas: their own free agents, unrestricted free agency and the NFL draft, with drastic improvement of the club’s struggling defense as the No. 1 underlying factor. In all, the Bears have 25 free agents they’ve got to decide whether to bring back, a group that includes key players such as center Roberto Garza, cornerback Charles Tillman, defensive tackles Henry Melton, Nate Collins and Jeremiah Ratliff, along with backup quarterback Josh McCown, linebacker D.J. Williams and defensive end Corey Wootton.

Limited salary cap space will be the main hindrance to bringing back some of their own, as well as any plans to improve by making acquisitions on the open market. Bears general manager Phil Emery admitted the club’s cap space will be tight, but added the team should still be able to improve the roster.

The club has ways to free up space, such as converting Cutler’s $22.5 million base salary for 2014 into a signing bonus it can prorate over the life of his deal or asking other veterans such as Julius Peppers, who counts $18,183,333 against the cap in 2014, to restructure.
With the season over and the cupboard bare in terms of Chicago Bears news, I decided to try my first Twitter mailbag to answer some of the questions you guys had.

Throughout the offseason, we'll try to knock out at least one of these per week.

So let's get into this:

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Brandon Marshall broke down the history of the quarterback-starved Chicago Bears franchise on Monday when asked whether Jay Cutler should be brought back in 2014 on a new contract.

With Chicago’s season coming to an end Sunday after a 33-28 loss to Green Bay, Cutler’s contract situation remains a hot topic because the quarterback is not signed beyond 2013. As the players cleared out their lockers at Halas Hall following final meetings with Bears coach Marc Trestman, Marshall provided his take on Cutler.

“One thing I know about Chicago: It’s been a long time since we had a quarterback like Jay Cutler,” Marshall said. “So all your stories this offseason, I think that should be the headline or that should be the story written this year: ‘Oh, how we love Jay Cutler,’ because it’s been so long. His first few years here he hadn’t gotten it done, and I think that’s not all on him. There’s some on him, but then you look around and he’s one of the most beat-up quarterbacks around; didn’t have adequate coaching on the offensive side of the ball. Every year I think he had a different offensive coordinator. Now that you have continuity, not only upstairs, but in the locker room or the room with the wide receivers, offensive line, running back position, it’s set up for him to be successful. The steps he’s taken this year in leadership, and even growing as a quarterback, mentally and physically, we saw those things.”

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhQuarterback Jay Cutler thrived this season under head coach Marc Trestman.
Despite Cutler’s record of futility against the Packers continuing on Sunday, the quarterback performed well in the loss. Cutler passed for 226 yards and two touchdowns to go with a passer rating of 103.8. In doing so, Cutler completed three passes for 30-plus yards, including a 67-yard connection to Alshon Jeffery, a 37-yarder to Marshall, and a 33-yarder to Matt Forte.

In eight previous games against the Packers, Cutler completed 142 of 257 passes for 1,702 yards, nine touchdowns, 16 interceptions and a passer rating of 61.5. Against the rest of the NFC North over that same span, he had thrown for 33 TDs and 16 INTs.

So despite a season hindered by Cutler missing time due to injuries, there’s no doubt that the quarterback showed growth under first-year Bears coach Marc Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. In four seasons with the Bears prior to this season, Cutler had generated a passer rating of 81.9. In 2013, Cutler produced a career-high passer rating of 89.2, the quarterback’s best since his rookie season (2006).

“The man’s 30. Jay’s like 30 years old, ain’t he?” tight end Martellus Bennett asked. “How much development do y’all expect him to do? I haven’t really talked to him too much today. But he’s been an awesome teammate since day one for me. So I don’t know the Jay you guys [keep] talking about and all the [expletive] you guys write all the time, talking about Jay [has] changed. I only met one Jay Cutler, and he’s been awesome from day one.”

But center Roberto Garza senses a change in Cutler.

“It’s unbelievable,” Garza said. “To put up the numbers we did with that offense we had, and the playmakers we had week in and week out, it was a great thing to be a part of. To see Jay go out there and play like we know he can was good to see. It’s definitely something they are going to build on for the future.”

But will Cutler be back in 2014?

“There’s a lot of uncertainties,” Garza said. “But he’s a great quarterback. He deserves to be here and I’m sure that will all work out.”

Marshall admitted his input ultimately won’t sway general manager Phil Emery's decision. But Emery has mentioned on multiple occasions that he considers Cutler a franchise-level quarterback, and it’s unlikely the season-ending loss to the Packers changed that.

“Phil is smart. He’ll get it done. He’ll do what’s best for the team, and I think Jay is what’s best for the team,” Marshall said. “When was the last time you had a Jay Cutler? When was the last time you had Jay Cutler with Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett, Matt Forte, [Matt] Slauson, [Jermon] Bushrod, [Kyle] Long, Garza, Trestman, Kromer, [receivers coach] Mike Groh, Phil Emery? The pieces are there.”

Hester, Peppers unsure of futures

December, 29, 2013
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CHICAGO -- Three-time Pro Bowl return man Devin Hester wants clarity on his future with the Chicago Bears.

Hester, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after earning $2,107,523 in the final year of his contract, hopes to hear in the near future if he fits into the Bears’ plans beyond 2013.

Peppers
Hester
“I really want to know right away,” Hester said following the Bears’ 33-28 loss to the Green Bay Packers. “I am the type of guy, I don’t want to go through the whole offseason not knowing where I am going to be at. I want to retire as a Bear. I put in too much hard work here and did a lot of things around here. I am pretty sure the fans want me back, so who knows.”

One of the organization’s most popular players since he debuted in the league in 2006 as a second-round pick out of the University of Miami, Hester said he’s currently in the dark regarding the Bears’ offseason intentions.

“To be honest, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Hester said. “It really hurts walking off the field knowing that this could be my last time wearing a Chicago Bears uniform. It’s the most hurtful feeling that I have right now. This is where I was born and raised (as an NFL player). It’s not like I played three years somewhere else or six years somewhere else, but I know this is a business.

Everything I had in me I left it all on the field tonight. We just came up short.”

Hester returned a punt 49 yards in Week 17 while also handling five kickoffs for 127 yards. In his first season of being exclusively a return man, Hester finished 2013 with a 27.7 yard average on kickoff returns and 14.2 yard average on punt returns, including an 81-yard touchdown.

He joins a long list of prominent Bears players with expiring contracts. Among the players on the list: quarterback Jay Cutler, cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, defensive lineman Corey Wootton, safety Major Wright, center Roberto Garza, linebacker James Anderson and left guard Matt Slauson.

The future of veteran defensive end Julius Peppers is also in doubt. Although Peppers is under contract through 2015, he is currently projected to count $18,183,333 against the Bears’ salary cap next season. Peppers lead the Bears this year with 7.5 sacks, but he didn’t look nearly as dominant as he had in previous seasons.

“I’m not sure, I don’t know [what’s going to happen],” Peppers said. “I’m in a contract. You’ll need to talk to a decision-maker about that.”

The Bears failed to extend player contracts for almost the entire season until they re-signed kicker Robbie Gould and fullback Tony Fiammatta in the week leading up to the Packers game. General manager Phil Emery is expected to work quickly in the coming weeks to try to re-sign some of his own free agents that he views as long-term parts of the team.

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