NFC North: Michael Wright

CHICAGO -- Free-agent quarterbacks Josh Freeman and Adam Weber visited the Chicago Bears on Monday, a source with direct knowledge of the situation confirmed.

UPDATE: Freeman worked out for the club, but the Bears do not plan to sign him, according to a source familiar with the decision.

Freeman
The Bears also worked out tight end Matthew Mulligan, per a league source.

The Bears are in the market for a reserve quarterback after Josh McCown signed a two-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency. The club brought back veteran Jordan Palmer on a one-year contract on March 9, but general manager Phil Emery told reporters at a recent news conference the Bears would investigate the available free-agent class of quarterbacks.

Freeman entered the NFL in 2009 as a first-round draft choice of the Bucs (No. 17 overall). The 6-foot-6 Freeman started 56 games over his first four seasons in Tampa, throwing a career-high 27 touchdowns in 2012. But Freeman’s best year occurred in 2010 when he posted a 95.9 quarterback rating plus 25 touchdown passes and just six interceptions.

However, Freeman fell out of favor with the Bucs and former head coach Greg Schiano and was released on Oct. 3, 2013. Freeman eventually signed with the Minnesota Vikings but started only one game, going 20-of-53 for 190 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception.

Weber signed with the Denver Broncos as an undrafted rookie free agent out of the University of Minnesota in 2011. He also spent time on the Bucs' practice squad.

Mulligan has made 24 starts since entering the NFL in 2009. He played for the New England Patriots last year after previous stops with the Rams and Jets.

In other news, the Bears agreed terms on a three-year deal with former CFL long-snapper Chad Rempel; veteran long-snapper Patrick Mannelly continues to recover from offseason hip surgery.
Teams around the NFL can start contacting and negotiating with agents of players set to become unrestricted free agents on Saturday, but deals can’t be executed until March 11 at 3 p.m. CT when the new league year starts.

As that date quickly approaches, we take a look at Chicago’s pending free agents, and their chances of returning to the team in the third part of our series we’ll post all week.

Williams
Williams
2014 free agent: D.J. Williams

Position: Linebacker

2013 statistics: 6 games (four starts); 39 tackles (21 solo), 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 2 tackles for lost yardage, 1 quarterback pressure.

2013 salary: $900,000 base salary, $750,000 roster bonus, $100,000 workout bonus -- $1,281,250 cash value

Outlook: The Bears mentioned Williams' strong play prior to a season-ending pectoral injury on multiple occasions shortly after the season, and all indications are the club wants the veteran to return for 2014. Williams has spent time rehabbing at Halas Hall and says he would like to remain a part of Chicago’s defense in 2014. Given the mutual interest between the sides, it should be only a matter of time before the Bears sign Williams to a deal similar to what he received to join the club last spring. With Williams in the middle flanked outside by Lance Briggs and Jonathan Bostic (provided he wins the starting job at Sam), the Bears could field a solid linebacking corps next season provided the group stays healthy.

Steltz
2014 free agent: Craig Steltz

Position: Safety

2013 statistics: 16 games (one start); 14 tackles, one pass breakup and 14 special teams tackles.

2013 salary: $715,000 base salary and $50,000 workout bonus -- $765,000 cash value

Outlook: Steltz is a solid reserve safety and special teams contributor. He's spent his entire NFL career in Chicago and would no doubt prefer to stay with the Bears. League minimum contracts for NFL veterans are a sensitive subject. Minimum deals basically represent an invitation to try out for the team. Veterans that fall into the league minimum category will fight hard for signing bonus money. Steltz could possibly find himself in that situation. Steltz has always been a good soldier, hard worker and positive voice in the locker room. Whether the Bears reward Steltz with a signing bonus (he received a $125,000 signing bonus two years) remains to be seen. But he fits the mold of the type of player the Bears are looking to bring back.

Collins
2014 free agent: Nate Collins

Position: Defensive tackle

2013 statistics: Five games (two starts); 13 tackles, three quarterback pressures and one sack.

2013 salary: $630,000 base salary and $5,250 workout bonus - $635,250 cash value

Outlook: Collins had a strong preseason and appeared poised to have a breakout year until he landed on injured reserve with a torn ACL. Collins is a pass-rusher. Players that can pressure the quarterback are not easy to find. The Bears decided not to tender Collins at the restricted free agent amount last season, and instead released him and signed him back to a minimum deal. Because of the knee injury, Collins is probably looking at the same kind of deal this time around. Collins, who has potential, seems like a decent candidate to return in the later waves of free agency unless the Bears feel confident enough in his health to extend him an offer in the coming week.

Anderson
2014 free agent: James Anderson

Position: Linebacker

2013 statistics: 16 games (16 starts); 129.5 tackles (76 solo), 7.5 tackles for lost yardage, 10 quarterback pressures, 4 sacks, 3 pass breakups, 1 fumble recovery.

2013 salary: $950,000 base salary, $200,000 signing bonus, $100,000 workout bonus -- $1,250,000 cash value

Outlook: Anderson led the team in tackles, and tied with Shea McClellin for second in sacks. But the Bears haven’t shown much interest in bringing back Anderson so far this offseason. As of Wednesday afternoon, the team still hadn’t approached the veteran about a possible return. Anderson doesn’t seem to fit the mold of the tough, hardnosed athletes the Bears are looking to add to the defense. So once the negotiation window opens, Anderson will likely be speaking with other teams before the Bears make a move. Anderson will likely leave, but it's still too early to rule out a return to Chicago.
Former Chicago Bears safety Shaun Gayle shared plenty of football advice over the years with his nephew James Gayle.

But nothing James Gayle’s uncle said could’ve prepped him for the interesting line of inquiries he’d receive throughout the evaluation process leading up to the NFL draft. At the NFL combine in Indianapolis, James Gayle, a defensive end at Virginia Tech, explained one of the questions that threw him for a loop.

At the Senior Bowl, the Atlanta Falcons asked Gayle, “In a minute, tell me how many things you can do with a brick,” he recalled. “I probably didn’t make it to six. I know you can build a house. You can build a wall around a house. That’s probably where I kind of got lost. I wasn’t a brick guy when I was young.”

Surely for NFL teams that’s just fine, because the reality is production is all that matters. Having played defensive end in a 4-3 scheme at Virginia Tech, Gayle produced 138 tackles and 22 sacks in his career. But with official combine measurements of 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds, Gayle is considered somewhat of a tweener better suited to play outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme.

Perhaps that’s why Gayle projects as a fifth-round pick. But there’s no denying his versatility. At Virginia Tech, Gayle sometimes rushed out of a two-point stance and was sometimes asked to drop into coverage. Understanding the possibility of switching to linebacker in the NFL, Gayle spent much of his time preparing for the combine doing linebacker drills.

Given Chicago’s situation on defense, it’s unlikely the Bears select Gayle in May during the draft. But with Gayle expected to be such a late-round pick, there is a chance the Bears could take a flyer on him. The Bears drafted defensive end Cornelius Washington in the sixth round in 2013, and he’s similar to Gayle in size.

At the combine, Gayle bench pressed 225 pounds 26 times and ran a 4.7-second 40-yard dash.

“There are a lot of good guys here, so I feel I fit right in,” Gayle said. “I definitely feel I should be one of the top guys. I’m big, I’m fast, I’m violent. I play hard. I play through the whistle. I play lunch-pail defense for Virginia Tech.”

No doubt, that mentality came from some of the advice gleaned from Shaun Gayle, who played 12 years in the NFL and was part of Chicago's 1985 Super Bowl team.

“I talk to my uncle a lot,” James Gayle said. “He’s been very influential throughout my whole career. He knows so much about what’s going on because he did it. Something he said to me that will probably stick out is ‘be yourself and play hard.’ So that’s what I did.”

The dream for James Gayle is to continue to do that at the next level.

It's time to develop a young QB

February, 24, 2014
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Jay CutlerAP Photo/Matt RourkePerhaps Marc Trestman and the Bears can land a QB in May's draft to groom behind Jay Cutler.
INDIANAPOLIS -- When former Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch revealed he had a meeting Friday with the Chicago Bears at Lucas Oil Stadium, thoughts immediately turned to the run of success experienced by Seattle’s Super Bowl champion signal-caller Russell Wilson, and the fact it's probably time this team found a young gem to develop behind Jay Cutler.

It's past time, actually.

Given the team’s myriad needs on defense, undoubtedly, adding a quarterback seems more luxury than necessity at this point; especially taking into account Cutler’s new seven-year, $126.7 million contract signed in January. But as it stands now, Cutler is the only quarterback on Chicago’s current roster who has thrown a pass in a regular-season game. Veterans Josh McCown and Jordan Palmer are free agents, and Jerrod Johnson is a developmental player who, after a brief stint on the practice squad in September, signed a reserve/futures deal in December.

The club wants to bring back McCown for 2014, and he wants to return, but even that’s not a slam dunk as the Bears still haven’t made an offer.

While not exactly pressing, a need at the position exists. Cutler hasn’t played an entire 16-game season since 2009, missing 13 of the team’s past 64 contests, including five last season because of two different injuries.

Asked at the combine whether the Bears would be open to drafting a quarterback, general manager Phil Emery said, "I'm open to drafting any position that will help us." So the Chicago brass continues to play it close to the vest. But given Bears coach Marc Trestman's pedigree as somewhat of a quarterback whisperer, perhaps with Emery’s help the club could uncover a gem in the mid-to-later rounds, much like the Seahawks did with Wilson.

"It's a process. We'll see where we are with the draft. We’re going to evaluate all the quarterbacks we think can play and we’ll make decisions accordingly," Trestman said. “At this point we’re excited about the fact we’ve got Jay in place because Jay in place allows us to work and fill the work in a lot of different other areas to complete our football team. I’ve been in quarterback rooms where we’ve had a young player. I’ve been in quarterback rooms where we haven’t. It’s whatever is best for the football team. If that player can be developed and help our football team now and in the future, I’m sure he’ll be in the consideration.”

Nearly every quarterback prospect at the combine mentioned the success stories of Wilson. The league's copycat element pretty much assures teams, perhaps even the Bears, are looking to uncover the next one. Chicago certainly needs to be at least making the effort.

Sure, Cutler signed a seven-year deal. But at age 30, he essentially signed a three-year contract containing rolling options that mitigate any cap hit if the team decides to part ways after 2016.

So maybe the Bears take an interest in developing a younger player such as Lynch, or maybe even taking a late-round flier on Georgia’s Aaron Murray, an undersized, yet productive prospect whose stock seems to be sliding because he tore his left ACL on Nov. 23 in a 59-17 win against Kentucky.

"I want a coach that's going to push me. I want someone that's going to drive me every single day to improve my footwork, to improve my accuracy, to never be happy with where I'm at," Murray said.

That guy sounds a lot like Trestman.

Lynch, a graduate of Chicgao's Mt. Carmel High School, is another undersized and highly scrutinized prospect, who was extremely productive in college (6,209 passing yards, 51 touchdown passes), generating a record of 24-4 a starter.

"I’m not that 6-foot-5 pocket passer that stands in the pocket," Lynch said. "One of those things about being 6-foot is that it does play to your advantage at times. Being that small, you’re sitting in the pocket and not a lot of defensive backs can get a read on your eyes. That's one of the advantages of being a shorter guy. I throw with anticipation. I throw to spots. Sometimes I can't really see the receiver so you have to buy into the system, trust the system and throw on time."

Trestman's scheme seems to fit that type of quarterback. Drew Brees, another shorter passer, flourishes in a system very similar in New Orleans.

The Bears last drafted quarterbacks in 2010 (Dan LeFevour) and 2011 (Nathan Enderle), but they weren't as well-equipped to develop the position as they are today with Trestman and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh.

Going into Year 3 as Chicago's general manager, Emery still hasn't selected a quarterback in the draft. Interestingly, the GM has said he'd like to draft at that position every year.

Well, Phil, now's the time.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Because of everything going on at the NFL combine, we had to push back the Bears Twitter mailbag to Monday.

Sorry for any inconvenience, but the plan is to continue running this feature on Saturdays throughout the offseason.

Let’s get started with this question about safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte:

INDIANAPOLIS -- As Reggie Jordan and a cousin in Huntsville, Ala. pushed furniture into storage, the Missouri Western tight end’s phone rang with a representative from the NFL scouting combine on the other end.

“They actually called because I didn’t respond to the email [invitation to the NFL combine],” Jordan said. “She sent it to the wrong address.”

Jordan made the necessary email correction and received official confirmation of the invitation. Coming from a small Division II school, Jordan was still skeptical. So he called former Griffons teammate David Bass, who just finished up a promising rookie campaign as a defensive end with the Chicago Bears.

“She sent me the email and confirmation, and I was like, ‘Oh, snap. This is amazing,’” Jordan said. “I called David Bass. I asked him if this is the same email and I forwarded to him. He was like, ‘Yeah, this is the email.’”

Jordan said he speaks with Bass often about what to expect as he participates at the NFL combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in one of the major steps of the evaluation process leading up to May’s draft. A seventh-round pick of the Oakland Raiders in 2013, Bass wound up playing 12 games for the Bears and producing a sack, in addition to returning his first NFL interception 24 yards touchdown on Nov. 17 in a win over the Baltimore Ravens.

“He actually tried to explain the whole thing,” Jordan said. “You never get used to it until it actually comes upon you. I mean, he tried. But this is just a surreal experience now.”

It started when Jordan arrived in Indianapolis at approximately 10 a.m. on Wednesday. Jordan spent the entire day at the hospital undergoing combine medical evaluations, and left at approximately midnight. Then, at 4 a.m. on Thursday, Jordan hopped out of bed to take a combine drug test.

At 6-2 and 240 pounds, Jordan projects as a longshot in the NFL. But Jordan certainly helped himself with solid performances Saturday during on-field drills. Jordan ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash, 4.30-second 20-yard shuttle, and produced a time of 7.22 seconds in the three-cone drill.

Perhaps Jordan might receive an opportunity to join his former Missouri Western teammate Bass in Chicago, considering the club does have a need at the position. Jordan caught 52 passes for 679 yards and 17 touchdowns during his college career.

Chicago’s roster currently features three tight ends in Martellus Bennett, Fendi Onobun, and recent addition Zach Miller. Bennett and Miller are the only players on the roster with regular-season experience.

“I think I stretch the field well, catch out of my frame,” Jordan said. “I think my blocking is very good. [At Missouri Western] they had me moving all around. I played a little H-back, moved me to tight end, had me out in the flat.”

Turnaround on defense is coming

February, 22, 2014
Feb 22
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PeppersAP Photo/Paul SancyaThe Bears might make Julius Peppers a salary-cap casualty, part of an expected defensive overhaul.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman delivered a quick anecdote prior to taking questions at the NFL combine on Thursday to draw a parallel between the offense’s surprising turnaround in 2013 and the challenge Chicago faces in resurrecting its dud of a defense.

Days earlier as they wrapped up a staff meeting at Halas Hall, the coaches “put up our roster as it looked last year at this time,” Trestman explained. “There were 10 players on the offensive side of the ball that were not on the roster at this time last year, and who significantly impacted our football team in a season. I just note that because this is a process we’re going through, filtering through our team, filtering through the free agents and building our team through the draft.”

In essence, Chicago plans to take an approach with the defense over the coming months similar to what it employed last offseason in revamping an offense that woefully underperformed the year before. The Bears achieved success in turning around the offense through a series of additions in the draft (left guard Kyle Long and right tackle Jordan Mills), free agency (left tackle Jermon Bushrod, tight end Martellus Bennett, and guard Matt Slauson), and a scheme change brought about by an entire new coaching staff that pushed a rededication to fundamentals at every position.

Would a similar approach on defense work to turn around a unit coming off a 2013 season in which it allowed the most yards (6,313) and points (478) in franchise history? That is an unknown the Bears certainly exude confidence about answering in 2014.

It’s true, Chicago doesn’t fully know what it plans to be on defense in 2014 in terms of scheme and personnel, just as most of the details about the most recent incarnation of the offense were unknown at this time last offseason. The Bears gradually pieced together the personnel and matched the schematics on offense with the players trickling into the building from the draft and free agency as training camp approached.

So while it appears concerning that Chicago is strapped in terms of cap room, and expected to make defensive end Julius Peppers a cap casualty ($18.183 million cap hit in 2014), not to mention that there is a slight chance the club could lose as many as six defensive starters in free agency (defensive tackle Henry Melton, cornerback Charles Tillman, safety Major Wright, defensive end Corey Wootton, and linebackers James Anderson and D.J. Williams), the Bears' brass continues to keep cool.

“I’m not stressed,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said. “I’m excited, very excited. It’s a great challenge, and it’s one that we all sign up for: an opportunity to put together a team and be consistently in the hunt to win championships. We’re in this to win it. So no, it’s not stressful. It’s a process just as we went through last year. Obviously, really from a cap perspective, we were tighter dollar-wise after we signed the UFAs [in 2013] than we’ve ever been. So it’s a process. You just keep working through it. We have a collective group of very talented people in the building to help in that process.”

They successfully navigated “the process” Emery often likes to refer to with the offense in 2013, which is why -- from this vantage point -- the team’s confidence is warranted.

In the days of former head coach Lovie Smith, 17 was the magic number. Hold a team to 17 points or fewer, and you win about 80 percent of the time. In fact, over the past 10 years, the Bears own a record of 50-13 when they hold an opponent to 17 points or fewer. But the problem under Smith was Chicago couldn’t score on offense.

The Bears fixed that problem in 2013, only to take a nosedive on the other side of the ball. In 2012 with a pedestrian offense and its usually strong defense, the Bears put up a 10-6 record, but the offense never scored more than 17 points in any of the losses. Then in 2013 with an offense that finished second in the NFL in scoring, the Bears finished 8-8 and scored 17 points in all but one of the losses as the defense gave up at least 20 points in every game.

How significant is that? Well, the Bears are 39-58 over the past 10 years when they allow 18 points or more.

It’s got to stop, and with Emery and Trestman there is a good chance it will. The Bears already hired a couple of demanding assistants in defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni and linebackers coach Reggie Herring to coax the most out of the young talent expected to be infused into the roster in the coming months. The scheme will morph into something that features multiple fronts, which is part of the reason Emery and Trestman made sure to bring in experienced coaches with backgrounds in several defenses.

According to a league source, the defense worked fewer practice repetitions than a typical defensive unit would during workouts last season as the Bears focused more on the offensive side of the ball. So even some of the finer details, such as how the Bears practice on defense are expected to change, along with the scheme and all the expected roster additions.

“What we're doing is we're looking at the existing scheme and going through the process of putting a system of football together to accommodate the players that we have when we get going, and we're not going to know who those players are for quite some time,” Trestman said. “So to lock ourselves in and be so narrow-minded that ‘this is what we're going to be’ when we don't have the players to get it done would be, to me, not very good time on task.

"We said it last year, [when the question was asked of] what kind of offense [the Bears would be in 2013]. We didn't know what kind of offense we were going to be, we're going to put a system in place to accommodate the players that Phil [Emery] gives us and that we decide are going to be on our football team, and that's certainly the case defensively as well. To lock in and say ‘this is what we're going to be’ wouldn't be fair at this point in time. It's a process, just like the evaluation of bringing players in and letting players move on. I'll circle back to the point I made, last year there were 10 guys on offense we didn't know we were going to have. But we were putting in a system of offensive football together to accommodate who we had at that time, and that's exactly the same process we have to go through defensively.”

Chances are good it yields similar results, too.
INDIANAPOLIS -- In discussing the future of defensive end Julius Peppers, Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman used very few words Thursday at the NFL combine, leading to further speculation that in 2014, the veteran could be forced to play elsewhere.

Peppers
Asked how the club’s salary-cap limitations come into play when evaluating Peppers, Emery invoked his usual policy regarding questions concerning contracts.

“That would be a contract question, and I think I have had a very demonstrated history of not answering those questions,” Emery said. “I will say that Julius is part of our football team. He is under contract. We’re all coming off an 8-8 season. We have a lot to improve upon and that is where our heads are at.”

An 11-year veteran, Peppers signed a restructured deal with the Bears last Sept. 3, but is set in 2014 to count $18.183 million against the club’s cap. The restructured deal converted $3 million of Peppers’ base salary ($12.9 million) for 2013 into a signing bonus ($3 million) and reduced the base salary to $9.9 million. That move created $2 million in cap space for the Bears, and marked the second time the team restructured Peppers’ contract to gain some cap room.

The problem now is the team seems to be running out of options, and pushing money into future years to keep Peppers might no longer be worth the effort. At 34, Peppers comes off a season in which he posted his lowest sack total (7.5) since 2010, after back-to-back years of 11-plus sacks in 2011 and 2012. It would be premature to say Peppers is falling off, but the reality is a 7.5-sack season in 2013 isn’t worth an $18.183 million cap hit in 2014. So it’s likely the Bears at the very least would ask Peppers to take a salary reduction.

But if the Bears opted to cut Peppers and use the post-June 1 designation (which allows a team to spread out the cap hit over two years), it would result in dead money of $4.183 million in 2014 and $4.183 million in 2015. Considering Peppers’ cap charges over those two years are $18.183 million and $20.683 million, the dead money would still result in savings in 2014 and 2015 of approximately $14 million and $16 million.

Besides that, it’s usually better to cut ties with a player a year early as opposed to a year late.

Teams planning to part ways with high-priced players such as Peppers typically make such moves as early as possible to give them a chance to catch on with another team. Would the same take place in this case? That’s unknown at this point. But it’s certainly beginning to appear the team is considering a 2014 without Peppers in the lineup.

“Veteran, non-veteran, rookie free agent that made your team, somebody you’ve drafted that you have to move on from, it’s all the same process,” Emery said. “To quote Marc [Trestman]: ‘Decisions are made when they have to be made.’”
Chicago Bears receivers Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall are the franchise's first duo at receiver to make the Pro Bowl in the same season.

Jeffery became an injury replacement for Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson.

Jeffery
"I'm extremely blessed and thankful for the opportunity to play in the Pro Bowl," Jeffery said. "Thanks to all the fans for all the support this season, and I'm looking forward to playing with Brandon and [Bears running back] Matt [Forte] in Hawaii."

Jeffery's first trip to the Pro Bowl is well-deserved, obviously, and likely marks the first of many for the second-year receiver. Interestingly, Jeffery made the All-NFC North team while Marshall was snubbed, but the former didn't make the Pro Bowl initially while the latter did.

Marshall and quarterback Jay Cutler campaigned hard in recent days for Jeffery to make the Pro Bowl, with Marshall conceding Tuesday during the NFL Network's "NFL AM" show that Johnson and Jeffery are ahead of him as receivers. In Jeffery's case, that's probably not yet true, considering his relative youth, not to mention Marshall's long track record of high production. But Jeffery certainly might be trending in that direction.

Jeffery finished the season ranked sixth in the NFL in receiving yards (1,421), seventh in yards from scrimmage (1,526, which also ranked No. 2 in the NFL among receivers), and 10th in receptions (89). The key moving forward for Jeffery is whether he can replicate such production.

Jeffery spent time working with Marshall last offseason to prepare for 2013. Jeffery reported to training camp with 8 percent body fat (according to Marshall) and was a much more durable player this past season than his rookie year. The plan for Jeffery is to continue working with Marshall this offseason. Cutler plans to train with the receivers in Florida, along with Forte and tight end Martellus Bennett.

"Just being from where I came from to where I am now, what I'm doing ... it's just special to be part of the success we're having as a team," Jeffery said. "I want to thank my mama and my family. I'm going to continue to make you all proud."
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears appear to be noncommittal regarding the future of defensive end Julius Peppers, who led the team with 7.5 sacks in 2013 but didn’t perform at his typically dominant clip.

Set to count $18.183 million against the team’s cap in 2013, Peppers could be asked to restructure his deal to clear some space. But it’s worth noting that prior to announcing deals Thursday for quarterback Jay Cutler, cornerback Tim Jennings and guard Matt Slauson, the Bears had $80,313,001 committed to the 2013 cap, which ranked as second-lowest in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information.


Also, the club remains in the process of performing a self-evaluation, a process that involves an assessment of every player on the roster.

“I’m not going to get into contracts,” Bears general manager Phil Emery said. “He’s under contract. Julius had an 8-8 year like all of us, like I did, and that’s where he’s at.”

Peppers, who turns 34 on Jan. 18, has already restructured his contract twice since joining the Bears.

In September, the Bears converted $3 million of Peppers’ base salary ($12.9 million) for 2013 into a signing bonus ($3 million), which reduced his base salary to $9.9 million. The move created $2 million in salary-cap space for the Bears, and reduced the defensive end’s cap charge from $16.387 million in 2013 to $14.387 million.

That move created only temporary relief. With the restructured deal, Peppers’ cap numbers over the final two years of his contract rise. For instance, in 2014 Peppers’ cap number was previously $17.183 million but increased to $18.183 million. In 2015, Peppers’ cap number grows to $20.683 million.

Having just completed Year 4 of a six-year deal worth $84 million, Peppers previously restructured his contract on Feb. 23, 2011, and saved the team approximately $8 million in cap space. At the time, Peppers was due a roster bonus of $10.5 million, and the Bears reduced his cap number from $12 million to $4.3 million by converting the roster bonus into a signing bonus that it could prorate over the life of the deal.

But in 2013, Peppers’ production didn’t match the salary. Peppers was credited with 46 tackles, two forced fumbles and an interception. He also returned a fumble 42 yards for a touchdown on Sept. 22 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The 2013 season marked the first time since 2010 that Peppers finished with fewer than 11 sacks.

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

Peppers’ production in 2013 seemed par for the course for a player on an 8-8 team, but Emery stressed he doesn’t consider the defensive end an 8-8 player.

“I didn’t say he was an 8-8 defensive end. I said he had an 8-8 season, to correct that,” Emery said. “That’s a whole lot different. Obviously, Julius had a lot of good games like a lot of our players, and he had games that he would want back, and I think Julius would say that too. We will work through each and every player on our squad to determine where we’re going with him in the future, and that process is going to take time. But Julius is under contract. We’re proud that he’s a Bear, and that’s where we’re at.”

CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears receiver Brandon Marshall pulled a Terrell Owens in the aftermath of his team’s 33-28 loss to the Green Bay Packers when asked about the prospect of Jay Cutler returning in 2014.

“That’s my quarterback,” Marshall said.

Cutler showed why Sunday. After eight previous outings of futility against Green Bay as a Bear, the quarterback finally shined under the bright lights against the Packers, throwing for two touchdowns and racking up a 103.8 passer rating while completing 62.5 percent of his throws, albeit in a losing effort. Cutler did throw one interception, but that came on a desperation heave with 10 seconds to play in the midst of his fight to rally back the Bears.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJay Cutler played well Sunday against Green Bay, but have Bears fans seen the last of him?
“I thought Jay played very well tonight,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “I don’t know what the stats are. I though he threw the long ball well. He gave the guys a chance to make plays, which gave them the long ball. I thought he was efficient throwing the ball inside. I thought he was in total command of what was going on out there.”

Case in point: Cutler’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Marshall with 14:55 remaining. The Bears called a run-pass option, but Cutler was unsure of the coverage the Packers might show. Instead of checking out of the run, Cutler kept the call on but pulled the handoff at the last second and found Marshall for the touchdown.

“They had an all-out blitz,” Cutler said. “I left the run on, then I pulled it last second, just threw one up to [Brandon] and he did what he does best: make a play for us.”

The play was one of many Cutler made on the night despite limited opportunities. The Bears ran just 49 plays on offense, compared with 76 snaps for Green Bay, which dominated time of possession 35:09 to 24:51.

Cutler completed three passes for 30-plus yards, including a 67-yard bomb to a wide-open Alshon Jeffery. He also hit Marshall for a 37-yard gain and completed a pass to Matt Forte for 33 yards.

In eight previous games against the Packers, Cutler completed 127 of 237 for 1,518 yards and eight touchdowns, with 17 interceptions, to go with a passer rating of 54.8. Against the rest of the NFC North over that same span, Cutler had thrown for 33 TDs and 16 INTs.

The matchup against the Packers on Sunday marked just the third time in Cutler’s career he generated a passer rating of 100 or better and his team still lost. Counting the postseason, Cutler is 28-3 when he finishes with a passer rating of 100 or better.

“That’s a tough one to swallow,” Cutler said. “Right there, knocking on the door.”

Again, the Packers shut it in Cutler’s face. But neither this performance nor Cutler’s 1-8 record as a Bear against Green Bay should have any bearing on whether the team decides to bring him back in 2013, and it won’t. Cutler has just played the final game of a contract that paid him $8.47 million in 2013, and he wouldn’t get into what might take place in the coming weeks or month in terms of negotiations with the front office or the prospect of leaving.

Bears general manager Phil Emery has made it clear on numerous occasions he wants to bring back the quarterback, and Cutler has made it clear he wants to stay, even going as far as saying on ESPN 1000 that he’s optimistic it’ll “get done.”

“You’d love to predict the future,” Cutler said. “I’m not really going to get into what’s going to happen.”

Trestman declined to as well, saying, “That’s something for a later evaluation.”

“I would suspect that the Green Bay game, a rivalry game that’s going to play out for a championship, the speculation is let’s see how he does on this kind of stage,” Trestman added. “I thought Jay played well enough for us to win tonight.”

Marshall agreed, and unlike Cutler he offered a prediction for how the quarterback’s contract situation might play out.

“Jay will be back. So all the stories for the offseason you guys can just put that at the bottom. Write everything you have to say and just say, ‘Brandon said Jay will be back,’” Marshall said. “Just like I said Jay would be back from the groin injury, Jay’s gonna be back in a contract year. I don’t have any inside information. That’s my quarterback.”

Cutler, however, preferred not to ponder the future. Having displayed a tendency to be flippant in the past after a loss like Sunday’s, Cutler displayed genuine disappointment about how the game played out and the finality the defeat to the Packers presents.

Asked about his contract situation, Cutler shook his head.

“I think we’ll deal with that later in the week,” he said. “Right now, I’m kind of living in the moment. I’m a little upset about the game and how it went. This locker room is never going to be the same. [We’ll] miss some guys. Some guys are going to leave. Some guys are going to stay. It’s part of the business.”
In case you missed it, the crew over at ESPNChicago.com debated the Hot Button topic of whether Jay Cutler needs to win Sunday against the Green Bay Packers to earn a long-term contract extension from the Chicago Bears. So we’ll start today’s Bears Essentials here.

Colleagues Jeff Dickerson and Jon Greenberg agreed that one game, regardless of the stakes, won’t seal Cutler’s fate. I agree with them.

Dickerson writes: "Either the front office is comfortable enough with Cutler's strengths and weaknesses to believe he is the quarterback of the future for the Bears (a scenario many of us believe to be true) or they don't.

"One start against the Green Bay Packers isn't going to change that."

He adds: "But in all likelihood, another Cutler stinker against Green Bay is probably just costing the quarterback money and leverage in upcoming contract negotiations. If the Bears had doubts about Cutler, why in the world did they start him over reigning NFC Offensive Player of the Week Josh McCown? Unless the Bears were convinced that Cutler at quarterback gave the team its best chance to win the division and reach the postseason, the move made absolutely no sense."

Meanwhile, Greenberg writes: "Does fan support matter to the real deciders at Halas Hall? No. But it quiets the noise, noise that the Bears admitted has filtered into the locker room.

"Cutler will probably be a Bear into the future regardless of how he does this Sunday, but he needs this win for reasons outside of money."

I’ve fielded several questions on Twitter concerning this very subject. Since there are more than 140 characters here to respond, here’s what I think regarding the situation: Unless something squirrely takes place during negotiations, Cutler will be a Chicago Bear in 2014, regardless of whether he wins or loses against the Packers. It seems we want to disregard all that’s been said by general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman for the better part of the season. Trestman continues to express satisfaction with Cutler’s growth, and Emery has said on multiple occasions -- including during interviews recently -- he believes Cutler is a franchise-level quarterback.

From what I know of Emery, he’s not the type of guy to say one thing -- especially in a public forum, such as an interview -- and do another. He’s expressed confidence in Cutler’s abilities and encouragement with the quarterback’s growth and demeanor, and if the Bears truly wanted to go in another direction, wouldn’t they have to have a solid Plan B? Somebody tell me what that is, please.

Discussing Cutler’s future a few weeks ago, an NFC scout explained that in his opinion, just five or six signal-callers in the NFL possessed as impressive of a physical skill set as Chicago’s man under center, making it extremely difficult for a team to part ways with such a talent. Combine that with the fact Cutler has displayed real growth in just one season (not even a complete one at that, due to injuries) with Trestman, an improved offensive line and a more talented assortment of weapons, and it’s easy to see why the organization would want to provide the quarterback even more stability and an opportunity to fully grow into his immense potential.

-- CSNChicago.com’s John Mullin explains that Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker isn’t alone in his struggles. Some of the game’s top defensive masterminds are directing units which haven’t lived up to expectations.

Mullin writes: "If coordinator Mel Tucker is the problem behind the decline and fall of the Bears' defense from 2012 to 2013, then this season has to rank as an all-timer for 'problem' coordinators who suddenly got bad or stupid."

-- Roster upheaval is imminent, writes Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune. Several players have contracts set to expire, and the team isn’t inclined to bring many of them back based on their performance, their age and other factors.
A weekly examination of the Bears' ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 13 | Last Week: 13 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

The Chicago Bears stayed at 13th in the ESPN.com Power Rankings after suffering a 54-11 loss on Sunday to the Philadelphia Eagles, which qualified as one of the worst losses in franchise history.

Although the Bears didn’t move in the rankings, they should have after their performance against the Eagles. Sure, Chicago leads the division, but its first-place standing is basically by default due to losses by the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions.

The situation sets up a showdown Sunday between the Bears and the Packers at Soldier Field that will decide the NFC North winner and a postseason spot. But based on the way those teams have performed in recent weeks, the winner of Sunday’s game isn’t likely to stay in the playoffs for very long.

Against the Eagles, Chicago’s pitiful run defense reared its ugly head again as the Bears gave up 291 yards on the ground. The team’s usually reliable offense fared just as badly, with the revamped protection allowing quarterback Jay Cutler to absorb five sacks as the group scored just 11 points (it entered the contest averaging 29 per game). Bears coach Marc Trestman said they’ll burn the tape from that shellacking, forget about the debacle and focus on the Packers, which is probably the best course of action at this point.

Going into Sunday’s game, the Bears had racked up more than 400 yards of offense in back-to-back games, and the defense was showing signs it could at least rise to the level of mediocrity. But the horrid showing at Philadelphia erased all of that. The No. 13 spot in the Power Rankings is a gift.

Elsewhere in the division, the Lions, predictably, fell three spots to 20th, while the Packers dropped a spot to 17th. The Minnesota Vikings fell one spot to 24th.

The Bears had three votes for the No. 13 spot, two for 14th and one for No. 16.
Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler praised receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery for their contributions this season, saying the former needs to make his first playoff appearance in eight seasons as a pro, while the latter deserves to make the Pro Bowl.

A four-time Pro Bowler, Marshall has caught 94 passes for 1,221 yards and 11 touchdowns, while Jeffery is responsible for 1,341 yards and seven TDs on 86 receptions. Marshall and Jeffery form the league's top receiving duo in the NFL with 2,563 yards, with the combined receiving yards ranking as the most in franchise history by a duo.

Jeffery
Marshall
On multiple occasions, Marshall has discussed making the Pro Bowl and receiving lucrative contracts, but he claims the goal now is to finally play in a postseason contest for the first time in his career and eventually compete in the Super Bowl.

“I feel bad for him,” Cutler said Monday during the “Jay Cutler Show” on ESPN 1000. “An amazing player on his third team and has played at a high, high level. I saw a stat at some point. He's the first player to have two 1,000-yard seasons for three different teams. We've talked about it. We've mentioned it to some of the coaches and some of the guys. Everyone is just shocked eight years have went by and he still hasn't made the playoffs. So he deserves it. Like I said, we're gonna do everything possible Sunday and I know he will, too.”

As for Jeffery, the quarterback is hoping the second-year pro is recognized for his breakout 2013 campaign. A second-round pick, Jeffery played in just 10 games as a rookie due to hand and knee injuries that forced him out of six contests.

After spending the offseason working out with Marshall, Jeffery returned in 2013 to make a significant impact on the offense.

“I think he deserves it,” Cutler said, when asked if it's important the receiver is recognized for his accomplishments. Given the rule changes for the Pro Bowl, it was mentioned to Cutler that eight receivers would be taken overall, regardless of conference. “I think he's a top-eight receiver in the league, and I think he'll get recognized," the quarterback said.

Cutler also believes Jeffery's work habits will help him enjoy a long career. When Cutler first watched Jeffery as a rookie, his talents and abilities were “off the charts,” the quarterback said.

“You watched him make some plays, and you're like, ‘Man, if this happens consistently, he's gonna be hard to stop,'” Cutler said. “He's just too good. He makes too many big plays. He's too consistent at practices. It's every day with this guy. He's doing things on the sideline when we're not going. He's a consummate pro at Year 2, which is hard to find. Most guys, it takes three or four years to figure out what they need to do on and off the field. But Alshon's got it nailed. He's very even-keeled. He's gonna be around for a long time.”

PHILADELPHIA -- As the seconds ticked away during a brutal 54-11 beating Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field, Chicago Bears defensive tackle Corey Wootton peered at the scoreboard in disbelief.

“It’s embarrassing, honestly,” he said. “Looking on the sideline, when you see the score at the end of the game and they've put up 54 on you, it’s embarrassing.”

[+] EnlargeZack Bowman
Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty ImagesZack Bowman seemed at a loss after the Bears allowed another of the Eagles' six offensive TDs.
In addition to giving up 21 points in both the first and fourth quarters, the Bears surrendered 514 yards, including 289 on the ground, with LeSean McCoy running for 133 of them. Not only did Chicago allow one 100-yard rusher. Bryce Brown also carved up Chicago for 115 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, right through the middle of the Bears’ defense.

Considering the Bears have allowed at least one 100-yard rusher in 10 games this season, including veritable no-names such as Benny Cunningham and Brown, and another one to an aging Brandon Jacobs, it’s probably safe to assume Chicago’s defense won’t all of the sudden become stout in the finale against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday -- in a game with the NFC North crown and a postseason berth on the line. Traditionally, it’s been the defense that has helped the Bears stay in games. Currently, it’s that unit that could wind up keeping Chicago out of the playoffs.

It’s important to note that losses on Sunday by the Packers and the Detroit Lions meant that the Bears could have clinched the division title by defeating the Eagles. While ineptitude on offense contributed to the loss at Philadelphia, too often this season the defense has been the culprit.

“In the past years, we always stepped up when we needed to regardless of what the offense was doing,” Wootton said. “It just hasn’t been like that. If we want to make the playoffs or we want to make any type of run, we have to get this shored up. We talk about this every week.”

Philadelphia reeled off 10 plays for gains of 16 yards or more, with three of those plays coming on Nick Foles completions. The Eagles converted on 56 percent of their third-down attempts, and scored touchdowns on five trips into the red zone as Foles completed passes and McCoy either outran Bears defenders or outright made them miss.

The seven touchdowns scored by the Eagles were the most the Bears have allowed in franchise history (although one of the TDs was on an interception return). The 54 points rank as the second-most ever allowed by the Bears in franchise history.

“There’s a lot of different reasons we didn’t get this done today,” coach Marc Trestman said. “We’re all at fault. It starts with me. Nobody played well enough to win tonight.”

Trestman, Wootton, linebacker James Anderson and safety Craig Steltz all stressed that the coaching staff adequately prepared the players for what the schemes they’d see from the Eagles. The players simply didn’t execute.

“I do not think it was one special thing we did wrong,” safety Chris Conte said. “We just got our tails kicked today.”

Wootton said the Bears played the Eagles “the way we were supposed to” but “just didn’t make the plays when we needed to.”

Wootton also provided examples.

“If you look at it, they didn’t keep the ball really at all with Foles on the zone-reads. We knew they were gonna give the ball to McCoy,” Wootton said. “The one guy that was supposed to stay outside for contain would be there, then he’d miss the tackle. Or the guy wasn’t there when he was supposed to be. It was just stuff like that. But that can really gut you. That’s what they want to exploit on you. They want to make the one-on-one play and try to make you miss.”

The Eagles did that all night, with the rushing of McCoy and Brown and with Foles passing over the top of the Bears. Foles finished with a passer rating of 131.7, and although Chicago sacked him twice, the quarterback seemed to have plenty of time to find open receivers and deliver the ball.

“They just came out and brought it to us,” defensive end Julius Peppers said.

The Packers are capable of doing the same, even with hobbled running back Eddie Lacy -- who rushed for 150 yards against the Bears on Nov. 4 -- and Aaron Rodgers likely out. It’s not that Green Bay’s offense is as potent as Philadelphia’s. Chicago’s defense just appears to be that bad, with no real signs of improving.

“We certainly couldn’t stop the run,” Trestman said. “We’ve got to address is factually. We can’t deny the fact that we didn’t stop the run tonight. We’ve got to make sure they know why, and we’ve got to do what we can to get back to where we were previously the last couple of weeks when we really did feel we were ascending. We were getting better. You’re not where you ever want to be, but certainly [we were at] a place where we could be in a competitive environment, and get the ball back to the offense. There’s no one side of the ball that lost this one.”

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