NFL Nation: Jeremiah Ratliff

Chicago Bears draft wrap-up

May, 10, 2014
May 10
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- A wrap-up of the Chicago Bears’ draft. Click here for a full list of Bears' draftees.

Bears general manager Phil Emery likes to say a team can never expect to fill all of its needs via the draft. Well, eight draft choices later, the Bears actually came close.

Best move: Taking defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton with consecutive picks on Day 2. We don’t know if Ferguson or Sutton will pan out, but the Bears had to keep strengthening the defensive line after last season. Ferguson and Sutton join new faces Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, Austen Lane, Trevor Scott and Israel Idonije, who is back for his second tour of duty. The Bears also re-signed tackles Jeremiah Ratliff and Nate Collins to help fortify the trenches on defense.

This reminds me of how Emery & Co. rebuilt the offensive line last offseason.

Riskiest move: Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey’s (fourth round) on-field production speaks for itself: 4,239 yards, 48 rushing touchdowns and 77 receptions for 679 yards in three years for the Wildcats.

However, there are questions about Carey that extended beyond the football field. The 5-9, 207-pound tailback reportedly had multiple run-ins with the authorities, including a charge of assaulting his pregnant ex-girlfriend that was later dismissed.

Carey depicted himself as a high-character individual when he spoke to Chicago media members following his selection by the Bears at No. 117.

“As you guys are going to get to know me over the years; I’m an outgoing [person] who loves kids and is light-hearted,” Carey said. “I would never do anything to harm people. I’m a loveful cat.”

Emery is not afraid to draft or acquire players with questionable character. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall has rewarded Emery’s faith in him by posting consecutive Pro Bowl seasons. On the flip side, 2012 fourth-round pick Evan Rodriguez lasted only one season before being cut after multiple run-ins with the law last offseason.

[+] EnlargeKa'Deem Casey
Casey Sapio/USA TODAY SportsArizona running back Ka'Deem Carey, a fourth-round pick by the Bears, has some question marks in terms of off-the-field incidents.
Most surprising move: Emery told reporters before the draft that he rejected the notion of drafting a developmental quarterback in the later rounds with the intent of grooming him to be a future starter.

The Bears selected San Jose State quarterback David Fales in the sixth round (183).

Go figure.

File it away: Time will tell if the Bears regret passing on a safety in the first round.

The organization continued its longstanding tradition of waiting until the later rounds to address the position when they moved back into the fourth round and traded away a pair of fifth-round selections to grab Minnesota’s Brock Vereen at 131. Vereen does have an excellent NFL pedigree. His brother, Shane, a standout running back, was selected in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft by the New England Patriots. Their father, Henry, was drafted by the Bucs in 1979.

Vereen is a versatile player who lined up at all four defensive back spots over the course of his career with the Golden Gophers. He started 36 games and registered 200 tackles, four interceptions, 7.5 tackles-for-loss and one blocked kick.

“Brock is one of the smartest and most versatile players I have ever had the privilege of coaching and is an outstanding young man,” Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill said. “He is the ultimate team player and will do whatever is needed to help the Bears win. I know he is going to make Chicago a better team and will also be a great teammate in the locker room.”

But you can argue the Bears are in this mess at safety because the organization doesn't put a high enough value on the position.
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Statistics can be deceiving.

The Chicago Bears clearly looked beyond LSU defensive tackle Ego Ferguson's modest career collegiate numbers (12 career starts, 85 tackles, five tackles-for-loss and one sack) when drafting him at No. 51 overall.

They obviously believe the 6-foot-3, 315-pound Ferguson will add fresh legs to an already decent rotation at defensive tackle that includes veterans Jeremiah Ratliff, Nate Collins and Stephen Paea. Because the Bears are so high on Ratliff at three-technique, general manager Phil Emery didn't have to necessarily find a Week 1 starting interior defensive lineman in the draft.

After Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman and Florida State's Timmy Jernigan were taken off the board, Ferguson was the next best option in the Bears' mind.

He can stop the run. Ferguson had 58 tackles in 2013 when he was named honorable mention All-SEC. Not to be redundant, but the Bears are determined to find players that thrive in run support.

Word is Ferguson still needs to develop better interior pass-rushing skills.

"You always need to work," Ferguson said Friday night. "I need to improve on pass-rush and my spin move. But one thing I always bring is my heart and my competitive nature. [I'll do] whatever it takes and for however long it takes to win."

Second-round picks are expected to contribute in Year 1, but Ferguson has the luxury of working on his technique with veteran Bears defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni until he's ready to be thrust into a starting role.

Ferguson told reporters at Halas Hall he had a positive meeting with Pasqualoni when he visited the Bears before his pro day.

"[Pasqualoni] has a great personality and he brought me to the office and we were talking ball for a long time," Ferguson said. "He asked me if I can play that two-technique, can I do it? He said that's what the Bears want me for. He showed a lot of interest."

Pasqualoni was an important hire for the Bears in the offseason. With more than 40 years of coaching experience, he is the perfect person to coach up younger defensive linemen that may possess above-average traits, but have yet to garner above-average success.

The Bears are counting on Pasqualoni to refine Ferguson's pass-rushing technique; just as Rod Marinelli did with Israel Idonije, Henry Melton and Corey Wootton before the veteran coach departed for Dallas after the Chicago Bears fired Lovie Smith.
Charles TillmanGrant Halverson/Getty ImagesCharles Tillman and the Bears' defense should benefit from some key additions in 2014.
The Chicago Bears' front office grunted through one of the league's busiest offseason of signings to put the team in position to draft the best player available in May while also minimizing the burden of the potential first-round pick to carry the savior label.

So while the workload won't lighten as the Bears prepare for the NFL draft and the April 22 start of the offseason program, they've unwittingly utilized a core motto of former NFL coach Dennis Green: Plan your work and work your plan. That has led to the Bears signing 30 players since the final week of December, a group that includes 17 returners, 10 unrestricted free agents and three street free agents to drastically improve -- at least on paper -- one of the NFL's worst defenses of 2013.

"I think we'll slow down a tad," Bears general manager Phil Emery said on March 31. "But we have a lot of work to do. We have some positions we want to make more competitive. The draft's around the corner."

Not to diminish the work to be done over the next few weeks, but Chicago's activity up to this point should make things easier moving forward. Headed into the offseason, the Bears needed to address a defensive line that played a major role in 2013 in the defense allowing 5.34 yards per rushing attempt (the league average was 4.10), and did so by signing Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, and Israel Idonije, in addition to bringing back Jeremiah Ratliff and Nate Collins.

The club also re-signed starting corners Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman, while adding to the safety position by acquiring M.D. Jennings, Danny McCray and Ryan Mundy.

So is the defense better now than it was in 2013?

"The obvious answer to that would be we're healthier [than in 2013] because nobody's hurt," Emery said. "Also, I think we've added some guys at key points in their career. Jared adds experience, production, leadership. Somebody like Lamarr and Willie add some youth, speed and [physicality]. Really excited about Jeremiah Ratliff this year. He's excited about playing. He wants to finish here. He added so much the last few weeks [of 2013] in terms of leadership; unbelievably mentally tough player. So yeah, I think the collective group, we've gotten stronger and we're headed in the right direction as far as we want to establish as a defensive football team."

Given the financial commitments to Houston, Allen and Young -- all defensive ends -- it'll be interesting to see how defensive coordinator Mel Tucker finds ways to get them on the field at the same time. Allen is the bona fide starter at right end, and Houston will play on the left side. But it's likely the Bears will take advantage of Houston's versatility and kick him inside to defensive tackle on passing downs while playing Young opposite Allen at end.

Even without the benefit of the upcoming draft, Chicago's defensive line appears to be a more dynamic group than it was in 2013.

"It's up to our coaches to find ways to get them all on the field at the same time or at different times or different personnel groupings or groupings against personnel," Emery said.

Depending on the direction the Bears take in May in the draft, that task could become more difficult for Tucker. Despite the Bears adding Jennings, McCray and Mundy in free agency, the club could stand to acquire another safety in the draft capable of competing for a starting job; especially with the possibility Chris Conte might miss time at camp after undergoing shoulder surgery.

But the club might see more value in using its first-round pick on one of the talented interior defensive line prospects such as Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald or Florida State's Timmy Jernigan, as picking a safety at No. 14 might be a little too high for the team's tastes. Surely, the Bears will address safety in the first three rounds, in addition to adding depth at some point at corner and at linebacker.

Emery declined to say whether the signing of Allen or all the work done to revamp the defensive line will change the club's draft plans -- only that "it's always been about getting the best players possible to continue to build our team towards winning championships. To do that, you have to have high-quality players and players that can make plays. We talked at the end of the season about having more playmakers on our team."

The Bears certainly added some. In the process, they made the possibility of a defensive renaissance similar to what was experienced on the other side of the ball in 2013 a potentially easier undertaking.

They've planned their work and are working their plan.
A remark during the introductory press conference Monday at Hallas Hall for Jared Allen brought back a conversation from nearly a month ago regarding defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff.

Back on March 5 when Ratliff re-signed with the Bears, an NFL assistant familiar with the defensive tackle's abilities called him "a soldier if healthy." Allen said pretty much the same thing Monday when asked what he liked about Chicago's defense.

"One of the people that excites me the most is Jay Ratliff," Allen said. "I've gotten to know Jay over the years at the Pro Bowl. I've seen what he can do in Dallas, and when he's healthy, he's an absolute beast in the middle. I've had the fortune to play with Pat and Kevin Williams, and he's up there on that level with them. What he can do from the nose tackle spot or the three-technique spot, not only in the run game, but in the pass game: That's huge. To have a guy that can consistently get 3 or 4 yards deep, a quarterback's got one way to go -- me or him. That, I'm really excited about."

So obviously, the expectations for Ratliff in 2014 grow beyond the team's initial cautious optimism regarding the defensive tackle last season when the club signed him as a stopgap measure for a depleted front four. The Bears looked realistically at Ratliff's acquisition last November, realizing internally there was a legitimate chance he might not pan out.

The Bears figured that if Ratliff turned out to be a wasted signing, the move was well worth the risk because they hadn't given up any picks and spent little on a one-year deal for a player with Pro Bowl pedigree rehabbing from an injury.

Ratliff participated in just five games in 2013, contributing 14.5 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks but showed enough for the Bears to sign him to a two-year deal in March worth $4 million.

Pairing Allen next to Ratliff next season could turn out to be a bargain. During his tenure in Minnesota, Allen developed uncanny chemistry with defensive tackle Kevin Williams over a six-year period and expects similar results alongside Ratliff, provided the duo puts in the work on the practice field.

"It's getting those reps in practice with the guy to understand, 'OK, what's his countermove?' I'll need to know what Jay's countermove is so when I'm rushing up the field and I see him up that he's gonna counter," Allen said. "And he also needs to understand like, 'Hey, I need you to make a decision by two or three steps here.' That's how you start falling off with things naturally with each other. I could literally look at Kevin and if we had a set that we saw, I could look at him and we just knew that 'OK here, you're gonna go up and I'm gonna come under or vice versa. So it just comes down to reps and communication and talking about it. It comes down to obviously the philosophy of the d-linemen, of what Coach is gonna allow us to flow in and out of. If everybody knows what each other knows then you can play off each other well."
Todd McShay of Scouts Inc. dropped his Mock 3.0 on Thursday with the Chicago Bears staying true to filling their need at defensive tackle in using the No. 14 pick on Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald.
McShay writes: "Donald is a perfect fit for the Bears’ scheme as a 3-technique defensive tackle. I don’t know if there’s been a prospect who has helped his stock more during the draft process than him. He was unblockable at the Senior Bowl, and that, put together with an unbelievable overall workout at the combine. He’s shorter than prototype size, but he has long arms, a powerful upper body and creates a lot of big plays with his anticipation and quickness. FSU’s Timmy Jernigan is a fit as a 3-technique as well, but Donald is a much better finisher as a pass-rusher."

At this point, Donald might make more sense than Jernigan at No. 14 because the Bears re-signed Jeremiah Ratliff on Wednesday, and could benefit tremendously from pairing the young talent with a veteran next season. If Donald doesn’t pan out as a rookie, at the very least he would provide depth at a position that sorely lacked it in 2013 when injuries took hold of the front four.

In 2013, the Bears allowed the most points (478) and total yards (6,313) in franchise history as opponents ran all through through the team's beat-up defensive line and inexperienced linebackers later in the season. Chicago gave up 10 100-yard rushing performances, in addition to a 211-yard effort on Dec. 1 by Minnesota's Adrian Peterson.

Defensive tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins suffered season-ending injuries in 2013, and both are set to hit free agency. At this point, Collins seems to be more likely than Melton to return in 2014 as the latter will speak to other teams on March 8 when the negotiation window opens.

If the Bears brought aboard Donald, and re-signed Melton, Collins, and Corey Wootton, they'd actually field a pretty formidable rotation up front; at least on paper.

McShay and ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. have been pretty consistent in their mock drafts with most of them having the Bears using their 14th pick on a defensive tackles.

Uncertainty currently remains a hallmark along Chicago’s defensive line, as the club needs more than just Ratliff and veteran Stephen Paea, who right now are the only defensive tackles under contract. It’s worth noting that Paea’s contract expires after the 2014 season.

“I feel like I can make an impact right away, feel like I can come in and have trust in the coaches and playbook and make plays right away,” Donald said last month at the NFL combine. “I played nose tackle, played a three-man front in the five-tech, three-tech. I moved around in college a lot. So being versatile the way I am, I feel like that’s a plus for me.”

It could prove beneficial for the Bears, too.

Donald, like Melton, lacks ideal size. But the former Pittsburgh star’s first step is off the charts, a trait he shares with Melton, who was the club’s franchise player in 2013.

The Bears want youth on defense, and when you talk to folks within the organization, the words “tough” and “athletic” seem to be a common themes of the team’s vision for the type of players they’d like to add in the future to that unit. Donald certainly possesses those traits.

The league’s rookie slotting system, which would strap Donald to a cap-friendly contract over the next few years, makes him even more attractive.
The signing of Jeremiah Ratliff to a two-year deal Wednesday night doesn't end Henry Melton's days in Chicago, but it didn't solidify a potential return either.
Now, with at least one of the defensive tackle spots solidified, it likely becomes easier for the Chicago Bears to opt to fill Melton’s spot through the draft, given the number of talented prospects in this year’s class, the team’s desire to infuse youth on defense, not to mention the fact the rookie slotting system makes it much more feasible (and sustainable for the next few years) from a salary cap perspective. Perhaps that’s why Melton’s representatives fully expect their client to speak to other teams on March 8, when the window opens up for them to negotiate with other clubs.

The Bears are probably better with Melton than without him, with the most important caveat of a potential deal between the sides making sense for the club financially.

Coming off surgery to repair his left ACL, Melton isn’t expected to be able to command megabucks in free agency. So he’ll likely sniff around to see what’s out there, only to find other teams will likely be offering deals similar to what the Bears might put on the table.

So in considering potential landing spots, Melton may need to basically just count out 2014 as the year to get a lucrative deal, and look at what playing next to Ratliff next season could possibly net in the future. After all, Melton is coming off a 2013 season in which he was paid handsomely; and at age 27, he’ll have another opportunity to earn a rich, multi-year deal, provided he proves his mettle on the field while staying out of trouble off of it.

To me, playing opposite Ratliff provides the best chance for that. What do you think?
Teams around the NFL can start contacting and negotiating with agents of players set to become unrestricted free agents beginning 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 approaches, we take a look at Chicago’s pending free agents, and their chances of returning to the team in the first part of our weeklong series.

2014 free agent: Charles Tillman

Position: Cornerback

2013 statistics: 8 games; 52.5 tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss, three interceptions, four pass breakups and three forced fumbles.

2013 salary: $7.95 million base salary and $51,575 workout bonus -- $8,001,575 cash value.

Outlook: The Bears are expected to make a strong push to keep Tillman. Although the club does want to be younger on defense, Tillman is still viewed as a key component in the immediate future. The question boils down to whether Tillman wants to return and play for head coach Marc Trestman. The two-time Pro Bowl cornerback is expected to have multiple suitors in free agency. Tillman has strong ties to Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith, Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator Bob Babich, Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera from their time in Chicago. Tillman will have options.

2014 free agent: Josh McCown

Position: Quarterback

2013 statistics: 8 games, 5 starts; 1,829 yards passing, 13 touchdowns and one interception; 109.0 passer rating.

2013 salary: $840,000 base salary and $5,600 workout bonus -- $870,600 cash value.

Outlook: McCown has repeatedly expressed a desire to return to Chicago, and almost everyone in the building, ranging from general manager Phil Emery to starting quarterback Jay Cutler, say they want the reserve signal-caller back. But talks between the sides haven’t necessarily reflected what has been said publicly (that doesn’t imply talks have gone badly, but things have moved slowly). McCown holds more leverage than ever in his career after the way he played in relief of Cutler last season, but the Bears haven’t been in a hurry to get the quarterback signed to a deal. McCown will have plenty of suitors in free agency. A legitimate opportunity to compete for a starting job could lure him away from Chicago.

2014 free agent: Devin Hester

Position: Special teams returner

2013 statistics: 52 kickoff returns for 1,436 yards (27.6 average); 18 punt returns for 256 yards (14.2) and one touchdown.

2013 salary: $1,857,523 base salary and $250,000 workout bonus -- $2,107,523 cash value.

Outlook: Hester is unlikely to return to Chicago. The Bears probably aren’t interested in paying a couple of million dollars to a player who will strictly return kicks for a second straight year. Hester did a decent job adjusting to his new role in 2013, but he didn’t make the type of impact necessary to command the same kind of salary (or even a raise) in 2014. Like Tillman, Hester will have offers from around the league. A reunion with Smith in Tampa makes sense. Hester is also close with current Arizona Cardinals wide receivers coach Darryl Drake. Maybe some interest materializes on that front. A couple other undisclosed teams expressed a certain degree of interest in Hester two weeks ago at the NFL combine. Hester will land on his feet, but he probably won’t get the chance to continue his career with the Bears.

2014 free agent: Jeremiah Ratliff

Position: Defensive tackle

2013 statistics: Five games, four starts; 14.5 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 tackle for lost yardage.

2013 salary: $840,000 base salary -- $395,294 cash value.

Outlook: Ratliff didn’t show much in 2013, making his Chicago debut nearly a month after joining the team. But he performed well enough over the last five games of the season that the Bears would like to bring him back. The Bears met with Ratliff’s representatives at the NFL combine in Indianapolis recently to see about working out a deal, and the sides remain in contact about the defensive tackle’s potential return to Chicago. Other teams will likely show interest, too. At 32, Ratliff is still plenty capable of contributing at a high level. He also possesses the toughness the Bears want to instill on what’s expected to be a revamped defense. And let's be real, Ratliff is arguably a better player than even a healthy Henry Melton.
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.

The next big thing: Bears

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
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:

IRVING, Texas -- When quarterback Tony Romo underwent season-ending back surgery Friday morning, he became the ninth Cowboys player lost for the season due to injury.

You could say it's 10 players lost if you want to throw in defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff, who said he hadn't recovered from a groin injury which prompted the Cowboys to release him. He subsequently signed with the Bears.

Of the other nine, Romo's departure is the biggest. A review of the injured:

Ben Bass: The defensive end was a projected backup to a unit beset by injuries. His shoulder is nearly healed and he should be ready in time for the 2014 season.

Ryan Cook: He was a longshot to make the roster, and when his back didn't heal enough for him to make the roster it was time to move on. It's doubtful that the veteran offensive lineman returns.

Tyrone Crawford: A torn Achilles in the first week of training camp ended the defensive end's season quickly and put the Cowboys in a bind at defensive line. Crawford is now doing on-the-field rehab work, so he should be good for offseason workouts.

Lance Dunbar: Injuries hampered his season. He was just starting to make an impact when he injured his knee in the fourth quarter of the Thanksgiving Day win over Oakland. The Cowboys like the running back's change-of-pace ability, and he should be given a chance to regain that role in 2014.

Justin Durant: The veteran just couldn't recover in enough time from a hamstring injury to help the linebacker corps. Durant was signed to play the strong side and he had good moments, but his health got in the way of making more of an impact.

Matt Johnson: Johnson hasn't played a down in his first two seasons. A hamstring issue his rookie season and an ankle injury late in training camp put him on the shelf. The Cowboys have to make a decision on whether it's worth keeping the safety around.

Tony Romo: The starting quarterback was knocked around at times this season but he showed an amazing level of toughness to finish the game at Washington last week while his back was throbbing. Romo is projected to return in time for the OTAs.

Anthony Spencer: Spencer's knee bothered him during training camp and the projected starter at defensive end underwent microfracture surgery after playing in just one game. He becomes a free agent after the season, so it will be interesting if the Cowboys offer him a deal.

Brian Waters: The veteran guard was a solid contributor in the five games he started before a torn triceps ended his season. Waters is unsure about whether he wants to play again. He turns 37 on Feb. 18, and the Cowboys might pass on giving him another contract.

Upon Further Review: Bears Week 16

December, 23, 2013
PHILADELPHIA -- An examination of four hot issues from the Chicago Bears' 54-11 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles:

Give Cutler a chance: This loss conjured flashbacks of offensive lines featuring players such as Chris Williams, Frank Omiyale and J’Marcus Webb. The Bears gave up a season-high five sacks, and quarterback Jay Cutler also absorbed plenty of shots throughout the night just as he was releasing his passes. Most of the night, Cutler had a defender in his face when trying to throw the ball. Obviously, that can’t happen Sunday in the season finale against the Packers with the NFC North crown at stake. “We lost the line of scrimmage,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “We didn’t do as good a job as obviously we’ve done at protecting Jay. He got hit probably more in this game than he’s been hit at any time during the season.”

Run defense isn’t getting any better: Guess what? It’s not going to get any better. The Bears are what they are against the run: horrible. The Bears have allowed a 100-yard rusher in 10 games, and on Sunday they let two running backs (LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown) hit the century mark. “Any time you cannot stop the run, it’s disappointing,” defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff said. “We did not stop McCoy like we would have liked to, but we have to put this game behind us and move on.”

More offensive line: Speaking of the offensive line, they also failed to open holes for the rushing attack. It’s telling when Trestman says the Bears “couldn’t even start a run” against the Eagles. Matt Forte entered Sunday’s game having run for 100-plus yards in three consecutive games. At one point against the Eagles, Forte had carried five times for 6 yards. “There is no excuse for what happened or what we didn’t do,” Forte said. “Nobody played well on our side. It was just one of those games where everything was going their way and nothing went our way.”

Trestman’s message after the game: It must have been a good, uplifting message because for a team that had just blown the opportunity to wrap up a division championship and a postseason berth, the Bears were remarkably calm after the game. In fact, nobody seemed down at all about what had just transpired. Maybe the Bears just want to forget about this game and move on to the next one as quickly as possible. Maybe moping too much over the loss to the Eagles isn’t conducive to the club’s next objective Sunday against the Packers. “It’s just a game. The same thing happened to [the Eagles] last week,” defensive end Julius Peppers said. “We’ve got a resilient group. We’re gonna be fine. We’re gonna bounce back from this.”
CLEVELAND -- Naturally, nobody on the Chicago Bears defense walked away from Sunday's 38-31 win over the Cleveland Browns totally satisfied with the way they performed.

But for once, they weren't answering questions about the defense giving away games.

[+] EnlargeZack Bowman
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsZack Bowman had two picks and a score in Chicago's win over Cleveland.
"It feels good, actually," said cornerback Zack Bowman, who finished with two interceptions, including one he returned 43 yards for a touchdown. "Obviously there are things we've got to do better. But after the game, nobody was talking about it. We got the win."

The defense also accomplished some of the objectives outlined during the week at practices and meetings.

Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker set goals for the defense to hold the Browns to fewer than 100 yards rushing (they finished with 93), 17 points or fewer, and generate takeaways.

"I think we hit two of those," defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff said. "It's a good start. Not to try to take away from the effort, but we need to win the turnover battle."

The Bears definitely won the matchup against Browns receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron. Gordon had racked up 774 yards receiving in the four games prior to Sunday's, but with Tim Jennings as the primary man in coverage, the receiver caught just three passes (despite being targeted 10 times) for 67 yards and a touchdown. The majority of Gordon's receiving yardage came on a 43-yard score in trash time.

Cameron, meanwhile, was coming off a game against the New England Patriots last week in which he produced a career-high 121 yards receiving, which marked his second 100-yard game of the season. Against the Bears, however, Cameron caught three passes for 23 yards.

For two weeks in a row, Jennings has drawn the likes of Dez Bryant and Gordon and has limited them to a total of 79 yards on six receptions, with each scoring only one touchdown.

"It's unbelievable. This is two weeks in a row," Bowman said. "He had Dez last week, and he had Gordon this week. I'm just speechless, man. He's one of the best corners in the NFL."

The job Jennings did on Gordon played a significant role in Chicago's success against the Browns. Gordon didn't catch a pass until the first play of the second half.

"Just to try to limit those guys from making the big plays was huge. Coach has done a good job of mixing it up, giving a Cover-2 look, Cover-3 look, man-to-man look. So anytime we can mix it up to try to take those guys out of the game, we've got a good chance to try to win," Jennings said. "Our D-line and the guys are starting to click. We're putting some pressure on the quarterback and making him get the ball out quicker. So we're able to take those big-play receivers out of the game a little bit."

The Bears failed to sack Browns quarterback Jason Campbell, but the forced him to throw faster than he wanted, resulting in errant passes picked off by Bowman.

Bowman's 43-yard interception return for a touchdown with 13:48 left in the third quarter marked the sixth time the Bears scored a touchdown on defense. The club has now won 12 consecutive outings in which they've scored on defense. The Bears are now 26-2 since 2005 in games they score a defensive touchdown.

Bowman's first pick of the game came on a pass intended for Cameron.

"When we score on defense, we win games," Bowman said.

Chicago also snuffed out the run, which is an accomplishment for the NFL's 32nd-ranked rush defense facing a Cleveland rushing attack that ranked No. 27. The Bears prevented a team from finishing with a 100-yard rusher on Sunday for the first time since Oct. 20, when they limited Alfred Morris to 95 yards.

The game also marked the first time since Oct. 6 the Bears kept a team to fewer than 100 total rushing yards.

Linebacker James Anderson was credited with a team-high 11 tackles, to go with a quarterback hit and a pass breakup.

"It was definitely good," defensive end Corey Wootton said. "A big point of emphasis was keeping them under 100 yards. I thought for the most part, except for a play here or there, we played pretty good run defense. It was good to have Rat[liff] in there. He made some really good plays. It was definitely a good performance stopping the run."

Can it continue? It's not likely against a red-hot Philadelphia Eagles rushing attack led by LeSean McCoy. But the Bears feel like they've at least now set a standard, according to Ratliff, who was credited with two tackles, including one for lost yardage and three quarterback hits.

"We know we can get three-and-outs and hold a team to under 100, and hold them to 17 points or less," Ratliff said. "So now, it's a standard now. That's something we're expecting out of ourselves. If we want to be the defense we really want to be, there's some things we need to get done. That's holding a team to under 100 yards rushing, holding a team to 17 points or less, and of course winning the turnover battle."
MINNEAPOLIS -- Whether reeling from injuries to Henry Melton, Nate Collins, Jay Cutler or Lance Briggs, the Chicago Bears continued to survive the majority of the season with a help-is-on-the-way mentality.

Against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, assistance for the defense came in the form of Jeremiah Ratliff making his Bears debut, along with Stephen Paea returning to the lineup from a turf-toe injury. Their availability helped Chicago’s pass rush generate five sacks, marking just the fifth time the team posted multiple sacks all season during a 23-20 overtime loss.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Adam Bettcher/Getty ImagesWill star RB Adrian Peterson be able to play Sunday despite his foot injury? Teammate Toby Gerhart seems to think so. "He's Superman," Gerhart said.
Still, the Bears' defense allowed Adrian Peterson to blister the unit for a game-high 211 yards, while averaging six yards per attempt.

“I felt we started off fast. But, still, to give up that many rushing yards is something that you can’t do and win. I know we limited the touchdowns and field goals, but something like that is definitely a cause for concern, and it’s been all year,” defensive end Corey Wootton said. “Week after week, guys are putting up huge numbers on us and I don’t know what to say.”

The Bears started the game with Paea and Wootton lined up inside at tackle and Shea McClellin and Julius Peppers playing defensive end. Ratliff entered with 10:57 left in the first quarter and nearly sacked Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder on his first snap. That extra inside presence allowed the Bears to move Wootton outside to play opposite Peppers.

At times, the Bears even used Peppers inside next to Ratliff with Wootton and McClellin at the end positions. The diversity helped the Bears snuff out Minnesota’s first three drives with sacks; two from Peppers and one other sack split between Paea and nickel corner Isaiah Frey.

Peppers finished the game with two-and-a-half sacks. Wootton and Paea contributed a half-sack each.

“I don’t know, to be honest with you. The flow of the game, it has its ups and downs. So I’m not sure how we played,” Peppers said. “I don’t like to really even talk about the game until seeing the film. So we’ll see.”

With the Bears generating near constant pressure on Ponder, who was later knocked out of the game with a concussion, and his replacement Matt Cassel, Chicago failed to contain Minnesota’s rushing attack after getting off to a promising start. Although Cordarrelle Patterson busted a 33-yard touchdown on his first rushing attempt in the first quarter, the Bears limited Peterson to 72 yards in the first half.

Peterson gained an additional 139 yards in the third and fourth quarters, in addition to the overtime period.

“We had good fits,” Bears coach Marc Trestman said. “Sometimes we hung on, and he dragged us. He didn’t have a lot of explosive plays, but he got his share today. At the end of the day, we’re looking up at 23 points and offensively we stopped ourselves, didn’t get the third downs converted early. We had some long drives, but we didn’t finish them and that allowed him to get back on the field sooner than we’d like. It’s a team game. It’s all connected.”

Rapid Reaction: Chicago Bears

December, 1, 2013

MINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on the Chicago Bears' 23-20 overtime loss to the Minnesota Vikings:

What it means: The Bears fell farther behind the Detroit Lions in contention for the NFC North title with the loss to the Vikings. Based on the way the season is shaping up, and Chicago’s NFC record (3-6), the Bears need to win the division for a chance to advance to the postseason. Chicago’s prospects for a wild-card spot look dim.

Jeffery on fire: Second-year receiver Alshon Jeffery produced his second 200-plus-yard outing of the season against the Vikings, hauling in 12 receptions for 249 yards and two touchdowns. Jeffery’s 80-yard touchdown 52 seconds into the third quarter made him the club’s first 1,000-yard receiver of the season and marked the first 1,000-yard season in his NFL career.

Mixed reviews for revamped front: Jeremiah Ratliff made his Chicago debut and Stephen Paea rejoined the lineup coming off a turf-toe injury. Their presence in the lineup allowed the Bears to utilize some creativity that yielded results in the pass-rushing department, but much of the same against the run.

Paea and Corey Wootton lined up inside at tackle with Shea McClellin and Julius Peppers playing the defensive end spots. Ratliff entered with 10:57 left in the first quarter and nearly sacked Christian Ponder on his first snap. That extra inside presence allowed the Bears to move Wootton outside to play opposite Peppers. At times, the Bears even used Peppers inside next to Ratliff with Wootton and McClellin at the end positions. The diversity helped the Bears snuff out Minnesota’s first three drives with sacks, two from Peppers and one other sack split between Paea and nickel corner Isaiah Frey.

Against the run, however, Chicago continued to struggle. The Bears experienced success early against Adrian Peterson. But the running back broke the century mark early in the third quarter and finished with a season-high 211 yards.

Milestone: Matt Forte took a handoff in the first quarter and reeled off a 16-yard gain to move into second place in franchise history in yards from scrimmage. Forte passed Neal Anderson to take second place behind Walter Payton, who gained 21,264 yards from scrimmage from 1975 to '87. Forte rushed for 120 yards and caught two passes for 31 yards.

What’s next: The Bears take the day off from practice on Monday and Tuesday before beginning preparations Wednesday to host the Dallas Cowboys at Soldier Field for a Dec. 9 matchup on "Monday Night Football." With the Cowboys having played on Thanksgiving, the Bears will be facing a well-rested team.