NFL Nation: Josh Bullocks
Safety is arguably the Bears' top need in the draft, and apparently they made little attempt to hide their affection for him. Amazingly, Wright appeared as the Bears' pick on a number of multi-round mock drafts, including that of ESPN's Scouts Inc.
General manager Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith have spoken repeatedly about the need to upgrade at safety, so you would have to assume Wright will get every opportunity to win a starting job in training camp. Scouts Inc. considers Wright to be an above-average run defender. Here's a snippet of their evaluation on him:
Can take too long to shed block once engaged and not an ideal in-the box safety but excellent last line of defense. Takes sound pursuit angles and excels at slipping blocks in space. Sound form tackler who shows above-average body control in space and wraps up. Can bring bigger backs to the ground.
No one should have high expectations for a player taken in the upper third of the third round. But given the Bears' limited draft resources and their predicament at safety -- Josh Bullocks and Craig Steltz have been running with the first team in spring drills -- it's fair to predict substantial playing time for Wright as a rookie.
1. Tendering a 1-year contract, OR
2. "Non-tendering" the player, essentially cutting ties.
Remember, a restricted free agent (RFA) is a player with four or five years of experience whose contract has expired. Those players are free to seek offers elsewhere, but current teams at least have the right to match that offer and keep the player. Depending on the level of contract tender, the team could also receive draft-pick compensation.
If the player doesn't sign an offer sheet elsewhere, and can't agree on a long-term contract, he plays at the salary in the chart below. (There are slightly higher values for players in their fifth seasons.)
Because of the addition of a fifth year to the RFA list in the uncapped year, an additional 212 players are scheduled to be restricted free agents this offseason. Below is a list of the primary RFAs for each NFC North team.
There have been some reports about individual tenders, but no team has officially released its decisions. That will happen sometime between now and Thursday night. When it does, we'll analyze how easy or difficult it will be for those tendered to move on to another team.
Chicago Bears: Defensive end Mark Anderson, safety Josh Bullocks, safety Danieal Manning, linebacker Nick Roach, linebacker Jamar Williams.
Detroit Lions: Defensive end Copeland Bryan, offensive lineman Dylan Gandy, defensive lineman Jason Hunter, offensive lineman Daniel Loper, offensive lineman Manny Ramirez, safety Ko Simpson, linebacker Cody Spencer.
Green Bay Packers: Safety Atari Bigby, defensive back Will Blackmon, offensive lineman Daryn Colledge, safety Nick Collins, defensive end Johnny Jolly, running back John Kuhn, offensive lineman Jason Spitz, cornerback Tramon Williams, running back DeShawn Wynn.
Minnesota Vikings: Offensive lineman Ryan Cook, defensive end Ray Edwards, defensive tackle Fred Evans, safety Eric Frampton, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, cornerback Karl Paymah, fullback Naufahu Tahi.
To read all of our award-winning CBAWatch discussion, click here.
|AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh|
|Quarterback Jay Cutler and the Bears will need a young receiver to step up in camp.|
Training camp site: Olivet Nazarene University (Bourbonnais, Ill.)
The only Bears receiver with a guaranteed job is Devin Hester. Otherwise, the position is wide open. Veterans Earl Bennett and Rashied Davis will compete with rookies Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox for the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 receiver positions. If general manager Jerry Angelo doesn't like what he sees, the Bears could pursue a proven veteran later this summer.
The free safety position is also wide open as the Bears replace the departed Mike Brown. Craig Steltz ended spring practice atop the depth chart, but he'll have to battle converted cornerback Corey Graham. Former New Orleans starter Josh Bullocks is also on the roster as a third, if distant, option.
Although the Bears hope it never matters, they'll have to sort out their depth behind new quarterback Jay Cutler. Unproven Caleb Hanie is set to battle free agent Brett Basanez in a competition that, like receiver, could ultimately give way to a veteran from outside the organization. Hanie, however, is a favorite of coach Lovie Smith and will get every opportunity to win the job.
Camp will be a downer if ...
... the Bears realize this summer that they haven't given Cutler enough weapons. While young players don't always develop on a convenient timetable, it should be pretty clear by mid-August if the Bears have enough mature depth at the receiver position. Adding a veteran at the end of the summer is an imperfect solution and would limit his chances to develop a rapport with the new quarterback.
The best-case scenario is if Bennett can parlay his familiarity with Cutler -- they were college teammates at Vanderbilt -- into a quick claim on the No. 2 job. That would lessen the pressure on the rookies and relieve the need to rely on Davis, who isn't a starting-caliber receiver. But if Bennett stumbles, the domino effect could significantly diminish the Bears' passing attack early in the season.
Camp will be a success if ...
... Smith can lay the groundwork for a revived defense. Smith has taken over as the de facto defensive coordinator and will call most defensive signals during games. He'll need to restore the Bears' core values -- producing a pass rush with the front four and making big plays in the secondary -- in order to meet the standard his defenses set earlier this decade.
It might be difficult to judge the success of this venture during camp and even in the preseason; Smith isn't likely to give away too much from a schematic standpoint before the regular season begins. But make no mistake: The origin of any improvement must come during technique and drill work in training camp.
Quietly, the Bears shook up 60 percent of their offensive line this offseason. Center Olin Kreutz and right guard Roberto Garza are the only returning starters. Chicago is hoping that left tackle Orlando Pace, left guard Frank Omiyale and right tackle Chris Williams can breathe some life into a group that grew stale last season.
Pace is the short-term key. Injuries have caused him to miss 25 games over the past three seasons. His health and conditioning will be monitored carefully in training camp. It will be interesting to see if the Bears also work Williams at left tackle -- his natural position -- as a contingency should Pace suffer another injury.
Training camp site: Team facility in Allen Park, Mich.
|Rashaun Rucker/zuma/Icon SMI|
|The Lions would like Daunte Culpepper to earn the starting quarterback job ahead of Matthew Stafford to start the season.|
No Black and Blue battle will be more scrutinized than the competition between Lions quarterbacks Daunte Culpepper and Matthew Stafford. Conventional wisdom suggests Culpepper will win the job as long as he maintains his offseason conditioning level. But coach Jim Schwartz has said Stafford will start as soon as he meets two criteria: when he is ready and when he surpasses Culpepper as the team's best option.
Stafford's status as an underclassman suggests he faces a steep learning curve this season. That, along with Culpepper's familiarity with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan's scheme, imposes a two-pronged challenge for Stafford to win the job in training camp.
Another rookie, safety Louis Delmas, appears to be one of the few locks to start in the secondary. You would assume Phillip Buchanon will win one cornerback spot, but the other two starting roles seem wide open.
Anthony Henry could start at cornerback, or he could move to safety. Other safety candidates include Daniel Bullocks, Marquand Manuel, Kalvin Pearson and Stuart Schweigert. The competition will be wide open as the Lions look for defensive backs who are aggressive and eager for contact.
Camp will be a downer if ...
... every player on the roster suffers a season-ending injury on the first day of camp. Otherwise, there is nowhere to go but up for a team that went 0-16 last season.
Seriously, there is one position where Detroit is keeping its fingers crossed. The Lions signed 36-year-old nose tackle Grady Jackson to help tighten their run defense and also keep offensive linemen off their talented trio of linebackers. But Jackson missed all of spring practice after undergoing knee surgery in February. Jackson is as important as any player the Lions acquired this winter and he needs to get at least some practice time in training camp to ensure he will be ready for the season.
Camp will be a success if ...
... Culpepper can win the job outright, rather than become the starter simply because Stafford isn't ready. If Culpepper can recapture some of his previous magic with Linehan, the Lions will have a much better chance to be credible in Schwartz's first season.
And despite the protestations of modern-day thinkers, Stafford can only benefit from some time on the sidelines. That doesn't mean he should sit for three years. But rare is the quarterback who can start -- and succeed -- on day one. A rejuvenated Culpepper is the first step in the Lions' rebuilding project.
Through trade and free agency, the Lions have put together a competent group of linebackers in Julian Peterson, Larry Foote and Ernie Sims. It will be interesting to watch defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham experiment with ways to utilize their playmaking skills.
Cunningham has said he plans to blitz 40 percent of the time this season. Peterson could make some big plays if he has maintained the athletic skills of his prime. The same goes for Foote. We'll get a good idea of how much each player has left in the tank this summer.
|Al Pereira/Getty Images|
|Bringing Brett Favre to Minnesota would be a short-term solution for the Vikings.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
OK, I promise to institute a statute of limitations on referencing my week off. Right after this one. While on vacation, I decided to jump on the Malcolm Gladwell bandwagon and start The Tipping Point. It was a productive read, if for no other reason than giving me a column idea.
Gladwell traces how broad success stories can start with "tightly focused, targeted interventions" rather than comprehensive grass-roots efforts. He referred to this concept as a "Band-Aid solution," which immediately reminded me of Matt Williamson's analysis of Minnesota and its pursuit of quarterback Brett Favre.
Maybe I have a one-track mind. (Based on your mailbag submissions, many you would agree.) But I thought Gladwell's defense of the Band-Aid solution offered relevance to the Favre situation as well as a number of other personnel matters in the NFC North.
I'm among those who blanch when teams makes changes for short-term gain when the long-term ramifications are less clear. Signing a 40-year-old quarterback. Trading high draft choices for veteran players. Hiring an internal coaching candidate for continuity rather than seeking new ideas. There is a right way and a wrong way to do things, it seems, and in sports many of us prefer the building process over the quick fix.
That lofty approach, according to Gladwell, is impractical if not impossible. "[Band-Aids] should not be considered a term of disparagement," he writes. Here's the rest of his argument:
"The Band-Aid is an inexpensive, convenient and remarkably versatile solution to an astonishing array of problems. In their history, Band-Aids have probably allowed millions of people to keep working or playing tennis or cooking for walking when they would otherwise have had to stop. The Band-Aid solution is actually the best kind of solution because it involves solving a problem with the minimum amount of effort and time and cost.
"We have, of course, an instinctive disdain for this kind of solution because there is something in all of us that feels that true answers to problems have to be comprehensive, that there is virtue in the dogged and indiscriminate application of effort, that slow and steady should win the race. The problem, of course, is that the indiscriminate application of effort is something that is not always possible. There are times when we need a convenient shortcut, a way to make a lot out of a little...."
|Jerry Lai/US Presswire|
|The Bears are sticking with the current roster and appear to have no plans to add any new players -- like a veteran backup for quarterback Kyle Orton.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
I was trying to conjure an appropriate metaphor for the Chicago Bears' philosophy these days when I noticed a bright yellow sticker on the side of an old television. It read, "Jerry's TV and Appliance Repair." (I'm not making this up.)
A television repair service. How quaint. Apparently there are still a few people who try fixing their set rather than replacing it when encountering a deficiency. In a corny sort of way, that's how I feel about Chicago's approach to 2009. Rather than overhaul their roster after missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons, the Bears have opened the back console and are picking through the tuners and coils to patch up their current wiring.
Coach Lovie Smith attributes that approach to an organizational conclusion that "we're real close," as he put it last month at the annual scouting combine. General manager (and lead repairman) Jerry Angelo said "we have a pretty good nucleus" after reviewing last year's 9-7 campaign. The solution, Angelo and Smith agree, is to get their incumbent players to perform better.
A cynic might suggest both men are taking a company line after having the checkbook closed by team ownership, a circumstantial conclusion that carries no actual proof. But whether it is by choice or edict, the Bears have set out to repair their team rather than enhance it this offseason.
Smith, for example, acknowledged the Bears "haven't played defense the way we should play defense in a few years." Rather than add new players, however, Smith shuffled his coaching staff. He referred to new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli as "the best free agent on the market" and dismissed only one starter: oft-injured safety Mike Brown.
The Bears' lineup is so set that Smith went ahead and scheduled his mandatory mini-camp for this week, a time when most NFL teams are just beginning their strength and conditioning programs. Smith was quoted on the team Web site suggesting camp will be devoted to "fundamentals" and there will be relatively few "team" periods where actual plays are run.
I suppose fundamental drills can help the Bears improve. But in reality, Smith sacrificed many of the traditional benefits of minicamp -- among them, giving rookies a head start in assimilating to NFL practices -- to send one symbolic message. As he put it:
"The point we're trying to get across is that it wasn't good enough last year. This is the first time we can do something about it, and we want to take advantage of that."
In other words, Smith wants his players to take a look around them this week. They should realize no dramatic help is on the way. Three seasons removed from a Super Bowl appearance, this is largely the group the Bears will take to training camp and expect to challenge for the NFC North title.
All of which puts a substantial load of pressure upon Smith, Marinelli and the rest of the Bears' coaching staff. During a recent interview with Chicago-area reporters, Angelo minced few words while assessing the Bears' talent pool and expressing his expectations:
"In our situation, it starts with our present cast. We've got a pretty good nucleus. ... I'm counting on the fact that we're going to do a better job of coaching, and that in itself is going to make us a better football team, irrelevant of what player personnel that we infuse in our football team this year."
Make no mistake. Barri
ng a major shift in philosophy, there will be no infusion. Angelo hasn't added to his shallow pool of receivers. To this point, he has indicated no plans to add a veteran backup behind quarterback Kyle Orton. He passed on all of the starting-quality safeties available to replace Brown, instead taking a flyer on Bullocks, and has taken no steps to improve the personnel involved with a pass rush that was so weak that it forced the Bears to blitz more than any other NFL team last season.
Angelo and Smith both believe that Marinelli will improve the pass rush more than any free agent could. According to Angelo, "attitude and coaching" are the only repair tools needed, especially along the defensive line.
Angelo: "I think both those things could get our defense back and going and being a very good defense. ... But I certainly feel like we have a pretty good nucleus and there's no reason to believe that we can't play good defense this year and be the defense, maybe not what we were a few years ago, but certainly be a more consistent defense and be a more opportunistic defense. I feel very strongly about that, and it starts with the front. There's no reason to believe that we don't have the talent up front to do that, and the front drives the train, we know that, particularly in our scheme."
Angelo made that statement well before free agency began. The Bears' position on the free-agent sidelines should be no surprise. They're reaching for their tool belts, not their wallets.
This is how player acquisitions get discussed among the general populace in the year 2009: Via YouTube highlight reels.
Yes, this is a small sampling, but the current cut-up making the rounds on new Chicago safety Josh Bullocks isn't exactly the stuff of inspiration. I can't embed it on this blog, but you can view it on the Chicago Tribune's blog here. Go ahead. It won't bite.
David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune is guessing the Bears believe new defensive backs coach Jon Hoke can point Bullocks in the right direction. Or maybe they'll find their actual 2009 free safety next month in the draft. All that's assured now is Bullocks will be in uniform for next week's mandatory minicamp at the Bears' practice facility.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times believes it's possible the Bears will consider new free agents Marvel Smith and Kevin Shaffer if they cannot make a quick deal with free-agent offensive lineman John St. Clair.
- Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald looks back at the performances of recently-drafted wide receivers.
- Free-agent defensive end Michael Montgomery might make another visit before deciding whether to return to Green Bay, according to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Minnesota quarterback Tarvaris Jackson speaks with Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune, among other things revealing that his now-infamous recruiting discussion with free-agent receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh was a 1-minute conversation -- by phone.
- Free-agent cornerback Karl Paymah is scheduled to visit the Vikings on Friday morning, according to Rick Alonzo of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- The Star Tribune reports the Vikings are also considering a late run at free-agent fullback Leonard Weaver, who spent the past four seasons in Seattle.
- Pat Carter, who spent the past three seasons as Detroit's tight ends coach, is working as a volunteer coach for the University of North Alabama. Here's the story from the TimesDaily.
Let's change things up a bit Thursday morning and lead off our coverage with some multimedia. In the video below, you'll see Jim Rome's eight-minute interview Wednesday with Detroit coach Jim Schwartz on ESPN.
A couple of highlights:
- Schwartz said the Lions have refurbished their weight room and "changed up" the locker room at their practice facility. "Basically," he said, "[players] can step in the first day and say, 'Wow, things are different around here'"
- On Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford: "He still has some hoops to jump through for us." Asked to be more specific, Schwartz said: "We need to spend some time with him on the board, talking football, on a little more in-depth basis."
Here's the full video:
And now, let's march around the NFC North:
- New Bears safety Josh Bullocks is the twin brother of Detroit safety Daniel Bullocks, notes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times. The total value of the one-year deal Bullocks signed Wednesday is $1.2 million, with $525,000 guaranteed.
- Bob LeGere of the Daily Herald: "At the end of the 2008 regular season, [Bears coach] Lovie Smith said his team was close. Whatever it was Smith thought his team was close to, they're farther away from it now than when they started."
- Alabama left tackle Andre Smith might have fallen past Green Bay's No. 9 overall pick after struggling during his Pro Day on Wednesday. Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette delves into the situation.
- Here's one story we missed Wednesday: Packers defensive end Mike Montgomery is mulling the team's offer to return to Green Bay. Bob McGinn and Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel have the story.
- John Sullivan, Minnesota's heir apparent at center, has been in regular touch with predecessor Matt Birk since Birk signed last week with Baltimore. Here are stories in the Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press after a series of interviews Sullivan gave Wednesday.
OK, let's come up for air for a moment and see who else is on the free-agent market. The Redskins obviously made the biggest splash, signing defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, cornerback DeAngelo Hall and guard Derrick Dockery. The New York Giants didn't go the high-profile route, but they did a nice job landing linebacker Michael Boley and defensive tackles Rocky Bernard and Chris Canty (he's being projected as a DT).
The Eagles and Cowboys weren't quite as active. The Eagles brought in Shawn Andrews' older brother Stacy to start on the offensive line. But they lost a local icon in safety Brian Dawkins. The Cowboys will replace aging veteran Zach Thomas with aging veteran Keith Brooking, although I do think it's an upgrade. They also traded for backup quarterback Jon Kitna, who is a significant upgrade over Brad Johnson. OK, let's see who else is out there:
This team could use another safety and a cornerback to help replace Anthony Henry, who was traded to the Lions. Henry wasn't going to start in '09, but his departure means the Cowboys need more depth. Former Redskins cornerback Shawn Springs appears to be a nice match -- even though he's battled injury problems. He grew up watching his father, Ron, play for the Cowboys and would love nothing more than to finish his career in Dallas. Safety Josh Bullocks is a player the Cowboys liked in the draft four years ago. Last time I looked, he's still on the market. The Cowboys won't spend any significant money, though, because they're focused on signing linebacker DeMarcus Ware to a long-term extension.
With the departure of Dawkins, the Eagles need reinforcements. Giants unrestricted free agent James Butler is still out there, but he was headed to Cleveland to visit with the Browns last time I checked. Philadelphia needs to continue to fortify its offensive line, so it would make sense to re-sign left tackle Tra Thomas. Even though they have the money to do it, don't look for the Eagles to make a play for T.J. Houshmandzadeh. The other safety that the Eagles could be interested in is Ravens unrestricted free agent Jim Leonhard.
The Giants struck quickly and it appears they'll sit back and cherry pick at this point. They made significant upgrades at linebacker and defensive line. They still need a receiver, but they won't break the bank for Houshmandzadeh. Steelers unrestricted free-agent wide receiver Nate Washington is a possibility. At this point, though, I think the Giants are content to sit back and see if any players slip through the cracks.
The Redskins tried ignoring free agency and investing in the draft last year. They apparently didn't have any fun. Dan Snyder and his right-hand man, Vinny Cerrato, were back to their wild-spending ways Friday, guaranteeing Haynesworth $41 million and Hall a paltry $22.5 million. I think the Redskins would be wise to bring linebacker Khary Campbell back. He's an excellent special teams player and can start in a pinch.
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
The Falcons can't do it two weeks in a row, can they?
You might be surprised. Although Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia is getting most of the heat (and a seat) after last week's loss in New Orleans, the biggest culprit might have been the Bucs' defense. Units led by Monte Kiffin aren't supposed to look like the Bucs from the Sam Wyche days.
But that's what happened in the Superdome. The Bucs gave up three huge plays and never really were able to dictate the game the way they have in the past. Maybe Tampa Bay's defense is too young at the same time it's too old and there's not enough in between.
We'll find out if last week was just a fluke for Tampa Bay's defense or a real problem because Atlanta did a pretty good job tearing apart Detroit's defense last week. For those who don't make the connection, Detroit is coached by Rod Marinelli, who spent years at Kiffin's side and subscribes to all of his theories.
Rookie quarterback Matt Ryan looked very poised against Marinelli's defense and running back Michael Turner was spectacular. If linebacker Derrick Brooks sits out with a hamstring injury, Kiffin is going to have to rally the defense or else it will get embarrassed for the second straight week.
A week ago, this looked like a pretty dull matchup of two winless teams. But, suddenly, it's a game between two teams that could be NFC powers. That's because the Panthers and Bears knocked off most of the AFC's elite. Carolina went out to San Diego without Steve Smith and beat the Chargers. The Bears rediscovered their defense and made Peyton Manning and the Colts look ordinary.
Something's going to have to give in this game, but not much. John Fox and Lovie Smith are all about defense and they seem to have their teams back to doing what they do best. Both teams showed surprisingly strong running games last week.
Whichever team walks out of Bank of America Stadium with a win is going to be the new darling of the NFC.
But don't feel too bad for the Saints. Even though Colston is their best receiver, by far, they've got plenty of options. Devery Henderson and David Patten are decent and second-year pro Robert Meachem finally may get a chance to show if he can play in this league.
The situation in the defensive backfield is pretty similar if Gay and Harper can't go. New Orleans actually has some depth in the secondary this year and Aaron Glenn and Josh Bullocks wouldn't be bad as short-term fill-ins.