When the Detroit Lions held the No. 10 pick in the draft a year ago, they went with what they believed would be the best player available instead of filling an obvious need.
Of course, the players taken almost immediately after tight end Eric Ebron ended up making massive splashes in both areas. It’s been long understood the Lions passed on receiver Odell Beckham Jr., defensive tackle Aaron Donald and offensive lineman Zack Martin to take Ebron. All three of those players made the Pro Bowl.
Ebron had an inconsistent rookie season.
Lions coach Jim Caldwell, though, believes players such as Donald, Beckham and Buffalo receiver Sammy Watkins, whom Detroit coveted, run against the norm for rookies.
“I think you guys are looking at outliers,” Caldwell said. “You’re thinking about Sammy Watkins. You’re thinking about a couple other guys that had really good years but that’s not the norm. The norm is like some of them that you don’t know exist now on the roster but they come along and mature as time goes on.
“[Ebron] is in a normal progression, I think. We’d like to see it come along faster. I got patience but I don’t got a lot of time. I think he’ll come along.”
Ebron played in 13 games last season, making 25 catches on 48 targets for 248 yards and one touchdown. He averaged 9.9 yards a reception and became more of a factor in the passing game as the season wore on. After returning from a hamstring injury in Week 11, he had four or more targets in all but two games, including seven targets against Green Bay in the regular-season finale and eight against New England in Week 12.
He never had more than four receptions or 38 yards in a game, but Caldwell believes the progression will come in his second season.
“We certainly don’t believe he’s hit his stride in that sense,” Caldwell said. “He’s one of those guys who has worked. Let me tell you something. His offseason to this point has been pretty impressive.
“I’m anticipating, just because I know what he’s been doing and he’s been working at it. I’m anticipating to see a pretty significant rise in his performance.”
What tells Caldwell that, especially since he can’t work with him until April? Some of what he saw toward the end of the season.
“Familiarity with our system. Ability to run routes the way we would like to see them run consistently,” Caldwell said. “He’s shown flashes. Those are the key things. He improved on his blocking, there’s no question about that, at the line of scrimmage. Tremendous job of coming along in that particular area.
“But don’t get me wrong, it’s not like all of a sudden he’s going to be Charlie Sanders. But he’s going to be much better than he was.”
What type of back the Lions are targeting remains in question. While it would seem logical to assume the franchise would want to add a speedy back in the mold of Bush, the team also has Theo Riddick as someone who could fill that void.
So the combination of Riddick and for-now featured back Joique Bell leaves Detroit with some options for what type of back the team might pursue.
“It just kind of depends,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said at the owners meetings Wednesday. “Riddick’s not particularly slow and I think you look at Joique, he had a pretty good year. The effectiveness of that particular position, in this league, you’re not going to find a whole lot of guys that are going to break out 40- and 50-yard runs consistently.
“That’s why 12 yards, in most systems, is a big play in terms of the running game. We just need to be effective in that area. Every guy that we have, some bring different elements to the table, and we just need all our guys to be able to function extremely well at that position.”
Using the big-play metric Caldwell set up along with his oft-stated goal of an average of four yards per carry, the Lions did not do well running the ball in any way last season. Bush actually was the only Detroit back to hit four yards per carry. Bell was at 3.8 yards per carry and Riddick, who has yet to gain 10 yards on a single rush in his career, was at 2.5 yards per carry. Little-used George Winn was at 3.8 yards per carry.
The Lions only had 26 runs of 12 yards or more last season -- and 11 of those came in three games (four each against Chicago in Week 16 and Arizona in Week 11 along with three against Green Bay in Week 17). The Lions gained 469 yards on those carries, with 279 yards before contact and 190 yards after contact.
Detroit was tied for 23rd in the league with the number of carries of 12 yards or more. The 469 yards were ranked No. 25 in the NFL. So this is an area the Lions know they need to improve, both with the backs and with the offensive line expected to block for Bell, Riddick and any other backs the franchise bring in.
Hitting the metrics Caldwell set, he believes, will offer Detroit more balance and turn the Lions into a better team than they were during an 11-5 season in 2014.
One of the players who might see a massive bump in production (depending on what happens in the draft) is Riddick. Despite being explosive when he was on the field, he was often stuck behind Bush and then Bell when he became the team’s primary back.
“You got to go with what’s working for you,” Caldwell said. “In this business, you play potential and you [are] hoping, you’ll be looking for a job in a short period of time.
“So we try and give it to the guys that are going to do something with it and I think he’s going to be one of those guys that force us to get him that ball a little more.”
With Bush’s departure, the Lions could have around 120 touches that need to be redistributed. Who takes them -- and how that changes the running game and offense -- is one of the questions Caldwell has to figure out this offseason.
MINNEAPOLIS -- On several occasions during a difficult 2014 season, Minnesota Vikings left tackle Matt Kalil hinted his surgically-repaired left knee was bothering him, either by limiting his ability to handle outside rushers or toying with his confidence as he stepped into pass sets. After talking with Kalil recently, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer sounded confident the tackle's issues are gone.
"He feels very healthy again, so that's a good sign," Zimmer said at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix on Wednesday. "His knees were hurting a lot, bothering him, but he'll be important to our success, as well -- making sure that he plays good, which will allow us to play better."
Kalil's struggles were a frequent topic of conversation during the 2014 season, and things came to a head after a Nov. 23 loss to the Green Bay Packers, when the former first-round pick got into a brief altercation with a fan outside TCF Bank Stadium. Zimmer talked on different occasions last season about Kalil's need to put bad plays behind him, and toward the end of the season, the Vikings started to see Kalil improve. He was only credited with one sack after Week 11, according to Pro Football Focus, and gave up just two hurries during that time.
The guess here is the Vikings will pick up Kalil's fifth-year option in May, so they can have another year to decide whether he's worth a lucrative contract extension. If Kalil plays the way he did as a rookie, an eight-figure salary could be in his near future. The Vikings likely won't pay him, though, if they don't see some stability in 2015.
"He might play great 70 plays, and eight plays he's not very good at all," Zimmer said. "We have to make him more consistent. We have to get him to finish better. I'm encouraged with some of the things he talked to me about the other day."
Chicago Bears coach John Fox called it "all an open competition" Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings when asked whether there was any scenario in which he envisioned Jay Cutler competing for the starting job at quarterback.
“I would say logically if you are looking at the depth chart and you are asking me for it two weeks before we can really get anything going, I’d say he’d be first on the depth chart, yeah,” Fox said. “Obviously you’ve got to start somewhere and my experience in football and really anything is it’s not where you start the race, it’s where you finish it. We have to start the race with some kind of lineup, and we have not discussed that in depth. We have not presented it to our players in depth. I think it’s important for them to see it maybe more than you guys. I’ve had guys who were third on the depth chart that by the time we started the opener were first. I can’t tell you what’s happening. If I could I’d be at some racetrack somewhere.”
Either way, it’s clear Fox and the Bears plan on placing their bet first with Cutler, who in six seasons with the team has gone through four offensive coordinators, two head coaches and two general managers. Cutler set Chicago’s single-season record last season for completions (370) and finished with career highs in completion percentage (66.0) and passing touchdowns (28). But Cutler also led the league in turnovers, which played a role in his benching, not to mention the current climate of uncertainty regarding the quarterback.
Cutler enters the second season of a seven-year, $126.7 million contract he signed in January 2014.
Having studied Cutler thoroughly during extensive roster evaluations shortly after taking over as coach, Fox identified one of the main factors in the quarterback’s struggles from last season.
“I think maybe he got to a point where he lacked confidence. He has to build that back up, and it’s going to take time,” Fox said.
The coaching staff can help, Fox said.
“Football-wise, there are things you can do in coaching; playing defense, playing complementary football is going to be something that helps,” he said. “I liken it a little bit, and not being critical to Tony Romo. I know he’s a tremendous competitor. I thought he had one of his better seasons a year ago, and with success comes confidence. I’m not going to be critical of last year. I wasn’t here last year. I had my own problems. I know this: Unless something good happens, it’s hard to have confidence. Our job is going to be building that confidence. I’ve seen him have success; maybe not super recently, but in spurts, in sections of his career. Now, like anybody, it’s becoming more consistent with that success.”
At this point, veteran Jimmy Clausen seems to have the best chance of unseating Cutler. But such a scenario isn’t likely. Fox served as the head coach in Carolina when the Panthers selected Clausen in the second round in 2010, and the quarterback started 10 games as a rookie in leading the team to a 2-14 record, which resulted in the coach’s firing.
Clausen started one game in 2014 when former coach Marc Trestman benched Cutler and the former Notre Dame star completed 60 percent of his passes for two touchdowns and an interception to go with a passer rating of 77.0 in a Dec. 21 loss to the Detroit Lions. Fox didn’t rule out the possibility of adding another quarterback in the upcoming draft, but the team’s moves in free agency up to this point indicate the Bears will be in position to stick to new general manager Ryan Pace’s philosophy of selecting the best available player, regardless of position or need.
“Ryan has the approach, which I’m on board with, of taking the best available player,” Fox said. “We’re sitting there at No. 7. I’m not sure what could happen with that, but we’ll look at the best available player. I think quarterback is a unique position. I’ve been places where we took one just about every year, whether it was a college free agent or late in the draft, early in the draft or middle of the draft.”
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- More than two weeks into free agency, the only player the Green Bay Packers have brought in from the outside is a street free agent defensive back whose NFL experience is a total of one week on a practice squad.
So in other words, things are normal in general manager Ted Thompson's world.
Every year Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy come to NFL annual meetings, which takes place shortly after free agency begins, and every year they're asked the same thing about their roster-building philosophy. It was no different this week in Phoenix, where the meetings wrapped up on Wednesday.
"It's kind of like groundhog today," McCarthy said Wednesday at the NFC coaches breakfast. "I feel like I answer this every year. I'm trying to be creative and answer it differently this year. It's just the way we operate. We do the evaluations. We have a door down in the personnel department just like we do for the draft board for free agency. We just stick to our plan. However it sorts out, that's how it works out."
By now, everyone around the league knows the Packers prefer to sign their own free agents -- like they did with receiver Randall Cobb and tackle Bryan Bulaga earlier this month -- rather than to chase players from other teams.
"That's our No. 1 priority, always has been, to sign our own free agents," McCarthy said. "We go into every offseason, if we have 10 conversations, nine-and-half of them are about our own guys."
Before the Packers on Wednesday signed street free agent safety Kyle Sebetic, who spent a week on the New York Giants practice squad last November, they were the only NFL team that had not added a new player since free agency began on March 10.
"We're still doing our work, our due diligence," Thompson told reporters earlier this week at the NFL meetings. "You never know what's going to [happen]. Things change around the league because teams make decisions to go in a certain direction and then all of a sudden a player might come out of that team that you didn't normally suspect that to be the case. You just try to keep our powder dry and know what we're doing."
The Packers have essentially made three or four significant free-agent signings in Thompson's tenure as GM, which began in 2005. In 2006, he signed defensive back Charles Woodson and defensive lineman Ryan Pickett. Last offseason, he brought in pass-rusher Julius Peppers. Peppers was not even a true unrestricted free agent. He had been cut by the Chicago Bears. Same thing with Letroy Guion, the defensive tackle the Packers signed last offseason to a one-year deal. He had been released by the Minnesota Vikings.
However you want to categorize what the Packers did last season, it wasn't the norm.
On the flip side, when players are drafted by the Packers, they know they have a chance to make it a long-term relationship.
"We tell them coming in how important they are as draft picks, how important they are as free agents," McCarthy said. "It starts with rookie orientation and the impact each and every year that the first-year player impact has on a football team. And then it grows. I think it's a mutual understanding that they want to be Green Bay Packers, and we want to keep them here. I feel good that we're able to continue to do that."
Of course, the Packers have not been able to keep them all. They lost a pair of cornerbacks -- Tramon Williams and Davon House -- in free agency so far this year, and several of their other free agents remained unsigned.
"We're pretty comfortable," Thompson said. "Every year it seems like there are a few guys that you'd like to keep that go elsewhere, and that's just part of the game now. Mike and his staff do a great job working with new guys and we have some guys on our team that we think can fill in. At the same time, I make no bones of the fact in some cases we'd like to keep the guys."
The Detroit Lions lost their two starting defensive tackles to free agency in the past month. In their place, they signed two other defensive tackles who have played in a multiple system.
Despite the personnel shift, Lions coach Jim Caldwell said nothing is going to change with their defense from a schematic standpoint. So that means the team will continue to be based in a 4-3 world.
“We were extremely multiple,” Caldwell told reporters at the owners meetings Wednesday. “We did a little bit of everything, and I think you’ll see the same thing happen this fall.”
The goal for Detroit, though, is to throw so many different options at an opposing offense that to prepare for them all would be extremely difficult. This leads to more unpredictability and, potentially, better opportunities for bigger plays by the defense.
“We’re going to give you a number of different looks that you’re going to have to block in terms of pass protection," Caldwell said, "and we’re going to give you a number of different looks if you decide to run the ball.
“To be able to run, you can’t always determine exactly where we’re going to be, and that’s the true value of being multiple. Some teams are not able to be multiple because of how their personnel is sort of developed and based. Ours, we have some multiplicity.”
That has been a key for the Lions with a lot of their recent moves. Both Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker can line up in various places. Defensive ends Jason Jones, Devin Taylor and Darryl Tapp have either played or worked inside at tackle.
What might not change schematically, though, will shift in personnel. Ngata and Walker replace Suh and Fairley, and Caldwell is convinced Ngata was the best possible solution to the hole the Lions had in replacing Suh.
Part of that has to do with their prior knowledge of Ngata. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin worked with Ngata during his time in Baltimore, as did Caldwell.
“I think you’re going to find him to be very, very capable at what he does,” Caldwell said. “Excellent. He and also Tyrunn Walker, I think those two guys will give us a real unusual combination.”
“It’s not going to be a normal pair,” Caldwell said. “I think [Walker] is going to give you some things that maybe you haven’t seen in a little while, the combination of the two. Particularly because of Walker’s versatility all across the board.
“Haloti, all you have to do is look at film of him. Just take a look.”
Over the next few months, anyone who follows the Lions will be looking. Closely. The success of both players will have a large impact on how the Lions end up overall this season.
Questions about Adrian Peterson consumed the better part of Mike Zimmer's hour-long media session at the NFC coaches' breakfast on Wednesday in Phoenix, as Zimmer stayed squarely on message for the groups of reporters who stopped at his table. The Vikings aren't planning to trade Peterson, Zimmer said. The running back has a contract and the team expects him to honor it, the coach added. And no, the team isn't planning to grant Peterson's wish for a fresh start simply because he's unhappy at the moment.
Zimmer took great pains to clarify his stance on Peterson, after Pro Football Talk quoted Zimmer as saying the Vikings would accommodate Peterson if he wanted to leave. "I never said I would accommodate," Zimmer said. "All I said was that I want him to want to be there, like I want all of my players to want to be there. I've been in situations before that I thought were not the best situations. I've been under contract, and so I did what I was supposed to do, and it turned out pretty good."
For his part, Peterson told ESPN last month he believed the Vikings would let him move on if he wasn't happy in Minnesota. "I understand they respect me enough that if, for whatever reason, I wasn't happy and didn't want to come back to Minnesota, they wouldn't want me to be unhappy," Peterson said. "I know I have enough respect and know those guys well enough to know that much about them."
But at the moment, the Vikings are saying they don't plan to move Peterson. And it appears that stance is rooted in a belief that when it comes time to decide between playing or sitting, Peterson won't miss a second consecutive year simply because he's unhappy being in Minnesota.
As we discussed yesterday, the Vikings do not believe Peterson would be a malcontent once he shows up in Minnesota. I tend to agree with that stance; Peterson has too much professional pride and competitive drive to loaf on the field. And for all his concerns with people outside the team's football department, his relationships with his direct supervisors -- running backs coach Kirby Wilson, offensive coordinator Norv Turner and Zimmer -- remain strong. Essentially, a big part of the Vikings' approach is their belief Peterson won't become a problem in their locker room.
"I think the relationship is still right," Zimmer said. "I'm trying not to say what he's told me, but I think both of us, we understand we have a good relationship -- him and myself, football-wise, the team, our football organization. I think he feels good about it."
Zimmer also appealed to Peterson's previous statements about playing his entire career in Minnesota, referencing a player Peterson grew up watching.
"It might be a good question to ask Emmitt Smith if he wished he would have gone to Arizona those last two years," Zimmer said.
It sounded as though the coach had used that approach to sell Peterson on staying in Minnesota, as well. And unless they're just doing an extremely thorough job of posturing, the Vikings' lack of urgency to move Peterson would seem to reflect a belief the running back will eventually come around.
"I think he's a great competitor. I know he loves being around the team -- our team and Adrian communicate a lot," Zimmer said. "I think when he comes back, he'll be great."
The Green Bay Packers are fully aware that free-agent defensive tackle Letroy Guion still could be subject to discipline from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell under the league's personal conduct policy, but that won't stop them from re-signing him.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday at the NFL annual meetings in Phoenix that Guion remains in their plans. That means something could happen soon now that Guion's criminal case for possession of marijuana and a firearm was resolved with Tuesday's plea agreement.
"I think to a man, everybody would like to see Letroy be a Green Bay Packer," McCarthy said at the NFC coaches breakfast.
The Packers signed Guion last March to a one-year, $1 million contract. At the time, Guion was brought in to back up nose tackle B.J. Raji, but he became the opening-day starter after Raji sustained a season-ending torn biceps tendon late in the preseason.
Guion started every game and posted career highs in tackles (62) and sacks (3.5). The Packers were in the midst of contract talks with Guion's agent, Seth Katz, when Guion was arrested in Florida on Feb. 3.
Those talks were put on hold for the last six weeks even though Guion has been in Green Bay working out, but negotiations were expected to resume following Tuesday's court proceedings.
"He's been an excellent addition to our football team and it would be great to get Letroy back," McCarthy said. "Just from my conversations with him, I know he we wants to be a Green Bay Packer."
However, the Packers may have to act quickly because interest in Guion from other teams could pick up now that his legal situation has been resolved.
Both Guion and Raji remain on the open market as unrestricted free agents.
Chicago Bears coach John Fox plans to implement changes to the club’s offseason conditioning program, tweaks he believes should help Alshon Jeffery as he ascends to the role of No. 1 receiver with Brandon Marshall out of the picture.
“I really liked Alshon coming out [of college],” Fox said Wednesday from the NFL owners meetings. “One of the things I’d say is we had a lot of soft-tissue injuries last year as a football team. We’ve kind of changed philosophically in the weight room. I think you’ll see we’re going to do things a lot different from offseason conditioning, the approach to how we handle that. I don’t think we had a soft-tissue injury a year ago in Denver other than one particular guy.”
In Chicago, the Bears finished up the 2014 season with 10 players on the injured reserve, with Jeffery spending most of the year battling through nagging hamstring issues. Still, Jeffery put together his second-consecutive 1,000-yard season, catching 85 passes for 1,133 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Set to enter the final season of his rookie contract, Jeffery wasn’t approached by the team’s brass about doing a contract extension.
Jeffery tied for 11th in receptions among receivers last year and tied for seventh in receiving touchdowns and receptions for gains of more than 25 yards (12).
“I think [the new conditioning approach] will help him,” Fox said. “There have been times in his career when he might have been a little bit overweight, but obviously a beast as far as size, and a guy we’re looking forward to getting to know better.”
"I'm trying to teach my 6-year-old to do a cartwheel right now," McCarthy told reporters at the NFC coaches breakfast Wednesday at the NFL annual meetings in Phoenix.
And it wasn't just because he was happy that his friend, Dolphins coach Joe Philbin, landed this year's premier free agent.
It means the Packers won't have to face the former Detroit Lions defensive tackle twice a year anymore in the NFC North. And since the Packers played the Dolphins in 2014, they won’t see Suh again until 2018.
"I thought it was a win-win," McCarthy said. "It was good to see him leave the division, and it was great to see Joe Philbin improve his football team."
The Lions were the only NFC North team to beat the Packers last season, and it was primarily because Detroit's defensive front, Suh included, dominated the game. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' offense managed just 223 yards of total offense, a season low, in their 19-7 loss at Ford Field in Week 3.
And then, of course, there was the infamous Suh stomp on former Packers center Evan Dietrich-Smith in the 2011 Thanksgiving game. Suh was suspended two games for that incident, and it created bad blood between the two teams.
The Detroit Lions are in need of a running back. Just don’t expect that running back to be Ray Rice.
Lions coach Jim Caldwell told reporters at the owners meetings in Arizona on Wednesday that the franchise would likely not be looking at the 28-year-old who didn’t play last season after being suspended by the NFL.
"I don't foresee that, to be plain and simple," Caldwell said. "We certainly do know him and got to know him when I was there [in Baltimore]. I think at some point, like I mentioned before, somebody will give him a second chance.
"I just don't see it. There has to be a need and a fit in all areas. At this point in time, he's not a fit for us."
Both Caldwell and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin have familiarity with Rice from their days together in Baltimore. The Lions also brought in safety James Ihedigbo last year from Baltimore, a player who knows Rice well.
While the familiarity with some of the coaching staff could have provided an easier landing place for Rice in Detroit than some other spots in the league, Caldwell, general manager Martin Mayhew and the Lions front office have placed a high emphasis on character within the locker room. It has been a message Caldwell has preached since taking over in January 2014.
"It's a number of things," Caldwell said when asked if the Lions' lack of interest in Rice was based on production or recent events. "No one thing in particular. There are a number of things."
Rice is trying to return to the NFL after being suspended last season after a domestic violence incident in Atlantic City, New Jersey, that included video of him knocking out the woman who is now his wife, Janay Palmer Rice.
Rice has 1,430 career carries for 6,180 yards and 37 touchdowns. During the 2013 season – his last in the league for now – he had 660 yards and averaged 3.1 yards a carry with four touchdowns.
Jamison Hensley contributed to this report.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- More than four years after the idea was first broached, Mike McCarthy finally has his own street.
The village of Ashwaubenon put up the signs on Tuesday, turning what was formally known as Potts Avenue into Mike McCarthy Way.
Thanks to Twitter follower Kyle Cousineau for snapping a photo and allowing us to share it.
— Kyle Cousineau (@KCousineau09) March 24, 2015
Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt first promised the Green Bay Packers coach a street in his honor after the Packers won Super Bowl XLV.
It wasn't until last summer that city and village officials settled on Potts Avenue as the street to rename. It runs along the south end of the Packers' practice fields, adjacent to the Don Hutson Center, and intersects with another street named for a Packers' Super Bowl-winning coach.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Letroy Guion isn't in the clear just yet, at least not with the NFL.
Despite the resolution of his criminal case on Tuesday, the free-agent defensive end could still face discipline from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell whether he returns to the Green Bay Packers or signs with another team.
"It will be reviewed for potential discipline," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Tuesday in an email.
Guion could face a fine and/or suspension under the league's personal conduct policy.
The last Packers' player to face a suspension from the league was linebacker Erik Walden. He could not play in the 2012 season opener after he reached a deferred judgment agreement to resolve a disorderly conduct-domestic abuse charge without pleading guilty.
Guion paid a $5,000 fine plus court costs but as a first-time offender, the charges of felony possession of marijuana and a firearm were dismissed without adjudication of guilt.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings finally signed their second unrestricted free agent on Tuesday, and this addition is much like their first: a low-profile player whose knowledge of the Vikings' system could make him a valuable pickup.
Safety Taylor Mays, who played three seasons for Mike Zimmer in Cincinnati, signed a one-year deal with the Vikings, according to ESPN's Josina Anderson. Mays, who visited the Vikings last week, is the second UFA the team added since the start of the new league year, following former St. Louis Rams quarterback Shaun Hill. The Vikings had targeted safety as a position of need, and while Mays -- who only started four games for the Bengals in his time with Zimmer -- likely won't be assured of a starting spot, he'll get a chance to compete for playing time.
The 27-year-old saw time at both safety positions for the Bengals, but his biggest contributions were on special teams. It could be there that Mays makes his mark in Minnesota, as well, and Mays has spent a little time at linebacker, too. The former second-round pick has the size and speed to help the Vikings, and like many of the defensive free agents the Vikings have pursued this offseason (Michael Johnson and Terence Newman), Mays has a history with Zimmer. It was clear at the end of last season the Vikings regarded the safety spot next to Harrison Smith as an open job, and Mays will be among those who gets his chance to claim it during training camp.
The Chicago Bears took a measured approach after the initial big-money first wave of free agency, and the club's patience may have actually paid off Tuesday with the expected additions of defensive ends Jarvis Jenkins and Ray McDonald.
After spending approximately $31 million guaranteed to land outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, safety Antrel Rolle and receiver Eddie Royal, the Bears continued into the second wave of free agency looking to land bargains as they attempt to fill out the defense for the switch to defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's 3-4 scheme.
With plenty of options at outside linebacker, including McPhee, Jared Allen, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston, the Bears needed to add a couple of interior defenders to play defensive end. The Bears appear to have filled the void at those spots with a couple of steady performers in Jenkins and McDonald.
Jenkins played the run solidly last season at Washington, but has posted just two career sacks. Jenkins told ESPN Redskins reporter John Keim he plans "this offseason to do 100 pass rushes every day on a lineman. I have to work on it if I want to be a dominant player in this league. It's obvious my downfall [is] sacks. [Redskins coach Jay] Gruden explained it to me and said guys like you that are athletic, you're supposed to have sacks. This is a sack league. It will be the main thing I work on, to get my sacks up."
In Fangio's 3-4 scheme, that really won't be necessary, as outside linebackers are charged mostly with the responsibility of netting sacks, while defensive ends serve primarily as run defenders.
That brings us to McDonald, an acquisition sure to stir up some controversy given his recent past. The 49ers released McDonald back in December for what they called a "pattern of poor decision-making" after learning police were investigating the defensive end on suspicion of sexual assault. McDonald was never charged in that case, and the defensive end is suing the woman who accused him of the assault.
McDonald was also implicated in a domestic abuse case involving his fiancée last August, but it was announced in November he wouldn't be facing charges in that case with authorities citing insufficient evidence as the alleged victim declined to cooperate with investigators.
"I feel like what I am doing is the right thing because I know that I am not this bad person that people are making me out to be," McDonald told ESPN last week. "I've been fired from my job. I know some teams don't even want to talk to me because of this past accusation. All I am trying to do is clear my name and move on with my life."
There's a good chance that won't be easy in Chicago, at least not initially. According to a source, the Bears, internally, are bracing for the potential backlash likely to accompany the signing of McDonald. But while the accusations concerning McDonald are certainly serious, he hasn't been formally charged in either of the investigations, and according to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, "the matter is under review" with regard to the defensive end potentially facing league discipline.
Ultimately, though, it's unlikely McDonald would have landed on Chicago's radar anyway without a strong recommendation from Fangio, the defensive end's former coordinator in San Francisco. McDonald played for Fangio from 2011 to 2014, having joined the 49ers in 2007 as a third-round pick out of Florida.
McDonald became a starter in 2011 under Fangio, and developed into a strong run-stopper capable of providing an added dimension as a pass-rusher. McDonald started 14 games for San Francisco in 2014, finishing fifth on the team in tackles. Pro Football Focus rated McDonald No. 12 among 3-4 defensive ends.
So on the surface it appears the Bears landed a couple of solid potential contributors as they look to restore the club's reputation for annually fielding one of the league's toughest defenses.
If Jenkins and McDonald pan out, along with new general manager Ryan Pace's other recent additions, the Bears could be well on their way to turning around last season's 5-11 mark without having to break the bank to make it happen.