Dan's Season Ending Thoughts on the Bears
On Matt Forte: It’s difficult to imagine the Bears a better team without Forte next season. I’d like to see him back, but not if it means overpaying. If they lose him, they will have to replace him with a veteran, I believe, because even though Jeremy Langford is promising, he is not yet the complete player Forte is. I know the Bears have not made any decisions on Forte’s future. But here is an interesting tidbit John Fox told me. He said when Forte inured his knee midway through the season, Fox told him, “Be smart. I don’t know what’s going to happen and you don’t either. You need to get well and make sure what you put out there on tape is good. That tape is your resume.” Fox added that he has advised other players similarly in the past.
On potentially replacing Adam Gase: If the Bears lose their offensive coordinator, my guess is Fox’s first choice will be to replace Gase with an outside coach. One to keep an eye on is Ken Whisenhunt. Another, should he be fired as interim head coach of the Titans, is Mike Mularkey. And a possibility exists that quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains could be promoted depending on how things play out.
On Jay Cutler: Rough game Sunday, but I don’t know that many quarterbacks could have done much better given what he was working with. What Cutler did in 2015 was impressive and he deserves credit. But I’m dubious the transformation would have happened if Gase had not been in the equation. The challenge here may be seeing if Cutler can continue to play the way he did in 2015 with a new playcaller. Fox believes Cutler can continue to thrive in part because on Cutler’s attitude. “As long as a guy is smart, has mental toughness and is willing to work, he’ll get better,” Fox said. He also said Cutler stepped up this season in terms of leadership, accountability and “raising boats.”
On Alshon Jeffery: I don’t think the free agent to be is going anywhere, nor should he be. The Bears believe Jeffery can stay healthier in the future, and they have a plan to make sure that happens. Fox said the team is going to have Jeffery meet with a biomechanist to check his alignment. “We will have that evaluation to see if anything is out of whack,” Fox told me. “If something is out of whack, there are ways to compensate for it.” The Bears had been taking extra precautions with Jeffery, giving him extra time to warm up before practices. What Fox believes is one injury led to others with Jeffery. He said he thought Jeffery worked harder than ever last offseason, and that he had “as good a training camp as I’ve seen anyone had.” Then came the calf pull. “Things just snowballed,” Fox said. “Things got out of alignment.”
On second guessing the trade of Brandon Marshall: In hindsight, Marshall would have made the Bears a better team, assuming he could have repaired his relationship with Cutler. But the Bears got rid of Marshall in anticipating of drafting a big play wide receiver. They thought they would end up with Kevin White when they dealt him, or maybe Amari Cooper, or someone else who could replace Marshall’s production. White’s lost season made it impossible to replace Marshall’s catches and yards. There is another aspect to the Marshall trade that I think has been misunderstood. The Bears were not hell bent on dumping Marshall because they thought he was a cancer. They weren’t thrilled with the fact that he had caused some waves. And they believed Marshall and Jeffery were not the best combination because neither one of them was a player who could run all the routes. Marshall clearly still is a dominant player, but at this point of his career Marshall does not have the ability to take the top off a defense. The Bears thought they needed a receiver who could get deep and run the intermediate routes to pair with Jeffery. That’s what they tried to draft in White.
On Martellus Bennett: Given everything that has transpired with Bennett going back to last offseason, my feeling is he will be a former Bear by the summer. But for that to happen, the Bears would have to feel confident they can replace him. Bennett isn’t an easy player to replace, given his size and ability and willingness to block. Tight ends who can block like he can are difficult to find. His receiving contributions can be replaced easily enough. The Bears might be able to trade him, but Bennett’s trade value will be minimal, especially because he’s going to want more money.
On Marc Mariani: There is something to him. I’d like to see him in a role where he is the No. 4 wide receiver with a healthy Jeffery, White and Eddie Royal creating space for him.
On Charles Leno: I have no qualms about going into 2016 with him as the starting left tackle. He struggled a little Sunday against Ziggy Ansah, but so have a lot of left tackles. If you have to give Leno a little help against one of the best pass rushers in football, I can live with that. He performed very consistently all season long, and there is reason to believe he should be better next season.
On John Fox: Two things stood out about Fox in his first season in Chicago. The first was his ability to get his team to keep fighting and to not beat itself. The second is his willingness to mix up his lineup. Fox told me one of the benefits of being a head coach, as he sees it, is he is free to watch scout teams during practice. That explains why scout team players on the Bears have been routinely promoted throughout the season.
On offseason needs: The Bears should determine how to fill holes based on who is available, first in free agency and then in the draft. If I were Ryan Pace, this is how I’d look at it: the primary issue should not be acquiring players at targeted positions as much as it should be about acquiring playmakers. The Bears could use playmakers at every position, and whatever kind of playmaker they can acquire would be helpful. No position should be ruled out.