Dec. 23, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA; General view of University of Phoenix Stadium as reflected in a Chicago Bears helmet during the first half against the Arizona Cardinals. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
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Coming off a 10-6 record that still cost their coach his job, the BEARS are going into the 2013/14 season with questions that admittedly will only be answered as they play the schedule. However many of those questions could be answered early in the season and how they do in the first four games.
Question #1: Is the BEARS front office going into this season already hedging their bets?
At first blush signing players to one-year contracts, while allowing others to set their market by playing out expiring contracts, seems like the only way to motivate players who are not really concerned about losing their jobs? Let’s face it, except for the fifth wide receiver and the third running back; the only real competition for starting positions has been on the right side of the offensive line.
By signing veteran players past the apex of their careers to a series of league minimum, one-year contracts the front office is beholding to nobody. They may point to a restrictive salary cap, but extending Henry Melton instead of paying him as a Franchise Tag would have lowered his cap hit this year. In fact, given the BEARS reputation of immediately signing rookies and being salary cap savants, it’s probably a little disingenuous of them to playoff as if their hands are tied.
So, if the BEARS are slow out of the gate and never recover enough to miss the playoffs again this year, those one-year and ending contracts give the front office a heck of a lot of opportunity to cut players loose and reshape the look of the club to coincide with what Phil Emory and Marc Trestman feel they need to succeed.
Aug 23, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Chicago Bears offensive tackle Jordan Mills (67) is called for a false start prior to the snap against the Oakland Raiders during the second quarter at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Question #2: Will the rookies play and play well on the Offensive Line?
The clearest indication of just how bad the offensive line has been is not only that the best-graded, returning player just took a serious pay cut, but the fact that two rookies – one with a major college career highlighted by single digit starts and the other coming in the Fifth Round.
Of course there are plenty of late round starters in the NFL, but few start opening day of their rookie season – let alone two! The good news is they’re playing well together and seem to be developing a report. The bad news is they’ve been playing in the pre-season. The NFL is a completely different animal when the games count. The only saving grace is that zone blocking, which is what Coach Kromer runs, relies more on positioning and playing as a unit than one-on-one battles.
The BEARS finally invested in a proven commodity to protect Jay Cutler’s blind side. If they hadn’t there probably would have been a Class Action Suit against them for GM malpractice! I don’t think drafting a potential Left Tackle in Round One is ever a good move. Signing a NFL-proven commodity is a far better value. But that’s a topic for another day. Then, to almost everyone’s surprise and maybe even relief, they signed additional Free Agent depth and drafted even more competition on the team’s weakest link – the offensive line.
In fact, when Phil Emory responded with a, “Don’t you just love competition,” to explain drafting more offensive linemen, it made sense. Unfortunately, camp injuries have prevented much of the improvement that results from a player having to compete for playing time. Of course everyone’s working hard to learn the offense, but learning the offense while also learning what it takes to play in the league may be too much to expect.