Thursday, March 12, 2015

Free Agency Angle: Chicago Bears

  NFL free agency is winding down and to say the Chicago Bears have been "methodical" is an understatement.  According to Spotrac.com the Bears were came into free agency with $31.8 million to spend.  Bears fans were having visions of chanting "Suhhhhhh" from the stands.  At the very least Bears fans were hoping they would repair the swiss cheese pass defense by having Devin McCourty protecting the back end.  Free agency has played out a little different that fans have thought or hoped.

  Free agency started off with the Bears signing OLB Pernell McPhee away from the Ravens.  On the face the move makes sense because the Bears are moving to a hybrid 3-4/4-3 defense and he has the ability to play the "elephant" role and be a DE in a 4-3 or an OLB in the 3-4.  However, with the log jam of possible square peg round hole defensive linemen the Bears will try to fit into the 3-4 scheme, this move may not garner the impact hoped for.  All in all I would still consider this a solid move based on McPhee's age, versatility and experience playing in a 3-4 system.

  The Bears followed up with Antrel Rolle and Eddie Royal on day 2 of free agency. Antrel Rolle fills an obvious LONG standing need at safety for the Bears and he is a veteran that is a team leader.  Rolle is an elder statesman and is by no mean a long term solution.  By many accounts the quality of his play has decreased despite putting up solid stats last year, Profootballfocus.com rated Rolle as a -13.9 last year.  This is interesting because former Bears safety Chris Conte, who was highly scrutinized, was rated a -3 (Conte only played 474 snaps).  Based on this it is hard to say the quality of play is going in the right direction by signing Rolle.

  The Eddie Royal move leaves me scratching my head.  Eddie Royal is going into his 8th season and is coming off his best year since his rookie year in 2008.  The Bears signed him to a 3 year $15 million contract with $10 million guaranteed.  I understand the familiarity between Cutler and I understand Royal is another veteran with good character.  Now what I don't understand is why make a slot receiver an early priority and why pay that kind of money for this type of player.

  The Bears traded their #1 WR, Brandon Marshall, to the Jets and expect Alshon Jeffrey to move into that #1 role.  While Jeffery is a big and athletic wide out, I question his ability to be the #1 guy.  Jeffery has great hands and uses his body well but does not create much separation and still needs to be a more polished route runner.  He will be a great #2 but I have doubts he can be THE guy.  This leaves the Bears with Jeffery, a huge question mark in Marquess Wilson and Eddie Royal.  By no means is this an intimidating line up for any defense.  If the Bears were going to improve the WR group it needed to be on the outside. Cobb or Maclin would have been pricey but coming into free agency with a little over $30 million to spend the Bears could have made a move without being strapped.  On a lower tier there was Torrey Smith, Andre Johnson and Michael Crabtree available.  To me if you plug any of these WRs into the line up it would better than the trio that is, so far, going to take the field in September.  It would have costed more but been better spent than on an average veteran slot receiver.

  The contract Eddie Royal signed is on par or higher than contracts signed by Emmanuel Sanders, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and Julian Edelman last year.  Royal is not on the same level of these receivers nor does he allow the flexibility to play on the outside, as some do.  For me the argument of salary cap going up so salaries go up is not reason enough to give a player a $5 million per year contract if the talent doesn't match the cost.  When you factor in the current year's receiver draft class it makes this move even more questionable.  There should be solid options at the slot WR position from round 2 all the way to round 5 at the very least.  In the second round there are players like Nelson Agholor, Phillip Dorsett, Tyler Lockette and Devin Smith that may be available for the Bears.  Any one of these players can step in a contribute day 1 for an NFL team.  If you look to the later rounds guys like Jamison Crowder,  Kenny Bell, Stefon Diggs and Antwan Goodley can contribute as well.  By drafting a slot WR in the 2nd-5th rounds of the draft the Bears would have saved millions of dollars over the life of a contract. The salary range for players selected at the 7th slot in rounds 2-5 in 2014 was approximately $1.3 million-$435,000 per year and many of these receivers stepped in and contributed right away.  With the talent available and for the price they could be attained for it may have been a better route to find slot WR via the draft.  

  Of course there is no guarantee that making big splashes in free agency will translate to success, just ask the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles.  There are also teams, like the Packers, that are usually quiet during free agency but are perennial contenders.  You just never know how certain moves will hurt or help your team.  For the Bears it was known that there was a void of talent at key positions on the team.  So far free agency hasn't restocked the talent level.  There is still some guys out there like Mason Foster or Stefen Wisniewski that can help the Bears so we will see where they go from here. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

NFL Free Agency: Day 1 Winners and Losers

  The opening day of the 2015 league year was wild and unusual to say the least.  I don't remember a time where key players were traded the way they were today.  A total of 8 starters with 19 pro bowl appearances between them changed teams at the start of free agency.  With all this action lets take a look at the early winners and losers.

Winners
1) Seattle Seahawks- After snatching up one of the top TEs in the league this was an obvious choice.  The Seahawks were a dynamic offense without a true receiving threat for the last two years and now with Graham in the mix they are dangerous.  They had to give up a pro bowl caliber center in Unger and a 1st round pick to get Graham.  However, you can say that they did pretty well without Unger last year and with how successful Seattle has been at drafting it will take some of the sting out of giving up the pick.  The Seahawks did lose James Carpenter, Byron Maxwell and Malcolm Smith on day 1.  The Seahawks were quick to target Cary Williams to replace Maxwell and with all the help from their outstanding safeties the Seahawks' secondary will be fine.  The bigger concern would now be the holes in the middle of the offensive line with Unger and Carpenter gone.  We will see how the Seahawks address this problem in rest of free agency and the draft.

2) New York Jets- The Jets brought home their favorite son in Darrelle Revis.  That alone would be good enough to be considered a free agency winner but they made some other nice moves.  The Jets were able to keep David Harris and made moves to bring in Brandon Marshall, James Carpenter and Buster Skrine.  Of all these, Skrine might be the most intriguing pick up.  The Jets' secondary was horrible last year and now they have Revis and Skrine manning the corners.  Skrine is a young, fast and athletic corner that has had 47 passes defended over the past three years.  Skrine did not look to be much of a starter coming out of college but playing and learning under Joe Haden may have made him an up and coming corner.  The Jets' offense struggled and now they have Marshall and Decker on the outside.  However, they will need Geno Smith to play a whole lot better and Marshall to stay healthy in order for this to work.  Carpenter is not a world beater but he is a decent starter.  Overall they have done well and if they have a solid remainder of free agency and draft, it will just be the icing on the cake.

LOSERS
1) Baltimore Ravens-So far the Ravens have lost Haloti Ngata, Torrey Smith, and Pernell McPhee.  Losing their own free agents was almost a given with the cap situation the Ravens are in.  According to Spotrac.com, the Ravens only had $2 million available coming into free agency.  After some of the moves that were made they now have close to $10 million available. This razor thin bottom line more than likely led to the Ngata trade.  The Ravens have young Brandon Williams to step in for Ngata and despite the fact that Williams is a solid young player, he is no Ngata and they will feel it.  Ozzie Newsome has shown he knows how to draft and hopefully he can turn the two picks they got in the trade into key contributors.  In the end Williams might play outstanding and the draft picks may turn into starters but there is no denying that the Ravens are hurting after day 1 of the NFL season.

2) Philadelphia Eagles-For the sake of the Eagles fans I hope Kelly is smarter than he is looking right now.  Kiko Alonso was one of my favorite players coming out of college but I don't know if you can trade an elite RB for a young ILB that is basically unproven.  Kiko had a great 1st year and then missed his entire 2nd year with injury.  McCoy is a scoring threat everytime he touches the ball and has proven himself time and time again.  I understand McCoy had a big cap number this year but he also accounted for over 25% of the Eagles' total offense over the last two years.  I would say the money is warranted.  Signing Maxwell and trading for Kiko makes the Eagles' defense slightly better on paper but there are still big unknowns.  How will Maxwell play without the help of great safeties like in Seattle?  Will Kiko be as good after ACL surgery?  We will see.  One of the surprises of the day was the trade of Nick Foles for Sam Bradford.  It was no secret that Kelly has not been a Foles fan but to trade for a guy who has only played in 50% of possible games since 2010 is a head scratcher.  Bradford may never play in a game for the Eagles and was just a set up for another trade later, who knows?  What I do know is Kelly got rid of an inexpensive QB that showed he can play in the system for an injury prone and expensive QB with Sanchez as your safety net.  Scary scenario.



Monday, March 9, 2015

Chicago Bears' Top Priority

  The NFL league year begins March 10.  Teams will be scrambling to make moves and sign free agents before their competitors.  However, the Chicago Bears' might have March 12th circled in red on their calendar as their most important date.

  March 12th is when the Bears will have to guarantee $10 million of Jay Cutler's 2016 salary.  Currently Cutler has a $15 million guaranteed salary for 2015 and only $6 million guaranteed for 2016.  After March 12th the 2016 number goes to $16 million guaranteed.  This would make it very difficult to trade Cutler this off season.  The Bears should try to make every effort to try and move Cutler while they still can.

  It might seem irrational to trade a proven QB when it is so hard to draft and develop a young QB but there are a few reasons to go through with a trade.  If the Bears are able to move Cutler prior to March 12 they would free up $11 million of the salary he was due this year and the $16 million that will end up being due next season.  Some might think it is impossible to free up that money.  However, the way Cutler's contract was structured allows for this. Cutler's contract was guaranteed through almost entirely the base salary rather than via signing bonuses or other incentive bonuses.  The only bonus that will be affected by the CBA acceleration clause is the remaining $4 million of his restructuring bonus.  If he is traded this becomes due immediately but the $15 million base salary will be taken on by the trading partner.  With this kind of money opening up the Bears can really build around a new QB.  For some the thought of a rookie starting QB or a journeyman QB is a road to futility.  I would ask those people what have the Bears done with Jay Cutler?

  Under Cutler the Bears have only gone to the playoffs once and have amassed a mediocre record of 44-38.  By no means does this make Cutler irreplaceable.  If you take the analysis one step further you will see very underwhelming stats.  In the six years Cutler has been with Chicago he has lead the league in interceptions twice and he has not surpassed a 90 QB rating in any season.  He has also only ranked in the top ten, in either completion percentage or passing yards, once (completion %, 2014).  The Cutler supporters will argue that he has had a different coordinator almost every year and he has done the best he could.  For me this would be the final nail in the Cutler coffin not an argument point to keep Cutler in town.  Cutler's leadership qualities and attitude has been a long running conversation in Chicago.  There have been game after game where you would see Cutler berate a teammate or be sulking at the end of the bench, alone.  With the recent developments of past coaches and staff members saying the Bears cannot win with Cutler it is enough for me to say the Bears need to move on from Cutler at all costs.  

  With the lack of talent in this year's QB draft class the Bears might want to have an eye toward the 2016 draft.  If the Bears can convince a team like Tennessee, Houston, Cleveland, or St. Louis to trade a 2016 1st round pick for Cutler it would be ideal.  The 2016 class has some potential with players like Connor Cook, Kevin Hogan, Cody Kessler, Braxton Miller and maybe Cardale Jones.  Having two 1st round picks in the same year would definitely ease the blow if the Bears have to trade up to get a top QB.  This is a little far fetched of an idea but I would make it a starting point to see if you catch a GM that doesn't value future picks as much as current year picks.  However, if The Bears cannot secure this type of deal they should definitely not hold onto Cutler.  If the market for Cutler is cold I would try for at least a 5th round pick in the current year's draft but not be opposed to just dumping him for whatever I can get to free up the money at the very least.  At the end of the day the Bears have not won with Cutler so moving on without him would not be a devastating blow.