Bears’ Fire Sale is Officially Underway

Chicago is in full scale remodel mode. Already, Jared Allen and Jon Bostic have been sent packing to the Panthers and Patriots respectively. Rumors have listed Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte as potential targets to follow. I wouldn’t be surprised if veterans Martellus Bennett and Shea McClellin follow them out the door. The Bears are headed in a new direction under head coach John Fox and seem to be fully embracing hitting the reset button.

So now it seems like many of the Bears’ aging stars are on their way out. The question is, where will they end up? I am going to take my best guess based on what can be offered in return, different needs for teams around the league and who can afford to take on these contracts.

Alshon Jeffery, Wide Receiver
New Team: Baltimore Ravens

More than anything else, the Ravens need a big body receiver for Joe Flacco to throw to. Baltimore desperately needs another receiver in general. Flacco has targeted Steve Smith Sr. 40 times through the first three games. He has targeted every other receiver on his team fewer than 20. No one is even near as effective as Smith on a per game basis either. Smith is averaging 116 yards per game receiving and the next wide receiver on the stat sheet is Kamar Aiken with 29 yards per game. Implementing Jeffery into this offense will provide the spark Baltimore needs going forward. Chicago can probably demand a high round pick, possibly a second rounder, plus youngster Matt Elam at safety. That is a decent haul for the former second round pick.

Martellus BennettMartellus Bennett, Tight End
New Team: Denver Broncos

Give Peyton Manning a 6’6″ tight end and just let him work. Denver has struggled to moved the ball on offense so far this year so adding Bennett could be one of the final pieces that the Broncos need to make that Super Bowl push. Virgil Green and Owen Daniels just aren’t getting it done so far this year. The two of them combined have 90 yards combined in three games. Bennett has 118 on his own. Giving Manning a safety valve on his plays and Gary Kubiak another red zone threat would help balance out Denver’s offense. John Fox would probably be willing to do business with his old team too, knowing the players in the system. A fifth round draft pick plus either Ronnie Hillman or Juwan Thompson should be enough for the Bears to part with the veteran tight end.

Shea_mcclellinShea McClellin, Linebacker
New Team: Green Bay Packers

Trading within the division is always questionable but this makes sense for both sides. Shea McClellin was a first round draft pick by Chicago back in 2012 and the Bears expected him to develop into a star pass rusher. That never happened and McClellin now serves as a back up in the Windy City. Over in Green Bay, Sam Barrington is done for the year already and Packers are pretty light on linebackers at the moment. Adding McClellin would allow Chicago to move on from their former first rounder and it gives Green Bay a young player who could provide some depth. Look for McClellin to be moved for cheap. The Packers could probably land him in exchange for a fifth rounder.

Matt_ForteMatt Forte, Running Back
New Team: Tennessee Titans

This might seem kind of odd honestly. Why is Tennessee making a move for a veteran running back like Forte? Well, they don’t have an answer right now at running back in Tennessee and Matt Forte can do it all. He is an added weapon in the passing game as well for rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota. Mariota has played out of his mind so far to open the season but he needs some more help. Taking the pressure off the young signal caller by adding Forte would be the smart move, especially with how weak the AFC South looks this year. The Titans almost upset the Colts this past week and actually sit tied for the division lead heading into Week 4. Forte might just be the piece the Titans need to put pressure on the Colts in the wide open South. Forte won’t come cheap but he is a 30-year old running back. Fox would likely let him go in exchange for a third rounder and maybe a conditional future pick.

So the Bears would make out with Matt Elam, Ronnie Hillman/Juwan Thompson, a second round pick, a third round pick two fifth rounders and a conditional future pick. That isn’t a bad way to go moving forward. Chicago needs a fresh start more than anyone else in the league. Setting themselves up for the future begins with letting go of the past.

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Quarterback Carousel Continues to Spin

What a whirl it has been already on the quarterback carousel in the NFL. We got a really early taste this year before the season even began when Geno Smith had his jaw broken by a teammate in the locker room. That thrust Ryan Fitzpatrick into the starting role and the Jets have opened their season 2-0.

Drew_BreesWeek 2 dealt some serious blows to the stability of the quarterback position across the league. Drew Brees played all of Sunday’s game against the Bucs but he may miss next week with a bruised rotator cuff. That would place journeyman Luke McCown into game action for the first time since November of 2011. That isn’t exactly reassuring for the Saints but Verizon has to be thrilled. Believe it or not this actually affects Mark Ingram more than anyone else. The former Heisman winner has never had the chance to be a feature back in an offense but if Brees cannot play or is limited, the focus quickly shift to him to deliver. And he will need to deliver fast because the Saints are 0-2. Panic Level: Moderate

Jay_CutlerIn the Windy City, the Bears are already in free fall and Jimmy Clausen is set to retake the starting role, if only temporarily. Jay Cutler has a hamstring injury that Chicago has said will keep him out at least two weeks. Clausen filled in for Cutler last year after the latter got benched. He was passable, tossing two touchdowns but also throwing a pick. The more concerning thing is that he actually sustained an injury in that game last year, forcing Cutler back into the lineup. If Clausen were to go down, Chicago would really be in trouble then. The last quarterback on the roster is youngster David Fales from San Jose State. If he has to start for the Bears, this team will be in full scale crisis mode. Panic Level: Low (they can’t be much worse).

Tony_RomoDallas ended up taking the brunt of the pain from the losses this week. Tony Romo fractured his left collarbone, which will keep him out for the next eight weeks. The Cowboys have already begun handling his loss. They placed Romo on the short-term IR and traded for veteran Matt Cassell as a reserve option if now-starter Branden Weeden struggles or suffers an injury himself. Neither quarterback is much good but they are both serviceable, which is the best Dallas could hope for as they try to ride out the storm. Despite losing Romo, the Cowboys could still hold the division lead when he comes back based on how poorly the rest of the division has played. However, with Dez Bryant also out for probably a similar time frame, things in Big D are shaky. Everything is bigger in Texas, including the panic that should be surrounding this team. Panic Level: High

Johnny Manziel

I am starting to wonder if the Browns are afraid of success. After nearly reaching .500 last season, Cleveland made a number of questionable veteran acquisitions, including Josh McCown. They needed a quarterback for sure but not many pegged McCown as their savior. McCown entered the season as the starter but a nasty hit in the season opener left him with a concussion. In stepped the polarizing Johnny Manziel. He was far from perfect or even polished but he was productive. Posting to three touchdowns to just one interception in roughly seven quarters of relief work isn’t bad. The four fumbles are definitely concerning but Manziel has regularly kept plays alive and made something out of nothing. He isn’t throwing for a ton of yards but his is picking up a lot of yards when he does throw. He has been electric and exciting, something Cleveland has not had in a while, but the Browns maintain that once McCown is healthy, he will get his job back. I know I initially advocated against it, but after two weeks, I would like to see some more Johnny Football. They won too in Week 2, which is definitely a positive. A game against the Raiders could be winnable as well and would be a really good test for the young Manziel. Cleveland fans should actually start to panic if their original starter is in fact healthy, oddly enough. Panic Level: Moderate

Top five most successful sports cities

As a continuation from yesterday’s piece, I thought it might be interesting to reflect back on the last 15 years of sports champions. More specifically, I am ranking the top ten sports cities in the US since 2000. This includes the five largest sports leagues in America, NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS. The rankings will mainly rely on championships won by a single city but I will also take into account appearances in the finals as well. Let’s see if your city cracked the top five.

#5 Chicago: 3 total titles in 6 total appearances
Chicago actually has fewer titles than San Antonio but gets the nod for the extra finals appearance and diversity across more than one sport. Chicago is home to the two-time finalist Fire of the MLS in 2000 and 2003. The Bears also claim the Windy City as home. Even though this NFL team hasn’t won a Super Bowl since 1985, they did make it to 2007 Super Bowl. Despite the Cubs century long struggle to win the World Series, the White Sox claimed a title in 2005. The other two titles came from the NHL side. The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010 and 2013. Chicago has seen championship berths from the spread out across these 15 years. The Bulls, despite all the success in the 90s, have not made it to the finals since the turn of the century.

#4 Miami: 4 total titles in 6 total appearances
Florida’s major city clocks in at number four largely due to the success of the Miami Heat during this decade. The Heat made it to a NBA-record four straight NBA Finals, winning the middle two. The Heat also locked up a championship back in 2006 as well over the Dallas Mavericks. So yes, most of the credit goes to the NBA team but the baseball team based in Miami has a World Series title as well. The Marlins, who back then were only the Florida Marlins but still played in the city, won the 2003 World Series over the New York Yankees. The titles from two different sports gives Miami a boost. Now if only the Dolphins could help the city out. Soccer could be springing up as well soon as David Beckham seeks to set up a MLS expansion team. For now though, Miami is nowhere close to jumping over the top three cities on the list.

#3 Tri-State: 6 total titles in 15 total appearances
This seems like it is cheating a little bit but it is hard to differentiate New York and New Jersey. Despite being called the New York Giants, Jets and Red Bulls, all of these teams play in New Jersey, along with the Devils. Either way, The Giants locked up two Super Bowl titles in 2008 and 2012. The Red Bulls made a Cup run in 2008, falling short to Columbus. The Yankees won two World Series titles in 2000 and 2009, the 2000 one over the cross-town rival Mets. The Yanks also made the 2001 and 2003 Series. On the ice, the Devils have two Stanley Cups from runs in 2000 and 2003 to go along with losses in the 2001 and 2012 final. Even the Nets, who back then played in Jersey, made consecutive title appearances in 2002 and 2003. Worth noting, New Jersey based teams have accounted for 4 titles in 9 appearances while New York teams only have 2 championships in 6 showings. Looks like Jersey is holding up their end of the deal…

#2 Boston: 9 total titles in 18 total appearances
You know a city is dominant when they have more finals appearances than there are years in our criteria. Boston’s 18 championship runs is one less than the number one team on this list. The cities 9 titles are incredible though. The largest contributor has been the Patriots, with Super Bowl victories in 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2015 and losses in 2008 and 2012. The Red Sox have held up their end of the bargain as well, delivering 3 World Series titles in 2004, 2007 and 2013. The Celtics and Bruins even locked up a title each in 2008 and 2011 respectively. The little known fact is that Revolution actually have contributed the second most title appearances, with five. The issue is that they have come up short every time in the MLS Final. Still Boston’s titles are very impressive. They just couldn’t edge out number one.

#1 Los Angeles: 14 total titles in 19 total appearances
Wow. 14 titles in 15 years. It’s no wonder stars love going to Los Angeles. With teams in every one of the sports being considered but football, LA probably solid chances of succeeding but still 13 championships in 15 years in unprecedented. The LA Galaxy have brought home 5 MLS Cups in 7 attempts in 2002, 2005, 2011, 2012 and 2014. The Lakers have the same numbers with their titles coming in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2010. The Kings have been stellar of late, nabbing two Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014. The Anaheim Ducks grabbed a trophy on the ice in 2007. The Anaheim Angeles added a World Series title in 2002 as well. When one city has three different teams winning titles in a single year (2002), there is really no discussion. This city has truly become Titletown since the year of 2000.

Disagree with the list, tell me who you think should have been included and who should have missed the cut.

NFL coaching changes

Five head coaching positions opened up in the NFL on Monday. The New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bears and Oakland Raiders all are searching for a new man to run the show. There are dozens of candidates available so I am going to take my guess at who will be the next hire each organization makes. My decisions will be based on personnel, strong points and weaknesses as well as financial flexibility.

Atlanta Falcons
Previous coach: Mike Smith (67-49)
Projected new coach: Rex Ryan (Previous with NYJ)
The Falcons over the last two years have gone from being a Super Bowl contender to a middling team that disappoints too often. In 2012, Atlanta came within one game of the Super Bowl. Since then, Mike Smith’s Falcons went 11-21, missing the playoffs two straight seasons. This team has all sorts of offensive weapons but desperately lacks an identity on defense. The offensive line needs work too but there is some young blood there. Enter Rex Ryan. The former Jets coach may have seen a steady decline in performance over the last three years with New York, but almost all of the struggles were on offense. Ryan would have a lot of improvements to make. The Falcons defense ranked last in yards allowed per game and 27th in scoring defense as well. Atlanta also tied for second to last in sacks. Ryan is one of the best defensive minds in the NFL. Tasking him with fixing Atlanta’s defense is the best solution Falcons’ owner Arthur Blank will find.

San Francisco 49ers
Previous coach: Jim Harbaugh (44-19)
Projected new coach: Adam Gase (Currently with DEN)
Unlike Atlanta, the defense was never the problem in San Francisco. It was the dysfunctional offense. Many witnessed the 49ers miserable up and down season. Through it all, the 49ers showed that its defense might be the deepest in the entire league. San Francisco lost several defensive starters to injuries and suspensions over the course of the season yet still ranked in the top 5 for yards allowed and the top 10 for points allowed. The offense however was anemic. The unit ranked 20th in yards per game and 25th in points per game. Colin Kaepernick looked lost at times and Frank Gore finally showed signs of aging. Michael Crabtree was not as reliable as he once was making Anquan Boldin the only true weapon. The offense needs a lot of help and that is where Adam Gase comes in. Gase has spent the last two years as Denver’s offensive coordinator helping Peyton Manning run his record setting attack. Gase has proven his versatility and understanding this year with his ability to change the Broncos gameplan as needed from week to week. He will have some molding to do with Kaepernick but the potential is there. Gase is also inventive enough to deploy Kaepernick’s running abilities in a way similar to Russell Wilson, truly utilizing the dual threat quarterback. Gase will garner a lot of attention from teams but I think he will ultimately choose San Francisco.

New York Jets
Previous coach: Rex Ryan (46-50)
Projected new coach: Josh McDaniels (Currently with NE)
The Jets are in full rebuild. Owner Woody Johnson fired both his coach and GM making this hard to call right now as to the coach will be without a GM in place. New York looked poised to become an AFC power in 2011, but then the wheels fell off and the team has not fully recovered since. Part of that is due to Rex Ryan’s inability to coach the offensive side of the ball. The other is the obvious lack of talent that the Jets have on that same side of the ball. The Jets began building a better foundation this year with the additions of Percy Harvin and Eric Decker but neither has been enough to turn the offense around. That is where Josh McDaniels comes in. McDaniels has spent the last three years coaching division rival New England’s offense. The Patriots may have Tom Brady but McDaniels has played a large part in designing the offense he runs. McDaniels also has head coaching experience from his time in Denver. He would likely be assigned the task of trying to salvage Geno Smith’s career with likely a rookie developing behind the scenes as well as retooling the offense around him. New York’s defense is still in good shape following the Ryan era but needs some work in the secondary. McDaniels would have his work cut out for him. It would certainly take some time as well to turn the Jets around but McDaniels is the right man for the job.

Oakland Raiders
Previous coach: Dennis Allen/Tony Sporano (went 3-13 this season)
Projected new coach: Dan Quinn (Currently with SEA)
The Oakland Raiders seem to have more fresh starts than anyone else in the NFL, but this one is has a little bit of promise. The Raiders have two pieces, quarterback Derek Carr and linebacker Kahlil Mack, to build around for the 2015 season. This team needs a ton of help on both sides of the ball. It is going to be more than a one season project. Oakland would have a decent amount of money to play with in free agency and a high draft pick meaning Dan Quinn can go to work on the Oakland roster. Quinn, over the past two years, has coached one of the greatest defenses of all time in Seattle and that pedigree will be something GM Reggie McKenzie hopes he can carry over to the Bay Area. Oakland has a couple of other young players in D.J. Hayden and Latavius Murray who have shown some promise but the Raiders will need to get rid the aging veterans McKenzie and Dennis Allen brought in last year as stop gaps. They did not pay off and Quinn will want a fresh start. In a division where Phillip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Jamaal Charles rule, Quinn would have a tall task in making sure the Raiders’ defense is ready to compete.

Chicago Bears
Previous coach: Marc Trestman (13-19)
Projected new coach: Frank Reich (Currently with SD)
The Bears are another team that completely cleaned house this offseason. The Chicago brass decided to fire head coach Marc Trestman, general manager Phil Emory and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. This team will be looking all to pretend the Trestman era never happened. The Bears, in many ways, are stuck with Jay Cutler as their quarterback so it is time to bring in a man who has worked with Phillip Rivers over the last two years and made him look like an MVP candidate at times, Frank Reich. Reich is a former NFL quarterback, which bodes well for helping Cutler. He managed to keep San Diego’s offense afloat despite losing this year, Ryan Mathews, Danny Woohead and Ronnie Brown at running back this season. Keenan Allen also fell into a deep sophomore slump. However, the Bears have a ton of offensive talent and need someone to generate some production out of them. The defense struggled as well but the return of Charles Tillman and Lamaar Houston as well as continual development of a young linebacking core could make the defense much better next season. This team has a lot of work to do if it wants to avoid being one of the most disappointing in recent NFL history. Reich should be ready to get the job done.

What it means to bench Jay Cutler

The Chicago Bears announced yesterday that Jimmy Clausen will be the new starting quarterback going forward. That means that the veteran Jay Cutler will be riding it out on the bench for the last two weeks of the season, barring an injury. This move was preempted by the comments released last week that the Bears’ front office and coaching staff was feeling some “buyer’s remorse” after signing Cutler to a big extension in the off season that has left the team both cash strapped and in an unenviable position. This is showing some signs as well that current coach Marc Trestman will not go down without a fight. Trestman’s job is rumored to be on the line and the Bears’ poor play of late is not helping his odds. Everyone has pegged this as being Cutler’s fault though. Clearly he bears the burden for the team’s failures right? Well maybe not. Let’s take a second look.

Cutler is actually in the midst of a career year in Chicago. I won’t go as far as to say that he deserved all of the money he makes right now but he is definitely a serviceable starter in the NFL. Cutler was on pace to put up over 4,000 yards, something he had never done as a Bear and he already threw for a career high in touchdowns. His completion percentage is well above his career average (66.1 compared to 61.7). His quarterback rating is also at a career high while his QBR (rating system that takes into account a quarterback’s full body of work in a game) is on par with past years. The league leading 18 interceptions jump out as an indicator of a bad year but in reality Cutler has been about as average as they come.

Does that mean that he gets a pass? Absolutely not. With an offense consisting of Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffrey and Martellus Bennett, you should not be a 5-9 team if you are a good quarterback. But all of the blame should not fall on Cutler. The Bears defense has been one of the worst in the league. This unit is giving up an average of 6.1 yards per play, tied for third worst in the league. Chicago has given up the second most passing yards and the most passing touchdowns. The run defense has been mostly average all year falling in the middle of the pack for yards and touchdowns allowed. On the whole though, the Bears have allowed the most points per game to opponents out of any team in the NFL. There Bears’ offense might not have lived up to all of its expectations but it is not hard to see why they get outscored week in and week out.

The rushing attack hasn’t been much help either. The Bears rank in the bottom quarter of the league when it comes to running the ball and Chicago’s running backs have fallen right in line with the league average per carry (4.1). By no means is the ground attack something Cutler can rely on if he is struggling or some of his top targets, most recently Brandon Marshall, are hurt. The Bears also do not have the luxury of being able to run because of how frequently they find themselves trailing in the second half of games.

So no, Jay Cutler should not be forgiven for every mistake he has made and immediately named to the Pro Bowl but the Bears woes this season do not fall all on his shoulders. Yet, time and time again, the quarterback seems to be the one who is praised when the team does well, and the one who is scapegoated when the team struggles. That is just part of the job. Cutler’s laid back attitude probably doesn’t help his image much either when it comes to fans who think he does not care enough to work harder. Unfortunately, this team needs a bit more than just an attitude change to compete again. It might begin with Cutler, but it certainly goes much deeper than that.