Breaking News Bar
updated: 1/4/2015 8:21 PM

So many decisions ahead for Bears' new hires

hello
Success - Article sent! close
  • Job One on the Bears' D-line is re-signing tackle Stephen Paea, who is eligible for free agency. Coming off his best of four NFL seasons, Paea was third on the team with 6 sacks, and he is only 26 years old.

    Job One on the Bears' D-line is re-signing tackle Stephen Paea, who is eligible for free agency. Coming off his best of four NFL seasons, Paea was third on the team with 6 sacks, and he is only 26 years old.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Job One on the Bears' D-line is re-signing tackle Stephen Paea, who is eligible for free agency. Coming off his best of four NFL seasons, Paea was third on the team with 6 sacks, and he is only 26 years old.

    Job One on the Bears' D-line is re-signing tackle Stephen Paea, who is eligible for free agency. Coming off his best of four NFL seasons, Paea was third on the team with 6 sacks, and he is only 26 years old.
    Associated Press

 
 

Once the Bears have their general manager and head coach in place -- the Chris Ballard-Dave Toub combination sounds like a great idea -- there is a full off-season's worth of decisions to make.

It starts with quarterback Jay Cutler, and the logical decision isn't one most fans will embrace: It makes sense to keep Cutler around for one more year.

Cutler's base salary for 2015 is $15.5 million and is guaranteed. In addition, $10 million of his 2016 base salary of $16 million is guaranteed if he's on the Bears' roster on the third day of the 2015 league year, which is March 12.

The Bears can cut Cutler now or any time before March 12, and take a $16.5 million cap hit. Or they can play another season with him at a cost of $25.5 million.

The lesser of two evils is to bite the bullet with Cutler for the 2015 season while developing at least one quarterback, but preferably two. If they're not convinced that 2014 sixth-round pick David Fales is their future starter, the Bears must start looking for that player beginning with this draft.

Then they can part ways with Cutler after next season, unless he miraculously plays up to his contract, which no one expects. If so, the back end of his contract is much more cap friendly.

While a trade would be a gift and minimize the cap hit, it's doubtful any team will take on Cutler's contract.

On the positive side of keeping Cutler, the Bears aren't going to find a comparable quarterback in free agency. That mediocre group includes the Cleveland Browns' Brian Hoyer (76.5 passer rating), the Philadelphia Eagles' Mark Sanchez (88.4), the St. Louis Rams' Shaun Hill (83.9), and the New York Jets' Michael Vick (68.3).

Then there's the case of wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who is no longer the elite, go-to pass catcher who can dominate games, even though he's paid like one.

Marshall's 2015 base salary of $7.5 million is guaranteed. But that's peanuts compared to Cutler, and way more cost effective considering Marshall can still be a productive receiver when he's healthy, especially in the red zone.

Marshall is a poor leader and the poster child for me-first players. But when he's engaged and involved, his production and toughness on the field are assets.

And, if you're stuck with Cutler for another year, it makes sense to keep the guy who has been his leading receiver over five seasons and two teams.

On the other side of the ball, defensive end Jared Allen isn't going anywhere. He has a fully guaranteed $1 million base salary for 2015, plus a fully guaranteed $11.5 million roster bonus.

After that there is no more guaranteed money for Allen, so he probably will have to produce more than the 5½ sacks he accumulated in 2014 to remain with the Bears. Despite disappointing sack numbers, Allen was a productive player in 2014, leading the team in quarterback pressures and the linemen in tackles.

Job One on the D-line is re-signing tackle Stephen Paea, who is eligible for free agency. Coming off his best of four NFL seasons, Paea was third on the team with 6 sacks, and he is only 26 years old.

Paea could solidify a solid core of interior linemen along with 2014 draft picks Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton and veteran Jeremiah Ratliff, who was second on the team with 6½ sacks. Ratliff still is a quality player, but it appears his body is beginning to break down; he will turn 34 before next season begins.

Paea is arguably the only key free agent the new Bears general manager must re-sign. The contributions of aging veteran free agents Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs and D.J. Williams have been declining for years. It's time to move on.

Probably the Bears' most important off-season decision will be announced April 30 at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago when the new GM makes the seventh overall pick in the NFL draft.

The roster is desperately in need of impact players on either side of the ball: linebackers, defensive backs and a speed wide receiver in addition to a quarterback,

Possible No. 7 picks include Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper, Alabama safety Landon Collins, Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson and Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory.

Quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston should be gone by the time the Bears pick, but that doesn't mean they couldn't get UCLA's Brett Hundley or Baylor's Bryce Petty a round or two later.

Get articles sent to your inbox.

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.