The Bears are in First Place and Other Bullets


Well, I guess I picked the right day to write a post discussing the various ways the Lions manage to beat themselves. They showcased quite a few of those on Monday night, falling at home to the Ravens 18-16. Matthew Stafford threw three interceptions, including one of the worst throws I’ve seen attempted this year, a patented sidearm flip into traffic. (Sadly, the rival play that is springing to mind is the Josh McCown toss that ended up in the hands of Kyle Long against Minnesota. Sorry for bringing your morning down by bringing that play up.) Detroit also committed 8 penalties for 89 yards.

The Lions did score a go-ahead touchdown with 2:21 remaining, and then forced the Ravens to attempt a 61-yard field goal on 4th and 7 with :43 seconds left. But just as he’d done all night, kicker Justin Tucker nailed it, tying for the 7th-longest field goal in league history. Tucker finished 6-6 for the game, accounting for all of Baltimore’s points and swinging countless fantasy football playoff matchups in the process. The Lions took over and Stafford promptly threw his third pick; one Ravens first down later, and the game was over.

This obviously means good things for the Bears; I’ll have a more complete look at the playoff implications later this afternoon. But for now, it’s enough to say that Chicago has a one-game lead in the division, with two games remaining. Not a bad place to be.

  • Jay Cutler returned to his ESPN 1000 radio show on Monday, and ESPN Chicago’s Michael C. Wright had a nice recap of how things went. (You stream it or download a podcast version here.) Among the more enlightening points, Cutler said he felt supported by his offensive teammates, but noted they don’t talk much to the defensive players. Marc Trestman should take the team to Gettysburg and give a rousing speech about coming together. Or something. Really, this whole “team divided” thing is going to go away on its own; any player who buys into the “hot hand” theory (which, again, is not something I believe in) would face quite the conundrum if Cutler has two good games in a row. In any case, I’m really tired of talking about it.
  • This report Sunday from Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports attempted to paint the Bears as foolish for signing Josh McCown to a bare minimum veteran contract. (There’s an auto-playing video in there; second only to “Alshon Jeffries”  on my Least Favorite Things list.) As La Canfora noted, the terms of the deal under the current CBA restrict the Bears from offering any extension prior to free agency (which would prevent Josh from reaching the open market, where he could be poached by a higher offer) that would be above minimum value or would be for longer than one year. He also notes that had the Bears simply offered $840,001 instead of the minimum $840,000, they would have avoided this stipulation. Wow, man, pretty stupid from Phil Emery, huh? What was he thinking?
  • Oh, right, no, Phil Emery isn’t stupid. As CBS Chicago’s Adam Hoge wrote today, it wasn’t nearly that simple. By offering the absolute minimum, McCown’s contract counted for just $550,000 against the cap; this is a CBA provision designed to encourage teams to sign veteran players, who might otherwise be shut out due to their higher minimum contract values. That’s $285,000 saved; and as Hoge notes, the Bears have seven players on the same veteran’s minimum contract, totaling about $1.5 million in cap savings. With Chicago up against the cap, Emery had to get creative with deals such as these; the foolish decision would have been sacrificing cap flexibility by gambling on Josh McCown being a player that might be a hot free-agent commodity. No one could have seen that coming. Considering the impact a midseason signing like Jeremiah Ratliff has made, it’s hard to argue that the cap space this season wasn’t worth it. Very nice breakdown by Hoge, and I’m not really sure what La Canfora was trying to accomplish here. To mock the Bears for not predicting that Josh McCown would have a breakout season at 34? For displaying a deft command of the salary cap rules and provisions? No idea.
  • Phil Emery himself did a radio hit on Chicago’s 670 The Score; he also touched on the rumors of a split locker room, and attempted to downplay them by noting that after the game, the victory seemed to have unified the team. I’m sure there’s some truth to that. Closer to home, he then addressed the widely held (mis)conception that the Bears are not planning to use the franchise tag on Jay Cutler:

“I would say ‘disregard completely’ is an oversimplification of what the franchise tag is in relation to contracts and caps and player contracts overall,” Emery said. “What I had said before was that just make sure when you look at the franchise tag (you know) what that means from a quarterback’s contract perspective and the amount of room and space that it eats up. It’s not necessarily a solution. It’s not the first thing we would think about. The first think we’d think about if we wanted to sign a player is a long-term contract. That fits better in our cap situation.”

This goes back to an online chat he held a few weeks ago, and I said this on the topic at the time:

“Regarding the potential use of the franchise tag Emery noted that for quarterbacks, if you can’t reach a long-term agreement after the tag is applied, it becomes a real hindrance to the salary cap for next season. I take that to mean that if Cutler is tagged, it won’t be for a one-year experiment, it will be with an eye on signing him to a long-term deal.”

I still believe this to be the case. The tag is a nice leverage tool for the Bears, and it essentially prevents Cutler from being poached by another team looking to throw money at a quarterback. His chat response was a typical thoughtful Phil answer; he didn’t commit one way or the other, but he tried his best to give a substantive response. That got him into trouble, as multiple people somehow misinterpreted his position, and things spiraled from there. Attempting to read the tea leaves (which I already sort of tried to do) I really do think Emery wants to sign Cutler to the most team-friendly deal he can get; whether that comes before a tag is necessary or under the tag, I’m not sure. I don’t think Cutler has much interest in playing under the one-year tag either; suffering two fairly major injuries this year and seeing how quickly opinions can turn may encourage him to shave a few million off of his asking price. (The desire to play with one of the best collections of offensive talent this side of Denver must also be quite appealing.)

  • Speaking of Cutler, reader Brad Nelson pointed out on Twitter that Jay is just 221 yards behind Sid Luckman for the Bears all-time passing yards record. I’d like to hope that he breaks that mark this Sunday, which would be a pretty cool thing. If Cutler does return on a long-term deal, he will probably own every major franchise passing record in the book when his career is over. He’s such an outlier among Chicago quarterbacks. They spent nearly a century waiting for someone like Cutler at the position; it seems rather arrogant to assume they can find a suitable replacement in one offseason. (I once spent an offseason hoping Danny Wuerffel would get the starting job. It can be much, much, much worse than it is now.)
  •’s Kevin Fishbain has this analysis of the Bears snap counts for Week 15. Notables: Jeremiah Ratliff took 44 snaps on defense, while Shea McClellin somehow led the defense with 46 snaps. (That’s a problem, because at best he’s a situational pass rusher.) Personal favorite DE (Non-Peppers Division) David Bass received 21 snaps, which was nice to see after his playing time had tailed off recently. On offense, Martellus Bennett led the team with 65 snaps taken; rookie receiver Marquess Wilson had been receiving some spot duty lately, but he failed to take the field with the offense this week.

Before I leave you, here’s a reminder: the Bears are in first place!

Jay Rigdon is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation Bears, and can also be found @BearsBN on Twitter.