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Hoge’s Bears Offseason Notebook No. 6: Michael Bennett Was Not The Savior

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Michael Bennett. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Michael Bennett. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

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By Adam Hoge-

(CBS) — Michael Bennett hadn’t even signed with the Bears and expectations were already too high.

The defensive end ended up re-signing with the Seahawks, a decision Bears fans shouldn’t be too upset about.

There’s no question that Bennett is a good player and he was probably the best pass rusher set to hit the market, but here’s the thing: it’s not a great market.

That’s not to say the Bears shouldn’t have pursued Bennett, but just realize that they wouldn’t have signed the 2010 version of Julius Peppers again.

And speaking of Peppers, depending on how a potential contract for any top-tier defensive end is structured, the Bears might need to let go of the veteran defensive end before signing his replacement. The pass-rushing market took a jolt Sunday when the Vikings re-signed Everson Griffen to a five-year, $42.5 million deal with $20 million guaranteed. If a guy with only one start and 17.5 career sacks in four years got that much money, what will a guy like Michael Johnson get?

I had the Bears at about $6.7 million in cap space before the Nate Collins and Jordan Palmer deals Sunday, so they’ll have to be extremely creative to make a big signing Tuesday without cutting some money off the books. A backloaded contract appears necessary.

One way to look at the failed Michael Bennett signing is this: By cutting Peppers, the Bears will save $9.8 million. Let’s say that went to Bennett. Essentially it would have been a trade, Peppers for Bennett. Is that an upgrade? Probably. But what would have Bennett looked like when he receiving the treatment Peppers got from opposing offensive lines? What seems to be overlooked here is that Bennett only played in 60 percent of Seattle’s defensive snaps last season. 8.5 sacks in only 60 percent of the snaps is impressive, but that doesn’t mean the number will go up if he plays more. Bennett is a great fit within the Seahawks’ defensive system. If he had joined the Bears without Peppers around, he immediately would have become the No. 1 pass rusher and would have been treated as such by opposing offenses.

That’s one reason why I don’t think cutting Julius Peppers is the guaranteed move it’s been made out to be.

The Backup Quarterback Problem

I’ve maintained all along that I would be surprised not see Josh McCown back with the Bears next season. The re-signing of Jordan Palmer Sunday doesn’t necessarily change that, but it is interesting that the Bears worked quickly to lock up a guy they were able to sign off the street twice last season.

Still, the re-signing of Palmer could just be a security blanket and I know the Bears liked his presence in the quarterback meeting room last season so it makes sense to have him workout with the team throughout the offseason and into training camp.

Could Palmer be the backup quarterback next season if McCown doesn’t return? Marc Trestman’s work with McCown is an indication that he could turn Palmer into a viable backup — especially since Palmer already spent nine weeks and part of the preseason under Trestman’s watch last season — but that’s still a risky assumption considering Palmer only has 15 career NFL pass attempts.

McCown indicated on ESPN Radio Monday morning that if he leaves the Bears it will be for a starting job. That opportunity could present itself with the Buccaneers, Jets and Texans, however, it seems unlikely they would just hand McCown the starting job and not have him compete with a younger option (the Bucs have Mike Glennon, the Jets have Geno Smith and the Texans are expected to draft a quarterback).

There certainly seems to be some momentum carrying McCown away from Chicago, but I’d still be surprised if he leaves.

Tweetbag

Yes, they can, however you probably don’t want to do that unless you absolutely have to. Any signing bonus money gets prorated over the first five years of the deal and right now the Bears have absolutely zero dead money tied into years four and five of the contract.

Cutler’s cap hit drops by $7.5 million next season and if you add that to another expected salary cap jump, the Bears should have a lot of added room to work with. It’s possible that expected jump might entice the Bears to spread out some of Cutler’s money to give them more room this year, but as I noted, such a move would give the Bears liability past the third year of the deal.

The nice thing that the Bears have done is give themselves options. I’ll remind you of something Phil Emery said at the NFL Combine: “To quote Marc, ‘Decisions are made when they have to be made.’”

That last quote applies to this question as well. The Bears could save $2.45 million by cutting Earl Bennett and $1.85 million by cutting Michael Bush, but there’s no reason to do so until they need that money.

Cutting Bush seems more likely to me, but it depends on how they feel about Michael Ford as the backup running back. Matt Forte has been remarkably healthy for a guy who has played running back in the NFL for six years and it never hurts to have too much depth.

And speaking of depth, there’s isn’t much at wide receiver. The Bears probably have the best receiving duo in football with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, but if you cut Bennett, Marquess Wilson immediately becomes your No. 3 wide receiver. The Bears like Wilson, but he’s still an unproven commodity. I wonder if the Bears will look for a receiver/returner type in the NFL Draft, but right now it would surprise me if Bennett isn’t with the Bears when they head to Bourbonnais in July.

As for Jordan Mills, I can tell you with certainty that the Bears don’t care about Pro Football Focus’ grades. That said, there’s no question Mills can improve in 2014, but he doesn’t necessarily need competition to do so. Mills’ work ethic is impressive and no one is harder on him than himself. He was was fifth-round draft pick who still has a ton of upside and the Bears expect him to get better.

It’s hard to believe that the Bears would be able to sign two top tier defensive ends, but keep in mind they already added guys like Austen Lane and Trevor Scott. Now, those guys aren’t going to be expected to do anything more than be in the rotation, but that’s who the Bears are trying to create depth with.

Your question brings up something that has been more and more evident to me over the last few weeks: It’s going to be hard to fix the pass rush with just edge rushers. The free agent pool is thin and there are no sure things behind Jadeveon Clowney in the draft.

Re-signing Corey Wootton would be smart, but let’s say hypothetically Wootton and Michael Johnson are your starting defensive ends next season. Is that good enough?

This is another reason why it might be a good idea to hold onto Peppers, even if he’s just the “8-8 player” the Bears admitted he was last season. Of course, Peppers would still likely have to take a pay cut.

As for Cornelius Washington, the only indication that he can contribute at defensive end is that he’s still on the roster. Otherwise, he made zero noise last season and was immediately passed up by David Bass (who was drafted a round behind Washington) when they signed him just before the season started. The Bears’ defensive line was in a constant state of flux last season and yet, Washington only saw the field in two games. That’s not exactly a sign that they have big plans for him.

College Prospect Of The Week

CB Justin Gilbert — Oklahoma State

At 6-0, 202 pounds, Gilbert is the physical cornerback the Bears need. He’s the top corner in the draft and might not even be available with the 14th overall pick. If he slips to the Bears, however, it will be hard to pass him up. His technique is reliable and he has the quickness in his hips and speed necessary to stick with the top wide receivers in the NFL.

Re-signing Tim Jennings was a good move for the Bears, but he’s not a No. 1 lockdown cornerback. Gilbert can be that guy. Oh, and he happens to be a damn good kick returner too (six return touchdowns in college), an added bonus for a team that just let Devin Hester go.

Extra Point

It wasn’t the most exciting move, but re-signing defensive tackle Nate Collins might end up being one of the best moves the Bears make all offseason. Collins, 26, was already flying under the radar going into last season and, in my opinion, he outperformed Henry Melton before they both went down with torn ACLs.

Collins appears to be healing quicker than Melton and has said he’ll be ready for OTAs. He has played for Mel Tucker in three of his four seasons in the NFL and, assuming he comes back from the knee injury 100 percent, is still an ascending player with upside.

Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.

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