Chicago Bears Veterans in Danger of Losing Roster Spot This Offseason
The Chicago Bears aren't done cutting loose notable veterans just yet.
With the franchise seemingly turning a corner in the rebuild and starting to focus on new faces, more noteworthy veterans will likely find themselves out of a job as the coaching staff molds a roster based around a new core boasting upside.
Since March, general manager Ryan Pace and the front office have cut notables such as Jay Cutler, Eddie Royal and Tracy Porter.
Up next? Guys clogging the roster and making it harder for young players to see the field. Money isn't an issue for the Bears at all, so the cuts will come down to meeting roster requirements while clearing room for new free-agent additions and rookies to get playing time as the team heads into another rebuilding year.
The following are the likeliest notable cut candidates as the Bears progress through the summer and eventually trim the roster.
Remember the Mark Sanchez signing?
It's easy to forget the mid-March deal for the 30-year-old veteran, which at the time was thought of as a good way for the Bears to find a mentor for a young quarterback.
But as this summer wears on, it's easy to wonder if the Bears will even keep three quarterbacks, let alone choose Sanchez over someone like Connor Shaw.
Sanchez is only on a one-year deal, but it's becoming clearer by the day that Pace and the coaching staff trust one of either Mike Glennon or No. 2 pick Mitchell Trubisky to start next year. Unless the former tanks in his development, the odds that the Bears pick Sanchez to start over the rookie should Glennon go down seem slim.
This season isn't about competing, though fans might not want to hear it. Keeping around a guy with upside such as Shaw is better than Sanchez from a long-term outlook.
Sanchez might be accredited with helping someone such as Dak Prescott along recently, but the decision-makers might end up feeling like such a role isn't necessary depending on how their rookie quarterback adapts over the summer.
In the minds of those watching the Bears rebuild, Mitch Unrein has been a cut target for a while now.
While a serviceable veteran for a rebuild, the 30-year-old seems like the weak point on a line featuring Akiem Hicks coming off a breakout year and Eddie Goldman in the middle. The idea of him being cut regressed when the Bears ignored the spot during the draft.
Then the Bears added John Jenkins and Jaye Howard in free agency. The latter will compete directly with Unrein at the end spot, while both increase the overall depth of the hybrid front quite well.
Other than the arrival of Howard, Unrein's spot comes under fire thanks to Jonathan Bullard, who is “better prepared now to play in the trenches,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio recently told the Chicago Sun-Times' Patrick Finley.
Bullard finally getting a crack at the starting job and pairing in a rotation with Howard leaves Unrein without a spot.
Over the course of two years, running back has gone from a transitional wasteland to one of Chicago's biggest strengths.
Matt Forte is gone, while breakout rookie star Jordan Howard is in. Elite interior offensive line or not, the latter is a talent who can take the bulk of the carries and will be even more effective if his complementary running mate can make headway on his own.
Jeremy Langford might be on his last chance to prove himself in Chicago, if that.
Running behind the same line as Howard last year, the 2015 fourth-round pick tallied 200 yards and four touchdowns on a 3.2 per-carry average. It wasn't an improvement on his rookie year, where he gained 537 yards and six scores on a 3.6 per-carry average.
Stats aren't everything by any means, but Langford doesn't have the same pass-catching ability as Ka'Deem Carey. The Bears also brought in Benny Cunningham, who will catch passes and return kicks, in free agency. The same figures to apply for rookie Tarik Cohen, an explosive playmaker who—at least on paper—can score from anywhere on the field.
Langford is the oddball of the group and barring an unexpected development of his game, he likely won't make it to the regular season with Chicago.
Before the Bears cut guys like Porter and Royal, Lamarr Houston looked like one of the most obvious cuts for financial reasons.
Now it doesn't really matter.
Houston is a $6.9 million cap hit in 2017, per Spotrac, but the Bears aren't hurting for money and the team can cut him loose after next season.
But the team might not want a 29-yard-old 'backer with a pair of torn ACLs over the past three years clogging up the roster. He posted eight sacks in 2015 when healthy for a full 16 games, but like Unrein, he's turned out to be more of a rebuilding stopgap than someone to build around for the long term.
The Bears have Pernell McPhee, Leonard Floyd and Willie Young as a nice three-headed monster as stand-up rushers. Sam Acho and others aren't terrible fourths, so it'll be an open competition in camp.
If Houston can't stay healthy or effective, the Bears have enough depth to cut him loose.
The writing on the wall isn't hard to see both when it comes to Chicago's secondary and Kyle Fuller himself.
When it comes to cornerback, three guys are guaranteed roster spots in 2017: free-agent adds Marcus Cooper and Prince Amukamara and budding slot man Cre'von LeBlanc. Everything else is up in the air via open competition.
When it comes to Fuller, it's simple: show something or leave.
Fuller missed all of last year and the team wound up denying his fifth-year option. He hasn't met expectations slapped on him as the No. 14 pick in the 2014 draft, though he had his strong moments over the course of his first two seasons.
At the least, the Bears want Fuller to have a chance to steal a starting job this summer.
"Absolutely, I mean, it's wide open," Fangio said, per CSN Chicago's John Mullin. "I hope to see Kyle healthy and out there running around. Moving like he's 100 percent, and we'll go from there."
Whether that comes at corner or safety is hard to say. Fuller has the talent to be a starter, but Cooper and Amukamara are the newly anointed boundary corners, and Quintin Demps and rookie Eddie Jackson should have the safety spots locked down.
If Fuller doesn't flash, the Bears might view it as a better long-term investment to keep a younger developmental player, who is under an affordable contract, for a few more years.
Zach Miller is, in a word, frustrating.
Miller is a stud tight end at 6'5" and 243 pounds who creates mismatches all over the field and makes lives easier for passers.
But he actually has to be on the field.
Health has been a concern for Miller throughout his career dating back to 2009 when he entered the league as a sixth-round pick (he's an underrated success story nonetheless, by the way). Here's his game tallies: 14, 15, four, 15, 10.
Miller is now 32 years old coming off a year in which he caught 47 passes for 486 yards and four touchdowns over those 10 games. He enters 2017 facing new pressure from free-agent add Dion Sims and rookie Adam Shaheen.
Both of those guys are terrible news for Miller's chances at the final roster. Sims is one of the league's best blocking tight ends, and the Bears overpaid him after he posted a career year as a receiver a season ago while rounding out his game.
Shaheen, on the other hand, can make Miller look small—the Ashland product is 6'6" and 277 pounds. He's a chess piece of a weapon with sure hands who already has high praise from Pace as noted by Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune: "Adam's projected to play early."
Translation: Sims and Shaheen are the starters and will take the field together in two tight end sets. Miller isn't a bad guy to have around as depth and can still create mismatches if the Bears get creative as to where guys line up, but his injury history might mean the staff decides the third slot is better served with a younger guy like Daniel Brown.