With the John Fox era officially ending on Monday, here are five things we heard and learned from players as they cleaned out their lockers:
1. Fox’s firing was met with sadness
Most players weren’t surprised by Fox’s firing, but his final address to the team still was emotional.
“It was difficult,” nose tackle Eddie Goldman said.
“Everybody was sad,” outside linebacker Leonard Floyd added.
The mood still wasn’t the same as when Lovie Smith was fired after the 2012 season. In that case, a shaken Devin Hester held back tears when speaking to the media.
But it was apparent that some players were close with Fox. Many posted messages on social media.
“Coach Fox is a great man,” Floyd said. “I love him to death.”
What was Fox’s final message?
“He was just saying it’s part of this [business],” outside linebacker Lamarr Houston said. “He’s expecting us all to do big things, here or somewhere else.”
2. Cornerback Kyle Fuller sounded excited to test free agency
The Bears rightfully didn’t pick up Fuller’s fifth-year option after he missed all of last season following routine arthroscopic surgery on his knee.
But Fuller, the Bears’ first-round pick in 2014, is looking at big payday after rebounding this season. He had two interceptions and 22 pass breakups this season.
The window to use the franchise tag on players is from Feb. 20 to March 6. Using the franchise tag on Fuller could cost the Bears as much as $15 million.
“I was drafted here — I like it here — but it’s my first time ever in free agency,” Fuller said. “I have to talk to my agents, my family and just see how that stuff works out. We’ll see. I understand it’s a business. So I’ll be looking forward to whatever it brings.”
3. Receiver Cam Meredith plans on working out with quarterback Mitch Trubisky
Meredith is four months into his rehab following surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, and his plan is to be ready by training camp.
Meredith, a restricted free agent, said he talked to Trubisky about getting together as much as possible during the offseason.
“Try and make up for the lost time,” Meredith said. “I’m excited to just to get in rhythm with him, come practice time. He’s got a whole year under his belt. He’s not a rookie anymore. I know he knows what he can do, and we’re excited about that part, too.”
4. The Bears’ young players are optimistic about their future
There will be lot of changes to the Bears’ roster. Many veterans — including quarterback Mike Glennon, safety Quintin Demps, guard Josh Sitton, receiver Markus Wheaton and outside linebackers Pernell McPhee and Willie Young — likely will be released.
But the players believe a young core has been established, particularly on defense with Floyd, Goldman, linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski and safeties Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos. They all played roles in the Bears having the 10th ranked defense.
“We’re headed in a good direction,” Floyd said. “We’ve got a young team. We’re going to keep building.”
“We could be as good as we want,” Goldman said.
5. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has fans in the Bears’ locker room
General manager Ryan Pace wouldn’t say whether Fangio is a head-coach candidate, but several defensive players vouched for him.
He’s not under contract, so the Bears can’t protect him from other teams, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the team pushed to keep him as their defensive coordinator.
“I feel like he’s a mastermind, one of the smartest DCs, most-detailed DCs I’ve been around,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said.” It’s hard to make him smile, but when he smiles you know it’s a good thing. Guys love him. We respect him. If I was here, I’d hope he stays.”