INDIANAPOLIS — The Bears have plenty of decisions to make. They made that clear Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Here’s what we heard and what we think after general manager Ryan Pace and coach John Fox met the media:
WR Alshon Jeffery
What we heard: The Bears are “actively and aggressively” negotiating with Jeffery on a contract, Pace said. The franchise tag remains an option, and the Bears have until Tuesday to make a decision. Pace said he senses that Jeffery wants to remain with the Bears.
As far as Jeffery’s spate of leg injuries last season, the Bears believe they can get a handle on them. Fox said he only has heard “real positive” feedback about Jeffery’s work at Fox Sports analyst Jay Glazer’s gym, which emphasizes mixed martial arts. Glazer is a close friend of Fox’s.
What we think: Jeffery isn’t going anywhere. The Bears’ offense is drastically different with him. But negotiations won’t really get going until the franchise tag, which is projected to be around $14.5 million for wide receivers, is applied.
Considering other top receivers have average salaries of $14 million or more, Jeffery’s agent, Eugene Parker, likely sees the $14.5 million tag as the floor for his client.
Not letting Jeffery hit the open market is in the Bears’ best interests. There’s an estimated $1 billion for teams to spend in free agency this offseason, and Jeffery would be the best receiver on the market with lucrative offers to choose from.
Jeffery’s desire to stick with the Bears should be revealed through negotiations. Many close to the team question it.
TE Martellus Bennett
What we heard: The Bears aren’t in a rush to make a decision on Bennett. Pace and Fox made sure to say that Bennett is under contract for one more season and that the team is in the process of addressing their free agents first.
Pace described Bennett as “a talented, well-rounded tight end,” but neither he nor Fox offered a public vote of confidence.
What we think: The Bears had their company line ready for questions about Bennett. But he should be considered out the door. The Bears don’t question his talent, but they’re weighing whether they want to put up with his annoying antics.
Bennett’s situation isn’t on the same level as receiver Brandon Marshall’s from a year ago. But a decision to move on from Bennett has the same reasoning. It’s not about production, but the culture the Bears are building. They like where they’re headed, but Bennett, whose actions and words irked coaches and teammates last season, is unlikely to be part of that direction.
TE Zach Miller
What we heard: The Bears would like to re-sign Miller, who is an unrestricted free agent, but Pace indicated that Miller is headed for the open market, which should result in a better idea about his true value.
“That’s the necessary place that we’re in right now,” Pace said.
What we think: The Bears don’t want to pay Miller and regret it later. Miller has the “football character” that Fox covets, and he has earned quarterback Jay Cutler’s confidence. But Miller’s long injury history is something the team has to take into serious consideration, especially because he’s 31.
Miller is represented by well-known agent Drew Rosenhaus. With Bennett’s situation in flux and this draft considered short on tight-end talent, Rosenhaus is in position to play hardball with the Bears.
What we heard: The Bears have confidence in Charles Leno Jr. at left tackle. Pace described him as a “natural left tackle” and called it his best spot.
Kyle Long, meanwhile, was praised for his flexibility by Pace. The Bears are OK with him at right tackle, but the option to move him back to guard remains. It’s a decision the Bears will make after free agency and the draft, Pace said.
What we think: If the Bears sign a right tackle or draft one, there’s a good chance that Long moves back to right guard.
It’s a move that might frustrate Long, considering he said in December that he’s sticking at tackle.
But it could prove to be the right one if the Bears can add a quality right tackle. Long has the talent to handle either tackle spot, but he’s already an imposing guard.
One big difference is when Long will know about his position. Pace made it clear that Long will know after the draft in April, which is considerably different than the week’s notice he was given last year about moving to tackle.
LB Shea McClellin
What we heard: The Bears remain believers in McClellin. He is one of the three free agents that Pace addressed at the combine.
“We like Shea,” Pace said. “We feel like his arrow is still pointing up, especially at inside linebacker. I thought our defensive coaches did a great job with him. It’s a decision we’re going to have to make.”
What we think: The Bears might like him — defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, in particular — but they’re far from convinced he’s a long-term answer in the middle of their defense.
McClellin flashed enough for another run with the Bears, and he should come cheap if they opt to re-sign him. The Bears, though, are poised to add better competition for him with plenty of cap room and a decent draft class to consider.
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