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NFL Combine Thoughts: Safeties, Cutler, Marshall and more

INDIANAPOLIS – Ryan Pace and John Fox weren’t working in the same building yet, but their teams did the exact same thing last offseason.

They took out the company checkbooks and went looking for safeties.

The New Orleans Saints and Pace signed Jairus Byrd to a six-year, $54 million deal, while the Denver Broncos and Fox reeled in T.J. Ward with a four-year, $22.5 million contract.

They were bold moves for big-name players made before the 2014 draft, which saw five safeties selected in the first 41 picks.

So what does that mean for this year, now that Pace and Fox are together trying to fix a problem-laden Bears team?

A never-ending issue at safety is now more glaring than ever. The only safeties under contract for 2015 are Ryan Mundy, Brock Vereen and Anthony Walters.

Pace said he likes balancing the strengths of the draft against the strengths of free agency.

“In a perfect world, you address a lot of your needs in free agency to open up the draft for best-player-available,” Pace said during the NFL Scouting Combine, which ended on Monday.

The Bears have plenty of salary-cap space, but the problem is the free-agent class of safeties may not have the same headliners as Ward and Byrd in 2014, especially if the New England Patriots use the franchise tag on Devin McCourty.

The Bears may have to wait until the draft to find their safety, and as NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock has said, it’s a “very thin” class.

Alabama’s Landon Collins might be the only safety considered worthy of a first-round pick.

“Every day at practice I ball. You can ask my coaching staff at Alabama,” said Collins, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds at the combine. “Then I came out there and brought it to the field. I played my heart out.

“They’re going to get the same thing when I get to the NFL. Hearing the talk of being a top-10 pick, it’s excellent. I’m humbled by it.”

One safety to consider is Ole Miss’ Cody Prewitt, who said he met with the Bears. Northwestern’s Ibraheim Campbell also is one to watch after gaining positive marks at the combine.

Pace said evaluating safeties has its problems.

“The reason why that position is difficult is because it’s such an instinctive position,” Pace said. “If there’s an area where scouts, where we make mistakes, it’s judging instincts. So when I think of a safety, No. 1 [it’s] instincts, ball skills and open-field tackling. Those are things that come to mind.”

And now some combine rumblings …

>> The Bears’ unwillingness to offer vocal support for quarterback Jay Cutler and receiver Brandon Marshall at the combine created plenty of scuttlebutt around the league.

But most agreed that Fox and Pace seemed intent on making a point that may even extend past Cutler and Marshall.

“They are sending a message,” a long-time agent said. “There’s a new way of doing things.”

>> That said, despite their history together, Cutler’s and Marshall’s situations should be viewed separately.

It would still be surprising if the Bears moved on from Cutler, especially considering the weak free-agent and draft classes.

Offensive coordinator Adam Gase is said to be open to working with Cutler, who also has a relationship with new quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains.

Pace described Gase as “deeply involved” in the evaluations of the Bears’ quarterback situation.

A source said the Bears are open to all opinions on Cutler, including those outside of Halas Hall. That includes ways of harnessing his talents.

>> The Bears have plenty of defensive holes, but that doesn’t mean Pace and Co. are being narrow-minded.

Some offensive lineman at the combine said they were told that the Bears are looking for interior line help.

The Bears also met with Indiana running back Tevin Coleman, an Oak Forest High graduate who some analysts project as a second-rounder.

One interesting note is that Coleman shares the same agent as Matt Forte, who has one year remaining on his contract.

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com
Twitter: @adamjahns