NFL football analysis

18 months later, how different are the Chicago Bears?

Published:
18 months later, how different are the Chicago Bears?

As the Chicago Bears head to Bourbonnais to begin preparation for the 2016 NFL season, Ryan Pace and John Fox will have completed one full regular season and two offseasons of player evaluations and acquisitions as general manager and head coach. The team that hits the practice fields at Olivet Nazarene University on July 28 will barely resemble the club they inherited just 18 ½ months ago.

Are these Bears better than that 2014 club Pace and Fox were left? That remains to be seen. But there is certainly no question they are different.

Of the 24 players who started the Bears 13-9 loss to the Minnesota Vikings that ended the 2014 season and the Bears careers of Phil Emery and Marc Trestman, only 14 were with the Bears in 2015. That includes placekicker Robbie Gould and punter Patrick O’Donnell. A 15th, Ryan Mundy, spent the year on injured reserve.

More significantly, only seven of the 24 starters in 2014 – Marquess Wilson, Alshon Jeffery, Jay Cutler, Kyle Long , Kyle Fuller, Gould and O’Donnell – will be with the team at the start of training camp this year. Backups Sherrick McManis, Marc Mariani, Will Sutton, Ego Ferguson, Ka’Deem Carey, Charles Leno, Jr. and David Fales also remain from the 2014 team.

Having inherited just 14 useful players, there is no question Pace was tasked with a total rebuild to bring the Bears talent level to a point where Fox could actually be expected to compete. Before that could even begin, Trestman had left the lockerroom in such disarray that a complete culture change was also going to have to take place.

And then there was the matter of the huge contract Emery had unnecessarily gifted to Jay Cutler. Was Cutler possibly worth the money he had been guaranteed and, if so, how could Fox get that value out of him?

While Pace set about evaluating his talent and deciding whom to keep, whom to cut loose and how to replace them, the first critical moves belonged to Fox, assembling a coaching staff that would work through a rebuild and eventually compete.

Fox’s two most important hires, offensive coordinator Adam Gase and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, were home runs, so much so that Gase already has moved on to be head coach of the Dolphins.

There is great anticipation around the league today about what Fangio will do with his retooled roster and little question Fox gets high marks for his defensive staff, which also includes highly respected secondary coach Ed Donatell.

While Cutler appeared to take a step forward last season, the offense didn’t – in large part due to a scourge of injuries at wide receiver and tight end. The choice of quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains to succeed Gase is an unknown more than anything else.

Fox has earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to hiring coaches, but whether Loggains is the answer and can continue the development of Cutler is a question mark that remains going into this season.

For culture change, Pace’s first move following the assembling of a quality veteran coaching staff was to pretty much give Brandon Marshall to the New York Jets and decide not to re-sign veteran stalwarts Lance Briggs and Charles “Peanut” Tillman.

The Tillman move was about injuries and age as no one wanted to see the popular corner go, but Briggs had been unhappy since Lovie Smith was fired and not shy about letting it be known. Marshall was a suffocating distraction wherever he went and in whatever he did – in Denver and Miami as well as Chicago – and his exit was a breath of fresh air.

By the time we got to training camp to begin the 2015 season, the one thing we heard more than anything else from veteran players was how much better the environment, attitude and camaraderie of the team was.

That attitude remained consistent throughout the 2015 season, earning Pace and Fox a job well done for culture change.

Pace entered 2015’s free agency period looking for both quality and quantity, granting significant deals to Pernell McPhee, Eddie Royal, Antrel Rolle, and Alan Ball, and lesser prove-it deals to a host of young veterans, including Tracy Porter, Vladimir Ducasse, Jarvis Jenkins, Mason Foster, Ray McDonald, Sam Acho, Will Montgomery and Bear Pascoe.

He gets a C-, perhaps a C at best, as only Porter paid significant dividends. McPhee showed flashes of greatness but was banged up a good part of the season, and it remains to be seen whether he can be the difference-maker the Bears envision.

Royal also was banged up and ineffective, and Ball and Acho are the only others who will be back this year.

As a rule, you should never evaluate an NFL College Draft in less than two or three seasons, but Pace’s first draft gets high marks for productiveness.

Of the six picks Pace had in 2015, the seventh overall pick, Kevin White, was lost for the year due to injury – clearly not something we can fault Pace for. But four of his other five picks – Eddie Goldman, Hroniss Grasu, Jeremy Langford and Adrian Amos – all became starters as rookies and are starters on the 2016 depth chart entering camp.

Goldman looks like he could be special, and if White becomes the player the Bears hope, Pace’s first draft could prove to be a special class.

That didn't necessarily lead to improved results on the field, however. During the 2015 season, the Bears were still a bad football team, just one game better at 6-10 than the 2014 5-11 disaster.

Offensively, the Bears were 21st in total offense and 23rd in scoring in both 2014 and 2015 – no change.

How ironic is it that Trestman got fired for that performance and Adam Gase parlayed it into a head coaching job?

The ’15 Bears did improve from 27th in rushing in 2014 to 11th, but they also went backwards throwing the ball, 15th in 2014 and 23rd last season.

They were significantly better on defense under Pace, Fox and Fangio, improving from 30th in total defense, 17th vs. the run, 30th vs. the pass and 31st in points allowed to 14th, 22nd, 4th and 20th in those categories, respectively, in 2015.

Looking to take the next step this season, Pace approached free agency with a different philosophy, signing just six free agents of note: Danny Trevathan, Bobby Massie, Jerrell Freeman, Akiem Hicks, Ted Larsen and Omar Bolden. All but Larsen and Bolden appear to be significant upgrades in the starting lineup at their positions.

Hicks is a projection until he does it on the field, but there is little debate that Trevathan and Freeman are huge upgrades in the middle of the defense. Massie’s presence at right tackle, allowing Kyle Long to move back inside to guard, should upgrade both those positions as well.

The 2016 Draft is an unknown at this point. The decision to move on from veteran Pro Bowlers Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett without bringing in any veterans to replace them or any certainty about the young talent behind them is a big gamble.

At the end of the day, Fox is a known quantity and he has created his own expectations. In his second season in Carolina, the Panthers went from 7-9 to 11-5 and a loss to the Patriots in the Super Bowl. In his second season in Denver, the Broncos went from 8-8 to 13-3 (although it must be noted here adding Peyton Manning in free agency to replace Tim Tebow didn’t hurt) and a loss in their first playoff game to the eventual Super Bowl champion Ravens.

Are Fox’s 2016 Bears a 10-6 team or better?

As for Pace, he has exhibited a clear plan to get younger, faster and more athletic as quickly as possible. He also is clearly not afraid to make the tough calls, i.e. sticking with Cutler and axing Marshall, Briggs, Tillman, Forte and Bennett. All but Briggs remained in the league and was or are part of somebody else’s plan.

There is some genuine excitement about Pace’s 2016 defense and some real concern about this season’s offense.

What there is not is any of the gloom, doom or outright embarrassment that enveloped the team he took over.

Pace is off to a good start, but he has much work left to do.

Clubs can be fined, docked picks as part of NFL, NFLPA's new policy of enforcing concussion protocol

Published: Updated:
Clubs can be fined, docked picks as part of NFL, NFLPA's new policy of enforcing concussion protocol

The NFL and NFLPA have joined forces to develop a new policy for enforcing concussion protocol, the league announced Monday, including fining teams and docking draft picks if investigations determine violations.

In conjuction with their medical advisory committees, the NFL and NFLPA are working to ensure players receive the most current medical consensus. Any failure by a team representative to properly enforce the concussion protocol will result in discipline.

The league and players assocation will each delegate a representative to monitor as the new guidelines are implemented — but not reach medical conclusions. The NFL and NFLPA will work together to decide on discipline if infractions are found, and if the alleged defender objects, a third-party arbitrator will report their findings to Roger Goodell, DeMaurice Smith and the third party.

Here are possible disciplinary actions Goodell, with the agreement of the NFLPA, has absolute discretion on applying:

* A first violation will require the club employees or medical team members involved to attend remedial education; and/or result in a maximum fine of $150,000 against the club.

* Second and subsequent violations of the concussion protocol will result in a minimum fine of $100,000 against the club.

* In the event the parties agree that a violation involved aggravating circumstances, the club shall be subject, in the first instance, to a fine no less than $50,000. The Commissioner shall determine appropriate discipline for subsequent violations involving aggravating circumstances.

* In the event that the Commissioner determines that the club's medical team failed to follow the protocol due to competitive considerations, the Commissioner may require the club to forfeit draft pick(s) and impose additional fines exceeding those amounts set forth above.

According to Monday's press release, this is the latest collaboration between the NFL and NFLPA with the mutual goal of improving player health and safety. Other examples include:

* The NFL and NFLPA launched the NFL Electronic Medical Record (EMR) System across all 32 NFL clubs prior to the start of the 2014 season, resulting in more uniform and detailed injury data. The injury data is reviewed annually by the NFL, NFLPA, their medical advisory committees and the Competition Committee to make changes to the game to improve player safety.

* The NFL and NFLPA, through the Duke Infection Control Outreach Networks (DICON), implemented an infectious disease prevention and response program across all 32 NFL clubs. As part of that effort, DICON has visited every club and inspected their premises and developed a comprehensive plan to educate players and team staff about infection prevention.

* Through the Accountability & Care Committee and an independent Credentialing Verification Organization, the NFL and NFLPA implemented league-wide credentialing standards for all members of team medical staffs.

* The NFL and NFLPA, through a third-party company, surveyed all NFL players in 2015 regarding their opinions on team medical care and other player health and safety issues. The survey, agreed to in the 2011 CBA, was confidential, and the results will be used by the NFL and NFLPA to identify potential areas of improvement in player medical care.

* This offseason the NFL and NFLPA established the Field Surface & Performance Committee, a joint committee to provide advice and guidance regarding the safety, performance and testing of non-NFL game day and practice surfaces. The new committee will perform research and advise the parties on injury prevention, improved testing methods, and the adoption of tools and techniques to evaluate and improve field surface performance and playability.

* The NFL, in collaboration with NFLPA-appointed experts, sponsored a study to assess the performance of football helmets worn by NFL players. A poster summarizing the results of the study hangs in all 32 NFL club locker rooms.

* The NFL and NFLPA jointly sponsored a study to assess the performance of football turf shoes worn by NFL players and determined that certain models presented an enhanced risk of injury. The parties created a poster summarizing the results of the study and advising players against wearing certain models of footwear which hangs in all 32 NFL club locker rooms.

* The NFL and NFLPA implemented the Unaffiliated Neurotrauma Consultant (UNC) Program and the Independent Athletic Trainer (ATC) Spotter Program to improve sideline medical care on game day. UNCs, who are independent of either club, are involved in all in-game neurological assessments. Independent ATC spotters in the press box are empowered to call a medical timeout to stop the game and have a player receive medical attention should he show signs of distress or disorientation.

2016 Chicago Bears training camp preview: Special Teams

Published:
2016 Chicago Bears training camp preview: Special Teams

This is the 11th and final of our position-by-position series previewing what to watch in Bears training camp this summer. The team reports to Bourbonnais July 27.

2016 training camp previews: Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line, defensive line, outside linebackers, inside linebackers, cornerbacks, safeties

During the first month of the 2015 season, the Bears’ coverage teams were a disaster, and Robbie Gould was automatic. In the second half of the season, the Bears covered kicks and punts as well as anyone and got a boost on kickoff returns from Deonte Thompson, but Gould had some crucial misses. This offseason, the Bears brought back several members of the special teams and hope to build off the successes seen late last year.

Three things to watch on special teams in training camp:

The return competition: It’s Year Three following the Devin Hester era and the Bears enter training camp hoping to find answers in the return game. Last year, Deonte Thompson joined the team late and averaged 29.2 yards per return, including a 74-yarder. He provided a breakaway speed element the team needed, and he’s back to reclaim that spot. Marc Mariani, a former Pro Bowl returner, lost the kickoff-return job but maintained the punt return gig throughout the season, improving as the year went along. The Bears can also use Eddie Royal on punt returns. Seventh-round pick Daniel Braverman returned punts in college. Undrafted rookie Kieren Duncan and his 4.3 speed will try to get in the competition, along with undrafted rookie Derek Keaton, who was a first-team All-Sun Belt returner. Thompson and Mariani will have the edge as the incumbents, but this should be one of the more entertaining competitions in camp.

Gould, the cover teams and the new kickoff rules: This season, touchbacks will come back to the 25-yard line. How will kicking teams handle it? One strategy could be pop-up kicks, counting on the veteran Gould to place the kick high enough and short enough to force a return, and relying on the coverage teams to pin offenses well inside the 25. Or, maybe Gould will just kick it deep. His touchback rate last season was 60.7 percent. It’ll likely be a game-by-game, even kick-by-kick determination for Gould and special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers.

Roster battles galore: For those who have followed this series closely, the line, “special teams will determine this roster spot” will be a familiar one. Finding the last cornerback, safety, linebacker and wide receiver to make the team will come down to that player’s role on special teams, and how he can make an impact on the third phase. Rookies will have to fight off several returning core special-teamers, like Sherrick McManis, Josh Bellamy, Chris Prosinski, Sam Acho, Lamin Barrow and Demontre Hurst. Fringe roster players, including some of the aforementioned coverage guy, will have to show speed, discipline and playmaking abilities in the kicking game to guarantee a spot on the 53. The Bears do enter camp with two punters and two long snappers, but Pat O'Donnell and Aaron Brewer are expected to win those respective jobs.

Three-time Pro Bowl DT Darnell Dockett retires as member of Arizona Cardinals

Published: Updated:
Three-time Pro Bowl DT Darnell Dockett retires as member of Arizona Cardinals

After 11 seasons, three Pro Bowls and one Super Bowl appearance, all with the Cardinals, Darnell Dockett is retiring Monday with the organization that drafted him in the third round in 2004.

Dockett, 35, earned three trips to Honolulu (2007, 2009, 2010) and started 156 of a possible 160 games with the Cardinals from 2004-13. He missed all of 2014 due to injury and spent last season out of football after being released by Arizona and failing to earn a roster spot in San Francisco.

Dockett was a key contributor in Arizona's 2008 Super Bowl defense, starting all 20 games and registering three sacks in the Cardinals' Super Bowl XLIII defeat. At 6-4, 290, he was a disruptive presence up front alongside Brian Robison, Antonio Smith and eventually fellow Pro Bowler Calais Campbell.

Dockett arrived in 2004 as part of one of Arizona's best-ever draft classes including Larry Fitzgerald (Round One), Karlos Dansby (Round Two) and Smith (Round Five).

2016 Bear Necessities: The Top 20

Published: Updated:
2016 Bear Necessities: The Top 20

With the start of training camp in Bourbonnais approaching at the end of July, Chicago Football is ranking the Bear Necessities — the 20 most important Bears for the 2016 season.

The PFW staff recently combined to form the list, which prioritizes expected starters and also factors in positions likely to have greater importance as they relate to the Bears. Every weekday, we'll break down the ranking and dissect each player's 2016 outlook.

Below are links to each story analyzing the Bears, ranking them from 20 to No. 1 based on how important they are for 2016.

No. 20 — PK Robbie Gould

No. 19 — DL Jonathan Bullard

No. 18 — C Hroniss Grasu

No. 17 — OLB Leonard Floyd

No. 16 — OLB/DE Willie Young

No. 15 — ILB Jerrell Freeman

No. 14 — TE Zach Miller

No. 13 — DL Akiem Hicks

No. 12 — WR Kevin White

No. 11 — RB Jeremy Langford

No. 10 — CB Kyle Fuller

No. 9 — LT Charles Leno

No. 8 — CB Tracy Porter

No. 7 — NT Eddie Goldman

No. 6 — S Adrian Amos

No. 5 — OG Kyle Long

No. 4 — ILB Danny Trevathan

No. 3 — WR Alshon Jeffery

No. 2 — Pernell McPhee

No. 1 — Jay Cutler

49ers RT Anthony Davis says he's filed reinstatement papers to resume NFL career

Published:
49ers RT Anthony Davis says he's filed reinstatement papers to resume NFL career

After taking 2015 off to "allow my brain and body a chance to heal," 49ers RT Anthony Davis said on Twitter Monday he's filed his reinstatement papers with the league to try and resume his NFL career.

Whether Davis, whose last full season in the NFL was in 2013, will be welcomed back by the 49ers is another issue entirely. After his abrupt short-term retirement in June 2015, he tweeted the following in April 2016:

"I do not want to work with a front office or anyone else who seemingly doesn't want to win as bad as I do," said Davis. He also accused 49ers GM Trent Baalke of being manipulative, and declared "The 49ers should draft an offensive tackle in the top 10" on April 30.

Davis, 26, has started all 71 games in which he's appeared since the 49ers made him the 11th overall pick in 2010. He signed a five-year, $33 million extension in 2013, but walked away from the 49ers less than two seasons later.

NFL reinstates Cleveland Browns WR Josh Gordon

Published: Updated:
NFL reinstates Cleveland Browns WR Josh Gordon

The NFL has reinstated Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon on a conditional basis. Gordon will serve a four-game suspension to start 2016.

Gordon can participate in training camp and at meetings. “Once arrangements have been confirmed regarding Gordon's clinical resources in Cleveland, he will be permitted to participate in all preseason activities, including practices and games,” the league stated in a release.

Beginning Oct. 3, Gordon will be eligible to return to the team following his four-tame suspension.

Gordon, a supplemental draft pick in 2012, was suspended indefinitely in February 2015 for multiple violations of the league’s policy on substance abuse.

Roger Goodell wrote Gordon in a letter, “As we discussed at our [July 19] meeting, as Commissioner, I want nothing more than to see you turn your circumstances around and succeed. Countless others including your agent, teammates and coaches, Mr. Haslam and the leadership of the organization, the Program professionals and Jim Brown also have pledged to provide you with every resource at their disposal. But as you acknowledged, ultimately, your future is your responsibility. I have every belief that you can make the right choices, but it will be up to you to do so."

In 2014, Gordon had 24 catches for 303 yards and zero touchdowns. In 14 games in 2013, Gordon had 87 receptions for 1,646 yards and nine scores. Gordon turned 25 in April and is far and away Cleveland’s top weapon on offense, assuming he can return to the form we’ve seen.

PFW Super 50 No. 2: Houston Texans DE J.J. Watt

Published:
PFW Super 50 No. 2: Houston Texans DE J.J. Watt

As we count down to the return of football, it's time to rank the best players in the league. The Pro Football Weekly team recently combined to rank the top 50 players in the NFL regardless of position. We call it the Super 50.

At 1 p.m. Eastern Time each weekday between now and training camp, we'll post a new member of the Super 50, counting down from 50 all the way to 1.

No. 7: Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
No. 6: Muhammad Wilkerson, DE, New York Jets
No. 5: Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots
No. 4: Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

No. 3: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

No. 2: J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans

The NFL's singuar most destructive defender, Watt this offseason tied Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor with his NFL record third Defensive Player of the Year award. At age 27. Following his fifth season. It all adds up to Watt being our highest-graded non-QB in the NFL.

Indeed, Watt has been changing the narrative on the impact a 3-4 defensive end can leave on the game since shortly after his arrival in Houston as the 11th overall pick in 2011. His streak of All-Pro nominations — Watt was a unanimous selection this offseason — began in 2012. He's twice eclipsed 20 sacks in a season, leading the league in that category in '12 (20.5) and '15 (17.5).

A five-technique in name only, Watt, who began his collegiate career playing tight end at Cenral Michigan, lines up all over Houston's defensive front and even in the goal-line package on offense (three receiving touchdowns), an illustration of his ridiculous versatility. Many NFL observers think Watt could be a Pro Bowler at any position in the front-seven given his unrivaled blend of size, strength, quickness, instincts and pure determination.

In addition to his elite pass-rush production and run-stuffing ability, Watt has a knack for making game-changing plays. He's averaged three forced fumbles per season and a DB-like nine passes defensed. He has at least a half sack in four of his five postseason appearances, and catalyzed Houston's first-ever playoff triumph with his insane pick-six of Andy Dalton off his own deflection shortly before intermission in the 2011 wild-card round.

Watt's toughness — he's never missed a start, playing through a torn meniscus and sports hernia surgery last season — and work ethic are the stuff of legend, though undergoing back surgery last week stemming from a workout injury could potentially halt his consecutive starts streak.

Although overzealous owners and/or the rising cap have helped Ndamukong Suh, Oliver Vernon, Fletcher Cox and Von Miller recently sign deals exceeding Watt's six-year, $100 million extension, and Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald represent the newest stud defenders on the block, there's little doubt Watt is the most valuable defender in the league today. And at the rate he's going, by the time his career is over, Watt will go down as the greatest defensive player in NFL history.

2016 Bear Necessities No. 1: QB Jay Cutler

Published:
2016 Bear Necessities No. 1: QB Jay Cutler

With the start of training camp in Bourbonnais approaching next week, Chicago Football has been ranking the Bear Necessities — the 20 most important Bears for the 2016 season.

The staff combined to form the list, which prioritizes expected starters and also factors in positions likely to have greater importance as they relate to the Bears. Every weekday, we’ll break down the ranking and dissect each player’s 2016 outlook.

Updated list of the Bear Necessities

No. 1: QB Jay Cutler

This is Jay Cutler’s eighth season in Chicago. That’s pretty remarkable, considering all the turnover in the NFL and within the Bears’ organization. Robbie Gould is the only other player who has been on the team as long as Cutler.

Here we are, set for Cutler’s eighth summer in Bourbonnais, and the same questions linger, some of the same narratives remain.

Cutler’s 33 now and coming off his most efficient season as a pro — 21 touchdowns to 11 interceptions, 92.3 passer rating, 7.6 yards per attempt. And he did that with Alshon Jeffery sidelined for half the year, Kevin White out the whole season, Eddie Royal out for seven games, Martellus Bennett absent for five games and Matt Forte out for three contests.

Forte and Bennett are gone; White is back, along with Jeffery and Royal, and Cutler enters 2016 as the most important Bear.

Cutler needs to build off last season. The footwork improved, allowing him to extend plays to find receivers down the field on several occasions. The decision-making was better — in Adam Gase’s offense and without his top weapons most of the time, Cutler protected the ball well and made high-percentage throws.

The narrative this season will be, if Cutler could be so effective without his top pass catchers, what can he do in Year Two of this system with Jeffery, White and Royal (albeit, without Bennett and Forte)? Not to mention a better defense, which should help the Bears play more “complementary football” and allow the offense to take more chances — something Cutler has the arm for and likely wants to do.

We don’t need to worry about Cutler and his new coordinator Dowell Loggains — they’ve known each other for a while. We’ll see how Loggains’ playbook differs from Gase’s, and how that impacts Cutler and the passing game.

In certain drives, quarters or even games in his career, Cutler has shown the ability to lift his team, elevate his teammates on the field and make big plays. Last year in Detroit, the Bears got the ball back with 21 seconds left at their own 20 trailing by three. Cutler made back-to-back completions to Jeffery of 25 and 24 yards. Then he and Marquess Wilson drew a pass interference penalty, leading to Gould’s game-tying field goal. Or there's the win in Kansas City, when Cutler made a magnificent touchdown throw to Wilson during an impressive comeback.

The problem throughout Cutler’s career is showing he can do that consistently, for an entire game, especially in recent years when the talent around him — on both sides of the ball — has been lacking at times.

Observers have wondered over the years if a coordinator can ‘unlock’ Cutler and take advantage of his raw talent. Gase came as close as anyone’s come, and that was with a patchwork offense. Now it’s Loggains' turn to pick that back up.

One Cutler narrative is that “he is what he is” as a player with one playoff win. The strides he made in 2015 showed that he can still change his game at this part of his career for the better, and now he has to do that again if the Bears want to get back to the postseason.

Peyton Manning cleared by NFL of alleged PED use

Published: Updated:
Peyton Manning cleared by NFL of alleged PED use

After a seven month investigation, the NFL has determined retired quarterback Peyton Manning has not used or was provided with HGH or any performance-enhancing drug, the league announced Monday.

The Mannings were "fully cooperative" with the investigation and provided both interviews and access to all records sought by investigators, per the release.

Manning was alleged by an Al-Jazeera report that the had human growth hormone shipped to his home, but quickly debunked the claims calling them a "complete fabrication". The report comes from accusations made by Charlie Sly, a former intern at the Indianapolis-based Guyer Institute of Molecular Medicine. Sly was caught in a secretly-taped documentary, and has since denounced statements made.

The league is still investigating other players mentioned like the Packers' Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews and Steelers' James Harrison.

The Way We See It

While Manning is now cleared, the same cannot be said yet, if at all, for the other players. It appears this will drag out for some time and Harrison laid out ground rules for his interview, including it takes place at his house and Roger Goodell must attend.

WR Greg Jennings retires after 10 seasons

Published: Updated:
WR Greg Jennings retires after 10 seasons

After 10 seasons, veteran wideout Greg Jennings is hanging up his spikes and retiring, per a YouTube video posted on the 'FamiLeague' channel.

"Football is over," Jennings said in the video. "I'm done. No more big hits. No more 'touchdown, Greg Jennings' – at least in the lines of a football field."

Jennings cited in the video physically he could still play, but he felt he'd be going "back to football versus moving forward".

Jennings, 32, appeared in 16 games with five starts for the Dolphins last season, but spent the previous two with the Vikings after signing a lucrative five-year $47.5 million deal. A former 2006 second-round selection out of Western Michigan by the Packers, the 6-foot, 198-pounder leaves after 571 career receptions and nearly 8,300 yards plus 64 touchdowns.

The Way We See It

It's hard to ignore the "what if" question that floats: What if Jennings never left Aaron Rodgers and the Packers? What would his career look like? That's not to say he made a mistake in leaving, but his career stats took a minor hit when trading Rodgers for Teddy Bridgewater, Matt Cassel and Ryan Tannehill.

Minnesota Vikings OT Phil Loadholt to retire after seven seasons

Published:
Minnesota Vikings OT Phil Loadholt to retire after seven seasons

Pending a meeting with Vikings officials, offensive tackle Phil Loadholt is expected to retire, per multiple reports. The 30-year-old is coming off a torn achilles suffered last season and took a sizeable paycut as well in the offseason.

Loadholt, the Vikings' 2009 second-round selection, played his whole career in Minnesota and started in every game in which he appeared (89 starts). But Loadholt missed all of 2015 with the Achilles tear, after missing the final five games the season prior with a knee injury. The franchise also signed tackle Andre Smith in free agency this offseason, expecting the two to compete for the starting right tackle job.

Loadholts might've been released had he not beat out Smith for the starting spot. Loadholt signed a one-year, $4 million deal with $2 million in base salary, per spotrac, down from his $5.4 base from his previous contract.

Loadholt's expected retirement is yet another player to retire at age 30 or youunger. Former Ravens tackle Eugene Monroe left the league last week.

The Way We See It

Loadholt's retirement comes as a moderate surprise given his age, but more players are deciding to leave the game earlier mostly with an eye toward long-term health. There's no indication what Loadholt's reasoning is, but considering he might've been cut in August, it's fair to wonder what market, if any, would've materialized.

The Vikings should be set at tackle, anyway. T.J. Clemmings started 16 games in Loadholt's absence as a rookie, and Smith brings loads of starting experience to the right side this season.

We wish Loadholt the best in retirement.

Seattle Seahawks make John Schneider one of NFL's highest-paid GMs with extension through 2021

Published: Updated:
Seattle Seahawks make John Schneider one of NFL's highest-paid GMs with extension through 2021

The Seahawks signed GM John Schneider to a five-year extension, making him one of the NFL's highest-paid executives with an approximate annual salary of $3.75 million, ESPN's John Clayton first reported Sunday night.

Seahawks owner Paul Allen confirmed the news via Twitter. "@Seahawks extend top GM John Schneider, key architect of our roster... congrats," tweeted Allen.

Schneider, 45, left the Packers front office for Seattle and his first general manager job in 2010. Over the past six seasons, his roster has helped produce a 59-36 mark, with five postseason appearances, three division titles, two Conference Title berths and a Super Bowl triumph following the 2013 season.

The way we see it

Schneider has accomplished an incredible amount in just six seasons as the Seahawks' lead decision-maker, but it's the way he's went about his business that might be even more impressive.

Schneider has made finding late-round gems an artform, from unearthing an eventual Super Bowl winning signal-caller in the third round when most others were scared off by his size, to plucking late-round All-Pro defenders (Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor) to procuring undrafted steals (Doug Baldwin and Thomas Rawls).

But finding draft values has hardly been Schneider's only preferred forte for team construction — and he's missed on his fair share of early picks, too (Paul Richardson, Christine Michael, John Carpenter). Schneider signed Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett, the two central game-wreckers for the NFL's top scoring defense from 2011-14, to team-friendly contracts. He used the trade market to secure his offensive identity and one of the game's best backs over the same span, adding Marshawn Lynch from Buffalo for a fourth-rounder, and hasn't been afraid to make bold trade moves, some that have backfired (Percy Harvin), others the jury still out on (Jimmy Graham).

And over the past couple of years, we've seen Schneider begin to maintain the core of his roster with second deals for the likes of Wilson, Sherman and others — after enjoying some of the team-friendly rookie contracts that allowed him to go out and spend on free agents to fill out the roster.

Perhaps the most important part, though — finding Pete Carroll — whose contract is also expiring after the season and will likely become the next monster extension now that Schneider is locked up. PFW reported tensions between Carroll and Schneider early on in their tenure together, but there's no debating the vast success of this pair — and the way they're seemingly in lockstep in terms of the types of players they both covet from a schematic and character standpoint.

As long as Schneider and Carroll are together with this young core of players, it's hard to imagine the Seahawks not remaining one of the NFL's elite franchises. Schneider, then, couldn't be more deserving of this extension, and the same goes for Carroll once his is complete.

Take 2: Can this Chicago Bears team make the playoffs?

Published:
Take 2: Can this Chicago Bears team make the playoffs?

With the Bears commuting down to Bourbonnais for training camp next week, Pro Football Weekly's Kevin Fishbain and Patrick Finley of the Chicago Sun-Times try to answer the question on every fan's mind this summer: how good are the 2016 Bears?

Fishbain: I don't know about you, Patrick, but I've spent my summer being inundated with the following questions at barbecues: "What do you think the Bears' record will be? Will they make the playoffs? How many wins?" I usually tell them to tweet Hub Arkush and ask him and then go back to my hot dog, but it's summer and all 32 fan bases — or maybe 31, sorry Cleveland — have some optimism.

You've detailed John Fox's successes in Year Two, the defense has some big improvements and the offense gets Kevin White back. So, Pat, what do you think this early in the game, playoffs??

Finley: Wild card playoffs — if things go well. John Fox went 13-3 in his second year with the Broncos — thanks, new quarterback Peyton Manning! — and reached the freakin’ Super Bowl with his second Panthers team. Making the playoffs would be a good accomplishment for a franchise that has won only 11 games in its last 34 tries.

Fox knows he has better players on defense this year — they’ve improved at four positions, at least — but the offense has more question marks than at any point since the Lovie era. What will you be watching on that side of the ball at scenic Olivet Nazerene University? And why are you eating hot dogs when the Good Lord invented bratwurst?  (I guess Germans did, but my point stands).

Fishbain: Oh, I definitely had more bratwursts than hot dogs this summer, don't worry. The offense has the quarterback returning, a top-10 pick at wide receiver, an upper-echelon receiver and a Pro Bowl guard ... yet it's that offense that is holding back any predicted wins number. Matt Forte to Jeremy Langford, Martellus Bennett to Zach Miller, are those transitions going to set back the group? Is the Kevin White-Alshon Jeffery show enough to make the offense better than last year?

It's going to be hard to not focus on White when we're in Bourbonnais, but I think I'll have to focus more on the position groups that lost Pro Bowlers, RB and TE. Then again, how often has a team's win count been dictated by its tight end?

Finley: But how often has a team dealt its Pro Bowl tight end and then done nothing to replace him? After trading Bennett, the Bears added two undrafted free agents, converted defensive end Greg Scruggs to tight end and signed Tony Moeaki, who has all of 11 catches since the end of the 2012 season.

None are long-term answers; shoot, they could all get cut in August. Miller returns, yes, but his blocking is suspect. I think that’s the Bears’ most glaring hole entering training camp — a tight end who can both block and catch. Can you think of any others, Kevin? 

Fishbain: Is there anything more predictable in Chicago than safety questions for the Bears? Adrian Amos and...Harold Jones-Quartey? Deon Bush? They're more athletic in the back end, but very young and inexperienced.

The secondary is an underrated area of concern, and I'll throw the offensive line in there, too. We know of one Pro Bowler, but who's comfortable about the center spot? Who's starting at left guard? How good will the tackles be? And we haven't even discussed the quarterback who has one playoff win in Chicago. Can he get another this winter?

Finley: The man’s only played in two playoff games, Fish, and that hasn’t always been his fault. (See Conte, Chris.) Each of Cutler’s top six receivers, in terms of catches, missed at least one game last year; combined, they sat for 28. And that’s not counting Kevin White, who never got out of the offseason program.

A regression to the mean has Cutler throwing to Alshon Jeffery, not Marc Mariani, on third down this year. Combine that with a competent defense and a manageable schedule, and the Bears could certainly sneak into last playoff spot — and lose. For a franchise that has reached the postseason only once since the Super Bowl season 10 years ago, that’s actually considered progress.

Bears backup OT Nate Chandler retires at age 27

Published: Updated:
Bears backup OT Nate Chandler retires at age 27

Bears backup offensive tackle Nate Chandler is retiring at age 27, the team announced Saturday, less than two months after signing with Chicago.

Chandler started 20 games (including playoffs) for the Panthers from 2012-14 after Carolina signed the former UCLA defensive lineman as a 2012 undrafted rookie. Chandler missed all of last season with a knee injury, leading to his Panthers release in March.

Chandler's surprising retirement is the second by a veteran Bears backup offensive lineman this offseason. Manny Ramirez, 33, retired in June after signing with the club in free agency. The losses leave Chicago's offensive line depth thin, with Nick Becton (one NFL appearance) the most experienced tackle behind starters, LT Charles Leno and RT Bobby Massie.

Before signing Chandler, the Bears also worked out former top overall pick Jake Long. It wouldn't be surprising, then, if they reached out to the still-unsigned tackle or looked at the remaining few veteran free agent options as camp approaches next week.

Former Giants starting LT Will Beatty is considered the best remaining unsigned veteran offensive tackle available. Whether he or someone else garners interest from the Bears, who have just more than $23 million in available cap space, remains to be seen.

CB Charles Tillman signs 1-day contract, officially retires a Chicago Bear after 13 NFL Seasons

Published: Updated:
CB Charles Tillman signs 1-day contract, officially retires a Chicago Bear after 13 NFL Seasons

LAKE FOREST – Whether former cornerback Charles Tillman is a future Hall of Fame inductee will be decided later on, but the franchise’s all-time leader in forced fumbles (44) and defensive touchdowns (8) left his mark on the league.

The iconic "Peanut Punch" will still likely resonate even when he's gone.

A cheerful, candid Tillman signed a one-day contract and officially retired as a member of the Bears – the team he spent his first 12 seasons playing for — at a ceremonial press conference attended by his four kids and wife inside Halas Hall Friday afternoon.

"I'm just gonna try to separate the man away from the ball the best way I know how. That's not with my shoulder pads. That's with my fists," Tillman said of his signature "peanut punch."

"If there's one regret I have, it's that I wasn't the first one to make the 40-40 (forced fumbles and interceptions) club," said Tillman, who came just two interceptions short. As a Bear, Tillman had 36 interceptions – third in franchise history.

Tillman, the Bears' second-round pick in 2003 out of Louisiana-Lafayette, is grateful for former Bears area scout, Chris Ballard, who advocated for a little-known prospect to be drafted high, but the faith invested paid off.

"You saw me turn into a man in front of your own eyes," Tillman said, sharing a story of a past interaction with former player development director and personnel executive Dwayne Joseph, who he said taught him how to be a professional. "You're a CEO, and you need to conduct yourself in the manner of a CEO," Tillman remembered from Joseph.

Tillman reminisced about memories of joining the organization, and facing the Vikings and wide receiver Randy Moss in a 2003 contest came to mind. "I think (the game) really just showed the world that I could play with anybody. I had a chip on my shoulder cause I was this young kid that no one knew about...I wanted people to know I could play with anybody despite going to a smaller Division I school," Tillman said.

Tillman is slated to begin his next chapter as part of the Fox NFK Kickoff pregame coverage on Sundays. He ruled out NFL coaching, but he's open to coaching his children. With 152 starts in a Bears uniform, his efforts leave him fourth in Bears history with 737 tackles, 201 more than the next corner (Donnell Woolford) on the list.
 
A two-time Pro Bowl selection, Tillman’s length at 6-foot-2 helped paved the way for high-profile matchups against former NFC foe and recently retired Lions wideout Calvin Johnson Jr –matchups that Tillman said made him a better player. Now, he has Johnson's jersey hanging in his man cave.

"I think Calvin definitely made me a better player. I didn't win every battle – nor did he – but I think him and I both played the game with respect. Nothing but respect for that guy.," Tillman said.

Tillman left the Bears after 12 seasons and reunited with Ron Rivera, his former defensive coordinator from 2004-06, in Carolina last season. Appearing in 12 games (two starts) Tillman’s final season ended with a torn ACL, his third major injury since 2013 after two triceps tears in 2013 and 2014. But Tillman still found his way back to Chicago, home of some of the NFL's better defenses over the past decade.

Tillman rattled off a slew of 12 high-profile names that helped him become a better football player. Tillman said when former defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli was around, they had the "best D-Line in the business."

"If you had to do a top-10 defense in the last 50 years, I think you'll see the Chicago Bears on that list. I'm just glad to have my name associated with greatness," Tillman said.

Chicago Bears release S Omar Bolden, who just joined team in March on one-year deal

Published: Updated:
Chicago Bears release S Omar Bolden, who just joined team in March on one-year deal

The Bears announced Friday they've released veteran S Omar Bolden, who signed a one-year deal in March to reunite with coach John Fox after winning a Super Bowl ring with the Broncos.

Bolden, the 27-year-old special teams ace, appeared in 56 games from 2012-15 with the Broncos, where he led Denver in special-teams tackles in 2014 and finished second as a rookie in 2012.

In addition to his special teams expertise, Bolden was expected to provide valuable depth at the Bears' thinnest position, where Adrian Amos will likely be joined in the starting lineup by a first- or second-year player.

But Bolden, who also has return experience, suffered an ACL injury in January during Denver's divisional-round victory versus the Steelers, ending his Super Bowl run.

2016 Chicago Bears training camp preview: Safeties

Published: Updated:
2016 Chicago Bears training camp preview: Safeties

This is the 10th of our position-by-position series previewing what to watch in Bears training camp this summer. The team reports to Bourbonnais July 27.

2016 training camp previews: Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive line, defensive line, outside linebackers, inside linebackers, cornerbacks

It’s summer, which means lots of construction in Chicago, sticky humidity, and the Bears having question marks at safety. Their only surefire answer at the position is Adrian Amos, who was a fifth-round pick last year and had only two passes defensed. The Bears cut Antrel Rolle and are going young at the position, likely to have 23-year-old Amos starting opposite a 22-year-old.

Three things to watch at safety in training camp:

Amos taking the leap: Ryan Pace’s first rookie class is set to make lots of contributions this season with several starters, but none has Amos’ pressure. After starting every game last season and missing only three snaps, Amos should have a great understanding of Vic Fangio’s defense and has had an offseason to make the Year Two jump that NFL teams hope for from its rookies. With uncertainty at the spot next to him, Amos’ ability to step in and make plays — or, not give up big plays — is crucial to the success of the Bears’ defense. Like the rest of the secondary, Amos will be asked to make more plays on the ball. He had zero interceptions, zero forced fumbles and zero fumble recovers last season. Now he needs to take his game to the next level to be a difference-maker.

Battle to start: Most of the Bears’ starting jobs are set, so this will be one of the top story lines at camp. Harold Jones-Quartey appears to have the first crack at the job. The former Division-II player shined down the stretch last season with an interception, forced fumble and two passes defensed. He was claimed last September, so didn’t have the spring to work with the defense, but he has the physicality and aggressiveness the Bears need. Rookie Deon Bush (more on him in a bit) certainly has the athleticism to be a factor. Veteran Chris Prosinski stepped in last season for five starts and is the most experienced of the safety bunch. Former Bronco Omar Bolden, known more for his special teams, was released Friday after signing a one-year deal in March. Other players we’ll see at safety this summer include rookie DeAndre Houston-Carson and converted corner Demontre Hurst.

Rookie impact: As a fourth-round pick out of Miami, Bush is a hard hitter who wasn’t afraid to stick his nose into the play for the Hurricanes. He may have the highest ceiling of all the players competing to start next to Amos, and he’ll be watched closely in camp to see how quickly he can transition to Fangio’s defense. Houston-Carson comes to the Bears with an outstanding special-teams pedigree in terms of blocking kicks, and that’s where he’ll make his mark early on, but a converted corner, Houston-Carson could certainly make an impression on defense in Bourbonnais.

Indianapolis Colts DL Arthur Jones suspended first four games for performance-enhancing drugs

Published:
Indianapolis Colts DL Arthur Jones suspended first four games for performance-enhancing drugs

Arthur Jones' disappointing start to his Colts career hit another snag Friday, when he was suspended the first four games without pay for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drugs policy.

Jones, 30, signed a five-year deal including $16 million guaranteed two offseasons ago, but after appearing in just nine games (three starts) in 2014, he missed all of last season with an ankle injury.

Prior to reuniting with his former Ravens defensive coordinator, Colts coach Chuck Pagano, Jones started 20-of-50 games from 2010-13 in Baltimore, tallying 8.5 sacks.

The way we see it

The Colts were desperately counting on Jones in 2015. The only silver lining of his absence might've been the quick ascent of rookie Stanford products Henry Anderson and David Parry. But with the Colts getting Andrew Luck back and expecting to rebound from a dreadful 2015, Jones was again being looked at for starter's production and veteran leadership.

We'll see if Jones is ever able to fulfill the lofty expectations that followed him to Indianapolis, but if he's to do so, it'll once again be delayed.

2 separate police reports accuse Ezekiel Elliott of domestic violence; Elliott says 'I never put my hands on her'

Published: Updated:
2 separate police reports accuse Ezekiel Elliott of domestic violence; Elliott says 'I never put my hands on her'

A a second police report was filed with the Columbus police department accusing Cowboys top pick Ezekiel Elliott of domestic violence, the Dallas Morning News reported Friday.

Elliott, the former Ohio State star back selected fourth overall by Dallas, was accused of attacking a woman claiming to be his live-in girlfriend in a parked car early Friday morning in Columbus, according to a police report obtained by TMZ.

Elliott's representation told TMZ the claim was false, and NFL Media's Michael Irvin said he's been in contact with Elliott, who told Irvin, "I never put my hands on her."

Clarence Hill of the Ft. Worth Star Telegram cites a source that indicates Elliott tried to break off his relationship with the woman, who said she'd respond by "ruining him." Reports indicate Elliott, who said the woman's injuries stem from a bar fight with another woman, has saved text messages of the exchange.

According to the Dallas Morning News, a second police report was filed Friday by the accuser — who posted pictures of her bodily injuries on her Instagram page with Elliott's handle tagged in one of them — claiming Elliott struck her several times between Saturday and Wednesday, leaving visible bruises. The News also obtained audio of a 911 call in which a woman claims, "He's been doing it for the past five days." When asked where she'd been struck, she responded, "All over."

A DMN source indicates Elliott, who hasn't been charged with any crime, vehemently denies the allegations and is expected to tell his side of the story Friday afternoon.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league intends to launch its own investigation.

In a statement given to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Elliott's father, Stacy Elliott said:

"The reported allegations and Internet postings regarding our son are completely false. Ezekiel has done nothing wrong. The police have investigated this matter and eyewitnesses have verified the lack of any wrongdoing. The actual evidence in this matter clearly indicates what the real motivation was behind the police being called. We are confident that when the truth comes to light it will reveal the falsity of these claims. Ezekiel has been fully cooperative with the police and will continue to do so—along with cooperating with the NFL—moving forward.”