Our next important reason to give a damn this year is that it is what some would call a “contract year” for key position players.
This is the year those contract players should be stepping up to earn their spot on the team next year and beyond.
During a contract year, players often play their hardest in attempts to receiving a bigger payday at the season’s end.
Players to Watch For
The obvious highlight here is Alshon.
After drafting Kevin White, it would be awesome to see another good duo like last year’s. In 2014 Alshon had 85 receptions and totaled 1133 yards, had no fumbles, and even hauled in a pass for 74 yards.
Fundamentals play a big role in winning ball games and I’m sure John Fox will stress that.
Therefore, that fumble stat stands out to me in particular. If Alshon can keep a hold of the ball with zero fumbles, do the small things right, and continue making highlight reel plays, you can bet you he will return to Chicago next year.
It’ll be interesting to see how Alshon steps up as the leader of the receiving squad. Without Marshall, he will have to become the role model both on and off the field. If he can make that leap in leadership, he will become a more valuable player to the organization and receive a bigger payday.
Matt Forte is another one of the big question marks to return next year.
Ryan Pace is at the helm of player evaluations and if he sees enough fight and another year or two of good potential then he will put an offer on the table for the 29 year old running back. But only if he is willing to take a pay cut.
In this day and age of NFL football, the running back position is undervalued compared to what it used to be. Being over 27 years old and a running back, Matt will not receive the big money he is after. In my opinion, he’s a solid running back and I would love to see him remain a Bear and finish his career in Chicago.
However, with all the talent being added to the running back position, I have a hard time seeing Forte returning.
While still a small possibility to use him as a back-up, I just see it as unlikely. He will really have to impress the new coaching staff to his future secure in Chicago.
The Guys on Their Last Leg
There’s a couple veterans on their last leg that are in contract years. Two players with six career interceptions: Ryan Mundy and Alan Ball are the first that come to mind.
Did Mundy prove himself worthy last year?
He had four interceptions and 75 tackles a year ago. Both totals are major jumps from his years in New York and Pittsburgh.
If Ryan can improve or at the least repeat what he did last year, then he has earned himself at least one more year. Being 30 years old, he’s going to have a short leash. There are two young and talented safeties under him that will be fighting to become a starter at the position if Mundy starts to have a decline in production.
Alan Ball had only one interception last year and 22 combined tackles in seven games.
If Alan (who is also 30 years old) can stay healthy and play “Peanut-esque,” he has a chance to stick around. Alan is in a tough spot as he has to compete with Tim Jennings, Kyle Fuller, and Sherrick McManis (who is also under a one year deal) for a starting position.
Coming off an injury year, Alan has to come out into training camp on top of his game with a lot going against him.
My prediction is that neither Ryan or Alan comes back to the Bears next year. However, I have a hunch that Sherrick earns another contract to come back as a corner for the Bears.
Two Linebackers to Keep Watch On
Sam Acho and Mason Foster, are two linebackers who signed one year deals this offseason. It’s obvious that the two will be playing hard, fighting to stay a part of the team after 2015.
I think the linebacker position is one that Bears fans are overlooking this offseason. Out of free agency, the Bears signed Sam Acho, Mason Foster, and Pernell McPhee. The team also moved Jared Allen, Willie Young, and Lamaar Houston to become stand-up rushers on the outside.
Plus, they still have Christian Jones who made a case that he has lots of room to grow. There’s “Boom Boom” Bostic, David Bass, and of course Shea McClellin.
With a plethora of linebackers, I’d like to see plenty of substitutions. Keeping a fresh linebacker core on the field at all times will only make the defense stronger.
Last year, Sam Acho had 31 combined tackles, a sack and an interception. A fun stat for Sam is that he has seven career forced fumbles. Definitely a guy that can go after the ball if you ask him to.
How does he compare to the other guys at his position?
Comparatively speaking, he has just as much experience as the other guys on the roster. Sam has the speed to chase after and cover guys in the flat, but also has a knack to go after the football. He seems like a smart player. I don’t see him starting right away, but you can bet once Jared Allen’s age hits him in the middle of the season, Sam will be the guy to step up and fill his shoes.
Mason Foster looks to become one of the inside linebackers to start this year.
Aside from Pernell McPhee, the hype on defense went to Mason. He played his first four seasons with Tampa Bay where he had 62 combined tackles in ten games played last year. This was a drop off year in terms of his production, as in 2013 he had 105 combined tackles. This was a scheme issue as he did not fit Lovie Smith’s Tampa 2 and is much better suited as a 3-4 middle linebacker.
If he can stay away from the injury bug, I bet he gets another 100+ tackles this season.
What I would like to see him do is go after the football when he tackles. Mason only has two forced fumbles in his career and I don’t want to do a lot of comparing to Brian Urlacher, but in the same amount of time Brian had six forced fumbles and 506 combined tackles in his first four seasons while Mason has two forced fumbles and 343 combined tackles in the same amount of time. I’m not as concerned about the tackle difference as I am the forced fumble category.
I think both players will earn another contract with the Bears.
A Darkhorse Player to Watch
My “darkhorse” player is Jimmy Clausen.
Can he play well enough to remain the backup and possibly take over after the Cutler era?
This will be the year to determine Jimmy’s fate. While his ultimate goal of being the starter may be a year or two away, this is the year he needs to impress Ryan Pace. Jimmy needs to outshine Jay when Ryan looks at the quarterbacks.
While John Fox will more than likely start Jay, Jimmy needs to think long term, even though he is 27 years old. Clausen had a very hard time coming into the league with the Panthers, but he showed some promise last year in his time with the Bears.
Plus, Jimmy was John Fox’s second round pick in 2010. In our last post, Will mentioned how John Fox and Adam Gase worked with Peyton Manning. The two could use that experience in bringing back the Notre Dame stand out. If he wants to revive his career, there’s no better time than the last year of his contract.
He’s going to have to play lights out all the time if he wants to have shot at coming back. In my opinion, after this year the quarterback spots will be vacated and refilled from free agency and the draft as there looks to be better options than Jimmy and even Jay available in 2016.
I think that bringing back Alshon should be the number one priority. Hands down. Pay that man.
Even with such a log jam at the linebacker position, I think both Sam and Mason are going to earn another contract with the Bears. While Sam hasn’t quite put up the numbers yet, I think he needs his moment to shine and he will thrive.
Unfortunately, it looks like the Bears will have to part ways with Matt Forte as his age is becoming an issue, along with Ryan Mundy and Alan Ball.
Lastly, my gut says the quarterback position will be cleaned out thoroughly after this year.
With many players on a contract year, Bears fans will have a season to watch and find out which of these players are willing to fight to stay in Chicago and remain a Bear. Hopefully in the process these players have one of, if not their best, seasons.
That would only mean good things for our Bears. 🙂
In Case You Missed It
Reason #1: Kevin White’s Vitality to Jumpstart Bears Offense
Reason #2: Restoration of Leadership (and the Captain Patch)
Reason #3: New Bears to Help Create New Identity
Reason #4: Players Poised to Perform in Contract Years
Reason #5: The New Coaching Staff of Fox, Gase, and Fangio
Reason #6: Continuing Along the “Cutler Coaster”
Reason #7: Top Three Draftees (Not Named Kevin White)
Reason #8: So Many Questions (Creates a Little Bit of Drama)
Reason #9: New Video Boards and New Lounge to Improve Fan Experience
Reason #10: (Finally) Moving on Past Lovie Smith