Position: Wide receiver/return man
NFL experience: Six years
2015 salary: $660,000
2015 key statistics: 22 receptions for 300 yards; 29 punt returns for 192 yards and 16 kickoff returns for 418 yards.
Probability to return: Moderate
Outlook: Mariani plays with maximum effort. He leaves it all on the field. You have to give Mariani credit for finishing the year on a high note after special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers wanted to bench him outright. Mariani even became a fairly reliable target for quarterback Jay Cutler in the passing game. The mere fact Mariani lasted this long in the NFL is a true testament to his character, work ethic and intelligence. Guys like Mariani are not first-round draft picks. They receive no preferential treatment. They have to fight for everything. That being said, Mariani is on the bubble. Deonte Thompson has already supplanted Mariani on kickoff return. Maybe the Bears feel they can do better. But based on Mariani’s 2015 season; it would be a surprise if he’s not playing somewhere in the NFL next year.
This isn’t Dick Stanfel’s first time as a seniors committee candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The five-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowl selection, according to Pro Football Reference, will be a seniors candidate for the third time when the Hall of Fame committee makes its annual selections this weekend. Stanfel and quarterback Ken Stabler will be considered to be part of the 2016 class in Canton, Ohio.
Stanfel’s candidacy is tougher to quantify than most others because of his position – he was a right guard for Detroit and Washington – and because of when he played. Advanced statistics and a more intricate grading process for linemen didn’t exist in the 1950s, so measuring his level of dominance will be difficult.
His honors suggest a level of dominance in the seven seasons he played in the NFL after being drafted in the second round in 1951 by the Lions. He won two titles with Detroit and was named the Lions’ Most Valuable Player during the 1953 season, something almost unheard of for an offensive lineman.
His dominance in his era was proven by the Hall of Fame naming him to the all-1950s team as a guard.
Stanfel was traded by Detroit after four seasons to Washington, where he was named one of the 70 Greatest Redskins. He played three seasons with Washington before retiring at age 31.
While Stanfel had a short playing career and retired with good years left, he might have made more of a mark as an offensive line coach.
He helped construct the Chicago Bears offensive line that blocked for Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton and won Super Bowl XX. He coached in the NFL from 1964 to 1992 for Philadelphia, San Francisco, New Orleans and Chicago.
He coached Hall of Famer Bob Brown (Philadelphia) and All-Pros Forrest Blue (San Francisco), Jimbo Covert (Chicago) and Jay Hilgenberg (Chicago).
The 1985 Chicago Bears are one of the best and most memorable teams in NFL history. They featured one of the greatest running backs and one of the top defenses the sport has ever seen. A look back at some of their accomplishments, which will also be featured in a 30 for 30 film airing on ESPN on Thursday night at 9 ET:
Not featured on the graphic, but certainly noteworthy, is former Bears linebacker Ron Rivera. Rivera, who was in the second season of his nine-year career in '85, is now the coach of the Carolina Panthers, and on Sunday, he (along with Broncos coach Gary Kubiak) will join the list of those who have reached the Super Bowl as both a player and head coach. Also among the five others to do that: Rivera's head coach in 1985, Mike Ditka.
Position: Defensive end
NFL experience: Five years
2015 salary: $825,000
2015 key statistics: 32 tackles (coaches’ review), six tackles-for-loss, 17 quarterback pressures and four sacks.
Probability to return: High
Outlook: Jenkins may not be a star, but he’s a solid rotational defensive end. Coordinator Vic Fangio’s version of the 3-4 clearly agreed with Jenkins, who enjoyed his finest NFL season in 2015. Now, Jenkins’s production tailed off some as the year wore on, but keep in mind, the Bears had a bunch of injuries up front. It became easier for teams to key in on blocking Jenkins, who, after rookie nose tackle Eddie Goldman, was the most efficient member of the defensive line. Jenkins also seemed popular with teammates inside the locker room, and he routinely spoke publicly for the defense on the days when access was limited at Halas Hall. Jenkins isn’t going to command a high salary in free agency, but he seemingly earned the right to return. Chicago looks like a good fit for Jenkins, and vice versa.
Here is the sixth in an 18-part series examining the Chicago Bears' unrestricted free agents.
Name: Alshon Jeffery
Position: Wide receiver
NFL experience: Four years
2015 salary: $960,157 base salary and $50,000 workout bonus
2015 key statistics: 54 receptions for 807 yards and four touchdowns in nine games.
Probability to return: High
Outlook: Jeffery battled injuries throughout 2015, but he is too talented to not re-sign or franchise. Jeffery is ninth in the NFL in receiving yards (3,361) since 2013. He also tied a Bears’ franchise record with three consecutive 100-yard receiving games in 2015.
“Obviously when Alshon played he was explosive and a playmaker for our offense,” Bears general manager Ryan Pace said. “The previous two seasons he’d been healthy and highly productive. He was frustrated by his injuries. We were frustrated by his injuries. We got to get a better grasp of that. Part of the evaluation of a player is his injuries and his availability. We’ll take that into account.”
Injuries aside, Jeffery is one of the better receivers in the NFC. There is no way the Bears can afford to let him walk away, especially since the club drafted and developed him. The franchise tag is an option if the two sides are unable to hammer out a long-term deal. But unless Jeffery is adamant about eventually leaving Chicago, the prospects of Jeffery agreeing to a lucrative deal (that also protects the Bears to a certain degree) seem reasonable. At the very least, Jeffery ought to be a member of the Bears in 2016.
Here is the fifth in an 18-part series examining the Chicago Bears' unrestricted free agents.
Name: Rob Housler
Position: Tight end
NFL experience: Five years
2015 salary: $175,294 (prorated veteran $745,000 minimum over four games)
2015 key statistics: Three catches for 27 yards in four games
Probability to return: Moderate
Outlook: At 6-foot-5, Housler is probably worth another look. Housler appeared in only four games after the Bears signed him late in the year. Housler, who had a few productive years in Arizona, began the 2015 season with Cleveland. With all the uncertainty surrounding Martellus Bennett, who wants a new contract, Housler is an intriguing player. He’s a big target with a history of catching the football. There is almost no downside to re-signing Housler to another one-year deal and then letting him fight to earn a roster spot in the preseason.
CHICAGO -- Mike Zimmer took the Minnesota Vikings from 7-9 to 11-5 in only two years. Under Zimmer, the Vikings won their final three regular season games in 2015 to clinch the NFC North title -- Minnesota’s first division championship since 2009. For helping the transform the Vikings into legitimate NFC contenders -- they lost a heartbreaker to the Seahawks in the NFC wild-card round of the playoffs on a last-second missed field goal -- Zimmer was voted division coach of the year by ESPN’s NFC North writers.
Zimmer won in a clean sweep, garnering all four first-place votes and doubling the points total of runner-up Mike McCarthy of the Packers. Bears coach John Fox, who finished 6-10 as his former teams (Carolina and Denver) play in Super Bowl 50, finished in third place, two points ahead of his former assistant and current Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. The unorthodox inclusion of an offensive coordinator on this list is a poor reflection on Detroit head coach Jim Caldwell, who was told by Lions ownership he will return in 2016.
Prior to arriving in Minneapolis, Zimmer served as the defensive coordinator of the Cowboys, Falcons and Bengals. The Vikings allowed 18.9 points per game in 2015. Zimmer and his staff also deserve credit for developing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who passed for 3,231 yards and 14 touchdowns, with nine interceptions, and rushed for three touchdowns in his second NFL season.
Full voting (first-place votes in parentheses):
Mike Zimmer: 12 (4)
Mike McCarthy: 6
John Fox: 4
Jim Bob Cooter: 2
The obituary for Elizabeth Porter Bowman of Northbrook, Illinois, reflected a passion for Chicago’s sports teams, except for one polarizing figure.
The obit described the 78-year-old elementary school teacher as a “woman of loyalty, integrity, opinion, curiosity and intelligence. A lifelong fan of the Cubs, Blackhawks and Bears (except Jay Cutler).”
Apparently, Cutler’s improvement during the 2015 season, which was perhaps his best as a pro, wasn’t enough to win over Bowman.