A new chapter in Chicago Bears’ history begins when first-year general manager Ryan Pace oversees the club’s 2015 NFL draft, which starts on Thursday. For every general manager, the draft is the most important building block towards becoming a perennial playoff contender. Organizations that hit on the bulk of their draft picks tend to sustain success. Franchises with poor draft records often cycle through front office members and coaches at a rapid rate.
Here is the first in a series of three recaps of how the Bears fared under former general manager Phil Emery.
Total picks: 6
Left on the roster: 2
First round: Shea McClellin, DE, Boise State -- 40 games played (20 starts), 120 tackles, 7.5 sacks, one fumble recovery. Emery’s first-ever pick, McClellin looked out of place at defensive end before switching to linebacker last year. With the exception of a terrific game against Green Bay in 2013 (three sacks), McClellin hasn’t made many impact plays and is often a liability vs. the run. There is a certain level of optimism that McClellin finds a role to suit his talents in the new 3-4 defense, but if not, the end is near.
Second round: Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina -- 42 games played (36 starts), 198 receptions for 2,921 yards and 20 touchdowns. Bears traded up in the second round to grab Jeffery, who posted consecutive 1,000 receiving yard seasons in 2013-14. Best year came in ’13: 89 catches, 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns. Great pick. Entering the final year of his original rookie contract.
Third round: Brandon Hardin, S, Oregon State -- Never played a regular-season game. Placed on injured reserve rookie year. Hardin’s issues were all on-the-field. Failed to make the transition from college to NFL. Battled injuries at Oregon State and Chicago. Emery later assumed full responsibility for the botched pick.
Fourth round: Evan Rodriguez, TE, Temple -- 12 games (five starts), four receptions for 21 yards. Rodriguez showed promise his first year, but a series of off-the field incidents forced the Bears to release him. Rodriguez also had character issues in college. Another rotten draft choice.
Sixth round: Isaiah Frey, CB, Nevada -- 19 games (seven starts), 59 tackles and two forced fumbles. Frey didn’t play for the Bears in the 2012 regular season but developed into the starting nickel back in 2013 and appeared in three games in 2014. This was not a bad pick. Frey is a decent player who also caught on with Tampa. Nice value in the sixth round.
Seventh round: Greg McCoy, CB, TCU -- Never played for the Bears.
NFL officials said Friday they have informed Chicago Bears defensive end Ray McDonald that he won't be disciplined by the league for a domestic violence incident that occurred at his San Jose, California, home last year.
''We have completed that [domestic violence] investigation,'' NFL general counsel Jeff Pash told the Associated Press Sports Editors, as quoted in the Chicago Sun-Times. ''[NFL special counsel for investigations] Lisa [Friel] and her team completed that investigation [and] did not establish a violation of the personal conduct policy. We informed the player and the [NFL] Players Association.''
Pash said the league informed the former San Francisco 49ers lineman of its ruling a few weeks ago.
McDonald was arrested Aug. 31 on suspicion of domestic violence while celebrating his 30th birthday at his home with teammates and friends. Santa Clara (Calif.) County prosecutors announced in November that they had insufficient evidence to charge McDonald. They cited conflicting versions of what happened, a lack of verifiable eyewitnesses and a lack of cooperation by the alleged victim, McDonald's fiancee.
The arrest came only days after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced stiffer penalties for players accused of domestic violence, including a six-week suspension for a first offense and at least a year for a second. That move followed scrutiny over former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice's two-game penalty stemming from his arrest on an assault charge in February 2014.
Here is the second part of the Chicago Bears Twitter mailbag. Appreciate all the feedback.
— Danny Pedretti (@DannyPedretti) April 22, 2015
@ESPNChiBears: My belief is the Bears will miss the postseason in 2015. I believe the organization is on the way up with John Fox, Ryan Pace, Adam Gase, Vic Fangio, etc., but a large gap exists between Chicago and Green Bay. Until the Bears prove they can consistently beat Aaron Rodgers, I have a difficult time projecting them as a strong playoff contender. By the way, the schedule is ridiculous. Green Bay, Arizona and Seattle to begin the regular season? Ouch. The back-to-back games vs. Peyton Manning and Rodgers (on a short week) look tricky as well. I don’t expect the Bears to play dead like last year. I bet Fox’s crew pulls off a couple surprise wins. But I predicted 7-9 when the schedule came out Tuesday. Some of my colleagues even told me I was too generous. But I believe seven wins is realistic, maybe even eight. After that, I’ll have to see it to believe it.
— Ian White (@ian_c_w) April 22, 2015
@ESPNChiBears: Ian, I suspect the Chargers want a young quarterback to replace Philip Rivers, not Cutler. From the Bears’ vantage point: do they want to obtain a 33-year old quarterback and pay him big money after already sinking a ton of cash into the Cutler deal? Look, I appreciate Rivers. I know people in San Diego that rave about the guy. He’s had a great career. I also understand that John Fox is 60-years old and probably doesn’t want to wait around forever for the Bears to win. Even though expectations are low in 2015, there is a sense of urgency for Fox to make the postseason in the very near future. But how much would Rivers cost? Are the Bears in a position to surrender future first-round picks? Taking it all into consideration, I’d be surprised if it happened. Honestly, I think San Diego should keep Rivers and just franchise tag him in 2016. Why let him go? The whole concept of Rivers balking at the idea of the Chargers relocating to Los Angeles doesn’t make a ton of sense. If Rivers is traded, he’s going to have to relocate, and probably to a city much further away from San Diego.
— mvarga99 (@mvarga99) April 22, 2015
@ESPNChiBears: One-year contracts are common in the NFL. I don’t see that being an issue. In fact, I like the concept of forcing guys to play on one-year deals with the hope of securing a longer-term agreement in the future. In theory, players should be hungrier. My concerns on defense have little to do with contracts. Can the Bears rush the passer? Is there a competent, run-stopping nose tackle on the roster that can stay healthy? Can Ray McDonald stay out of trouble? Can Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston or Willie Young play OLB? Will Tim Jennings recover from a bad year? Who is the third corner? Can Antrel Rolle hold up physically? These are the defensive issues on my radar. One-year contracts are a good thing, except for the players. It stinks for them. I understand. But this is how the business works.
CHICAGO – With phase one of the Chicago Bears’ voluntary offseason program over, the team transitions to a three-day voluntary minicamp scheduled for Tuesday through Thursday at Halas Hall.
Forte, entering the final year of his contract, announced on Twitter on April 13 that he decided to remain in South Florida to train instead of participating in the opening phase of the offseason program that featured strength and conditioning and physical rehabilitation.
Bennett’s decision to skip the first two weeks of the program went unannounced.
Although Bennett stopped by Halas Hall one day this week to greet teammates, he did not officially participate in the phase one portion of the program, according to multiple sources.
Bennett is coming off a career year in 2014 where he topped all NFL tight ends in catches (90) and also set personal bests in receiving yards (1,038) and touchdowns (six).
He was a late addition to the Pro Bowl roster after New England’s Rob Gronkowski pulled out following the Patriots’ Super Bowl victory, making Bennett the first Chicago tight end selected to the Pro Bowl since Mike Ditka in 1965.
Bennett signed a four-year, $20.4 million deal with $9.215 million in guarantees on March 13, 2013. His compensation for 2015 is scheduled to include a $4.9 million base salary and $100,000 workout bonus.
Since joining the Bears, Bennett has 155 catches for 1,675 yards and 11 touchdowns.
However, Bennett’s average per year salary of his current deal ($5.1 million) places him far down the list amongst the NFL’s highest paid tight ends. Seattle’s Jimmy Graham tops the list at $10 million per season, followed by 11 other tight ends averaging a minimum of $6.4 million per year.
Next week should provide the Bears with a clearer understanding of Forte and Bennett’s offseason intentions.
Here is the first part of the Chicago Bears Twitter mailbag. Thank you for participating.
@ESPNChiBears Do you think the best value at the 7th pick will be one of the 2 WR? Or could we see a trade back and surprise pick Gurley?
— JT Barczak (@jtbarczak) April 22, 2015
@ESPNChiBears: I agree, JT, the best value at No. 7 could be Amari Cooper or Kevin White, depending on if either is available when the Bears pick next Thursday. Finding pass-rushers is vital on defense, but outside of Dante Fowler Jr. , Leonard Williams, and maybe Shane Ray, the list of potential first-round outside linebacker/defensive linemen carries a certain degree of risk. First-year general manager Ryan Pace cannot afford to miss at No. 7. That kills a new general manager. Shea McClellin isn't the reason Phil Emery got fired after three years, but it got his tenure off to a bad start. There are only a couple of can't-miss prospects every year. I'm not necessarily putting Cooper or White in that category, but they seem like safer picks with tremendous professional potential, especially White, who just seemed to be scratching the surface at West Virginia. Todd Gurley is a wild card. Todd McShay has Gurley going No. 6 to the New York Jets in his Mock Draft 5.0. He might not be around if the Bears find a trade partner and move back.
— Mitchell Weinstein (@mitch_weinstein) April 22, 2015
@ESPNChiBears: A lot can happen in the span of 12 months, but Christian Hackenberg is by no means the consensus top quarterback in next year's draft. His numbers dropped considerably between his freshman and sophomore years at Penn State -- that's a red flag. Hackenberg finished 2014 with 12 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and completion percentage of 55.8. Hardly the stuff of legends. Now, Hackenberg threw 20 touchdown passes and just 10 interceptions as a true freshman in 2013, so he's clearly a prospect worth monitoring, but he needs a monster junior season to ensure a high draft position. There is also no guarantee that Hackenberg will leave school early. Based on last season, he may be better off staying four years at Penn State. So I don't envision a "Hackenberg sweepstakes" anytime soon. I'll leave the hardcore evaluations to Mel Kiper Jr., but as someone who watches college football, I'd take Michigan State's Connor Cook or Ohio State's Cardale Jones over Hackenberg at this present time. But as I stated earlier: a lot can change over the span of 12 months.
@ESPNChiBears after Williams, Fowler & the 2QBs (all likely gone by Bears pick) who is the best offensive and defensive prospect?
— Bill Brannigan (@snoman1983) April 22, 2015
@ESPNChiBears: Bill, I think in that scenario the choice on offense is easy: Cooper or White. From the Bears' perspective, I lean toward Cooper because he played three years at a major program like Alabama for one of the greatest coaches in the history of college football, Nick Saban. The Bears should be privy to every possible detail about Cooper because of his relationship with wide receivers coach Mike Groh, who used to be the Crimson Tide's recruiting coordinator and receivers coach. I look at Cooper as the safest pick. However, I do feel White has tremendous ability and would be a fierce weapon paired with Alshon Jeffery. I can't get onboard with Chicago using the seventh pick on Gurley, because of his knee injury, and the fact he's a running back. On defense, I think Missouri's Shane Ray is the next guy. He's a much safer pick than Randy Gregory for a team looking to add a pass-rusher.
Here is the final in a five-part series examining the Chicago Bears’ five best-and-worst first-round draft choices since 2000.
Name: Brian Urlacher, LB, New Mexico
Seasons with Bears: 2000-2012
Summary: Future Hall of Famer. Urlacher served as the face of the Bears’ franchise until he left town. One of the greatest linebackers of his generation, Urlacher led the Bears to four division titles and a berth in Super Bowl XLI. Named the 2005 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and voted to eight Pro Bowls, Urlacher started 180 games and made a team-record 1,779 tackles. The middle linebacker also tallied 41.5 sacks, 11 forced fumbles and 22 interceptions. He was the unquestioned leader inside the Bears’ locker room who treated every single player with respect and generosity.
Name: Michael Haynes
Seasons with Bears: 2003-05
Summary: The story goes that Haynes caught the Bears’ attention after he dominated Senior Bowl practices leading up to the 2003 NFL draft. Unfortunately, the Senior Bowl workouts turned out to be fool’s gold. So did Haynes’ 15.5 sack season at Penn State in 2002. Haynes had a combined 5.5 sacks from 2003-05. He started only four games. He never fit in Lovie Smith’s style of defense at either defensive end or defensive tackle. The Bears released Haynes in the summer of 2006. He later retired at 27.
ESPN Draft Analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay's head-to-head, three-round live mock draft Thursday evening netted the Chicago Bears a possible future No. 1 wide receiver and a pair of front-seven defenders.
Kiper and McShay participated in a rotating mock draft televised on ESPN 2 with Kiper making the even-numbered picks and McShay the odd-numbered selections.
Although McShay envisioned USC's Leonard Williams slipping to the Bears in his NFL Mock Draft 5.0, the talented former Trojans defensive lineman went in the top-five of the live mock along with the two quarterbacks, Florida's Dante Fowler Jr. and Alabama's Amari Cooper.
McShay's decision is hardly surprising. Despite White's limited body of work at West Virginia, may feel he is capable of stepping in for Brandon Marshall, who is now a member of the Jets.
A league source told ESPN.com that White visited the Bears on Tuesday.
Following White's selection, McShay went defense with Chicago's second and third picks:
No. 39 -- Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA
No. 71 -- Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma
McShay and Kiper went on to explain each of their picks.
PHILADELPHIA -- The family of late Pro Bowl safety Dave Duerson will appeal this week's NFL concussion settlement amid concerns it doesn't include future awards for the brain decay diagnosed after his 2011 suicide.
An appeal could hold up the settlement approved Wednesday by a federal judge in Philadelphia. The potential $1 billion deal is designed to monitor more than 20,000 NFL retirees over 65 years and compensate those with dementia, Alzheimer's disease and other serious neurological conditions.
But the plan doesn't include future awards for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, often called the signature disease of football.
The judge concluded CTE research is in its "infancy" and suspected early symptoms, including violence, mood swings and depression, shouldn't by themselves trigger awards.
The 50-year-old Duerson, who spent most of his 10-year career with the Chicago Bears, left behind four children and a note asking that his brain be studied.
Lawyer Thomas Demetrio said the children "are pretty adamant that their father would want them to forge ahead for the benefit of these unsuspecting former players."
"They saw firsthand how mood and behavioral problems impact a man and a family," he said. "It would have been awfully nice if the NFL -- who could well afford it -- had allowed CTE to be compensated."
Senior U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody, during more than two years of negotiations, persuaded the NFL to lift a $765 million cap on the settlement fund. The NFL, with $10 billion in annual revenue, could now spend more than $1 billion over time, including inflation and $112 million in lawyer fees sought by the other side.
In 2014, Pascoe played in all 16 games for the Falcons, catching two passes for three yards and a touchdown.
Known primarily for blocking/special teams, Pasco has recorded 40 career receptions for 336 yards and two touchdowns. A member of the Super Bowl XLVI champion Giants, Pascoe did catch five balls for 39 yards and a touchdown in New York’s postseason run, including four receptions for 33 yards in the title game against the New England Patriots.
Pascoe is the fifth reserve tight end on the roster behind incumbent starter Martellus Bennett. He will compete over the summer with Dante Rosario, Zach Miller, Blake Annen and Jacob Maxwell for the backup tight end spots.
Here is the fourth in a five-part series examining the Chicago Bears' five best-and-worst first round draft choices since 2000.
No. 2 Best
Name: Kyle Long, OG, Oregon
Seasons with Bears: 2013-present
Summary: Phil Emery nailed the Long pick. Credit Emery and his college scouting department at the time for targeting Long at No. 20, despite his small body of work at Oregon (11 games, five starts). In two NFL seasons, Long has started 31 games and made two Pro Bowls. Long is one of the most popular and fan friendly players on the roster, not to mention a vocal leader inside the locker room. Long should be the cornerstone of the Bears' offensive line for the next decade, barring injury. He is expected to take an even larger leadership role in 2015 with the departure of respected veteran center Roberto Garza.
No. 2 Worst
Name: Cedric Benson
Seasons with Bears: 2005-07
Summary: The former No. 4 overall pick became a 1,000 yard rusher after he left the Bears, but Benson was a bust in Chicago. Benson spent two seasons in the shadows behind Thomas Jones, where he actually flashed some potential in 2006. However, when the Bears handed Benson the starting tailback job in 2007, he only rushed for 674 yards in 11 games (3.4 yards per carry). Benson also had chronic off-the-field trouble that hastened his demise in Chicago. After the Bears drafted Matt Forte in the second round in 2008, Benson became more trouble than he was worth. To his credit, Benson reinvented himself in Cincinnati, torching the Bears for 189 yards in 2009, but his reputation in Chicago is forever tarnished. Benson appeared in just 35 games for the Bears.
USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams seemed unlikely to be available at No. 7 overall in most of the earlier mock drafts.
A first-team All-Pac-12 selection last year as a junior, Williams appeared destined to be a top-five pick after recording 80 tackles, seven sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and one interception in 2014. A three-year starter for the Trojans, Williams is a former Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year and two-time winner of USC's Defensive Lineman of the Year award.
If that scenario actually plays out on draft night, the Bears need to sprint to the podium. There is no reason to overthink the pick. Williams is one of the five best players in the entire 2015 NFL draft class from a pure talent standpoint. For the Bears to be in position to grab Williams at No. 7 is an absolute steal.
ESPN Bears reporter Jeff Dickerson discusses whether the Bears might make a move for Marcus Mariota.
Here is the third in a five-part series examining the Chicago Bears' five best-and-worst first round draft choices since 2000.
Name: Greg Olsen, TE, Miami
Seasons with Bears: 2007-10
Summary: Olsen's career took off after the Bears traded the tight end to the Carolina Panthers in the summer of 2011. Olsen earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl in 2014 after catching 84 passes for 1,008 yards and six touchdowns. But even in Chicago, Olsen displayed signs of being a gifted pass-catcher. Olsen's best year with the Bears occurred in 2009 when he made 60 receptions for 612 yards and eight touchdowns. The Panthers believed Olsen was just scratching the surface. Carolina's evaluation turned out to be spot on.
Name: David Terrell, WR, Michigan
Seasons with Bears: 2001-04
Summary: Terrell lasted only four seasons in Chicago, leaving the Bears with only 128 catches for 1,602 yards and nine touchdowns. Hardly numbers befitting the No. 8 overall pick of the draft. In fairness, Terrell played for some less than stellar offensive coordinators, but he just never developed into the kind of player the Bears thought they were getting out of Michigan. Terrell's been out of the league since a brief stint in 2005 with the Denver Broncos.