The Bears spent the offseason making notable upgrades to their defense – adding edge rusher Leonard Floyd in the first round of the draft and, before that, free agents Danny Trevathan, Jerrell Freeman and Akiem Hicks – but it’s quarterback Jay Cutler who will determine how far the club goes this season, opines Eric Prisbell of USA Today.
With Adam Gase having left Chicago over the winter to become Miami’s head coach, Cutler will now work with his sixth different offensive coordinator since 2009. There’s familiarity in place, though, as successor Dowell Loggains was the Bears’ quarterbacks coach last season. Under Gase and Loggains, Cutler posted a career-best passer rating (92.2) in 2015 and threw seven fewer interceptions (11) than he did in 2014. He’s in position to succeed again with the healthy receiver duo of Alshon Jeffery and last year’s first-round pick, seventh overall selection Kevin White. Jeffrey sat out seven games with various ailments in 2015, and White lost the entire season because of a stress fracture in his left ankle. On the other hand, it remains to be seen how well second-year running back Jeremy Langford will replace dual-threat Matt Forte, who will no longer serve as Cutler’s security blanket after signing with the Jets in free agency.
Notes on three other clubs from the North divisions:
- Interestingly, contract-year Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell revealed in his new rap song, “Focus,” that he wants $15MM per annum on his next deal, relays FOX Sports’ Rob Perez. The 24-year-old superstar is highly unlikely to receive that much, however, per Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. The Steelers will have a chance to quash Bell’s $15MM dream next offseason by giving him the franchise tag, which is worth $11.789MM for running backs this year. Bell could otherwise sign a contract that averages $15MM annually – but only artificially, notes Florio, who points out that the front end of the pact wouldn’t reach that total. For now, Bell is on track to play out 2016 on a sub-$1MM salary.
- Given that second-year man Ameer Abdullah isn’t a traditional workhorse running back, the Lions will need someone to separate himself from the pack this summer and ultimately serve as a complement to Abdullah in 2016, writes Justin Rogers of MLive.com. Free agent pickup Stevan Ridley – a 1,200-yard rusher in 2012 – and NFL sophomore Zach Zenner are strong candidates, but Michigan native George Winn also has a chance to win the role, Rogers contends. The 210-pounder has spent time with six organizations since going undrafted out of Cincinnati in 2013, logging 19 appearances and 23 carries – all with the Lions. Detroit also has Theo Riddick as a backfield option, of course, but he’s a far bigger threat as a pass catcher than as a rusher.
- Newly acquired Ravens safety Eric Weddle wore the headset in his helmet as a Charger and relayed each defensive play call to his teammates, but that won’t be the case in Baltimore, according to Garrett Downing of the club’s website. For the third straight year, the Ravens will stick with middle linebacker C.J. Mosley in that role. Weddle, for his part, is content deferring to Mosley. “It’s best to have it as the [middle linebacker], because they are in the front seven most of the time,” he told Downing.