Chicago Sun-Times

Four Down Territory, Feb. 9: The math behind Vasher's situation

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When the Bears finally wrapped up a contract for Devin Hester at the start of training camp last summer, it finished a whirlwind spending spree for general manager Jerry Angelo. Hester was the 10th Bears player he had re-signed or extended in less than six months, a shopping adventure that ran a total of $185.39 million with roughly $59.2 million guaranteed.

Based on the 9-7 season that followed, it wasn't the best money the club ever spent. But the franchise's core group of players remains in tact, and the hope is they'll rebound to playoff form moving forward. When you factor in the deals given to cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher the summer before, the total figure for 12 contracts approaches $250 million or so. Of course, not all of that money will be earned, it's the nature of NFL contracts.

But one of the real themes moving forward in 2009 is that the club is expecting more, particularly from some of the players it invested in. That will serve as a backdrop to our first question of the week in Four Down Territory. We'll knock one out every day this week through Friday. If you have any questions, shoot them in and we'll do our best to get to as many as we can.

Q: What is going to happen to Nathan Vasher? I read quite a bit anymore about the Bears' need for another quality cornerback due to the unknowns about Corey Graham as a regular starter and the unknowns about whether Vasher will return to form after two consecutive seasons ended on injured reserve. Obviously, if Vasher returns to form, that will be great, but what happens if he doesn't? Will the Bears keep him, trade him, cut him or do something else with Vasher? If he's traded, what do you think he'll be worth in return? If he's cut, which I'm guessing is unlikely, I'm sure that will count against the salary cap, but how much?

Andrew B, Parts Unknown

A: This has been a popular question recently and Andrew's is just one of many we have received on Vasher. Some have suggested he's on shaky ground this offseason. I don't see how.

That doesn't mean there is a starting job waiting for Vasher, necessarily, but he certainly figures to be in the mix in 2009. The Bears have paid for Vasher's services. Cutting him now, after two injury-riddled seasons, would be short-sighted no matter how frustrating the experience may have been for the organization. Why unload a player you've already paid? They've paid him $15,654,560 over the last two seasons. Get rid of him now and that money is really squandered. The Bears need to see if Vasher can return to form, and they're certainly looking for him to do so.

A right hand injury limited him to eight games last season. He underwent surgery following Week 4 and the was knocked out for the year when he reinjured the hand at St. Louis Nov. 23. This came on the heels of his 2007 season when a serious groin muscle tear kept him out of 12 games. Vasher was reinserted in the starting lineup in the middle of last season after missing three games even though Corey Graham had performed well in his absence. The sentiment at the time was that Vasher was a former Pro Bowl performer and a veteran who wasn't going to lose his job to injury. He's not in jeopardy of losing his job to injury now. He'll have a full opportunity to win a starting spot in the offseason.

The economics of cutting Vasher don't make sense either. He received an $11.5 million signing bonus with his five-year extension in the summer of 2007. Because 2010 is slated to be an uncapped year, the Bears couldn't spread out the remaining amortization of the signing bonus over two seasons if they cut him. They would be on the hook for the remaining $7,666,664 all at once, on their 2009 books. Subtract out his base salary for this coming season of $2.9 million, and you're looking at a cap hit of $4,766,664. The Bears have plenty of cap space for this season, but that's a lot of dead money for a player who is only three years removed from being a consistent, top performer.

Vasher has a base salary of $2.9 million this season, $2.95 million in 2011, $3.45 million in 2011 and $3.7 million in 2012. If he's a quality starting cornerback, those are numbers the Bears can live with easily. That's the point. They already bucked up for Vasher and now they're going to wait to see him buck up on the field.

Getting rid of Vasher doesn't make sense for another reason. It's not like the Bears are loaded with depth here. If Charles Tillman is moved to free safety, a possibility that doesn't seem to want to go away, then they're down a corner. Cut Vasher and then they're down two corners. He's got to at least go to training camp and prove what he can do. Then the club can begin to make judgments.

Q: Former Bears wide receiver Justin McCareins had a breakout year in Tennessee, or at least had a few big games and a solid season. Just checked and saw that he's an unrestricted free agent. He's a big target (something Chicago still lacks), a former Bear, and like a bunch of their former wideouts, is finally establishing himself. Devin Hester is getting the No.1 wideout money in Chicago and it doesn't seem like McCareins would demand No.1 money. Did he part with Chicago on good terms? Any chance he could come back?

Sean, Arcata, Calif.

A: I'm pretty sure you are thinking about former Bears wide receiver Justin Gage, who enjoyed a solid season in an offense that didn't do a lot of passing last season when he caught 34 balls for 651 yards and six touchdowns. Gage signed a $14 million, four-year deal last February and will not be going anywhere.

McCareins, however, is a free agent. The 30-year-old caught 30 passes for 412 yards. His agent Cliff Brady told the Tennessean that McCareins would like to return to Tennessee, where he began his career after becoming a standout at Northern Illinois.

"Justin really likes it there and is comfortable there,'' Brady said. "He would love to stay and try and leave there with a ring."

McCareins name has come up before with the Bears. He has decent size at 6-2, 215 pounds, but right now he'd have to be considered a complementary target. The Bears will or should be aiming a little higher considering the state of the position on their roster.

Q: I was wondering if you could provide any insight into the future at the offensive line positions at this time. With Chris Williams healthy this year the Bears have an answer at left tackle. Do you believe Dan Buenning gets a true chance to start at left guard? If he works out, it would give us a solid, young left side and allow us to focus on the right. Is Josh Beekman the future at center, or is the organization unsure of what to do with him? With John Tait having one year left, do they focus on another tackle this year in the draft? How serious do you feel our need is at the guard position?

Brendan H., Parts Unknown

A: I wouldn't jump right in with both feet assuming Williams is the lockdown answer at left tackle. What do you base this assessment on, a few plays in garbage time in a couple games? Williams will be given the job at left tackle, no question about it. But it's premature to suggest he's the answer you seasons to come. The club has every reason to believe the No. 14 pick will pan out and be a pillar on the offense moving forward. But he's yet to make a start and there is the issue of his back, which required surgery after one training camp practice without pads.

Based on this, I'd say tackle remains the top priority when examining the line. Combining the Williams' situation with Tait's contract status, it's a natural fit to draft one early, and it might even be a good idea to try to re-sign John St. Clair. Williams made tangible strides in the weight room, was a dedicated worker after practice on a daily basis and is a bright guy. He needs to prove himself in live action.

As far as Buenning, he lacks the one thing that carries a lot of weight around Halas Hall--draft status. He should get an opportunity to compete, we'll see where that goes. It would be a good idea to bring in another young guard, but the need at tackle is greater. As far as Beekman, he's the future at left guard until we're told differently, right? Future center? I don't think the Bears have considered replacing Olin Kreutz yet. He's signed through 2010 and there is a long, long list of needs to attend to before considering him.

Q: With Bernard Berrian departing as an unrestricted free agent last spring, what will the Bears receive in terms of a compensatory pick? And when are those awarded by the league?

Rob, Parts Unknown

A: Good question, Rob. It's one we covered a little while back right here. Don't forget that Pro Bowl special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo and tight end John Gilmore departed as UFA's. The Bears didn't bring any on board so the chances they do well are good. It's possible they could land a third-round pick. Click the link for more details. The league awards compensatory picks at the annual meeting, which begins March 22 in Dana Point, Calif.

How about that? A Q&A posted before the late-night hours. Thanks for all of the questions and comments, and thanks for reading. We'll get into it again Tuesday.

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I have seen you say that Marcus hamilton $10 million LTBE is now on bears.Why would it transfer from the tampa baySeems to be double dipping then. When we picked him up on waivers, doesn't only his salary come to bears( same why his signing bonus doesn't come over or a roster bonus), not his LTBE, because the tampa team had to account for it in the cap space before the year began? thank you

Got to keep Vasher and have him and Graham start at CB with Tillman Free Safety, Payne strong safety and Manning at Nickel. We have a few CB's Bowman and McBride to cover when a corner go's down or in a worst case scenario bring back Tillman to CB if absolutely necessary because of injury.

In the draft bring in developmental picks at either free safety or strong safety and at corner bring in a corner that may have safety transferable skill.

Now get a pass rush and one more very good linebacker at pick #18 either of the middle backers from USC or OSU (both are special), move Urlacher to the strong side, then the BEARS Defense is in the top 5 again, with Urlacher able to line up at end occassionally and pass rush occassionally. Urlacher's pass rush skills have been under utilized over the years, we need some creativity on D pressure that would include Url more often.

Now the D is set.

ON offense we need a Free agent or trade signed at WR (Boldin, Housh or Ocho Cinco) and a great right tackle from the Panthers Gross or resign St Claire and the offense is then pretty much set except for some draft help needed at FB, WR, RB and the line. We all know that a franchise QB is never a priority for the BEARS so why wish for something you will never get?

I see a lot of people are jumping on the move Tillman to free safety bandwagon, based on a comment from Old D-coordinater Greg Blatche. I am not so sure this would be a good move myself, Tillman has shoulder problems, the free safety is supposed to make more tackles under normal circumstances than the corner, so this would subject him to more hits and possible additional injuries as well. Plus it in essence has us replacing two starters in the secondary instead of one. I think he and the BEARS are better off leaving him at corner, where we know what we are getting. The draft can bring in a safety to help and come in and play, especially if we get a playmaker on the field at LB (best option) at 18 or D-end (hoping a pick pans out), as for Vasher; I think the time to trade him is now, Graham showed well last season and we could bring back some real value for him right now, he has been injury plagued the last few years and we should move him if we can, he should bring back no less than a 3rd rounder, or could bring back a solid special teamer. The team needs are obvious to most, WR, O-line, SSLB, Free safety, back-up RB,and QB, we can't get all this in the draft, trades must be considered and we must look to see what assets we have that may bring something solid back in return, with the draft coming up and free agency we should be major players thia season, and we also have the possibility of compensation from the FA losses of Berrian and Ayenbandanjo (sp) to help out, we are in for an interesting off-season at Hallas Hall ....go BEARS

WR, O-line, SSLB, Free safety, back-up RB,and QB?

I can agree the Bears need a WR, and a FS. O-line is a given as well, Kreutz has 2-3 years left in him, Tait is in a contract year, St. Clair is on his way to the door... and personally I am unimpressed with Garza.

I think the glaring problem here is assuming we can just let our defensive line stand as is. Our secondary sucked most of last year because we were one of the worst teams in the NFL at getting to the QB. No safety in the world is going to cover for all the time people had in the pocket. Marinelli doesn't magically fix the entire D-line. We carry 1 Nose Tackle and he finishes every season on IR. Neither of our ends come close to getting 10+ sacks. Fix that, the secondary looks better already.

SSLB? really? No one looks good at SSLB, because your job is to take on lead blockers, not make huge plays. That is what the MLB and WSLB are for, and we have two of the best already.

Orton has 2009 to fix himself and prove something, I doubt we waste a high draft pick on the QBs available this year, and a late round draft pick for a team that has never developed a QB is pretty much more waste.

Our best bet for that complimentary back is to just keep Jones now that he is healthy, or fling a late rounder and hope it sticks.

What about that horrid blocking from our Fullback(s) this year? Or that elusive blocking tight end position we let Gilmore get away from, and replaced with Davis, who can't play to his size one bit. I'd like to see those fixed as fast as the O-Line.

Kreutz is no longer a starting quality NFL center. He is the most overrated player on the team, and perhaps the league. Compared to most centers, he is below-average in terms of size, speed, athleticism, explosiveness and strength. As a result of his deteriorated skill set, he spends way too much time in his own backfield. His reputation is huge, he is a competitive leader who plays with intensity...but he is not good anymore. I'm a little frustrated by Mr. Biggs' reluctance to accept or acknowledge legitimate concerns about his performance during the past couple 2-3 years. Elevating him above the rank-and-file player’s, creates a personnel "blind spot" that expresses the failure of Angelo to do "whatever it takes" to improve the team. Because of his untouchable status, a true analysis of Kreutz's talent and productivity appears to be off the table. The offense, and specifically Matt Forte, will be unable to reach full potential until the interior line is fairly evaluated and upgraded. I can't wait for 2010.

Why do the Bears always attempt to turn their top corner into a free safety (i.e. Donell Wolford, R.W. McQuarters). Leave Tillman on the boundary and just learn to accept the fact that he is a near pro bowl player at an extremely difficult position and is going to get beat. He is still an excellent cornerback.

I believe that playing Daniel Manning at nickel and STRONG SAFETY could make him a pro bowl player. No SS would be as fast or athletic. Playing him in the box would reduce his mistakes covering the deep middle as a FS, plus his closing speed would assist the run defense and contribute to turnovers.

"It would be a good idea to bring in another young guard, but the need at tackle is greater. As far as Beekman, he's the future at left guard until we're told differently, right? Future center? I don't think the Bears have considered replacing Olin Kreutz yet. He's signed through 2010 and there is a long, long list of needs to attend to before considering him."

Sorry Brad, but this doesn't pass the eye test and the stats fail to back it up as well. The Bears rushing stats tell the tale that I watched week-in and week-out the past two seasons. The interior of the O-line was repeatedly stone-walled or shoved into the back field, while we became accustomed to Mr. Kruetz missing the snap count and also missing defenders while pulling as well as missing them on screen plays.

Generally speaking, yds/carry average gives you a solid view of your Guard's performance, while sacks allowed gives you a solid view of your O-Tackle's performance. The Bears were 13th in the league in sacks allowed, not great but certainly a good effort that was reflected in what we saw consistantly with the exception of the matchup against the Vikings Jared Allen. Matt Forte is easily the best player we have on offense and the kid has Pro Bowl written all over him, yet only 5 teams had a worse yards-per-carry average than the Bears in '08. So what does this all add up to? The exact opposite of what you said, Brad, good Tackle play and bad Guard/Center play.

While resigning St. Clair is a priority, spending a high draft pick on another O-Tackle when you're probably going to start Williams at L-Tackle would be a complete waste since the guy would never see the field unless two of the three current players (Williams, St. Clair or Tait) gets severely injured. However, since none of the Bears' Guards have shown anything close to a Pro Bowl season the last two years and knowing we possess a special talent at RB, using our 1st round pick on the best Guard would be a great investment that would show dividends this season. It might even be possible to trade down in this draft and still pick up the best Guard, and we all know how much Angelo despises trading down. Yeah. Right.

Hey Brad, I couldn't agree more that it's imprudent to just assume Chris Williams is the answer at LT. The Bears literally learned nothing about their first round pick from last year, which is alarming. Looking at the Bears roster, currently they only have three Offensive Tackles under contract, Williams, Tait, and Balough. A player in the upcoming draft that really intrigues me is Michael Oher of Ole Miss, who just might be on the board when the Bears pick.

Do you think it's realistic for the Bears to take another OT - specifically LT - in Round 1 this year? Or do you think they will look to address that position in Round 2 and hope a guy like Phil Loadholt slips to them? Loadholt is more of a RT prospect anyway. Keep up the great coverage.

Hey Angelo Jr. - did you watch Tillman play this year? He looked awful! I watched him get beat & miss tackles all year long. I understand that a better pass rush will help him - along with any corner, but he looked pretty bad man. He was no where near a pro bowl caliber player. Yes - he did make a few plays here & there, but not enough. I hope he plays better next year - I like him and know he does have the potential.

lpjd, i couldn't agree more. tillman was flat out awful in 2008. consider these numbers from stats inc.

no cornerback was targeted by opponents more in '08 than tillman (110 targets).
no cornerback allowed more completions in '08 than tillman (69 completion).

looks like jerry angelo jr. has the same issue as jerry angelo sr., overvaluing existing talent.

why is everyone saying our biggest need is OL? they done pretty darn good last year. orton had all kinds of time to pass the ball, and he didnt take advantage of it. why? because hes not that good at taking over a game, he's good at managing a game. which you can tell by the record that just isnt enough in this league. atleast when we had grossman in there he would go for it, he made the game exciting. he probably would have done good for the bears if he could have had the same protection from his line as orton did! oh yeah, atleast grossman could get the ball down the field to his recievers unlike orton, that dude cant even throw it 40 yards,lol. so im gonna have to say the biggest need for chitown is QB.

Orton did have time, because teams did not blitz him as much as the Bears expected. Defensive ends were abusing Tait and St. Clair, and Garza was being pushed around at the point of attack inside. The reason Orton was able to make plays is sliding sideways and checking down early in the play. We did not run 7 step drops very often, and 5 step drops were less than they should have been. How many times did we try and throw the slant last year? We did that because we could not give Orton the time he needed to make plays, even against a 4 man rush!

We need upgrades at all 5 positions on the line. Whether that means improved play by the guys we have, or replacements with better players, if we do not improve there, we could have Crabtree, Houshmanzadeh, and Charlie Joiner on the outside and it wouldn't matter.

Looking at each position, I would evaluate them as follows:

C--Kreutz had a down year, whether because of injury or covering for the guys on either side of him, but he is capable of better than that. I would guess that he would say the same thing. If he is losing a step, we need to start planning for the future, which we should be doing anyway, but I think he has 2 more years in him of good play

RG--Garza was pushed around on running plays, and got consistently overmatched in the passing game by quicker tackles. We need a big improvement here. I would rather have a stronger guard on the right, so we have a strong side of the line that we can run behind. Garza can play some center if needed in a pinch, and between he and Beekman, they would be Kreutz's backups. He should be kept on the roster, but should have to earn his job back

LG--Beekman was obviously over his head early in the season, but as the year went on, he started settling in, and was starting to show promise as far as being able to get to the second level and make blocks. He still needs to improve, but if he does, we could be set at one of the guard spots, and have our center of the future if we need him to be that.

RT--Tait was back at his favorite spot for the first time in several years, and the time away showed in his pass sets. He still seems to struggle with ankle issues as the season wears on, and will get beaten to the edge by good pass rushers like Aaron Kampmann on the left. But overall he is our most consistent lineman when healthy. We just haven't seen him healthy in a while

LT--St. Clair did a decent job considering he was a pretty weak link in his previous stints at tackle in St. Louis (mostly on the right). He can't handle the speed rushers, and strong DEs like Allen and Mario Williams make him look like he doesn't belong on the field, but he held his own for a lot of the year, especially in the run game. I would like to see him stay on as either the swing tackle or a competitor at one of the guard spots. His experience would be helpful for the younger guys who will be taking over during the next few years. Chris Williams gets first shot at the LT spot in 2009, but having someone who has experience behind him is a nice fallback option.

My ideal line next year?
LT: Williams--hoping he can be as good as JA thought he would be
LG: Dan Buenning--an experienced well-rounded guard to play alongside Williams in what will essentially be his rookie year
C: Kreutz--at least one more year at a very high level, maybe 2
RG: Beekman--Could be a strong RG, and Kreutz's primary backup
RT: Jordan Gross--need a big free agent splash, but likely this will be Tait or a draft pick.

We get this lineup, I think Forte averages 4.4 per carry, and Orton throws for 25 TDs and 3,500 yards

why doesn't anyone see what I saw?
Corey Graham is a great cornerback and should start - period

Something is wrong with Vasher, hopefully it was the injury.

Replacing Graham with Vasher when he healed was one of the many bone-headed moves the coaches made last year that cost the team games.

Brendan H. Thanks for the comments, here's the deal with strong-side LB being a position of need from my point of view, the BEARS do not have an LB who is effective in Blitz packages, henceforth the several futile attempts of both Briggs and Urlacher to get to the QB when we did Blitz last season, a SSLB could shore this need up, and is a more realistic "get" in this year's draft with the availble players out there right now. Second, this position also would be able to make tackles on the field creating more opportunities for turnovers, the two areas we can get improvement quickly in this area would be SSLB, and or Free Safety, we already have Payne, Briggs, Tillman, and to a certain extent Brian capable of creating intimidation of players off the line of scrimmage.
Third pass coverage, the SSLB in our defense covers the Tight-end in man to man coverage, not Urlacher as everyone assumes because of the deep drops he takes, this position was isolated several times last season for large chunks of yardage against our defense, henceforth the need, matching the availability when you look at depth in the draft, a lot of people like 3-4 defenses, what you get in those schemes are two solid SSLB's with ability to cover and rush the passer. I agree depth on the o-line is needed as for a blocking FB we can get that late in the draft.... I'll look for your next post...Go BEARS

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This page contains a single entry by Brad Biggs published on February 9, 2009 2:26 PM.

Exploring the Matt Cassel Sweepstakes; Do the Bears fit in? was the previous entry in this blog.

Arms race: List of available passers shrinks is the next entry in this blog.

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