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Could the Chicago Bears See Free Agents Flock to Lovie Smith?

Dec. 30, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith runs off the field after defeating the Detroit Lions 26-24 at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Not that fans would cry if it happened, but truthfully things got a lot more interesting for the Chicago Bears when news hit Lovie Smith was taking over in Tampa Bay.  Could this mean a more massive turnover on defense?

Charles Tillman and Henry Melton may wish to head south to Tampa

No team has more free agents to lock up in 2014 than Chicago, which is why they have gotten a head start on getting key names signed as quickly as possible including Jay Cutler and Matt Slauson.  Cornerback Tim Jennings is the only defender to get a new deal so far, which is not surprising since he played far better than anybody else on that woeful unit in 2013.  The real question ahead for the Bears is how much bargaining power they will have.  A week ago they seemed to hold all the cards with no other teams likely to have as much interest in signing them due to injury problems and erratic play.  Then their former coach Lovie Smith signed a four-year deal to coach the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  Word has leaked that their former coordinator Rod Marinelli will be joining him as well.  Coupled with the glorious Florida weather, several of the Bears veterans such as Charles Tillman and Henry Melton who experienced their best football under Smith might wish to forego new deals in Chicago to rejoin him in Tampa.

Marc Trestman has left the door open for switch to a 3-4

Such a thing could cause continuity problems for the Bears but in reality changes are coming for their defense.  After watching the unit implode over the last two games of the season, head coach Marc Trestman refused to dismiss any options on the table, which included possibly switching schemes to a 3-4 defense.  Such an event would mark the first time it has ever happened in Chicago and is not really surprising.  Fans and experts alike have mulled the possibility all season.  Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker has deep roots in the 3-4 scheme from his days in Cleveland and college.  On top of that the current young players the Bears have such as 2012 first round pick Shea McClellin seem to have the athletic build that is much better suited for outside linebacker in such a defense.  Lastly, and perhaps most important, the 2014 draft is expected to be quite rich in 3-4 pass rushers and press cover cornerbacks, two essentials to the system.  If ever the Chicago Bears were to make the switch they’ve picked a good year to do so.

Ultimately there is a strong likelihood the team will lose at least one big name free agent to Lovie Smith and the Bucs.  The question will be whether it was one they wanted to keep in the first place.

Topics: Charles Tillman, Chicago Bears, Henry Melton, Lovie Smith, Marc Trestman

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  • Sammy Z

    Bring back Melton, Tillman though…we love “Peanut” but he’s expendable. As for both Safetys…we tar and feather people like that.

    • Erik Lambert

      So I’ve been hearing. What it will come down to is whether the Bears shift to a 3-4. Tillman is gone if they do that and Melton probably will be too unless he’s willing to shift to defensive end, which he can but probably won’t want to.

  • Michael Rushton

    Melton won’t want to be in 3-4 at all. The only position he’d be fit to play is as a 5-technique DE and his stats will plummet- not a good career move. The thing is- the Bucs already have Gerald McCoy for their 3-technique. I suppose if they could get him at a reasonable rate- and they probably can coming back from an ACL tear- it might be a good fit and they could run something similar to what they have going with Suh and Fairley.

    ALSO, if the Bears do make a switch to 3-4 or even a 3-4/4-3 hybrid, don’t be surprised to see Lance Briggs sulk himself into a trade to Tampa. His talents would largely be wasted in a 3-4 and the Bears could still procure a decent draft pick (or two) for a borderline HoF’er and the instant leader of Lovie Smith’s new Bucs defense. High value there.

    Tillman is a real tossup. He’d be fine in either system and it’ll probably come down to how motivated he is to move his family from Chicago (probably not very) and how much either team is willing to fork out (probably not much).

    I think the reason that the Bears have been coy about what exactly they’ll be doing with Mel Tucker is that they’re waiting to see which DC’s end up being available who might be more qualified to run a championship caliber 3-4/4-3 defense (Wade Phillips, anyone?) But look at the guys they’ve brought in on the front seven of the defensive side of the ball through free agency and the draft- McClellin, Bostic, Greene, Washington, DJ Williams, Jay Ratliff, James Anderson. All these guys have experience in a 3-4 defense, with the exception of maybe Anderson? Although as a SOLB in a 4-3 he could easily transition to a 3-4 ILB if he needed to.

    Anyhow, I think the writing is on the wall- they brought in a 3-4/4-3 DC and have been drafting and bringing guys that can do both things with an emphasis on the 3-4. I think the thought of trying to keep together what wasn’t broken was a good one by Emery and Trestman and I can’t blame them for that. But now they have the opportunity to totally reshape the new Bears defense and it’s pretty clear what direction they’re headed.

    • Erik Lambert

      Problem is the Bucs already have Lavonte David at weakside linebacker, which is where Briggs plays and he is a budding superstar. The only way I see that happening is if Briggs were willing to switch to strongside. I believe Tillman is gone. In spite of his occasional impact plays he was hurt or beat deep too often. We need to get more athletic in the secondary. Melton is the question mark. In my mind if he wanted to go anywhere it would be Dallas where Rod Marinelli is.

      A 3-4 defense makes sense at this point because it fits their younger personnel much better. As a team that is their responsibility, finding a defense that helps the young guys excel, not keep the old guys happy. I am a huge fan of bringing Phillips in, or Ray Horton. Both are excellent 3-4 coaches. Ultimately it will come down to whether the Bears axe Mel Tucker.

      • Michael Rushton

        I forgot about LaVonte David and I don’t see Briggs playing SOLB. But I really don’t see him sticking around in Chicago if they move to a 3-4 base scheme. I think he still has a lot left in the tank as an OLB in a 4-3 and it seems his talent might be wasted on an ILB in a 3-4. Maybe I’m wrong? Who else might be a good fit for Lance Briggs if he (inevitably) sulks himself into a trade. :)

        • Erik Lambert

          Much of it will depend on whether the Bears replace Tucker and who he is replaced with. A good defensive coordinator can find a place for a talent like Briggs even in a 3-4. However, if he does try to force a trade keep an eye on the Giants, Cowboys, Broncos and Titans as possible landing spots. Jon Beason has really helped the Giants but another playmaker in that unit can only help. Monte Kiffin runs a very similar defense in Dallas and Rod Marinelli is down there too. Putting Briggs next to Sean Lee would sound very compelling to them. Denver has a lot of inconsistency with their linebacker group and could really use more veteran leadership. As for Tennessee, their defense is young but lacking a single voice. Briggs can become that for them.