Sep 8, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman (33) makes an interception during the second quarter at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
No team has more players in the last year of their current deals that the Chicago Bears. With that in mind, it’s important to keep track of those who could get early consideration for extensions. Who hit the ground running and who fell behind?
Tillman and Tim Jennings continue showcasing playmaking skills
The clear strength of the Bears defense in 2013 is shaping up to become their secondary. Leading the charge are Pro Bowlers Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings. Chicago have corners on their roster who could become free agents. So locking up those two would be a nice security blanket provided they prove they can still play at a high level, what with Tillman being 32-years old and Jennings turning 30 in December. Both came out on opening day with clear intentions. Tillman intercepted two passes by Andy Dalton while Jennings forced two fumbles. Nothing has changed from last year and if the trend continues they will get first dibs on new deals even before the season is over.
Slauson stood tall for Jay Cutler in pass protection
Jermon Bushrod and Kyle Long got the headlines as far as biggest additions to the offensive line by GM Phil Emery. However, perhaps his most cost-effective and brilliant one was left guard Matt Slauson. The veteran spent three years starting for the New York Jets, a line that was among the best in the league. With little interest from other teams he instead chose to accept a one-year deal from the Bears in order to prove he’s worth more money than the Jets were willing to pay. Considering Jay Cutler didn’t get sacked once against Cincinnati, a team that had 51 in 2012, it shows just how effective Slauson is at keeping a clean pocket. At age 27 he has plenty of good years left and will collect the multi-year deal he’s been looking for if Cutler continues to stay on his feet.
Henry Melton showed limited impact while rushing Andy Dalton
Unfortunately the same can be said for Andy Dalton, who was only sacked once by the Bears defensive line. Two men noticeably absent from that play were Julius Peppers and defensive tackle Henry Melton. He more than anybody is inclined to have a good year because Chicago designated him the franchise tag, meaning he must play the season out with no long-term security but can cash in big if he produces. One tackle in four quarters of work is not what the team had in mind. Granted, Melton is still recovering from a concussion suffered in the preseason but considering the money he’s getting paid for this season, one tackle is not enough. If Melton wants his big payday that stat line will have to improve noticeably in the near future.
Major Wright fails to help corners with A.J. Green
Another defender that had a rough game was safety Major Wright. Like Melton and the others he’s in a contract year but unlike the others doesn’t have Pro Bowl level play giving him the benefit of the doubt. Though he did make seven tackles and was a big help against the run, he did blow some assignments in coverage. The most notable was when Bengals receiver A.J. Green streaked up the sideline for a 45-yard touchdown from Dalton. On the play Jennings let Green go by because he expected Wright to provide help over the top. Instead Wright got caught biting on a pump fake from Dalton and before he could recover Green was already on his way into the end zone. That speaks to a lack of discipline in his responsibilities and is something that will have to get corrected against the slew of quarterbacks like Eli Manning and Aaron Rodgers he will face down the road.
The Chicago Bears have a lot of decisions to make on contracts before 2014. Players have already begun making their cases, deserving or otherwise.