Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fire: Is Devin McCourty the Answer for the Chicago Bears?
Well, even Smokey the Bear is making a comeback with his new commercials. Isn’t it about time the Chicago Bears make a comeback as well? And the first place to start is the dumpster fire known as the Chicago Bears defense (which, by the way, was the 3rd worst defense in terms of yards allowed in 2014).
So we know that new head coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio will switch to a 3-4 base defense.
“We’re going to be out of a 3-4 terminology-wise. We haven’t had our players on the grass yet, so until we evaluate that … They’ll help us define what we’re going to be and how we’re going to use the pieces.”
This makes sense seeing as how Fangio spent four seasons with a top 10 ranked 3-4 defense in San Francisco. But the question is whether the Bears have personnel for such a defense.
For a 3-4 defense, it makes sense to focus on defensive ends, defensive tackles and linebackers, as they constitute the critical difference between 3-4 and 4-3 defenses. But I’m going to take a step back and suggest that the Bears really need to first focus on free safety instead.
In both types of defenses the free safety is primarily responsible for reading plays and covering deep passes. I know there are numerous issues with the Bears pass defense, but the Bears are simply getting burnt deep and need a solid free safety to fill that gap before worrying about building a defensive line.
In 2014, the Bears defense allowed 8.1 yards per passing attempt and a whopping 264 passing yards per game, both good for 3rd worst in the NFL. They also allowed a combined passer rating of 101.7 and allowed 65 pass plays of 20+ yards, both good for 2nd worst in the NFL. Clearly, quarterbacks are having a field day with the Bears secondary.
The 2015 draft class is weak on free safety, and I think it’s safe to say (no pun intended) that the best approach is to acquire a free safety in free agency.
And there’s no better free safety in free agency than Devin McCourty.
McCourty, and the rest of the world, were ready for a franchise tag on Monday if no long term deal was completed with the New England Patriots:
“I’ve kind of broken it down as the worst-case scenario would be that I get franchised and come back to play for another year here. To me that’s no reason to stress. I love it here. The franchise tag is player-friendly now. It’s a good number. There’s no reason really for me to be stressed. If I hit free agency, I hope there’s some teams that want me to play there. Hopefully that goes over well. It’s still exciting.”
But alas, it wasn’t McCourty that was tagged by New England, but rather kicker Stephen Gostkowski, which means McCourty will be heading to the open market on March 10. Although this sounds strange, the franchise tag for safeties would have been almost $10 million, and would have only secured McCourty’s services for one year. So it makes some sense for the Patriots to take the position that they would rather avoid an expensive one year rental and instead pursue a long term deal for that type of money, or simply take their chances elsewhere.
McCourty was drafted in the first round in 2010 and has been incredibly versatile for the Patriots before settling on free safety in 2012. In 2014, he accumulated 68 tackles, 2 interceptions, 6 passes defended, and 1 forced fumble, grading out as Pro Football Focus’ eighth-best safety (plus-11.6), but still missed the Pro Bowl. Regardless, it was a very productive year, and a Super Bowl ring to boot.
The Bears don’t have a ton of cap space for the 2015 off-season, but do have about $25 million to play with. It would be a big hit, but McCourty would be worth it. Of course, there’s still a linebacker issue that needs to be addressed, but assuming the Bears also take care of that in free agency, I think the Bears can focus on building their defensive line in the draft (such as drafting Dante Fowler).
Bottom line is that the deep pass has to be contained so that the 3-4 defense can be effective. And I think McCourty is the answer. Unfortunately, he’s probably the answer for about a dozen other NFL teams as well (and we know his brother in Tennessee is going to try hard to recruit him).
But who doesn’t like a challenge?