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Bears Q&A: Why move on from Josh Sitton? What's the future for Kyle Fuller?

The Tribune's Brad Biggs answers your Bears questions weekly.

Jerrell Freeman is out and Pernell McPhee may be next. Leonard Floyd is recovering and we're not sure what will happen with Willie Young. You've stated before that the Bears are only intermittently in their 3-4 base. That being said, where is the most pressing need in the front seven? Is it on the line where a resurgent Mo Wilkerson could help, or is it at ILB/OLB where an Avery Williamson or NaVorro Bowman could be an asset? — Gregory, South Side

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McPhee was indeed next as the Bears announced Monday afternoon they had terminated his contract, creating more than $7 million in cap space. If the Bears do not re-sign defensive end Mitch Unrein, or replace him with an upgrade, they're going to have to count on Jonathan Bullard to take a major step forward in his third season. That's one area to take a close look at. They're also thin right now at outside linebacker. Sam Acho is also coming out of contract, and if Young returns this season — and I wouldn't rule that out — he's probably not a full-time player. Then the Bears have to determine if they're happy with Nick Kwiatkoski at inside linebacker or if they want to really challenge him with a potential upgrade. What's the most pressing need? I have to think the Bears seek to add a little more juice to the pass rush, and a complementary edge player for Floyd would be really nice. That player might be difficult to find in free agency, but you're always looking to ramp up the pass rush. Wilkerson certainly is a candidate to be released by the Jets as things soured for him there. He's now three years removed from a really productive season. Williamson has been a really nice inside linebacker for the Titans and is headed to free agency. I'm not crazy about the idea of putting big money into two inside linebackers in a 3-4 scheme, but if they really like him, I suppose that is a possibility. I think they'd be more apt to invest big dollars on the defense elsewhere, particularly at cornerback. Bowman did a nice job when he left the 49ers for the Raiders, but he's 29 and his best ball is clearly behind him. That doesn't seem like a good direction for the Bears to go either. It will be interesting to see what happens, and keep in mind the draft could provide a piece or two to this puzzle.

Considering Josh Sitton's considerable performance/contribution to the Bears, Kyle Long's injury situation, lack of good guard options in free agency, how can Ryan Pace consider this move addition by subtraction? Even if Quenton Nelson is available (not likely) at No. 8, why do you use this high pick to fill a hole you had plugged? Personally, I don't think the $8 million should be that big of a consideration given the Bears' wealth and cap room. — Lon T., Parts Unknown

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There were a lot of questions in the mailbag this week about Sitton, and that's understandable after the team's decision to move on. This probably wasn't an easy decision for the team to arrive at, and a multitude of factors went into the move. For starters, I don't believe this was a decision based on money. I think it was a pure football decision, and I say that because the Bears are flush with cap space, so keeping Sitton for the 2018 season at $8 million would not have made it prohibitive to make any series of moves general manager Ryan Pace has in mind. Sitton will turn 32 in June, and the Bears were one of the three most heavily invested teams in the league at guard over the last two years. When they extended Long's contract shortly before the start of the 2016 season (and days after adding Sitton), they had more money in terms of average annual pay committed to starting guards than any other team. Afterward, the Raiders ponied up big for their guards, but the Bears were still near the top of the league for a position that doesn't score or prevent touchdowns. They have eight wins over the last two seasons to show for their big spending at the position. I'm not in any way saying the team's performance has been related to the performance of Long or Sitton — or the pay they've received — but I tend to think you're better off putting big bucks elsewhere. Parting with Sitton creates a new dynamic in the offensive line room and probably creates a situation where Cody Whitehair, entering his third season, can really assert himself as a leader of the group. That's a hard move for a younger player to make sometimes when an elder statesman is in the room. That might have played a role in the decision as well. Sitton remains a skilled pass blocker, but with new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand in place, I would have faith in the team's ability to retool the position. A lot of folks were up in arms when the Bears decided not to pursue Matt Forte when his contract expired after the 2015 season. That quickly turned out to be the right decision, and there is a lot of time and plenty of avenues for the team to explore. As far as Nelson goes, I am not convinced he is off the board before the Bears pick at No. 8, but I wouldn't rule it out. A lot of people believe he will become a dominant performer in the NFL, and if that's the case, he could be an upgrade for the line.

Curious for your analysis on the decision not to pick up Josh Sitton's club option. The normal Chicago Notre Dame crowd wants to see this as a sign toward interest in Quenton Nelson in the draft. But I tend to think this has a lot more to do with Ryan Pace's confidence in Eric Kush and Jordan Morgan (whom a lot of people seem to forget). While personally a little disappointed they didn't renew Sitton one more year and avoid another potential hole to fill, I am optimistic that one of those two can step up into that role. I think Pace early last year wanted to move Long over to left guard to make room for Morgan at right guard, but my impression is that everyone seems more on board now with leaving Long at RG where he excels. Does that line up with the rumors you hear from Halas Hall? Does Morgan have the tools to be a left guard? Has he been working on that position during his IR/offseason time? Or has there been any more talk of him eventually becoming a right tackle? — Mel, San Antonio

Kush projected to be the swing interior lineman last season after the Bears signed him to a two-year, $2.7 million contract. He missed the entire season after suffering a hamstring injury in training camp that required surgery, and while I like Kush and believe he adds value to the roster, I don't believe the Bears look at a journeyman with five career starts who missed an entire season as a primary option to start. Morgan also spent the entire season on injured reserve after undergoing shoulder surgery. I also tend to doubt the team is eyeing a fifth-round pick from Kutztown who hasn't played a down in the NFL as a primary option to replace Sitton, not immediately anyway. I think you're really taking leaps with both of those scenarios. I'm not saying Kush doesn't have a chance to compete and I'd imagine the Bears envision Morgan being a guy they can develop, but penciling him in as a starter right now is a stretch. As far as Long, yes, the plan going into the summer was to move him to left guard and play Sitton at right guard, but the team eventually scrapped that idea. I imagine Long will stay at right guard, but surely Hiestand will have input in what moves the team makes at the position. I don't believe Morgan projects as a right tackle. Although he played left tackle at Kutztown, I don't believe he possesses the length you want on the outside in the NFL.

I agree that the team has lots of holes everywhere and the O-line with Josh Sitton seemed solid. But they also seem to have a lot question marks on the O-line that could quickly turn into holes if they aren't proactive. Kyle Long has talent, but can he stay healthy? Where do you play Cody Whitehair? Is Bobby Massie good enough? Charles Leno is serviceable, but is that enough at left tackle for a franchise quarterback? Now we know the first domino. What will the Bears do in free agency and the draft to stabilize the line? Even drafting Quenton Nelson won't be enough. — John R., Singapore

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I think the Bears are seeking to stabilize the line, not completely rebuild it. Where they decide to play Whitehair is a key decision that needs to be made but maybe one the team waits to make until free agency and the draft have passed. We should have an idea what the team wants to do with Massie in the next couple weeks as he has a $1 million roster bonus due on March 16. I doubt the Bears scrap the idea of Leno playing left tackle after paying him in August. His 2018 base salary of $4.9 million is fully guaranteed, and elite left tackles are hard to come by. How many of them truly exist? Four? Maybe five? There are plenty of elite quarterbacks thriving without the aid of an elite left tackle. You say drafting Nelson would not be enough, but I don't think the Bears need to completely overhaul the offensive line. They have some pieces in place right now that they can win with. Remember how well the team ran the ball in 2016? The pass protection was better than average last year, especially when you consider a good chunk of the sacks Mitch Trubisky took, especially in his first five starts, were avoidable.

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So what do you think of this idea? Franchise Kyle Fuller and either keep him on a one-year prove-it deal, try to sign him to a multiyear contract or trade him for Jarvis Landry. The Dolphins want to trade him and they need cornerbacks bad. — Dan W., Parts Unknown

I certainly think there is a good chance the franchise tag or transition tag is in play for Fuller before the March 6 deadline, and it's possible Pace sheds a little light on that possibility later this week from the scouting combine. I don't know about the idea of trading for Landry. I just don't look at Landry as the kind of receiver that is going to strike fear in the opposition. The Dolphins have already announced they are using their franchise tag on Landry, and some have speculated it could be with the goal of eventually finding a trade partner for him. That tag is really going to drive up the price tag for Landry, and if you're going to commit money that's near the top of the market for a wide receiver, you need one who is an elite performer and will really challenge defenses. I don't see Landry as that guy. Would he instantly be the best wide receiver for the Bears? No question. Is he going to reshape the offense? Not in my mind.

I can't understand why so many Bears fans are so interested in the Bears' free-agent targets. An overreliance on free agency has never been the way good teams are built, and Ryan Pace seems especially bad at knowing whom to sign. Marcus Cooper, Dion Sims, Markus Wheaton, Jerrell Freeman, Mike Glennon, Quintin Demps, Eddie Royal, Alan Ball, Antrel Rolle, Pernell McPhee and more have all failed to one level or another. Free agency may be how teams with a solid young foundation get put over the top, but the Bears aren't that. I'd be perfectly happy if they sat on most of that cap space this offseason. — Adam, Parts Unknown

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You make some valid points, and certainly the Bears have had misses in free agency, more than you can afford to and expect to have success. The Bears felt they had to completely revamp the roster when Pace came on board in 2015, and I can't disagree with that. They had an older roster that was in decline, and there simply wasn't a great enough supply of draft picks to fill all the needs. What the Bears have done is limit the number of large contracts they have given out in free agency. Of course, that doesn't really matter when you're paying Rolle and then replacing him with Demps or paying Royal and then replacing him with a modest producer like Kendall Wright. The Glennon signing will never look good, and there were injury concerns when McPhee was signed and they became an issue much sooner than the Bears would have preferred. But fans are always going to be interested in free agency because it's the first part of the offseason where roster moves can be made. I don't know that the Bears will go bonkers in free agency, but based on the roster needs and the fact they have only 47 players under contract — a number I expect to be reduced before the start of the league year on March 14 — I would expect them to make some moves. Hopefully they can find some players coming out of their rookie contracts that are entering prime seasons of their careers and can be quality players for three-plus years instead of short-term fixes. The Bears will surely keep an adequate amount of cap space in reserve for future moves, like having not only cap space, but also budget room to extend the contract of nose tackle Eddie Goldman at some point this year.

Why didn't Alshon Jeffery qualify for a compensatory pick for the Bears? Or did the Mike Glennon signing negate that? — @koch_n

As I have explained before in the mailbag, compensatory draft picks are awarded by the management council to teams with net losses in free agency based on additions and departures. Salary, playing time and postseason honors are considered. Once again, the Bears had far more additions in free agency last year than they had losses, and when considering Jeffery's contract, it's important to remember he signed only a one-year deal with the Eagles and from a financial standpoint, yes, Glennon's deal was richer. When you consider the multiple other additions the team made in free agency last March, notably tight end Dion Sims, wide receiver Markus Wheaton, safety Quintin Demps and cornerbacks Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper, they added far more than they lost.

The last time the Bears received compensatory draft picks was 2009, when they actually got three of them, using them on wide receivers Juaquin Iglesias and Derek Kinder and guard Lance Louis. That haul was created in large part by the losses of wide receiver Bernard Berrian, tight end John Gilmore and special teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo via free agency. No other NFL team has gone without a compensatory draft pick over the last nine years like the Bears, who have been stuck in a cycle where they haven't drafted particularly well and therefore have been heavily involved in free agency year after year.

It's fair to say compensatory draft picks can be a little bit overrated, but the teams that generally collect them are drafting well, and if you pile up enough of them, you're bound to hit on a few. Consider the Packers have picked up defensive tackle Mike Daniels, cornerback Davon House and tight end Richard Rodgers with compensatory picks.

The Ravens have amassed a league-high 49 compensatory picks since the NFL instituted the system in 1994. They got only one this year. The Packers (42), Cowboys (41) and Patriots (35) are next. The Bears have earned 17 picks. Only the Texans (15), Jets (14), Browns (13), Redskins (12) and Saints (10) have received fewer. The Texans have been a franchise only since 2002, and the Browns had a hiatus in the 1990s.

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With only 47 players under contract and some significant roster holes to fill for new coach Matt Nagy, you would expect the Bears to be active in free agency once again. It's possible they could lose Fuller in free agency to a big contract, but if they sign a new player to a big contract and add some other pieces, it could lead to a 10th consecutive year without a compensatory pick. Again, it's not a death knell to be shut out on compensatory picks, but at some point the Bears are going to have to become less reliant on free agency and more productive with the free agents they do sign.

Do you think the Bears went after Marcus Peters? He would be huge for the Bears, but Matt Nagy said no? — @ojbutta1

I have no reason to believe the Bears pursued Peters, whom the Chiefs agreed to trade to the Rams last week. Therefore, I have no reason to believe that Nagy put the kibosh on a bid by the Bears to acquire Peters. According to ESPN, the Chiefs acquired a 2019 second-round pick and 2018 fourth-round pick in exchange for Peters and a 2018 sixth-round pick. That's not a lot in terms of compensation for a player of Peters' caliber, but there's a reason he was on the trading block and that's because he carries some baggage. It's fair to say that is reflected in the terms of the deal.

Do you think the Bears potentially look to add a starting center in free agency like Zach Fulton or Weston Richburg instead of pursuing a guard and move Cody Whitehair to guard in the process? Makes sense to me. — @thedevindeal

As I've said previously, this could definitely be a possibility. Fulton, a Homewood-Flossmoor alumnus, played for Hiestand at Tennessee, and Nagy and offensive consultant Brad Childress are very familiar with him from their time together in Kansas City. Fulton has played both center and guard and will be an attractive free-agent target for many teams, I would imagine. Richburg, a former second-round pick of the Giants, has been very good in his career, but he was limited to four games last season, placed on injured reserve with a concussion. Richburg said at the end of the season that he was cleared several weeks before the end of the season, but missing that much time with a concussion has to be at least a little concerning for teams. There are a lot of directions the Bears could go to sort out the offensive line, and that's probably one of the reasons they made the decision they did with Sitton. The Bears knew they would have multiple ways to fill the need for a starter.

I can't imagine the Bears keeping Mike Glennon around as backup quarterback. Are they planning to keep Mark Sanchez to fill that role or bring in another free agent? — @abrambook1

I agree that Glennon's time with the Bears will almost certainly be coming to an end soon. Originally, I figured the Bears would part ways with Glennon before the start of the scouting combine, giving them a clean break and eliminating it from being a topic Pace and Nagy have to cover. Perhaps there is a sound explanation for Glennon, who has a fully guaranteed roster bonus of $2.5 million and a base salary of $12.5 million, remaining on the roster right now. As far as Sanchez, I would imagine that Nagy will be given a lot of input on the decision when it comes to a No. 2 quarterback. The Bears may want to see what other options are available before making a decision on Sanchez, who served as the No. 3 last season.

What are your thoughts on the Bears going after Tyler Eifert? — @tacojammer21

Eifert has missed 40 games over the past four years, including 14 last season when he was forced to have back surgery. ESPN reported Monday morning that Eifert will be cleared in time to participate in OTAs this spring. Eifert caught 13 touchdown passes in 13 games in 2015, but he has missed more games than he has played in during his career, and that would be a major roll of the dice. I certainly wouldn't place a priority on signing a player with such an extensive injury history. If Eifert is on the market in April and the price is minimal, maybe you bring him in for a physical and try to get an understanding for where he is medically. But as plagued as the Bears have been by injuries, I'd look for healthier options.

Does Sammy Watkins make sense for the Bears? He has had injury problems but he's still relatively young and does provide an offensive spark when healthy. — @dj_jaco_10

Watkins missed half of the 2016 season, but other than that he has been mostly durable during his four-year career. Watkins makes a ton of sense for the Bears if he becomes a free agent, but I tend to think the Rams find a way to keep him in Los Angeles. The Rams forked over a second-round draft pick for Watkins, and he really helped open their offense last season. As a vertical threat, Watkins helped create space for other wide receivers, including Cooper Kupp, and was an asset to the running game. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think we see Watkins in a Rams uniform this coming season.

Lots of mock drafts have the Bears going for Quenton Nelson at No. 8 because of Josh Sitton's release. But I don't see them risking him not being there. Will the left guard position be addressed first via free agency? If it is, does that eliminate Nelson from the draft board? — @mosconml

Mock drafts can be fun to take a look at, but before the first wave of free agency is complete, it's really an exercise in blind guessing. If the Bears make a significant investment in a replacement for Sitton via free agency, that would probably reduce the chance the team goes after Nelson in the draft. We'll have to see how this plays out, but I have to think in a perfect situation, the Bears would like a pass rusher, elite cornerback or a playmaker on offense with the eighth pick.

How are the Bears supposed to get a No. 1-caliber wide receiver this offseason when the free-agent market does not have any amazing options and nobody in the draft may be worth the eighth pick? That's a hard task at hand for Ryan Pace. — @bearsest1920

No question that restocking the wide receiver position looms as a challenge for Pace and the Bears this offseason. It's certainly possible they don't fill the need of a true No. 1 receiver this offseason, but let's be real, not every team has one of those. The Bears were so undermanned at wide receiver last season, they have to upgrade the position. Even if they can't find a true No. 1, they can be much better there in 2018.

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Will the Bears address place-kicker in the draft or free agency? — @brcicculus

My guess would be free agency. They would have to absolutely love a kicker to devote a draft pick to one. The last time the Bears acquired a kicker in the draft was 2000, when they used a sixth-round pick on Paul Edinger. Consider that only 17 kickers have been drafted in the last decade. Some of those guys disappeared pretty quickly too.

Could you compare/contrast signing free agent Andrew Norwell at left guard vs. drafting Quenton Nelson at No. 8? Apart from either of their availability, which is not assured, what would be the cascading football and cap implications, and which allows the team to overall improve the most? — @billmiller1991

It looks like there is a good chance Norwell will reach the open market as the Panthers have already invested heavily in one guard, Trai Turner, and might not want to double down on the position with big contracts. It's fair to wonder if the Bears are in a similar position where they're already paying Kyle Long good money and they'd like to seek a cheaper option at the other guard position. Norwell figures to command a big payday, perhaps $10 million per season, if he's an unrestricted free agent. The eighth pick will cost significantly less. The Panthers had that pick last year, and running back Christian McCaffrey signed a four-year, $17.4 million deal that is fully guaranteed and includes a club option for a fifth year. I don't know that the Bears will target Nelson with the eighth pick, but there will be plenty of options to sort through. Remember, the Bears could also consider moving Whitehair to guard and find a new center.

I usually have the Bears Kool-Aid on tap at this point in the year, but despite Jordan Howard's bold proclamations, I can't shake growing pessimism about the team's prospects this upcoming season. The verdict is still out on Ryan Pace's ability to identify and acquire difference-makers, and there is considerable flux in terms of new personnel, new schemes and veterans trying to rebound from injuries. So short of a postseason berth, in your opinion what would constitute a definitive sign the franchise is trending upward in 2018? A non-losing division record? Multiple Pro Bowl players? A winning streak of more than two games? — David D., Rogers Park

I don't think you want to put a ceiling on expectations for the Bears this coming season, but determining what is realistic is going to take some time. Let's see what the roster looks like in late May when the team is in the middle of OTAs. Every team feels like it's positioning itself for success in the offseason, especially at this time of year, and you certainly feel like the Bears are on the right path. I'd say the biggest factor in determining if they are trending upward will center around the performance of quarterback Mitch Trubisky. If his play improves in Year 2, you will have more reason to believe the Bears have a quarterback they can win with. Yes, being more competitive in the NFC North would be a great place to start. The Bears have really struggled against NFC North foes for too long, and they have to turn that around before they can talk about getting into the playoffs. To me, more significant than a certain number of victories is how the young building blocks perform. Will Trubisky emerge as a quarterback who can become a franchise leader? Can Leonard Floyd remain healthy and take the next step he needs in his career? Can free safety Eddie Jackson elevate his game? Will tight end Adam Shaheen become the player the Bears believe he can be? It's going to be a really interesting year, and based on how the defense performed in 2017, it's fair to believe the Bears are ready to be more competitive.

I think Kyle Fuller's situation is an interesting one as his value is highly debatable due to his injury in 2016 and there being plenty of starting-caliber free agents available at cornerback. He has yet to be franchise tagged, but it's still a possibility. If they can't come to a long-term agreement and Ryan Pace doesn't want to use the franchise tag, why not use the transition tag? Why is it a rarity in the NFL, in general? Is it because clubs are either "all-in" with the franchise tag? Or because they're firm in their offer and reject the agent's asking price? It would allow them to negotiate with other agents and players and see the cost of the other free agents while letting the market be a good indicator of Fuller's value. Thoughts? — Jesse G., San Diego

It is certainly possible that the transition tag is in play for Fuller. Teams are much more likely to use the franchise tag because it essentially ensures a player will not be lost to another club. The non-exclusive franchise tag guarantees a team two first-round draft picks if a player is signed to an offer sheet by another club and leaves. The transition tag offers the right of first refusal but no compensation. The transition tag costs a little bit less, and the difference with Fuller would be about $3 million or so. We'll have to see what direction the Bears go. I tend to doubt the Bears will be able to sign Fuller to a multiyear deal before his agent is able to clearly gauge what will be available on the open market. I'm not ruling it out, but at this point, two weeks from the opening of free agency, why eliminate 31 other potential bidders?

If Dez Bryant is cut, should Ryan Pace go after him? He won't be cheap and is getting old but still has talent. — @Bertman41809

Generally speaking, it's not a strong class in terms of free agency, but some key veterans could be cut loose by other teams, and this will be a marketplace to keep in mind for the Bears. Bryant is 29 and has been very productive for the Cowboys. You're right, he will want a big payday if he's on the market. I think the Bears will have to take a close look at any wide receivers who are released.

As teams around the league start making decisions about whether to release players with larger salaries, why aren't we seeing more renegotiated deals? I know most teams have healthier cap situations these days, but wouldn't it make sense to bring back guys like Quintin Demps, Willie Young, etc. at reduced rates for depth/competition rather than cutting them and opening up additional holes? Coming off injury/down years, many of these guys would still make more through renegotiated deals than through the open market. — @pm96566757

First, I think you need to keep in mind that a renegotiation is a two-way street. Just because a team wants a player to reduce his salary doesn't mean the player is going to accept that. When a team approaches a player about a renegotiation, generally speaking the club has to be prepared to release the player if he declines a renegotiation. Demps was released Monday, and we'll have to wait and see what happens with Young and other veterans with roster bonuses due in mid-March. To me, it's about fit and if the team sees the player having a role commensurate to the pay. You're not always going to have a happy player when he has been forced to renegotiate his deal.

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Any chance they try to bring Pernell McPhee back on a lesser deal? — @drbobber24

I highly doubt the Bears will bring McPhee back. He was a really good player and very disruptive for opposing offenses when he first arrived, but his ability and availability have been diminished by knee and shoulder injuries. The knee injuries have been particularly troublesome for McPhee, who underwent microfracture surgery after the 2015 season. He brought an edge to the field that the Bears really appreciated but was a part-time player last season when injuries continued to take a toll on him.

Twitter @BradBiggs

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