NFL

NFL AM: Bears Bolster Defense With Trio of Signings

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They may have waited until the third wave of free agency to make their move, but the Chicago Bears finally took some strong steps to address their Achilles heel on Tuesday, adding three veterans to upgrade one of the league’s worst defenses last season.

The Bears signed free agent defensive ends Ray McDonald and Jarvis Jenkins, as well as free agent linebacker Mason Foster to one-year contracts. All three will get the chance to prove themselves inside the team’s new 3-4 defense under new coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.

McDonald played and thrived under Fangio for the last four years as a member of the San Francisco 49ers. After four middling seasons with the Niners to begin his career, McDonald saw his role grow upon Fangio’s arrival in 2011. He started 59 regular season games and eight postseason games for San Francisco over the last four seasons and compiled 18.5 sacks, 183 tackles and six forced fumbles. McDonald’s biggest value to the 49ers came in run-defense, where he has consistently been ranked among the top defensive ends in the league. Last season, he ranked 12th among defensive ends according to Pro Football Focus.

But McDonald’s on-field performance has been overshadowed by his off-field troubles, which is why, despite the fact that he was in the midst of another successful season, the 30-year-old was cut by San Francisco in late December. At the time, the 49ers listed the reason for his release as a “pattern of poor decision-making.” The move came shortly after McDonald was placed under investigation by SFPD in a sexual assault case. No charges have been filed against McDonald from the incident, but the case is still open. McDonald was also investigated last August on domestic violence charges against his fiancée. He was arrested on those charges, but they were later dropped by the Santa Clara district attorney in November after sufficient evidence could not be collected.

McDonald sought to clear his name this offseason, but suitors for his services were few and far between, which forced him to take a one-year “prove it” deal to reunite with Fangio in Chicago.

“I feel like what I am doing is the right thing because I know that I am not this bad person that people are making me out to be,” McDonald told ESPN last week. “I’ve been fired from my job. I know some teams don’t even want to talk to me because of this past accusation. All I am trying to do is clear my name and move on with my life.”

But, perhaps spurred by his relationship with Fangio, the Bears were interested enough to setup a meeting between McDonald and team brass, including chairman George McCaskey. According to McCaskey, after doing some extensive research on McDonald and then meeting with him, Chicago is confident that the 30-year-old can put his past behind him.

“I was impressed with how sincere he was and how motivated he is,” McCaskey said at the owners meetings. “He could have well been facing the end of his football career, and he loves football, and he wants that career to continue. So I was impressed with his motivation.”

Motivated players on one-year deals seems to be the name of the game for the Bears on defense this offseason. Foster is another such case, after an injury-plagued 2014 season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The 26-year-old linebacker had a breakout season in Tampa in 2013, starting 13 games at middle linebacker, where he recorded 92 tackles and three interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. But the injury bug derailed his 2014 campaign before he could get if off the ground. He suffered a dislocated shoulder in Week 2 that cost him three games, then dealt with an Achilles injury in December that led him to miss three more games. Foster also found himself phased out of Lovie Smith and Leslie Frazier’s 4-3 defense in Tampa Bay late in the season and should be a better fit in Fangio’s 3-4 scheme.

That’s also the case for Jenkins, who moves to Chicago from Washington, where he started 33 games over the last three seasons. The 2011 second round pick played in all 16 games for the Redskins last season, including 14 starts and recorded 28 tackles. He joins a Bears front line that also currently includes McDonald, Jared Allen, Jeremiah Ratliff, Willie Young, Will Sutton and Lamarr Houston. How Fangio makes those pieces fit to bring a reliable pass rush to a Chicago defense that ranked 30th in the NFL last season, in a quarterback-driven NFC North, will go a long way toward determining the success of the Bears in 2015.

NFL IMPLEMENTS “EDELMAN RULE” FOR MEDICAL TIMEOUT

As New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman wandered aimlessly around the field after a crushing hit by Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIX, millions cringed at the clear disregard shown for the league’s concussion protocol in that crucial moment. Edelman later went on to haul in the game-winning touchdown pass.

But with a new rule passed at the NFL owners meetings on Tuesday, which allows the game to be stopped by officials if a concussion is suspected, players won’t be in similar situations going forward.

The owners unanimously voted to pass Resolution G-2 to the rule book. The change now gives third-party concussion spotters, who were added to the mix last season to help diagnose possible concussions from above the field in the press box, the ability to contact officials directly and call a medical timeout. The player in question would then be removed from the game to undergo a concussion test.

The rule states: “Upon being called by the ATC Spotter, the side judge will immediately stop the game, go to the player in question, and await the arrival of the team’s medical personnel to ensure that the player is attended to and escorted off the field. The game and play clock will stop [if running], and remain frozen until the player is removed from the game. Once removed from the field, the team medical staff will conduct an evaluation of the player as required by the governing protocols before making any decision regarding the player’s eligibility to return to play. The return-to-play decision will be made by the medical staff consistent with the protocols.”

NFL Competition Committee co-chairman Rich McKay, the President of the Atlanta Falcons, said at a press conference on Monday that the league is proud of the steps taken so far relating to concussions and that the committee continues to seek out and implement new ways to further protect the players.

“We’ve got the spotters,”McKay said. “They’ve got a really good vantage point, they’ve got technology in their booth, they’re communicating pretty well with our trainers and doctors and we’ve got a pretty good rhythm going there. Maybe this becomes the fail-safe. We do not expect this to be a rule that gets used a lot. We expect it to be a fail-safe when people just don’t see this player and the distress the player may have had, the spotter does and stops the game.”

Other player safety rules passed during the owners meetings included increased protections on “defenseless” receivers noting they can not be blindsided following an interception, the abolishment of peel-back blocks by offensive players, the implementation of a 15-yard penalty for a chop block by a running back outside the tight end, and enhancement of the rule that forbids players to push a teammate into the line on place kicks and punts.

The competition committee also looked at expanding instant replay, but the only measure passed in that regard at the moment is that officials can now consult replay at the end of each half and overtime to see if time should be added back on the clock.

CLEVELAND HOPES FOR NO HARD KNOCKS

Those wishing to see the chronicles of Johnny Football post-rehab probably won’t be able to turn to HBO’s Hard Knocks for their fix.

Members of the Cleveland Browns organization met with NFL Films executives this week to state their lack of desire to be the featured team in the annual training camp series. The Browns have been the rumored “favorite” in recent weeks for the show’s 10th season.

Speaking at the NFL owners meetings on Tuesday, Cleveland coach Mike Pettine, who is familiar with the series from his time as defensive coordinator of the New York Jets, said the Browns do not believe having such a focus on quarterback Johnny Manziel during his recovery would be beneficial to the player or the team.

“When we decided not to volunteer for ‘Hard Knocks,’ we discussed everything that was involved with it. [Manziel] is certainly something we needed to consider,” Pettine said. “Having been there, knowing they’re going to look to cover the team’s biggest current storylines, it’s obvious that he would be a point of attention.”

Manziel remains in a rehab facility, which he entered in late January and the Browns are unsure if he will leave the facility in time to join the team for the beginning of offseason workouts on April 20. But the team is prepared to work with Manziel either way.

“If he is prepared and he demonstrates the things that he needs to demonstrate, then yeah he should get every opportunity to be the guy,” general manager Ray Farmer said this week.

But with Manziel’s delicate situation and the team entering just its second season under the Farmer/Pettine regime, the franchise wanted to make it clear that they have no intention to volunteer for the extra scrutiny associated with allowing Hard Knocks cameras behind the scenes at Browns camp.

“It’s hard to be yourself,” Pettine told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. “If you have to change, if you have to be different, then it’s a distraction. If you’re not thinking about your job and you’re thinking about something else, for even an instant, then it’s a distraction…I saw that as a negative. When guys are different, guys that can’t handle it, they act different, play to the camera. I see that as a potential negative.”

Of course, the NFL and NFL Films could force the Browns to do the show against their will, because the franchise does not hold veto power as some other teams do. But that seems unlikely provided that some other team volunteers for the role.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys