Bears fans should be preparing for a rebuild (with or without Jay Cutler)

Phil Emery. Gone.

Marc Trestman. Gone.

Jay Cutler. Gone?

Maybe.

But don’t kid yourself if you think releasing Jay Cutler makes the 2015 Bears instant contenders.

Even if the Bears did replace Cutler with a replacement level quarterback who was media friendly with superb body language, a flashy smile and the ability to find homes for abandoned puppies, it would only solve one perceived problem.

And if you think fixing one problem on the Bears will do the trick, then you and I haven’t been watching the same football games.

The Bears have holes throughout the defense that has allowed about 28 points and 385 yards of total offense per game over the last two years. Specifically, we’re talking about starters at defensive tackle, all three linebacker spots, two cornerback spots (yes, because with as much nickel the Bears find themselves in, three starting corners is the norm now) and two safeties.

Rookie Kyle Fuller was serviceable, while free agent signee Will Young outperformed his contract and was the most productive Bears defensive lineman before his season ending injury in Week 16. But other than that, the Bears defense lacks for a strong foundation on the line, in the secondary and at linebacker.

Offensively (besides quarterback) the Bears offensive line returns two starters who will be on the wrong side of 30 (Jermon Bushrod, Roberto Garza) in 2015 and Matt Slauson (29) who couldn’t stay healthy in each of his first two years.

Kyle Long and Alshon Jeffery are a pair of building blocks on the offensive line and split out wide as a receiver, respectively. The two represent rare pair of draft hits by Emery. But clearly not enough to keep up with the Packers, who churn out multiple productive draft picks annually.

Matt Forte is an All-Pro caliber running back — a workhorse who was underutilized by a coaching staff that didn’t properly value what he brought to the table. Martellus Bennett is a pretty good two-way tight end. Brandon Marshall, when healthy and getting heavy usage on a winning team, is a quality wide receiver. He’s also a certified nut who legitimately needs professional help now — and probably when his football career ends.

So, tell me, how does getting rid of Jay Cutler fix all of the Bears’ other problems?

Get ready for what should be a lengthy rebuild. Embrace it. It’s long overdue.

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It’s fitting how the Marc Trestman era ended in Minnesota

Think about it.

Take yourself back to 2013. Bears at Vikings. In the dome.

It all started with a 47-yard field goal attempt on second down — which surprisingly came after Matt Forte had just eaten up 24 yards on the ground on 5 plays. Surely, a guy averaging 5.2 yards per carry that game (and 4.8 yards per carry on that drive) could’ve done some more damage.

I digress as we dive into a world of hypotheticals.

If Gould makes a field goal (or Forte continues to run through Vikings defenders) and the Bears win, the winner-take-all game against the Packers of Week 17 is unnecessary because 9-7 > 8-7-1.

Maybe the Packers don’t bring back Aaron Rodgers for a meaningless NFC North game. Then maybe you’re talking about a 10-6 playoff team.

To be fair, that 10-6 playoff team probably gets bounced in the first round anyway.

That’s not to say the 2014 collapse doesn’t happen. It’s still probable.

The defense was still two safeties short of a serviceable secondary and too reliant on the skills and health to a pair of aging veterans who had proven in recent years they were unable to stay in one piece for the entirety of a 16-game season.

But the 2014 season is probably seen as a fluke by the wide majority of on-lookers. One year after being the second highest scoring offense in football, this happens? Chalk it up to a fluke and everyone comes back in 2015 to try to get it right again.

Emery is safe. Trestman is safe. Tucker probably gets dismissed as the defense has been nothing but statistically horrible under his watch. Cutler probably gets a little bit of rope to work with, too. But probably not much.

All in all, we might look at that loss in Minnesota on Dec. 1, 2013 as the thing to get the ball rolling for 2015 and beyond. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

How Jimmy Butler is winning the bet he placed on himself

Only 27 games into the 2014-15 season and the Bulls are infinitely better and more enjoyable to watch than last year’s team.

Most of that fuzzy feeling is due to a (mostly) healthy Derrick Rose, whose usage rate is a healthy 30.9 percent — which ranks sixth highest in the NBA.

A good chunk of Bulls-related happiness can be attributed to Pau Gasol finding the fountain of youth in Chicago. Gasol has seen slight increase in traditional stats as his points (18.0), rebounds (11.5) and free-throw attempts (4.7) per game are all up from his last year with the Lakers) and advanced stats (total rebound percentage of 18.1 is his best showing since the 2009-10 season).

Nikola Mirotic is coming on strong. Aaron Brooks has provided the expected spark as the lead guard of the offense’s second unit. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson have provided the steady frontcourt presence Bulls fans have become accustomed to over the years.

But the biggest difference in this team is the emergence of Jimmy Butler.

Prior to this year, I hesitated using the nickname Jimmy Buckets for a guy shooting 39 percent from the floor and 28 percent from the 3-point line. But credit Butler for making the necessary improvements to his game, thus, making the Bulls’ offense one a difficult one to defend because of the multiple scoring options.

I’m no beat writer, so I’ll never know if Butler’s improvements are mechanical or the product of a summer workout plan or the hiring of a shooting coach. But if there’s one thing I am, it’s a tireless researcher and a cruncher of numbers.

But before we check out the shot charts provided by Vorped.com, let’s start with some basketball-reference linked basics to see how Jimmy Butler is winning the bet he placed on himself before the season in rejecting the Bulls’ contract extension offer.

Let’s start with the basics: Butler has attempted 364 shots, 57.4 percent of which have come from 16-feet and in. Of those shots, he has made 55.9 percent of his attempts (117 of 209).

Last year, Butler attempted 693 shots, with 48.3 percent of them (335) coming from 16-feet and in — an area in which he made 50.4 percent of attempted shots (169 of 335).

Part of Butler’s offensive inefficiency in 2013-14 was him settling on threes and long two-pointers. In 2014, those kinds of shots represented 59.8 percent of his shot selection (415 of 693 shots) and only hit 30.8 percent of those attempts.

In short, Butler’s offensive woes were partially due to inefficient (and ineffective) shot selection.

No doubt Butler has been a better shooter from the field in 2014-15, seeing increases in the paint (up to 58.3 from 56.5 percent), in his mid-range game (up to 43.5 from 37.2 percent) and from the 3-point line (up to 34.7 from 29 percent).

But again, shot selection has been more valuable to Butler’s sudden offensive outburst.

Butler has attempted 168 shots in the paint this year, accounting for 168 of 364 total shot attempts, which is up from last year in which shots in the paint only accounted for 36.2 percent of his attempts.

This year, Butler’s 3-point shooting percentage is up to a respectable 34.7 percent, but his percentage of 3-point shot attempt percentage is down to 19.7 percent. Last year, it was around 35 percent.

As important as Rose, Noah and Gasol are to the Bulls’ success moving forward, the X-factor here is whether or not Butler can keep knocking down buckets at this efficient of a rate. If he can, he fills the void of secondary wing scorer the Bulls have been searching to pair Rose with this championship window opened.

And while that makes the Bulls better right now, it will make Butler wealthy beyond a man’s wildest dreams moving forward.

New QB, but same ole Bears show up on Sunday

Jimmy Clausen didn’t show shades of Josh McCown on Sunday, but proved in a small-sample size that he could be a serviceable back-up in the NFL.

Nothing more. Nothing less.

Congrats on your future employment as a No. 2 quarterback, Jimmy.

It’s a good living if you can get it, especially considering the average cap hit on a back-up QB is $2.1 million (source).

Heck, the Vikings have more than $4 million tied into Teddy Bridgewater’s back-ups (Christian Ponder, $1.76 million; Matt Cassel $2.65 million), so there’s always employment available in an industry when all that is asked is you don’t soil yourself when your number is called in a pinch.

But I digress.

Sunday reinforced the belief that Chicago’s football problems begin at the top of the organization and not completely on beleaguered quarterback Jay Cutler.

In benching Cutler in favor for Clausen, head coach Marc Trestman told assembled media members and potential future employers: “Let me show you this is all Cutler’s fault. Let me show you the system works.”

The result was a back-up quarterback making his first start since 2011 dropping back 44 times (39 pass attempts, 2 sacks, 3 QB scrambles) on Sunday against the Lions. The final numbers show a pedestrian 23-for-39 showing (58.9 percent completion percentage), 181 yards (4.6 yards per attempt), 2 touchdowns, an interception and a 77.0 quarterback rating.

So much for the scaled-back offense you tend to see for second-string signal callers.

As a whole, the Bears offense struggled mightily, putting up 234 total yards (3.7 per play) and two scoring drives — one of which was a one-play, 11-yard pass to Matt Forte after a Lions turnover on a muffed punt.

The game’s signature play was a fourth-and-goal call pass targeting tackle-eligible Eben Britton.

Real passing game plans have true go-to plays.

The Packers can slant you to death with Cobb and Nelson if they wanted to do so.

The Patriots can find Gronk on a mismatch against a defensive back or a linebacker, inside or outside, all while having Julian Edelman slip through the cracks underneath.

The Bears went with the offensive lineman on a corner route, replacing the Jay Cutler QB sweep left as the worst fourth down play the team has run this season.

And that’s all that you needed to see from the Bears on Sunday.

In the end, it’s all an indictment on GM Phil Emery, who has multiple miscalculations on his hands beyond the hiring of Trestman and commitment to Cutler.

He spent $46.25 million in guarantees to Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Tim Jennings and Willie Young in an attempt to patch together the worst defense in Bears history — and only Young proved to be worth his contract.

He tossed $22 million in guarantees to Brandon Marshall, a receiver on the wrong side of 30 who also happened to be already well compensated and under contract before the extension.

And this doesn’t even take into consideration the draft picks, of which only Alshon Jeffery, Kyle Long and Kyle Fuller are considered building blocks.

Twenty selections since 2012. Three building blocks. Unacceptable.

If major miscalculations in the draft room and in the open market don’t lead to a top-to-bottom change, than what will?

I guess I understand the Jay Cutler coach killer stuff, but…

I guess I understand the narrative of Jay Cutler, but then I look at the coaches he’s killed.

Ron Turner? Bad. Out of the league. Back coaching college.

Mike Martz? Bad. Out of the league. Whereabouts unknown.

Though, one could argue Martz got the best of Cutler, as the Bears went to the NFCCG on his watch.

Mike Tice? Bad. In over his head. Offensive line coach for the Falcons on a staff that could end up getting launched if they don’t win the truly awful NFC South.

Lovie Smith? Bears were 34-22 in Cutler regular season starts, including two 10-win seasons and were 7-3 before a season-ending injury cost Cutler six games in a season in which he was posting a career-low 2.2 INT%. Gotta say that one is more on Emery than Cutler, which brings us to…

Marc Trestman. One 8-8 season in which his offense took the league by storm and one season in which he was outcoached in all facets of the game.

It’s not as if Cutler was without flaws, but if you’re paying attention to Bears football, you know Cutler is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

Today torpedoed any trade value (real or perceived) he had in a way I hadn’t seen since Jim Hendry was running the Cubs. That’s a special kind of awful if you remember those days.

Just another measure of proof of how dysfunctional the Bears are from top to bottom.

Melky Cabrera: Transaction reaction, comps and projections

It’s funny. Many of the same people in Chicago spent most of spring and summer looking forward to the Bears kicking off are now looking forward to what the White Sox will do this coming spring. The sports cycle in a major sports town can be odd at times. And if you’re a White Sox fan, you have to be liking this cycle. Let’s take a look at the most recent transaction, shall we?

Melky Cabrera, 3-years, $42 million (per Jon Heyman)

The new White Sox left fielder’s signing is an interesting one, in that he has seemingly rebounded from the lengthy PED suspension (and the bad PR that came with it) and will earn nearly twice as much annually over the next three years ($14 million AAV) than what he did in total in his stint with Toronto, which was a two-year deal worth $16 million ($8 million annually).

Cabrera (.292/.341/.433/.774 slash line in 1,663 PA batting second) provides a significant improvement from what the Sox (.237/.279/.355/.634 slash line, .282 weighted on-base average) were batting in the two-hole in 2014.

The median wOBA for a two-hole hitter in 2014 was .318, while the median OPS was .717 — a pair of numbers the White Sox woefully fell short of last season.

Still, I wanted to do something for Cabrera, similar to what I did with Jon Lester comparison, but quickly realized that would be an exercise in futility, as all left fielders aren’t created equally. You know what you teams ask from a top-of-the-rotation starter. That isn’t as clear when talking about position players, especially outfielders.

For example, during his age 30 through 32 seasons Barry Bonds averaged 38 homers, 111 runs batted in, a .298/.447/.592/1.039 slash line and a 176 OPS+ — all while (on average) being a 7-WAR player. On the low end, Juan Pierre posted a .286/.344/.340/.684 slash line and an 85 OPS+ in his age 30-32 seasons while registering a total WAR of 1.4 over those three years. That seems like an unfair comparison to Cabrera, too.

A more fair comparison? How about Bill Buckner, who is Cabrera’s most similar batter through age 29, via baseball-reference.com.

In Buckner’s age 30-32 seasons (spent with the Cubs), he averaged 12 HR and 83 RBI while posting a .313/.348/.457/.804 slash line to go along with a 121 OPS+ while being a 2.1 WAR player on average.

According to baseball-reference’s similarity scores, Cabrera’s top comp is Cleon Jones — an outfielder who played from 1963 to 1976, spending 12 years with the Mets before wrapping up with the White Sox. In his age 30-32 seasons, Jones owned a .271/.328/.401/.729 slash line and a 104 OPS+. Those are respectable numbers.

According to Steamer projections, here is Cabrera’s line: .288/.341/.432 slash line with 14 HR, 77 RBI, a .340 wOBA and a 1.8 WAR.

There have been 13 left fielders who hit at least .288 with a .341 OBP and .773 OPS with a minimum of 1,500 plate appearances over the span their age 30-32 seasons. Sorted by WAR, the top 5 features Barry Bonds (25.3 WAR), Rickey Henderson (23.1), Manny Ramirez (15.5), Chipper Jones (14.1) and Brian Giles (14.0). On the low end of that spectrum, we’re looking at Raul Ibanez (6.5 WAR), Carlos Lee (8.2) and B.J. Surhoff (9.4).

In short, there is precedence for a player of Cabrera’s stature being a 2-3 WAR player through his age 32 season. And if Cabrera can do that, the White Sox will have a favorable deal on their hands.