The Bears are determined to get something out of their investment. After spending $7 million last year for the first year of RB Chester Taylor's 4-year, $12.5 million contract, the former Minnesota Viking put up paltry numbers: 112 carries for 267 yards and 3 touchdowns. Those were record-setting numbers as he became first RB with more than 100 carries since the merger in 1970 to average less than 2.4 yards per attempt.
It's obvious he has lost a step, yet Bears coaches are confident in his ability to perform at a higher level going forward. Mike Martz has said Taylor just needs more experience learning the offense before he can produce better numbers.
"He had to learn what we do and we asked him to do a little bit more than he did in the past," Martz told the Chicago Tribune. "You've got to remember, too, that's this is a first year in that type of offense. They are not familiar with it. Plus, all of the coaches are not familiar with it. So it's a growing thing."
Bears running back coach Tim Spencer also recently sung Taylor's praises, saying he was satisfied with his production and that he'll have better numbers next year.
"Obviously, we've got things to improve on but it's nothing big," Spencer said.
It's apparent the Bears coaching staff are behind Taylor, at least publicly. But one has to wonder how worried they are at his drastic drop in production. The team was so desperate to find a role for him in the offense last year that they turned him into a short-yardage back – practically unheard of with a small player known for his third-down prowess. So it's hard to believe the staff is as confident with him as they show.
Yet, even though all indications point to Taylor being washed up, the Bears will most likely hang on to him, for money's sake. The front office has a history of keeping players on the roster solely due to the big dollars paid to him the year or two before – Nathan Vasher anyone? So again will they stick it out with Taylor, who only costs the team a modest $1.25 million this year.
The problem is that there are only 53 players on any NFL roster. Taylor uses up one of roster spaces. It's obvious there are more-worthy players in the draft and free agency who could fill that slot, but the Bears need to save face. He's cheap and could turn his game around with one year of Martz' offense under his belt. If he continues to play poorly though, Chicago will need to eat crow and let him go before he does too much long- and short-term damage.
Listening to the Fans
The Bears have begun a season ticket holder advisory group to help give a voice to the fans. The 11-member group will work with Chicago's front office to find common ground in the areas of game-day experience, ticket operations, marketing and customer service. This is not the only recent effort by the front office to keep its fans happy. In 2010, season ticket holders were offered an incremental payment plan for each playoff round.
It's a good sign for an organization not known to be the most fan-friendly. Considering the Bears' waiting list for season tickets is as long as Chicago's Gold Coast, team execs have no financial incentive to go out of their way to connect with season ticket holders. Yet their willingness to reach out and give the fans a voice could mean a change in philosophy going forward.
Assistants Pay Won't Be Cut
Chicago worked into the contracts of its current assistant coaches a clause calling for a 25-percent pay cut for all assistant coaches on the day a lockout would begin, along with a team option to terminate the contract altogether with a 60-day notice. Yet team president Ted Phillips has no said no changes will occur until September at the earliest. Bears assistants have been assured their pay won't be docked unless a lockout forces NFL games to be canceled.
"I've told them exactly what we're going to do in the event a lockout occurs,'' Phillips said. "We're having no layoffs, no furloughs, no pay cuts until we actually miss games."
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.