I’ve lost count how many of you have asked me in the past few days if we should expect a mass exodus from the Bears' locker room of players heading to Tampa Bay to rejoin their beloved coach now that Lovie Smith has taken over the Buccaneers.
Remember, when Lovie was fired in Chicago Devin Hester was so bereft he contemplated retirement rather than play for another coach.
On the Friday before the Bears met the Packers in the final game of the regular season, Hester talked about how important it would be to him to re-sign with the Bears saying this is where he was “born” in the NFL.
But that was a little less than a week before Lovie was reborn as a head coach in the NFL.
Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers among others expressed tremendous disappointment in Lovie’s dismissal. All have also appeared at times this season to be less than thrilled with what the Bears are doing on defense.
It’s also reasonable to note that general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman added fuel to the firestorm of speculation around the potential for a mass migration south by Bears veterans when both proclaimed in their season-ending news conference that they’re committed to getting younger on defense.
Peppers, Briggs, Tillman, D.J. Williams, James Anderson and Jeremiah Ratliff are all thirtysomethings, all but Peppers are free agents, and other than these six the Bears' defense is relatively young.
In the case of Peppers, his $18 million cap hit in 2014 makes him almost impossible to keep without a restructured contract
The only way the Bears get younger on defense is if some or all of these players move on.
The question is: What will the Bears do with the contracts of Peppers and Briggs, and is Tillman, who is free to go if he chooses, a fit in Tampa?
The easiest to guess at is Briggs. With one year left on his Bears contract at $6.5 million, he is as close to indispensable as any player on the club. Emery continues to be hopeful about the futures of Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene, but even if 2014 is to be a transition year for the defense, and likely Briggs’ last as a Bear, he will almost certainly be back in 2014.
On the other hand, Charles Tillman could very well end up in Tampa. Lovie values his ball-hawking techniques and the turnovers he creates above all else in his Tampa 2 defense.
On one corner, the Bucs have one of the best backs in football in Darrelle Revis, and on the other is Jonathan Banks, a rookie second-round draft choice.
But Banks wasn’t Lovie’s pick, and the chance to bring “Peanut” in and have Banks learn at the nickel for now could be very appealing.
Peppers also could be a good fit if Lovie believes he has anything left. The Bucs have first-round pick Adrian Clayborn, second-rounder Daquan Bowers and Daniel Te'o-Nesheim at defensive end, but the trio combined for just eight quarterback sacks this season, with six coming from Clayborn.
Will the Bears cut Peppers loose, and how much of a paycut is he willing to take?
There is no connection between Lovie and Williams, Anderson or Ratliff, but Hester, Henry Melton and Roberto Garza also could be of interest to Smith.
The Bucs were solid at eighth in the NFL in punt returns and 13th returning kickoffs, but Smith and Hester made a lot of magic together.
Tampa’s Gerald McCoy is one of the best "three" techniques in the NFL, and Melton could be the perfect fit as his backup and part of a three-tackle rotation.
Garza could be a nice veteran bridge between Lovie and his new roster, if the Bears aren’t a serious bidder.
• Hub Arkush covers the Bears for Shaw Media and HubArkush.com. Write to him at [email protected]