I was recently asked to construct a “Todo List” for the Bears offseason by the boys over at the Next Fan Up Podcast. I’m occasionally a guest on this podcast as the Bears representative. If you aren’t listening, you’re missing out on some good NFL conversation. The following is more or less what I put together for them.
The Bears have so many holes on their roster that constructing a list of concise tasks borders on the ridiculous. They need everything, especially on defense. Having said that, here are some general things to consider:
- Sign your own.
This most applies to wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who is a virtual lock for the franchise tag (though see here for my doubts and fears). The Bears also need to make a decision at tight end on whether to sign Zach Miller, who had a reasonably productive year but who has a history of injury, and talented malcontent Martellus Bennett.
There are also a number of borderline players who the team needs to make a decision on including CB Tracy Porter, DE Jarvis Jenkins, OG Vlad Ducasse and OG Patrick Omameh, LB Sam Acho, and LB Shea McClellin.
- Find an impact defensive player
The Bears were 22nd in the league in sacks and 30th in interceptions. When you look down the roster, it mostly mediocre (at best) role players. There are no defensive ends like JJ Watt, pass rushers like Von Miller, linebackers like Luke Kuechly or cornerbacks like Josh Norman. It would be unrealistic to expect a team full of guys like this. But the Bears are going to have a hard time being competitive on a week-to-week basis without at least one impact player of this type.
- Get better at the line of scrimmage
Games are won and lost at the line of scrimmage. The Bears aren’t adequate on either side of the ball at this point.
Defensively the don’t have a starting quality defensive end. That will undoubtedly be a high priority, probably in the draft where the depth at the top end is strong.
On the offensive side they need a starting right guard where Ducasse and Omameh were fill ins last year. It’s a reasonably deep free agent guard class and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they tried to sign a reasonably young one at the right price.
Depth is also an issue on the offensive line, particularly in the middle. Rookie center Hronis Grasu needs to get stronger in the offseason and the Bears need to sign a veteran back up in case he doesn’t take the next step.
- Find a QB of the future
Most people currently associated with the organization would laugh that I’ve listed this as a priority. Jay Cutler will only be 33 years old at the start of the season. The Bears are all in on Cutler, passing over better qualified candidates to keep him comfortable by making QB coach Dowell Loggains as offensive coordinator and hiring Dave Ragone as QB coach. Ragone’s whose only major qualification is that he’s worked before with Loggains.
The conclusion that Cutler is the guy is a reasonable one from the point of view of the coaching staff. 2015 was their first year in Chicago and Cutler had a reasonably good season. The problem is that I was in Chicago for Cutler’s previous six years with the team. If head coach John Fox had seen what I’ve seen, he’d be a lot more hesitant to trust Cutler to continue to perform for a second year.
In any case, the Bears need to decide if the young QBs on the roster are future starters. Given their low draft status (David Fales was a sixth round pick and Matt Blanchard was an undrafted free agent) I think that’s doubtful. In that case they need to use a high to mid-round pick to find someone to work behind Cutler and step in at the position.
It’s important to note that the Bears are in a position to use a draft pick for future gain at this point. All teams are, to some extent, in “win now” mode. But common sense says that the Bears are unlikely be in a Super Bowl next year. Mel Kiper at ESPN recently used this reasoning to suggest that the Bears would draft Notre Dame outside linebacker Jaylon Smith. Smith was the 2015 Butkus Award winner but he tore both his ACL and MCL versus Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day.
Kiper’s reasoning also applies to the quarterback position. Though I’m not suggesting that the Bears will actually do it, to me it makes sense to pick a quarterback who needs time to develop behind an established starter at some point in this draft and plan for the future.