We might as well start talking about the offseason because no matter what happens next week, as has been documented and discussed in numerous posts, this is a team with major problems and no clear solutions.
A couple of days ago I focused on the O-Line as a major offseason need. The problem is that there aren't a lot of great options out there. I think any acquisition the Bears make has to have a couple of characteristics:
- Relatively high level of performance
- Relatively young player
The Bears are not so complete a team that they can acquire an aging veteran who will give you a season or two before being useless - that only works when the team is on the cusp, and just needs one or two more pieces to complete the puzzle. Similarly, for many, but not all, of our position needs, we can't really afford to take a flyer on a guy who seems like he has potential but hasn't really proven himself - our need is too acute. With all that said, we also have to recognize that money is not unlimited - so any Free Agent acquisition will come at the expense of some other possible pick-up.
There are no good options at QB. If by some miracle Philly is stupid enough to trade McNabb, that would be great. Otherwise draft a QB high, and let him and Caleb Hanie sit and wait for Orton to play out his last year, while learning the NFL ropes.
Unfortunately, this is not a great year for FA Wide Receivers. T.J. Houshmandzadeh is oooold, and though there is some chance that Anquan Boldin will be available in trade - it's not a sure thing by any means. For some inexplicable reason Earl Bennet has not been able to get on the field - apparently he doesn't drop passes with quite as much style as Booker, Davis, Lloyd, et. al. (I'm not saying he's good - but he can't be worse than what we put out there - it's not physically possible).
One possible option is Antonio Bryant. He's a bit troubled, but he's having an outstanding season, and he can always go car racing with Lance Briggs. There's a good chance he's available, as the Bucs have a lot of players going to Free Agency and may not resign all of them.
Ultimately though, this is another area with no clear answers. This is made more problematic by the Bears' inability to identify the talent that they have. Solid players (not stars) have had trouble getting on the field for the Bears (or are not resigned) but have productive, if unspectacular, careers with other teams (e.g. Gage, Wade, Bradley).
The only WR I want back next year are Hester and Bennet - and neither should be the premier WR.
With Graham and Tillman starting, and Vashar backing up - why do we need CB? Two reasons:
- We haven't really been that good in pass defense. Teams have had a lot of success moving up and down the field on us, and we have had particular problems getting off the field on 3rd and real long. We need to make some improvements in this area.
- Nnamdi Asomugha is an Unrestricted Free Agent. This guy is the best corner in all of football - by a large margin - and he's young too.
If we can't get him, Chris Gamble from Carolina is also a FA and they have one of the best pass defenses in the league.
Another area where you might wonder at the need until you realize that Mike Brown is a FA, and even if the Bears resign him he is not likely to be healthy a whole year. So you have to gamble that Payne improves a bit and that Steltz learns how to tackle, or that Daniel Manning gets moved back to Safety and can actually play the position.
In this context I would like to see them add another player to the mix to see if he could emerge. Tampa Bay's Will Allen is a FA, and would fit in well here. He knows the defensive scheme and has been a star on special teams for them. Given all of their Free Agents, mentioned above, it's not likely that they'll resign him, and as a backup, he'll probably come cheap.
We have a lot of questions along the offensive line. I would like to see the Bears make a play for Jordan Gross at Right Tackle. The Panthers may put the Franchise tag on him again but according to Pro Football Weekly they are also trying to keep Peppers and CB Chris Gamble (mentioned above), and don't like spending big FA money.
Vernon Carey would be my second best option, along with - amazingly - Marc Columbo as a close third (funny how he worked out in the end).
In his last year under contract Tait could fill in as an above average backup on either side, while Chris Williams should be healthy and ready to start at Left Tackle (he better be!). I would also consider a late round draft pick on Tackle well spent - especially one with some size, as the undersized nature of the line has caused us no small amount of trouble.
There aren't that many good guards available. Jahri Evans is a Restricted Free Agent so I'm not sure we would be able to get him, and if he's not available I would like to try to get Mike Goff (even though he's a bit older).
Football Outsiders stats show that NO has one of the top O-Lines in the league, and while SD does not have a good rushing offensive line overall, that has mostly been due to the incredible poor production from the left side of the line, while the right side has been good, and Goff is considered an excellent player.
This is not a pressing need but the Ravens are going to be trying to resign Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, and may not have money for Bart Scott who is an excellent Linebacker. Urlacher is not getting any younger, and the 3rd linebacker position is not exactly solid on the Bears. considering how important the Linebackers are in the scheme the Bears run, it would be nice to pick up a top player at this position.
I think the Bears should use the top of the draft to focus heavily on receivers and a QB. I don't think the Bears should sign anyone over 32 (except for maybe Goff). Free agency seems to be a forum where good deals can be found on O-Line, as teams spend the big money elsewhere - but there aren't that many players available.
I haven't looked into the Bears Salary Cap situation, so I don't know how much of this will be feasible - maybe next post...