I wasn't planning on starting this off season series so soon, but here we are... I'll take a position by position look at who stays, who goes, and what moves I'd like to see. Even with no general manager in place I'll still speculate on the roster moving towards 2012. As Steven pointed out, there is a talent gap between the Bears and the other NFC North teams, and who ever ends up with the G.M. gig will have a lot of work to do, both in regards to free agency and the draft.
Just like we did last year we'll have access to some premium content (a must for the stat-driven football fan) from our friends over at Pro Football Focus to help look at the players. Check out Dane's interview with their founder Neil Hornsby that he did a while back.
Jay Cutler - Signed through 2013 - What a difference an off season makes. Last year at this time Cutler was questioned on many levels, this year his importance to the offense has never been more evident. It's a little worrisome that he'll be learning yet another offensive playbook. However, with Mike Tice getting the promotion the plan is to keep much of the terminology intact, but build around Jay's strengths. This should be a winning formula.
Pro Football Focus has Cutler rated as their 18th ranked QB, a 1 position drop from last year, but by taking a closer look at their numbers he got better as his season progressed. PFF gave him 2 negative grades in the first 3 games, and in his last 7 games he only had 1 negative grade (the London game). And his final game before the thumb injury he had his best rated game with a 6.9 overall.
Caleb Hanie - Free Agent - Don't get the Hanie situation twisted; damn near every NFL scout that would speak on the subject thought that Hanie would be a serviceable back up QB. Between his preseason work, his solid play in practice, and that bit of time in the NFC Championship game, it was universally thought that he would fine if pressed into action for any length of time. Most everyone was wrong, but I still think Hanie will be playing in 2012, just not in Chicago.
You think Hanie was bad, he wasn't the worst QB graded by PFF. Of the 79 players that threw a pass last year, Hanie was 61st. I'll bet you can't guess who #79 was... Here's a hint, it wasn't Tim Tebow (70).
Josh McCown - Free Agent - I think the Bears will want to bring McCown back, but I think his play may entice another team or two to throw an offer his way. I don't know if you've noticed, but there are a lot of bad QBs in the NFL right now. He showed some heady play and a good pocket presence in his couple starts. I'd like to see him brought back, and honestly if the Bears get in a bidding war for his services I think they should pony up. If QB is the most important player on the roster, then what does that make the #2 QB?
PFF did have McCown ranked higher than Hanie, he was up at 56.
Nathan Enderle - Signed through 2014 - Enderle will at least return to compete for the #3 job, even though he was a draft pick with the Martz system in mind, he's still under contract for relatively cheap. His job should by no means be a lock, but he'll be in camp competing.
2012 OUTLOOK - Last year I didn't want to see the Bears draft a QB, and I have the same feelings this year. Bring back McCown and another veteran to compete for the back up job. Finding a player that would come into a situation with no shot at unseating the top guy may prove to be a challenge, but some veterans may have come to grips with their NFL future and realize that's their best chance at sticking on a roster. Drew Stanton, Shaun Hill, David Carr, and Dennis Dixon are some veteran FA possibilities. Then there's free agent to be Rex Grossman... weirder things have hapened.
I'd also expect a young camp body or two to come in for a look early in camp, give Enderle someone to look over his shoulder at. Competition is always a good thing.