The 2013 season has yet to begin but it is hard for Chicago Bears fans not to look ahead to next year. Depending on what happens over the next several months the team could be in store for big changes. GM Phil Emery has set things up so that the roster could undergo a very big overhaul starting from free agency and going all the way through the draft. He has his coach in Marc Trestman and the full support of the Bears ownership. It's merely a question now of awaiting the results of his latest moves to make Chicago a regular playoff contender. However, playing the role of devils advocate, what could happen if the Bears struggle this season? Here is what to keep track of.
There is no way to sugarcoat it. Unless some extensions are handed out the Bears figure to have 21 current players on their roster hit the market including but not limited to Jay Cutler, Tim Jennings, Charles Tillman, Henry Melton, Lance Briggs, Robbie Gould, and Devin Hester. That doesn't even bring up the slew of one-year deals Emery handed out in free agency this year. It is fair to assume a number of those players will reach new deals before next March but it should still leave Chicago with anywhere from $30 million to $40 million in salary cap space. Throw in the fact that Julius Peppers could find his way out the door due to a staggering cap number of over $17 million and the Bears certainly may not look the same next year. Perhaps the most worrisome spots are at quarterback and cornerback. Cutler is in his last year and hopes a good 2013 season becomes a big pay day next year. Tillman and Jennings on the other hand are both set to punch out, not to mention reserves Kelvin Hayden and Zach Bowman could go too. That is a lot of loss for one team to take, unless Emery already has a plan in place.
Despite looming issues the Bears have some stability at key positions. Running back is set with Matt Forte and Michael Bush while wide receiver won't see much action outside of a possible Hester exit. The offensive line is also poised for good things with Kyle Long and Jordan Mills on board. Tight end seems settled with Martellus Bennett and the linebackers (Jon Bostic, Khaseem Greene) and safeties (Major Wright, Chris Conte) bring nice cores of youths locked up for next year. The team isn't sitting pretty but they will have building blocks ready if for some reason Emery wants to do a complete revamp.
Based on words Emery said when he first took over, he wants to get the Bears into a position where they can re-sign their own players to stay competitive. This likely means a number of familiar names will see a new deal in place even before the 2013 season ends. The real questions lay with Cutler and the older veterans like Briggs, Tillman and Hester. Common sense says they will use the franchise tag on Jay, giving them stability at the most important position. Given how Emery approached Brian Urlacher and Israel Idonije this year, it could mean exits for the others if their play starts to slip. Briggs is 33-years old, Tillman is 32 and Hester just turned 30. Emery doesn't fear cutting veterans he feels have either declined or begun to.
This is the real wild card. For the first time since 2008 the Bears will have their full slate of picks from rounds one to seven. The expectations of the 2014 class are very high, particularly at the quarterback spot. Names like Zach Mettenberger, A.J. McCarron, Aaron Murray, and Tajh Boyd figure to have their full attention unless Cutler makes noise this year. Emery could very well further his vision for Chicago by cutting loose the last major piece of the Jerry Angelo era and give Trestman a new talent to groom. Then again he can also continue rebuilding the defense while applying more protection and playmakers on offense. The margin for error is literally that small.
One thing is clear. The 2013 season can't get here quickly enough.