Bears' Offseason Hinges on How Phil Emery Addresses the Defense, And Addressed Jay Cutler

David Banks-US PRESSWIRE

The Bears' offense under Marc Trestman and Phil Emery surged to the top ten of the league, ranking second in points and eighth in yardage. The defense, meanwhile, sputtered to the bottom ranks of the league. The 2014 offseason's major storyline will be how the Bears rebuild the once-proud defensive unit.

The Bears finished the 2013 regular season with one of the worst statistical defenses in Chicago Bears history.

30th in points allowed with 478.
30th in yardage allowed with 6,313 total yards allowed.
32nd in rushing yardage allowed with 2,583 rushing yards allowed.
31st in rushing touchdowns allowed with 22.
32nd in yards-per-rushing-attempt at 5.3 yards per rushing attempt.
28th in first downs allowed with 353. 147 of those came on the ground.
Their redeeming feature is being ranked 15th in passing yardage with 3,730 passing yards allowed, and that's even tempered by a net-yards-per-attempt of 6.9, 27th in the league.

Of their five signings since Friday, December 27th, they count to one kicker, three offensive players, and Tim Jennings' 4 years, $22.5 million with a $7.5 million cap hit in 2014.

I suppose one could easily look at the title of this Sunday morning article as the Packers, Niners, Bengals, and Chargers are gearing up for playoff games, then look down at the statistics posted above and give me a look that reads "No bleep, Sherlock." You wouldn't be wrong, but let's toss out a couple things to consider.

First, Jay Cutler's contract (Yes, I tied in a defensive article to Jay Cutler, deal with it) is a little on the high side in 2014, compared to the expected $16 million franchise tag. The important part is the total money over three years. Cutler's contract is heavy in those three years, but the total of those three years is less than three consecutive years of the franchise tag by six million dollars. Which is another six million dollars given to Cliff Stein to play with over the course of those three years.

It's cost certainty. With Cutler locked up, Phil Emery and Cliff Stein know how much is locked in their quarterback, know that except in an extremely unfortunate and unlikely scenario that number won't change, and they know how much is available not only this year but in the next two years to be able to build the rest of a team that has a lot of roster holes in it, particularly defensively.

The best part, of the eleven 2013 starters on offense, ten are under contract for 2014 (Jay Cutler, Jermon Bushrod, Matt Slauson, Kyle Long, Jordan Mills, Matt Forte, Tony Fiammetta, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett) - only Roberto Garza remains to be signed or otherwise replaced as an offensive starter. That side of the ball doesn't need a significant signing to remain a top-ten offense. Which leaves the defense.

Now, let's look at a couple lists of names.

Shea McClellin. Brandon Hardin. Isaiah Frey. Greg McCoy. Jon Bostic. Khaseem Greene. Cornelius Washington.

Blake Costanzo. Kelvin Hayden. Jonathan Wilhite. Geno Hayes. Cheta Ozougwu. Nate Collins. Brian Price. Sherrick McManis. Zack Bowman (Twice).

Then D.J. Williams. James Anderson. Hayden again. Cutting Matt Toeaina. Zach Minter. Sedrick Ellis and the Retirement of Sedrick Ellis (also a great movie, four stars, two thumbs up), David Bass, Landon Cohen, and Jeremiah Ratliff.

That's not meant to be a fully inclusive list, but those are a majority of the significant defensive player moves that the Bears have made in Phil Emery's two seasons. There are some hits there (Anderson, Hayes, Ozougwu, Collins, the second edition of Bowman, and I'd even put McManis' special teams play on that list). There are certainly some misses (Ellis, the massive collection of injuries, so far the first year of defensive draft picks and the second hasn't started out so great), and there are plenty that the book is too early to be written on completely (said draft classes, the tagging of Henry Melton, Williams, the Bass trade).

We've been over the injuries and other circumstances that may have caused the defense to fall off so dramatic a cliff. However, with no need to further devote major resources to the offensive side of the ball (at this immediate point in time), the offseason will be about how Emery and the Bears find a way to make the other side of the ball serviceable again.

If there was one thing Emery was truly adamant about in his press conference on Thursday, it was his personal accountability in building a complete Bears team. He made it clear that while injuries played a role in the defense not performing up to task, it was his role in failing to build depth that kept the defense low. He acknowledged his failure to add competition to the safety position (in other news, Chris Conte is on notice). He acknowledged that he hadn't put Brandon Hardin and Shea McClellin in positions to succeed. The most telling quote is when he said "Jay Cutler doesn't have to be better than Aaron Rodgers, the Chicago Bears have to be better than the Green Bay Packers."

There are two sides to the ball. Emery acknowledges this, and acknowledges it's his job to build both those sides up. And Thursday's presser was an acknowledgement that he hasn't done that over his two years in the GM chair.

Let's hope that in 2014, or at post-season-presser time in 2015, we aren't hearing another "accountability" press conference.

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