Last year was, suffice to say, a disaster in many respects. Who knew that an 8-8 record with a decent statistical offensive turnaround, plus extensions for several players would turn into a 5-11 season, the firing of the head coach and general manager, and possible movements to get rid of those recently-extended players?
Last year, we looked at that "offensive turnaround" that proved not to be and looked over the possible core of players on the team, noting that most of the "core" was on the offensive side. That's a core that shrank over last year.
When I start thinking of who the building blocks and core players are on the team, it's not a very long list.
I definitely include Kyle Long and Alshon Jeffery on that list; Jeffery is heading into a contract year and Long's been great and improving since being drafted. Kyle Fuller is almost included by default on account of being last year's first round draft pick. Matt Forte's been great since he came into the league, and Martellus Bennett put together his career best season last year. That's about where the list ends.
On defense, there still aren't a lot of "core" options, between aged veterans and struggling young players. Maybe Jon Bostic can show something in year three, or maybe Christian Jones takes another step next year, or maybe Shea McClellin finally, finally, finds a role he fits well in (although as a 4-3 Sam linebacker he was more acceptable as the year went on). Stephen Paea's a free agent, as is Chris Conte.
On offense, Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall's absences are noted on the core player list, and they're as close as anybody else to actually being on it. I'd be happy to have them on it. But I'm just not sure if either will be around long term after this season (and depending on who you talk to, even this season). And if "Around long term" is a criteria then maybe I shouldn't have Forte up there, as his contract expires after 2015.
Then who else is there? The offensive line outside of Long isn't exactly young (Roberto Garza) or great (Jordan Mills). Matt Slauson might return to form. Jermon Bushrod might continue to be okay. Let's not start talking about Ka'Deem Carey as Forte's successor until we see more out of him, and Marquess Wilson doesn't matter much either.
At this point, who's the team's core?
There's not much of one, nor much of a supporting cast to a core. Which means as we round the corner into free agency, Ryan Pace and John Fox have their work cut out for them.