When the final whistle blew on the 2014 NFL season, the Chicago Bears immediately went to work to reshape their franchise. General manager fired, head coach fired, assistant coaching staff turned over, players allowed to walk, numerous free agents brought in, new blood added via the draft and through undrafted rookies.
The Bears are not only reshaping their roster, they're installing new schemes on offense and defense. The West Coast Offense; Gone with Marc Trestman. The.. whatever you want to call the defense Mel Tucker ran, also gone. Chicago needed to tweak personnel on O and D to give the new coordinators the best chance to succeed in year 1.
I think new general manager Ryan Pace not only added some quality with his much lauded rookie class, but I think he did some very good stuff in free agency.
ESPN Insider Mike Sando recently ranked the off season's for all 32 NFL teams. Sando not only took into account Mel Kiper's draft grades, but he received help from ESPN analysts Bill Polian, Louis Riddick, Matt Williamson and Field Yates.
The good news is the Bears just made their top 10. But the bad news is two of Chicago's NFC North rivals ranked in front of them. The Minnesota Vikings checked in at 5th with a B+ and the Green Bay Packers were 2nd with an A-.
But back to the Bears. Sando and crew gave Chicago's off season a B for the following off season moves.
Re-signed: CB Sherrick McManis, QB Jimmy Clausen, TE Dante Rosario
Veteran additions: CB Alan Ball, S Antrel Rolle, TE Bear Pascoe, WR Eddie Royal, RB Jacquizz Rodgers, DE Jarvis Jenkins, ILB Mason Foster, DE Pernell McPhee, OLB Sam Acho, LS Thomas Gafford, C Will Montgomery, DE Ray McDonald, S Malcolm Bronson, OT Paul Cornick
Veteran subtractions: C Brian De La Puente, CB Charles Tillman, S Chris Conte, ILB D.J. Williams, S Danny McCray, ILB Darryl Sharpton, OG Eben Britton, K Jay Feely, LS Jeremy Cain, WR Josh Morgan, OLB Lance Briggs, FB Montell Owens, DT Stephen Paea, DE Trevor Scott, WR Brandon Marshall, S Anthony Walters, C Roberto Garza, OT Paul Cornick, OLB Khaseem Greene
Draft picks: 1-Kevin White (WR), 2-Eddie Goldman (DT), 3-Hroniss Grasu (C), 4-Jeremy Langford (RB), 5-Adrian Amos (DB), 6-Tayo Fabuluje (OT)
Before we go any further, I first must rectify a few mistakes from the ESPNers.
Their 'veteran additions' are leaving out offensive lineman Vlad Ducasse who should compete for a reserve spot at guard. They also list Paul Cornick as both an addition and a subtraction. Cornick, if you remember, actually failed his physical, so I'm not even sure why he warrants a mention.
Now here's what they had to say about Chicago's off season, with my thoughts sprinkled in.
Polian said he would have handled the Jay Cutler situation the same way the Bears handled it -- keeping him as the starter, given the money guaranteed to him this season and the fact that there wasn't a viable replacement option -- but is anyone excited about the status quo at quarterback? Trading Brandon Marshall made sense under the circumstances, but did it make the Bears better? Vic Fangio was a good hire at defensive coordinator, but does Chicago have the personnel to run his base 3-4 scheme? It was an offseason filled with trade-offs, one reason the endorsements carried qualifiers.
The Bears explored trade options at QB, but once those fizzled, keeping Cutler was the only way to go. The Brandon Marshall trade, while unpopular, made sense. Marshall may bounce back in 2015, but at his age and salary, moving on from a guy who only had 61 catches and 721 yards was OK.
Fangio is the kind of coach that will mold his defense around his talent, so I'm not even concerned if he has the players to run "his base 3-4" defense, because "his" D will be whatever he has to work with.
"I guess they did well," Williamson said. "Losing Marshall and getting White, adding a center, hiring a good offensive coordinator in Adam Gase -- the offense should be pretty good. Going to a 3-4 on defense, I thought they might need 10 new starters, but now I look at their defense and do not think it is awful. They are not contenders, but I give them a B grade."
We've looked at a bunch of teams that have made the switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 in one off season, so it's not like this is an unprecedented move. Teams spend so much time playing in nickel that a 40 or 30 front defense doesn't matter. Chicago's holdover 4-3 defensive ends are paid to rush the passer and that's exactly what they'll do.
Riddick was the only analyst to give the Bears an A grade. He loved McPhee's addition and predicted the ex-Raven would "rip it up" in Fangio's scheme.
I'm also excited to see McPhee take to more playing time. Like we discussed in Monday's Ten Thoughts, McPhee was a very productive and efficient player for Baltimore last year.
"The coaching staff is star-studded with a lot of brain power in 'Fanny' and Gase," Riddick said. "Whether Antrel Rolle can be the jack of all trades at strong safety in that 3-4, that is key. Eddie Goldman, if he can stabilize the nose, that is key. They are building it strong down the middle. I like how they have done it from the top down, GM to coach to coordinators and then strengthening the roster down the middle. Now, we'll see if it works."
If the off season moves pan out, this team could be knocking on the door of a wildcard spot.
What grade would you give the Bears' off season?