As the fortunate few teams are gearing up for the playoffs, the remaining 20 teams are beginning their stages of offseason evaluation, making coaching staff changes and evaluating their own rosters to begin preparing for free agency at the draft.
For Chicago, after the search for a general manager (which ended one year ago today) and a coach last offseason, this will be a less frantic time as Ryan Pace and John Fox will have familiarity and more time to do the things that were condensed last winter.
The Bears do have a lot to do though, figure out which of their 24 impending free agents they wish to bring back, figure out if they will use their franchise tag(s) and then look at the league pool of free agents and see which players they wish to target there, as well as pour over their college scouting data and film and work the draft process starting with the college All-Star games.
It's a busy offseason in the NFL and it keeps fans engrossed long after their team has stopped playing.
For the Bears, coming off a 6-10 season it is going to be important for the team to hit on all of these areas of the offseason and improve the team for 2016.
But what does the shopping list for the Bears look like?
Following the Pace-Fox end of the season presser the other day, it appears that the Bears are prepared to 1) build up the defense and 2) build around Jay Cutler on offense by adding more pieces around him. They seem slightly less concerned about the potential loss of Adam Gase, with Pace saying "our systems are our systems."
Pretty definitive statement there. The loss of a key assistant will hopefully not be a big issue for Cutler but it is still something that is likely to happen and Pace and Fox better be as prepared as they've all led us to believe.
What, then are the big needs for this team? What positions do they need to target in free agency and the draft?
Ballhawking DB - The Bears as a team had eight interceptions as a team, only half of which came from DBs, three of which came from their corners. That's not very good. They need to find a player who can not only defend receivers well but also has a knack for getting his hands on the ball.
Guard - The offensive line had its ups and downs this year. The hope is that tackles Kyle Long and Charles Leno Jr. will improve throughout the offseason by working on their technique at positions they were playing for the first time this season. Center Hroniss Grasu will also seek to improve technically and in the weight room, which will boost the line group as well. However, while there is some young and promising talent, the line is still one starter short. With the veteran Matt Slauson coming back, they still need another guard to replace Patrick Omameh and Vlad Duccase who were both not very good. Another guard would solidify the unit and offer a real strong group in the trenches going forward.
Edge rusher - It might still be too early to tell if both Willie Young and Lamarr Houston will return next year, despite being the team leaders in sacks (6.5 for Young, 7 for Houston). Both allegedly asked for trades near the deadline and Young has been outspoken in his reluctancy to play standing up, despite having a knack for it as the season went on. One or both could be jettisoned for late-round picks or they could return. Even if they return, along with Pernell McPhee, the team still lacks a consistent pass-rush monster off the edge. McPhee is a great all around player, Houston a good all-around player and Young a solid third down specialist. The team needs to find a guy like Justin Houston or Khalil Mack or Von Miller.
Inside linebacker - Shea McClellin is a decent piece, if uninspiring. John Timu might be a player but he needs to show more than just a couple possible flash-in-the-pan late season games. Christian Jones has throughly disappointed after being built up for two seasons. The Bears need ILBs that can shed blocks and tackle consistently. The Bears defense was gashed by opponents running game far too often.
Those are my three big needs for the team but they are far from the only upgrades the team needs. They also must answer questions like: what is Alshon Jeffery worth? Do they need another safety or is the undrafted Harold Jones-Quartey really going to pair with Adrian Amos for the future? Do they need another defensive linemen? Is David Fales really going to be the backup QB? They've gone through great lengths to hold onto Fales but can he be a solid No. 2?
Which of these positions is best addressed through free agency and which is best suited for the draft? Keep in mind that the Bears will not likely be in play for the blue-chip big guaranteed guys like Josh Norman or Von Miller.