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Sustaining Success: Higher Priorities for the Bears Moving Forward

The Chicago Bears are going strong, enjoying an 8-3 record. This is good, because after the season is over, any retooling will have limited resources. Where should those resources be spent?

Chicago Bears v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

The good news is that the team is already in a solid place. The bad news is that barring a trade, Ryan Pace will not draft until the third round, and the Bears have a number of big contracts coming up. This means that options for the Bears to improve are suddenly limited. To that end, Windy City Gridiron has been discussing what the top priorities for the Bears should be between this season and next. For first part addressed lesser priorities.

Now it’s time for what the contributors and the community identified as the real problem areas. Before going on, however, it’s necessary to quote Lester Wiltfong to get some perspective: “In my opinion the top 3 priorities for the Bears aren’t very critical to the team’s success. This is a young team that is still ascending, and as long as they continue to draft and develop well, they’ll be able to overcome any free agent losses.”

With that context out of the way, here are the top two priorities for the Bears to be able to sustain their success.

#2: Defensive Back

This was an unpopular choice among the community, with cornerbacks and safeties together garnering only 5% of the vote. Part of that probably has to do with the quality of the secondary as it exists. The problem, of course, is that it might not exist on that level for long. This might be why it was one of the top concerns among the contributors.

Concerns over Adrian Amos and Bryce Callahan both being free agents next season jumped this position group into second place as a priority. Here is what we had to say about the position.

Lester said this about what he called the top priority for the team in the offseason:

Keep the secondary intact. Bryce Callahan and Adrian Amos are two starters that play good football that I’d like to see the Bears bring back. Amos is criticized for not being a great player (despite his grades), but he’s a solid NFL safety. Not everyone on a team will be a superstar and Amos is a “glue guy” that by all indications is a good teammate. I’m not saying break the bank for him, but if the price is right, bring him back. Callahan is a guy I’ve always liked, but he’s had a tough time staying healthy. He may be one of the best nicklebacks in the game today and that makes him nearly as valuable as a starting corner. Unless he’s offered starting corner money, I think the Bears should pay him like a top slot corner and bring him back.

Callahan is undoubtedly one of Ryan Pace’s best finds, and the fact that he was brought in as an undrafted free agent makes his addition to the team all the more enjoyable (and finding him all the more impressive). Many agreed with Lester, and Erik offered the following analysis:

Both Bryce Callahan and Adrian Amos are free agents heading into the 2019 league year. The Bears will likely have to make the tough choice in re-signing one of them, then letting the other walk, provided both players want long-term security. You can also find good DBs in the later rounds of the draft, ala Eddie Jackson (4th in 2017) and Amos (5th in 2015) as well as the UDFA market (Callahan).

This lead him to assign the defensive back position the second-highest priority overall.

Meanwhile, WhiskeyRanger disagreed, but not when it came to priorities. Instead, while he felt that cornerback was the second-highest need, he offered this bit of wisdom:

I personally think they find a way to keep both Amos and Callahan (obviously, I could be wrong). Despite the PFF love, I’m not sure Amos will require anything crazy to retain. But with Prince being fairly injury prone (and creeping closer to 30), I’d expect them to start looking for an outside corner, unless they think Tolliver can become that (hey, Callahan worked out pretty well as a UDFA corner, so crazier things have happened).

Andrew Link, on the other hand, thought that the secondary was the single most important area of emphasis.

Bryce and the “box” Safety: First and foremost, Bryce Callahan needs to be re-signed. I expect him to command somewhere in the $8M AAV range, which is perfectly doable. That gives you Callahan, Prince Amukamara, Kyle Fuller, and Eddie Jackson for 2019, and Callahan, Fuller, and Jackson for 2020-21. I’ll take my chances with that. Amukamara can be replaced going forward and the Bears actually have some young talent at the position to groom for 2020. That leaves Adrian Amos as the only member of the secondary potentially leaving after the season. In a robust Safety market, I wouldn’t make any guarantees. If you can wait out the market, you can probably get Amos or another veteran “box” safety in the $3M AAV range. If not, you can draft a Safety and let him compete with Deon Bush. Let’s face it, Amos has been the 11th or 12th most important player on defense this year, I think they will be fine looking elsewhere, if need be.

I like the secondary the Bears have put together, and simply keeping it together should give them a solid foundation for the future.

#1: Offensive Line

60% of those polled felt that either tackle or guard was the spot that most needed attention in the offseason. Most of the contributors felt that one of these two positions (or some other area of the line) was one of the top two priorities for the team. In other words, there is general agreement that the O-line needs work soon.

The man who writes Sackwatch offered the following thoughts:

The offensive line needs some clarity. I’m a fan of Kyle Long’s, but for the money he’s making, he’s not producing. Too many injuries for too much money. There is an out in his contract this offseason, but the out is even cheaper after the 2019 season. I think they can afford him one more year (especially with the expected release of Dion Sims) and make a call on him before 2020. I’d like to see Bryan Witzmann brought back, and since journeyman guards don’t break the bank, that should be a no-brainer. At right tackle, if the Bears can get Bobby Massie back on a fair two year deal, I say do it. Rashaad Coward could use another year of seasoning before taking over that spot.

Like Lester, Andrew Link thought that the O-line was the second-highest priority, although he chose to focus on the right side:

There are looming decisions to make at both RG and RT this off-season. Do the Bears count on Kyle Long returning to form? I certainly wouldn’t. Long has been one of the reasons the running game has struggled, and it appears on film that he has struggled picking up the offense. Outside of that, he isn’t healthy, and likely won’t ever be healthy again. The Bears save $5.5M by cutting him, and if we are being honest with ourselves, that is the best route. Not only do the Bears need the money, but they need a better, healthier player to be the starting RG. Eric Kush is a fine backup, who comes at a much cheaper price tag. Is Long’s leadership worth $8.5M? I should think not. Bryan Witzmann has done a decent job replacing Long and could get you through 2019 on a cheap deal.

The biggest hole I see though is at RT, where Bobby Massie is set to become a free agent. After a tough first season with the Bears, Massie has actually been quite dependable on the right side. Massie makes $6M AAV and would likely want a raise to re-sign with the Bears. Given that the only viable internal candidate is Rashaad Coward, a converted defensive lineman, the Bears are in a tricky spot. Coward looked good in the preseason but is that enough to put their faith in him as a starting RT on a team that expects to compete for the Super Bowl? I’m not so sure. In this market, there is little chance that Massie takes a 1-year deal, as I have seen many fans throw out there, it simply isn’t realistic. The Bears need to decide whether or not Massie is in the longer term plans at 29 or if they are comfortable drafting a RT to compete with Coward.

WhiskeyRanger was even more worried about the line, calling it the top priority:

Leno and Massie have been relatively solid, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Bears look to upgrade at least one of those spots to help keep rushers off their young QB and to help establish more of an outside run game. And Long, for whatever reason, has trouble staying on the field, so I also wouldn’t be shocked to see them try and find his eventual replacement instead and just roll with Leno and Massie for the time being. Regardless, I think at least one of those positions will be a focus.

It is probably not surprising that our resident optimist, ECD, thought that the line was at a lower priority, and he provided reason for hope:

Bobby Massie is a free agent in the 2019 offseason, and given Ryan Pace’s attempts to upgrade at RT these past two offseasons, it would surprise me if he doesn’t pursue an upgrade. Then again, Massie has proven serviceable, and could be re-signed for cheap. If anything happens along the O-Line, it might very well be addressed in free agency as opposed to the draft. It’s not a particularly deep class of O-Linemen IMO, but it’s not impossible to find a good one in the later rounds, if the Bears go that route.

Those are our thoughts on the what the Bears need to sustain their success. What are yours?