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Identifying potential future Bears needs heading into 2018

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Depending on how this year plays out, these positions that aren’t currently needs could be positions that the Bears will need to fix next offseason.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
The Bears have a solid strong safety in place in Adrian Amos, but the position could become a need come next offseason.
Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Bears are coming off of one of the most active offseasons of any team in the NFL this year. With several notable additions on the offense and a couple of solid defensive acquisitions, they managed to fill a myriad of needs on their roster.

However, it is nearly impossible for a team to fill every one of their needs in a single offseason. Chicago still has a couple of holes on their roster that could prevent them from taking a massive leap into contention this year. Plenty of focus has been placed on those needs - with outside linebacker standing out among the bunch - but not much light has been shined on positions that could become needs down the line.

As players age and contracts expire, positions that are among a team’s strengths could soon become a weakness in a matter of a year or two. The Bears, for example, had an group of edge rushers that included Pernell McPhee, Leonard Floyd, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston that was feared just two years ago. Fast forward to the present day, though, and just one of those four remains on the team. In fact, two of them still have not been signed by a team in free agency.

These positions are not necessarily weaknesses at the moment, but they could end up becoming holes on Chicago’s roster when next offseason kicks off.

Strong safety

One of the most polarizing players among the Bears Twitter community, Adrian Amos has fans split right down the middle in terms of how they view him. A portion of fans view him as a top-five safety in the NFL: an elite, hard-hitting safety who, in their minds, is arguably the best safety in run support in the league. Another portion, however, sees him as a replaceable starter who doesn’t offer much upside in coverage.

Both sides have varying degrees of merit. Amos is in fact a very good run defender, and he isn’t afraid to lower the boom on opponents. On the other hand, though, he only has one interception through three seasons, which is an unacceptable number for a starting safety in the NFL, especially one who is held to such a high standard.

Barring contract extensions, both Amos and Eddie Goldman will be free agents at the end of the 2018 season. Although the Bears will likely have enough cap space to re-sign both, they may balk at bringing back one of them if the market value becomes too high. As of now, the odds are that that player will be Amos.

Goldman serves as one of the league’s better run stuffing nose tackles while also having some pass-rushing value. Plus, the Bears have no young prospects at defensive tackle, while they carry a couple who could potentially fill the void at strong safety.

Amos could end up getting a deal in the wheelhouse of the deal that Tennessee Titans safety Johnathan Cyprien received in 2017, which was a four-year deal for $25 million. Although Amos has proven to be better in coverage than Cyprien was when he was on the Jacksonville Jaguars, both are hard-hitting safety with a lack of turnover production.

Whether or not strong safety becomes a big need, though, depends obviously on if Amos leaves, but also the play of players like Deon Bush. If someone like Bush flashes enough this season, then the Bears might feel confident if Amos were to seek a deal elsewhere. If not, though, then they may end up considering making a big move to find a starter next offseason.

Punter

Punters are people, too, you know.

Pat O’Donnell had NFL career highs in several different categories last season. He reached personal-best marks in total punts, punt yardage and yards per punt while tying a career-high mark with 39.7 net yards per punt. Despite that, the Bears only chose to give him a one-year, $1.5 million contract this offseason.

Assuming O’Donnell beats out undrafted rookie Ryan Winslow in training camp, the 2014 sixth-round pick will yet again enter a contract season. He is only 27 years old, so he still has quite a few years left in him. From a statistical point of view, his leg is stronger than a majority of the NFL’s starting punters. Although an improved offense will likely prevent him from seeing as much playing time as he did last year, he will still presumably have plenty of opportunities to prove his worth.

O’Donnell has been a solid, reliable punter for the Bears for the past four seasons. They would likely be better off keeping him around in the long haul, but, if they choose to move on from the man christened as “Megapunt”, then they will have to look hard for a suitable replacement.

Offensive guard

As of this writing, the Bears are projected to start James Daniels and Kyle Long at their two offensive guard spots. With Long being a former Pro Bowler and Daniels having the potential to become the same, the duo has the capability to be one of the better guard tandems in the NFL. If the Bears decide to move Daniels back to center and slide Cody Whitehair over to left guard, then they will still have a rock solid pairing on the interior.

Depending on how this season turns out, though, such a duo may not last.

Long has been a fan favorite in Chicago for the past few seasons, and rightfully so. His colorful personality, his dedication to the Bears franchise and his play on the field have all earned him the respect of the team’s locker room and fanbase. However, he has had trouble staying on the field in recent years.

The 2013 first-round pick is coming off of two injury-plagued seasons. During that span, he has missed 14 games and has seen his level of play deteriorate due to his playing through injuries. Although Long managed to make it to the Pro Bowl in every year before those two seasons, the possibility of his returning to the game aren’t incredibly high. He is a good player when healthy, but the phrase “when healthy” carries massive weight in that sentence.

Long has a potential out in his contract that could see the Bears save by $5.5 million if they were to choose to release him next offseason. That total increases to $8.1 million if they were to let him go in 2020. The possibility of getting rid of a fan favorite like Long is not a pleasant one, but business is business at the end of the day, and such a situation is fairly realistic.

The offensive guard position will likely still be a need to some degree even if Long manages to stay healthy this year, due to his turning 30 years old this year and the impending free agency of Eric Kush next offseason. However, if the Oregon alumnus isn’t able to stay healthy this year, then guard will end up being a massive hole on the Bears’ offense.

Jacob Infante is a Chicago Bears writer at SB Nation’s Windy City Gridiron. He is also an NFL Draft writer at USA Today SMG’s Draft Wire. He can be reached through Twitter @jacobinfante24 or emailed at jacobinfante1208@gmail.com.