by Mario "Game" Granata
The Chicago Bears, on paper, look to have a very explosive offense, and one that could make some noise in the NFC North. With weapons such as Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett, how could Da Bears only manage a 5-11 season? Well, when the defense ranks 31st in the league in points allowed, its not that much of a mystery. The Bears have started from the top down, cleaning out their coaching staff and starting new, but the staff isn’t the only change that has to be made for the Bears to succeed in 2015.
The Bears surrendered at least 30 points in 7 games last season, including back-to-back 50+ point losses to the Patriots and Packers. The defense was going to be the focal point for the Bears, and they have made two solid coaching changes in head coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Fox, who has been known for his defensive prowess, and Fangio who spent the last 4 seasons in San Francisco, know what has to be done to create a successful defense, and hopefully, for Bears fans, bring the Monsters of the Midway back to Chicago.
Adam Gase also made the jump with Fox and has a lot of new toys to play with. This will be the true test, as he will be without Peyton Manning.
The question on everyone’s mind is what to do with Jay Cutler? Cutler is set to make 16.5 million this season, which is a hefty price tag for a quarterback who only put up a 28-18 touchdown to interception ratio. About 20 years ago, that would have been impressive, but in the passing NFL, if your quarterback doesn’t hit 30 TDs, then he shouldn’t be paid like one. Taking into account that the Bears have to face Aaron Rodgers and Matt Stafford twice, they are going to have to have more production out of their quarterback.
If they cannot restructure, the Bears will be forced with the difficult decision of trading him, which will only result in a 4 million dollar dead money cap hit. IF they cut him, they will have to pay him the full amount, so they will have to work out some deal and do it fast.
On the defensive side of the ball, Jared Allen is due 12.5 million in 2015, and had a sub-par 2014 season. If the Bears were unable to restructure his deal, it would be hard to add some much needed pieces on either side of the ball.
Food for thought: If the Bears are able to trade both Cutler and Allen, they would free up 21 million dollars in cap space to chase some big name free agents before the draft. If Cutler happens to not be a Bear next season, don’t be surprised if Brock Osweiler makes his way to Chicago.
The three biggest names for the Bears come in the form of LB Lance Briggs, DT Stephen Paea and CB Charles Tillman. Briggs will likely not get the 7 million that will be required to sign him, as there has also been a youth movement in Chicago the past few seasons with the likes of Kyle Fuller, Brock Vereen and Jon Bostic. However, the Bears are only working with 26 million in cap space, so even if they decide to place the franchise tag on Briggs, it will be around the same number or higher.
The focal point of the defense should be Stephen Paea, who just finished his rookie contract, and has been the most consistent defensive lineman that the Bears have. Resigning him to a long-term deal will keep his cap hit low, because if they decide to tag him, it will carry around a 10 million dollar hit. Charles Tillman will be due around 3.2 million if the Bears resign him, but like with Briggs, the youth movement may mean the end for Tillman in Chicago.
The Bears hold the 7th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, and more than likely, they will target an offensive lineman, however, depending on how the Jay Cutler Saga plays out beforehand, will determine what the Bears eventually do. They might try to bolster their newly 3-4 defense with either Danny Shelton from Washington or Shane Ray from Missouri. Ray isn’t expected to still be on the board, and has played primarily in a 4-3 as a rush end, so the money is leaning toward Shelton to anchor the middle of the line, if a deal with Paea isn’t reached.
It all starts up front for the Bears. Seeing that Fox is the head coach, and Gase followed him to Chicago, discussions could be in the works for free agents Orlando Franklin and Will Montgomery to follow suit if they are unable to reach a deal with Denver. Franklin gives the Bears much needed protection on the outside at tackle, and with Roberto Garza at center, Montgomery could slide to guard, a place he played for Fox in Carolina in 2006.
As for the defense, there are holes in the secondary that need to be addressed as well, and with the younger players gaining experience, they may look to the draft for secondary help. Chris Conte was, for lack of a better term, a poor mans Eric Weddle, so look for the Bears to make some moves on the back end.
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