This season marked the third in a row that the Chicago Bears finished with a winning record and failed to obtain spot in the playoffs. The lone bright spot for the team this year was the newly revamped offense that was led by first year head coach Marc Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer. Even with one of the more prolific offenses in the NFL, the talk of the town is Mel Tuckerand the worst Bears defense since 2007. Tucker is still employed by the Bears, but don’t expect that to be the end of the conversation about who is returning to Chicago next season.
Bears GM Phil Emery was inserted in 2012 to begin the process of flipping the Bears’ offense. Emery made it his business to deliver Jay Cutler his wish of a few bigger, quality teammates. He traded for a Pro Bowl WR and Cutler’s friend in Brandon Marshall. WR Alshon Jeffrey ended up being a major steal in the 2012 draft for the Bears when he fell to the second round. RB Michael Bush signed a free agent contract to help relieve Matt Forte during his ongoing contract discussions. This proved to not be enough, as the Bears fell out of playoff contention late in 2012 too. More pieces were needed and other major pieces got their walking papers.
The 2013 offseason forced Bears fans to watch the exits of Lovie Smith, Brian Urlacher and the majority of a terrible offensive line. In return, the Bears signed tight end Martellus Bennett, Pro Bowl tackle Jermon Bushrod and guard Matt Slauson. The draft brought in guard Kyle Long, tackle Jordan Mills and linebacker Jon Bostic. The offense only returned starters in Cutler, Forte, Marshall, Jeffrey and center Roberto Garza from the previous season.
A top five offense couldn’t even salvage this season for them. The fact is, the last time Chicago had a side of the ball play as badly as the defense did this year players, coaches and executives lost their jobs. Should it surprise anyone if certain starting defensive players don’t return in 2014? Probably not.
The only starting defensive backs currently under contract for the Bears are Chris Conte and 2014 Pro Bowl CB Tim Jennings. Jennings earned his contract extension for his strong play the past two seasons in coverage. It’s safe to say his spot is secure. On the other hand, Conte and Major Wright are questionable. Conte is in the final year of his rookie contract. The pressure is firmly on him to earn his spot this upcoming season after drawing some of the ire of fans for missed plays. Wright is going to be a free agent and many believe that it’s best if the Bears part ways with the defensive back to begin rebuilding the core of the safety position. Charles Tillman has had some injury issues recently, but it’s hard to picture that he won’t be lining up down the line from Jennings next season if healthy.
The linebackers aren’t in question as much as you may think. Lance Briggs and D.J. Williams suffered crucial injuries that crippled the defense into going with their rookies before they were ready. As long as those two can remain healthy and help James Anderson anchor this defense, the Bears should improve in tackling. Expect them to keep the course by selecting quality LBs in the draft to get younger at that position. Anderson, Briggs and Williams are each at least 30 years old.
Defensive line is where the most change may occur this upcoming season. The line was devastated by injury when both starting interior linemen, Henry Melton and Nate Collins, went down with torn ACLs. Both figure to be back for next season, however, the Bears will need to find themselves in great position to draft a lineman for the future. DT Jeremiah Ratliff may also return and earn a spot in camp after signing with the Bears late in the season.
Julius Peppers is aging and it makes one wonder how long the team will stay committed to him and their current pass rushers. He finished with 7.5 sacks. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but his salary is too high for that kind of production. The Bears have to want more out of him and the rest of the line if players want to remain in Chicago.
There’s much to ponder before the draft begins in May. Tucker has his justification for last season’s defense.