NFL Chicago Bears

5 Chicago Bears Storylines To Follow Leading Up To Free Agency

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Chicago Bears Storylines To Follow Leading Up To Free Agency

Brian Spurlock - USA Today Sports

Plenty of things, especially on the defensive side of the ball, are still to be decided for the Bears in the week and a half leading into free agency. Obviously, the excitement is there more so once free agency hits than beforehand, but some of the storylines that are developing early could be just as important as free agency itself. There are a plethora of internal decisions that the Bears and general manager Phil Emery will have to make in order to steer the franchise in the right direction.

That right direction sure seems to be defense. This usually dominant defensive team was abysmal last season and they are likely to exhaust most, if not all of their draft picks on defensive players. However, they have some decisions regarding returning players that they need to make before they decide which areas on the defense to focus on in the draft. There are plenty of players that were injured a season ago that may have to take pay cuts to stay with the team this year. There are others who could be let go for financial reasons and yet others that may have better opportunities elsewhere.

On offense, a unit that was solid in 2013, the Bears need to work to solidify their long-term offensive personnel. One great offensive season is nice, but in order to have sustained success, the team needs to secure current personnel and add other assorted personnel at later stages. By doing that, they will ensure that they are an offensive juggernaut for years to come instead of just for a year or two.

While there are so many things to watch for as the NFL approaches free agency, the Bears have a few storylines in particular that are building. Here are the five that are the most important to follow as the team moves forward into the 2014 season.

Jacob Kornhauser is a writer for "Like" him on Facebook, follow him on Twitter or add him to your Google+ network.

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No. 5: Josh McCown's Future With The Team

Howard Smith - USA Today Sports

After playing spectacularly at the quarterback position in Jay Cutler's absence last season, the Bears would love to have him back as the backup once again. The only problem is that he played so well, other teams may want him to start for them. He has expressed his desire to stay in Chicago, but if a team gives him a chance to be a starter, it might just be too good for him to pass up.

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No. 4: Defense's Possible Shift To Hybrid 4-3

Kelley L. Cox - USA Today Sports

In order to fit their current and anticipated defensive personnel, the Bears may very well shift to a hybrid form of their familiar 4-3 defense in 2014. Basically, they would mix in 3-4 looks along with some others to go with their basic 4-3 set. This would seem to make sense given the fact they're short on defensive tackles (a 3-4 defense requires just one) and Shea McClellin seems more suited for that defense as an outside linebacker.

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No. 3: Whether Or Not Charles Tillman Is Back In 2014

Kirby Lee - USA Today Sports

Most reports have the chances of Charles Tillman returning to the Bears as 50-50. If he doesn't return to the team, he's almost certain to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are coached by Lovie Smith, Tillman's former long time coach for the Bears. Peanut still has a couple of good years left in him if he can stay healthy and whether he re-signs or not could help shape what the Bears do in the draft.

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No. 2: Long-Term Extension Talks With Brandon Marshall

Dennis Wierzbickl - USA Today Sports

Now that franchise quarterback Jay Cutler got the mega-deal that he hoped for, it's time for the team to shift their focus to the guys Cutler will be throwing the ball to. Cutler's favorite target will be a free agent after this upcoming season and it's vital that the Bears lock him down long-term. The two sides have been in talks about an extension since the season ended and locking him up would essentially ensure a solid Bears offense for years to come barring injuries.

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No. 1: Whether Or Not Julius Peppers Will Be Cut

Brace Hemmelgarn - USA Today Sports

Peppers' fate with the Bears is the biggest financial decision that the Bears have to make this offseason. They have two realistic options: cut him this year and take a cap hit or restructure his contract and likely take that same cap hit in 2015. This move all depends on what the Bears think they can do at the position in the draft, but based on the amount of money the club would save by cutting their Pro Bowl defensive end, that option seems likely.