Offseason Forecast: Chicago Bears

  • By Bear Heiser
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With the offseason officially underway, Around The League will examine what's next for all 32 teams. The series continues with the Chicago Bears.

With the offseason underway, Around The League explores what's next for all 32 teams.

AFC East
» Bills | Dolphins | Jets | Patriots
AFC North
» Bengals | Browns | Ravens | Steelers
AFC South
» Colts | Jaguars | Texans | Titans
AFC West
» Broncos | Chargers | Chiefs | Raiders
NFC East
» Cowboys | Eagles | Giants | Redskins
NFC North
» Bears | Lions | Packers | Vikings
NFC South
» Buccaneers | Falcons | Panthers | Saints
NFC West
» Cardinals | 49ers | Rams | Seahawks

What's changing?

The Chicago Bears' defense had a nightmare season in 2013, finishing 30th in total defense and tied for 30th in points against. On the other side, the Bears finished eighth in total offense and second in points scored. These results are in complete contrast to the Lovie Smith era. Coach Marc Trestman told reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine that his team would be "defensive-oriented" in the draft, a clear sign of what's to come.

Biggest free agents

» CB Charles Tillman: The Bears find themselves in a tough position here. Peanut can lock down the NFL's best, but he missed eight games last season and likely can command a lot more on the open market. There's also the Lovie factor in Tampa Bay.

» DT Henry Melton: An ACL injury forced Melton to miss 13 games last season while earning $8 million on the franchise tag. Word from Trestman is that Melton has lost weight and has been "rehabbing at the facility every day." The Bears should offer Melton a one-year, show-me type of deal.

» C Roberto Garza: The veteran has missed just two starts for the Bears dating back to the 2007 season. In 2013, the Bears started the same five guys on the line in all 16 games -- with two rookies anchoring the right side. Continuity makes a good line great. Why not keep it going?

» Other key free agents: QB Josh McCown, LB D.J. Williams, DE Corey Wootton, CB Zack Bowman

What they need

Defense, defense and more defense. Coordinator Mel Tucker needs significant help at every position, with the line needing the most attention. Finding a run-stuffing defensive tackle is a must, because Steve McMichael ain't walking through that door. NFL draft analyst Mike Mayock said if Florida State DT Timmy Jernigan is there for the Bears, they should " sprint to the podium." The second-greatest need comes at safety. Chris Conte was above average at being mediocre last season, and Major Wright is a free agent. There are a handful of intriguing possibilities on the FA market if a step-in-right-away guy isn't available in the draft.

On the way out?

» DE Julius Peppers: The 33-year-old recorded 7.5 sacks last season, which necessarily isn't a bad number. Now let's sprinkle in a little context. Peppers carries a 2014 salary of $14 million and a cap number just over $18 million. Releasing Peppers frees up around $9.8 million in space. That sack number sounds a little bit worse now, doesn't it?

» WR Earl Bennett: While Bennett does have value to the Bears, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery have taken 2013 seventh-round pick Marquess Wilson under their wings. The Bears quietly believe that Wilson, who will make $495,000 in 2014, can make a Jeffery-like leap, which leaves Bennett as the odd man out in a money-saving move.

» RB Michael Bush: Matt Forte's versatility and ability to stay healthy will continue to limit Bush's carries. With a 2014 salary of $2.8 million and a $3.85 million cap hit, Bush is expendable. There will be much younger and cheaper options in the draft.

Offseason crystal ball

As it currently sits, the Bears approximately have $2.7 million in salary-cap space and 27 free agents on the roster, 17 of whom are defensive players. This team won't have much financial flexibility to carry into free agency unless Peppers is released. The move also would authorize Emery to be more flexible in his draft strategy, allowing him to go after the best available instead of players who can step in and play right away. Expect the Bears to spend their first three to four picks on the line, cornerback and safety. So if you're a Bears fan, we suggest you pay very close attention to May's draft.

On the latest edition of the "Around The League Podcast," the guys speculate on big names who could be cut, then talk offseason forecasts for the Packers and Raiders.