Offseason Forecast: Chicago Bears


With the offseason officially underway, Around The NFL examines what's next for all 32 teams. The series continues with the Chicago Bears.

What's changing?

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

AFC East:
AFC North:
AFC South:
AFC West:
NFC East:
NFC North:
NFC South:
NFC West:

Give the Bears credit: They owned up to the nightmare scenario of their 2015 season and rebooted the braintrust in a quick and impressive manner. The team was lauded for its hiring of general manager Ryan Pace, while the new coaching trio of John Fox, offensive coordinator Adam Gase and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is a vast upgrade over the prior regime.

Now the hard part, fixing a 5-11 team with plenty of holes, particularly on defense. There's also, of course, the smoking 800-pound gorilla in the room. Does Jay Cutler get yet another shot at this?

Biggest free agents

» DB Charles Tillman: He's been a staple of the secondary for years, but age and injuries appear to be catching up to Peanut. Tillman has indicated his heart is set on winning a Super Bowl. The rebuilding Bears don't seem to be a logical fit.

» LB Lance Briggs: The 33-year-old veteran has expressed an openness to playing inside in a 3-4 Fangio scheme, but Chicago could look to get younger at the position rather than keep around a progress-stopper, to borrow a Parcells-ism.

Other key free agents: QB Jimmy Clausen, S Chris Conte, LB D.J. Williams, K Jay Feely

On the way out?

» QB Jay Cutler: Most Bears fans would love to wash their hands of Cutler, but what's the next move? Cutler was a turnover-prone mess who got benched last season, but he remains a talented passer who could be reined in by the Fox/Gase/Dowell Loggains combo. Of course, Cutler has been slaying would-be lion-tamers for a decade.

» WR Brandon Marshall: There's no question about Marshall's playmaking ability. This is about whether the Bears are willing to put up with another year of the ancillary headaches that follow the Inside The NFL analyst.

» DE Jared Allen: Allen will be 33 in April and is coming off the least productive sack season of his fine career. He's also not a natural fit in Fangio's 3-4. Allen's $12.5 million base salary in 2015 is fully guaranteed, meaning that entire amount would be a dead money hit if Chicago were to release him.

What they need

The makeover starts on defense. The Bears allowed the second-most yards in franchise history last season. Only the 2013 unit was worse. The Bears pick seventh overall in April, and the focus should be on importing an instant difference-maker, with special focus on linebacker and safety.

Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are fine receivers, but the Bears lack a slot option who adds another dimension. Randall Cobb would be the ideal acquisition here -- would Green Bay let the wideout escape to a division rival?

Finally, Chicago must do better than Jimmy Clausen as an alternative to Cutler. Fox can tell you all about putting your eggs in the Jimmy Clausen basket (it helped end his tenure in Carolina once upon a time).

Offseason crystal ball

We'd be extremely surprised if Cutler goes anywhere. The Bears remain deeply committed financially, and Cutler is simply better than any other option. We also expect to see Marshall back -- even if he can be a pain in the butt.

The defense is going to look very different, from both a personnel and schematic standpoint. With a top-10 pick and a healthy salary-cap situation, expect Pace to invest big in a makeover. Given the right parts, Fangio will quickly lift the unit to respectability.

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