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Bears' curious offseason raises questions about 2011 outlook

I know people have tried to label me a Bears hater, because I haven't really bought in on them even through the NFC title game run.

I'd say, more accurately, I'm a Bears skeptic. I didn't think they'd be able to do it again in 2011, and all that's happened the past few months with front office and personnel moves has made me scratch my head even more fervently than before. There have been a lot of odd events there -- most recently Lance Briggs making a public trade demand on the precipice of the season, and Chester Taylor getting mixed messages on his roster status and then getting cut.

Oh, and there was heart-and-soul leader, longtime center Olin Kreutz, departing an already beleaguered offensive line over a few hundred thousand dollars after 13 years of service. And there was a faux pas over whether or not Marion Barber had in fact cleared waivers before he was signed (to say nothing of the surprise it was to many that Chicago would rush to sign him in the first place).

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The Bears didn't do much to fortify an offensive line that allowed 56 sacks a year ago, which could haunt them all season, and Cowboys castoff Roy Williams is it in terms of receiver upgrades. And their best target, tight end Greg Olsen, wasn't deemed a great fit for Mike Martz's offense despite some chemistry with Jay Cutler, and was jettisoned to Carolina for a draft pick.

And, yes, there was a botched trade with the Ravens during the draft that left Baltimore officials irate; with Chicago failing to make a simple, procedural phone call to consummate the deal (general manager Jerry Angelo took the public hit for that one). Heck, we could focus on the fact that the Bears have already jettisoned two-thirds of their big 2010 free-agent signings (Taylor and TE Brandon Manumaleuna). The decision to let go of longtime negotiator and personnel man Bobby DePaul after the 2009 season, a do-it-all guy in that front office, also struck many as curious.

But let's not focus too much on the past. Let's look at the more recent developments.

I'm still trying to figure out why the Bears ended up paying safety Brandon Meriweather $3.25 million for 2011, when he was set to make $1.65 million with New England. Meriweather was being shopped around by Bill Belichick. That's no secret. So if you like him that much, why not just deal a sixth- or seventh-round pick for him, and get him at that rookie-contract rate, rather than double his salary as a free agent? Doesn't make sense to me.

Furthermore, if they had handled the Taylor situation better, without telling him he'd be released and shopping him around sooner, then maybe you get sixth- or seventh-rounder for Taylor and then flip that pick to the Patriots for Meriweather.

Can't figure that out.

The decision to table contract talks with feature back Matt Forte and safety Chris Harris will no doubt cause some locker room chatter, too. The Bears have abundant cap space and Forte is in his final year. My sense is around $18 million guaranteed would get it done, but the sides couldn't strike a deal in the preseason. With so little young, rising talent of their own to extend, contractually, Forte was far and away the priority, but that negotiation wasn't smooth.

They're an older team in a lot of key spots, and will need to escape injury, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The world champion Packers seem to only be getting better, the Lions could be poised to make a move and the Vikings have holes but some elite players still on the roster.

Tough division. Strange offseason. Odd preseason. And a very tough schedule to open up the year.

I tend to think the Bears will take a fall from their division-title heights. But then again, I missed the boat on Da Bears all of last season, so who knows. Maybe they'll surprise me again.

Follow Jason La Canfora on Twitter @jasonlacanfora.

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