Now that the Chicago Bears have fired general manager Jerry Angelo and hired Mike Tice as offensive coordinator, the next critical step for the organization is to finally craft a plan to build around quarterback Jay Cutler.
Cutler, who arrived in Chicago following a trade prior to the 2009 season that sent then-starter Kyle Orton and two first-round picks to Denver in exchange for the young Pro Bowl star heading into his prime, was viewed as a bold move for the Bears who historically were indifferent about investing in the most important position in all of pro sports. Since then, the Bears and Cutler haven't reaped the benefits of that lofty transaction as of yet.
As their biggest asset, the Bears should do everything possible to give him the best chance to succeed with the hopes of leading the team to annual postseason trips and eventually a Super Bowl.
1. Address the Offensive Line
The first order of business for the new general manager and the coaching staff is to upgrade the offensive line. Under former offensive coordinator Mike Martz, Bears QBs were sacked 105 times in two seasons. In 2010, Cutler was sacked 52 times in more than 500 drop-backs. This past season he was brought down 23 times before suffering a season-ending thumb injury in Week 11.
If Cutler is the franchise quarterback Chicago believes he is, it would be wise to keep him upright. With the Bears selecting No. 19 overall in April's 2012 NFL draft, a quality left tackle should be available such as Iowa's Riley Reiff, Jonathan Martin of Stanford or Nate Potter at Boise State.
2. Upgrade the Wide Receiving Corps
The Bears haven't had a true No. 1 wide receiver since Marty Booker in the early 2000s. In fact, Booker was the last Chicago receiver to appear in a Pro Bowl when he did so following a 1,189-yard 2002 season. It is safe to say that the group of Johnny Knox, Roy Williams, Devin Hester and Earl Bennett are not elite wide receivers to say the least, ranking No. 24 in the league as a corps.
The free-agent pool is plentiful with skilled veteran performers that could make an immediate impact in a revamped passing attack. Marques Colston (Saints), Reggie Wayne (Colts), Dwayne Bowe (Chiefs) and Vincent Jackson (Chargers) would make solid additions and finally give this offense the quality receiver it has longed for. The 2012 draft class also provides attractive depth in the later rounds like Wisconsin wide receiver Nick Toon, Marvin McNutt from lowa and Dwight Jones from North Carolina.
In order for Cutler to reach his potential as a passer, having one or two explosive wide receivers at his disposal to break the top off opposing defenses will be a much-needed commodity.
3. Let Cutler Lead the Offense
The last component in transforming Cutler is Tice allowing him the freedom to run and control the offense. That's what the better quarterbacks in the league like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are allowed to do each Sunday. The rigid Martz system didn't allow for Cutler to audible out of bad plays, make adjustments at the line of scrimmage or take advantage of the mismatches presented by the defense.
Tice, along with the new quarterbacks coach, must use the quarterback in a similar manner he was as a Bronco—the rolling out, throwing on the move and quick passes to get the ball into the hands of the playmakers instead of five- and seven-step drops that compromised the protection and stalled the offense.
In 2011, the Bears were an 8-8 team. For Chicago to contend with the Green Bays and New Orleanses of the world, it has to start and end with Jay Cutler.
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