Things are looking bad for the Chicago Bears.
On Monday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Bears defensive tackle Tank Johnson for the first eight games of the upcoming season. (Ouch.)
Stalwart linebacker Lance Briggs wants a new contract or a trade, and in the meantime, he's an offseason holdout. (Ugh.)
Leading rusher Thomas Jones is now a member of the New York Jets. (Uh-oh.)
But at least the Bears have a quality, dependable quarterback to lean on. (Awkward silence.)
Chi-town residents must be trembling in their XL Ditka sweatshirts at their team's prospects for an NFC title defense. Four months after an underwhelming performance against the Colts in the Super Bowl, the Bears are a pale reflection of their former selves—and a squad looking up at other elite franchises in the NFC.
The only good news: Devin Hester will be playing offense next season. (Blech.)
The fate of the 2007 Bears will hinge on their ability to troubleshoot. If they can overcome their current problems, they may climb back to the NFC throne...but they have a long way to go to get there.
Issue Number One is the run defense. The Colts' two-headed rushing attack made a mockery of the Bears' D-line in the Super Bowl. Taking away a guy named Tank can't help.
The Bears' best hope is that the first half of the season matches them against lightweight running teams.
The Lance Briggs situation is even more pressing. Briggs was the Bears' best defensive player in many games last year star linebacker Brian Urlacher not withstanding. Throw in defensive end Alex Brown's thorny contract negotiations, and Chicago's front seven starts to look awfully shaky.
The other side of the ball has its own set of problems. Jones was a main catalyst for Chicago's success last season. Now Cedric Benson is alone in the backfield.
His career stats: 919 yards and six touchdowns in 24 games.
And then there's Rex Grossman...barf.
Of course, the NFL is rarely predictable. If Bears fans can take solace in anything, it's that bad teams often turn out to be good, and good teams often turn out to be bad.
Some positive news for the Bears: Tank Johnson may be gone, but Tommie Harris will be back. Remember Harris? He was virtually unstoppable at defensive tackle for most of the season until a knee injury sidelined him for the playoffs. (Yippee!)
And the pass rush minus Briggs and Brown might not be in such terrible shape. In Brown's absence, rookie standout Mark Anderson will get more playing time beside Adewale Ogunleye. Those two should be able to provide ample pressure. Even better, safety Mike Brown will return to settle down the secondary. (Hooray!)
As for Benson—he may just be a diamond in the rough. He showed enough flashes last year to warrant number-one status, so he can't be all bad. (Yes!)
And Grossman, well...2006 was his first full season as a starter—essentially a rookie year. Every rookie quarterback struggles his first time out. 2007 may bring a composed, mature, even controlled Grossman. (Super!)
Of course, the most telling stat may be one that has nothing to do with offseason distress and player turnover. History, alas, is not on the Bears' side—the last NFC team to repeat as champion was the Green Bay Packers.
Ten years ago.