The season is not over yet for the Chicago Bears, but that doesn't mean you can't look ahead to what can be a very active offseason for the team.
The Bears will face a lot of questions depending on how the end of the regular season unfolds. Making the playoffs allows for easier choices, but if they miss out, then the organization could be forced to make major changes.
Where do they go and what is the right plan to follow? Continue on as we put together the blueprint for the Bears' upcoming offseason.
No matter what happens in the final game of the regular season and possible playoff berth, the Bears should be making changes in their coaching staff.
If the Bears beat the Lions and somehow make the playoffs, Lovie Smith should not, and will not, be fired. Even though the team imploded after their 7-1 start, a 10-6 record and playoff spot should buy him one more season.
Injuries have hampered the Bears during this stretch, and Smith's defense has been very good all season. The offense has been the problem, and he should be accountable for the hire of Mike Tice.
Should Smith miss the playoffs, then the Bears might look to fill their head coach position. Expect the team to go in an offensive direction with names like Andy Reid, Mike Shanahan or Bruce Arians.
Most likely, Smith will be retained, but he will be forced to fire Tice. Tice's offense has been abysmal all season, and the lack of continuity will cost him his job.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback coach Randy Fichtner could be a hot name. He was also the team's wide receiver coach for three seasons.
The Bears have some decisions to make at the linebacker position. Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach are both veterans who are up for new deals.
It makes perfect sense to bring both players back. Urlacher is a player on the decline, but can still make plays and is the face of the franchise. Roach is an active versatile player who has excelled at any position the team has put him at.
At this point, Urlacher should not expect a big payday, and nor should the Bears give him one. He should get a two-year deal right around $15 million. He deserves to retire a Bear, and the team should do whatever it can to keep him for the duration of his career.
Roach, on the other hand, has shown he can be the middle linebacker of the future. The 27-year-old veteran should be brought back for another four or five years. Give him around $16 million and allow him to transition into the starting middle linebacker as Urlacher phases out.
Henry Melton called himself the best defensive tackle in the league. Whether that's true or not, there is no question the Bears are going to have to pay him like one.
The Bears can not afford to lose Melton, who is an emerging star. At 26 years old, the sky is the limit for Melton, who can be dominant over the next four years if he stays healthy. He was just named to his first Pro Bowl, an honor that could come often over the couple of years.
How much will it cost the Bears? Houston Texans defensive tackle J.J. Watt is still on his rookie deal, where he got four years, $11.2 million. Cleveland Browns defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin earned $7.7 million this season topping players at that position.
Melton could get anywhere from $15 million to $20 million guaranteed from the Bears.
The Bears will have five picks in this year's draft to address some serious holes on the team. General manager Phil Emery will have to hit a home run early and find some gems late.
The Bears need to go left tackle right here. J'Marcus Webb should not go into another season as the team's starter at the position. If tackle Eric Fisher is still around from Central Michigan, then the team should nab him.
The offensive line is so bad there wouldn't be anything wrong with the team going after another lineman this early on. A guard like Jonathan Cooper from North Carolina would be great.
If Nick Roach is to be the middle linebacker of the future, then the team is going to need a guy on the outside to help. Jelani Jenkins from Florida would be a great fit as the team's next outside linebacker.
Kellen Davis doesn't need to ever put on a Bears jersey ever again. The beauty about the draft is you can always find a young athletic tight end, especially one more talented than Davis. Tight end Joseph Fauria from UCLA would be a great target for Jay Cutler.
At this point, you go with the best player available. Cornerback Desmond Trufant from Washington, running back Rex Burkhead from Nebraska or offensive lineman Earl Watford from James Madison could all be options here.
Free agency will be very important to the Bears. A team that is built to win now can't necessarily wait for a bunch of young draft picks to develop.
The Bears will not have much room to play with, but that could change if they are able to restructure some contracts like Julius Peppers' deal and maybe part ways with a guy like Devin Hester, who is owed big money in the final year of his deal.
Where do the Bears attack the market? There will be some good offensive linemen available, but they will come at a big price. Ryan Clady, Andre Smith, Andy Levitre and Sebastian Vollmer are all at the top of a very deep pool.
Another weapon on offense is necessary. There are some interesting wide receiver options out there. The Pittsburgh Steelers' Mike Wallace could come cheaper after a sub-par season. Danny Amendola and Brian Hartline are reliable receivers who can take some pressure off of Brandon Marshall.
If you want a tight end, New York Giants Martellus Bennett is only 26 years old and has a ton of upside after a very nice season in New York.
From there, the Bears will need to fill their roster with smaller and less marquee names. They will need a backup quarterback to replace the failed experiment of Jason Campbell. The team could use secondary help, as D.J. Moore will not be brought back, and possibly another defensive tackle to play alongside Melton.
Jay Cutler is under contract for one more season with the Bears. However, that doesn't mean you shouldn't gauge what he is looking for.
There is a possibility the Bears could get a deal and save some money by signing Cutler one year out. He's coming off an average season and has already said he is willing to take a pay cut if it means better talent and winning.
It's a win-win for the Bears. If you get a deal done, then you have a happy franchise quarterback going into next season. If you don't get the deal done, then you have Cutler playing for a new contract, which could motivate him to put up some big-time numbers.