Certainly the season didn't end the way the Bears were hoping it would, but they're already making some huge changes to correct their issues.
New coach, new staff—new Bears?
There's a lot of offseason to go and a long list of things to take care of before we begin the 2013 NFL season. I've pulled together what you need to know as we wade into it together.
Yes, here we are again. Even if you believe in J'Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi, this is a line that needs help. More than any spot on the team, the offensive line must continue to improve.
Yes, there was improvement this past season. The three-step drops and quicker passes were a big help and the line played better overall than it had to date, but we shouldn't downplay the problems that remain.
Simply put, Jay Cutler is hit too frequently. That has to change either through free agency—Ryan Clady, Jake Long, Andre Smith, Brandon Albert—or the draft.
One way or another though, this has to cease being the biggest need virtually every year.
Looking at Vernon Davis on the podium at Media Day on Tuesday brings to mind that in this day and age, a spectacular option at tight end is vital. Clearly, Kellen Davis isn't really the answer.
As Sean Jensen of the Sun-Times says in his Monday column, tight end hasn't been a position the team has had luck with.
There are some interesting players available in free agency, such as Martellus Bennett, Fred Davis and Dustin Keller. There will also be some options via the upcoming draft.
The key will also be to find a guy who can block and help the offensive line keep Cutler standing.
The only starting linebacker under contract is Lance Briggs. Brian Urlacher, Geno Hayes and Nick Roach are unrestricted free agents and it's debatable whether Urlacher would come back, much less be asked back.
Middle linebacker is probably the biggest gap in the linebacking corps, especially since Urlacher is obviously at the tail end of the career. However, adding a pass-rushing outside linebacker would also be key. The Bears should consider using one of their early-round draft picks on this position.
I'd love to see the team get beefier in the middle. The Bears addressed the ends and an aging Julius Peppers by drafting Shea McClellin last year, but they could be a little bigger inside at tackle. Some of this may depend on what they do with Henry Melton, but even if they keep him, they should definitely consider other options.
A high priority? Far from it. But one they should consider nonetheless.
This is a long list. The Bears have a ton of free agents this year, of varying importance and positions. Twenty-two players total, in fact.
There will be some hard decisions given their cap situation (more on that in a minute) and the fact that some of the players are clustered at the same position.
For me the priority is definitely Henry Melton, who had a tremendously productive career in 2012. While not necessarily an elite talent, Melton is a guy they have brought along slowly and poured a lot of effort into. I don't expect for him to try and break the bank, so he should be a manageable guy to re-sign.
Israel Idonije is another potential returning unrestricted free agent. Whether he comes back or not might depend on how confident the team is in McClellin. Idonije is a good lunch pail player. Like Melton, he is not a top end talent, but a guy you can depend on, as well as someone who can play anywhere along the defensive line.
Of course the biggest question mark is Urlacher. Do they bring him back, or do they try to start with a clean slate and a new player? Certainly he's lost a step or two, but he is still productive and brings more to the table than tackles.
You can't easily replace him from a strategic standpoint, as we saw when Nick Roach tried to step in this season.
Do you bring Urlacher back again? For how much?
For that matter, what about Roach? Or Geno Hayes, Lance Louis, Jason Campbell or even Johnny Knox? How many can you bring back? How much will it cost you?
As you will see in a minute, Chicago doesn't have a ton of cap space.
The Bears have some awfully hard choices to make in the coming months.
Salary Cap Info
ESPN's John Clayton, when not rocking out to Slayer, has figured out how much each NFL team has in terms of cap space. As far as the Bears are concerned, it's ugly.
Clayton figures that the Bears have about $13.3 million in 2013 cap space left as of right now. There are worse situations (hello Lions and Saints), but it's still not a tremendous position to be in.
The upside is, according to ESPN, the Bears will have $50 million in cap space in 2014.
So in the next few months you can bet that Emery and company will be trying to find ways to get the most out of the money they have now. They might try to load contracts for a hit in 2014 or change up some current contracts. They'll look for any and all ways to make the cap room work for the Bears this year.
Don't expect any splashy free agent signings, though they may invest in a free agent tackle, which isn't normally something that will break the piggy bank.
Emery will have the core team intact for this year and a lot of money to play with in 2014. So it will be interesting to see what kind of creative accounting Chicago pulls off to stay competitive this year before it can be a little more lavish in the next.