The confetti has dropped, the Lombardi Trophy has been hoisted and the 2012-13 NFL season has officially come to a close.
For Chicago Bears fans, the season has been over for quite some time. Nevertheless, the 2013-14 offseason is underway, as the Bears have a laundry list of things to do if they are going to be in the chase to play at MetLife Stadium for the first cold-weather Super Bowl.
Work needs to be done across the board, in what is arguably the most crucial offseason for the franchise in recent memory. Here are the biggest offseason priorities.
The anticipation is mounting as to whether one of the Bears' franchise legends will return to Chicago next season.
Despite his diminishing skills and criticism of Bears fans last season, it's hard to imagine Brian Urlacher playing in a different uniform. Nevertheless, with a small amount of cap space and the Bears heading in a new direction, Urlacher may join all-time greats like Brett Favre and Joe Montana ad not finish his career where he became great.
Urlacher probably would not command a lucrative contract, and his leadership might be worth the price of the check. Either way, the Bears must have a sense of what they would like to do, as they develop their plan for free agency and the draft.
Another year, another offense for Jay Cutler to learn.
While organized workouts won't start until the summer, it can't hurt for Cutler and Marc Trestman to sit down and crack open the playbook. Finally, the Bears have an offensive mind that appears to have the capability to command the respect of their franchise quarterback—as no one is better suited to take his game to the next level.
Vacationing with wife Kristin Cavallari will likely be near the top of Cutler's priority list this offseason, but it will be well worth his while to get the creative juices flowing with Trestman as soon as possible.
The Bears currently have only $13.3 million in available cap space (according to espn.com), but that can quickly change by tying up some loose ends.
Chicago can cut ties with tight end Kellen Davis, who signed a two-year, $6 million deal before the 2012 season. Other cuts could include: Roberto Garza (owed $2.05 million in 2013), J'Marcus Webb (owed more than $1.3 in 2013) and maybe even Devin Hester (owed more than $1 million with an $11 million roster bonus in 2013).
These would serve as additions by subtraction, allowing the Bears to compete in the free agent market for impact players such as Ryan Clady, Jake Long and Wes Welker—among others.
*Contract information via rotoworld.com
The areas of need on the Bears roster are numerous—with some taking more of a priority than others.
The No. 1 priority should be keeping Cutler off his backside, which can't be successfully accomplished without retooling the offensive line. The free agent market is led by starting left tackles such as Long, Clady and Branden Albert. The Bears will also need to look to the draft to fill the tackle position, along with the other spots on the line.
Tight end will be the next highest area of need, and fixing it in the draft with the likes of Tyler Eifert, Zach Ertz, Travis Kelce or Joesph Fauria appears to be the way to go.
Finding Urlacher's replacement—whether he comes back or not—will also be at the top of the list.
Furthermore, the Bears could use help at wide receiver and in the secondary. If they can create cap space, the Bears will have the luxury of looking at free agent options like Welker, Danny Amendola, Brian Hartline and Kevin Ogletree.
Looking in the fourth or fifth round of the draft might be the prime spot to find a nickle corner to play alongside Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings.
These moves will be the difference in whether the Bears watch the 2013-14 playoffs from the couch, or lay it all on the line for a Super Bowl ring. For GM Phil Emery and Trestman, the clock has started.