Predicting the Bears' Starting Lineup Post Week 1 of Free Agency
Over a week has gone by in free agency, and the Chicago Bears have not shied away from the spotlight. They opened the period with two big signings and have parted ways with a franchise icon.
General manager Phil Emery did not have a ton of cap space to work with, especially after placing the franchise tag on Henry Melton. This roster still has holes, and the team has the chance to free up some more space through working out some long-term deals.
This is a breakdown of the starters after the beginning of free agency. You will notice some glaring holes that still can be fixed via the draft and inexpensive free agents.
This will be Cutler's most important year as a Bear. With Brian Urlacher gone and the team shifting to a more offensive identity, he is going to have to assume the role of primary leader on and off the field.
His production needs to be at a high level as well. Cutler is entering the final year of his contract, and Phil Emery has already shown that he doesn't mind going in a different direction if he does not see a fit for his team.
Halfback: Matt Forte
Health has become a major issue for Forte. He recently made some disparaging remarks about the NFL's new rule toward running backs' safety, but the fact is he has a hard enough time staying on the field already.
Last year, he got what he wanted in a long-term deal. He now needs to go out and prove he is still an elite back.
Fullback: Evan Rodriguez
There wasn't too much for Rodriguez to do last year in Mike Tice's offense other than block. This year he could have a bigger role in terms of receiving. As long as he stays out of trouble, unlike his latest incident in Miami, he has a bright future with the club.
Wide Receiver: Brandon Marshall
Marshall will look to build upon his franchise record-setting season from last year. He is still chasing that elusive first playoff appearance but did have his first winning season last year.
There isn't much Marshall can do better than he did last season. His targets and receptions will likely go down with more continuity in the offense.
Wide Receiver No. 2: Alshon Jeffery
It was a very up-and-down season for Jeffery last year, which was marred by injuries and penalties. Working out this offseason with Marshall will help his development. He needs to use his size better to get separation from defenders as well as come off the line quicker.
The biggest free-agent acquisition for the Bears so far is Bennett. He comes to Chicago with a reputation as a big, athletic offensive target who can provide some help in the run-blocking area.
Bennett will take some of the pressure off Brandon Marshall and give Jay Cutler another reliable target. Expect him to move around as Marc Trestman will try and create mismatches for the defense.
Left Tackle: Jermon Bushrod
The second biggest free-agent pickup is Bushrod. He is a two-time Pro Bowl player who provides some stability to Jay Cutler's blindside. He has a great working relationship with new offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer from their days in New Orleans.
Left Guard: James Brown
For the time being, this spot is penciled in for James Brown. That is subject to change and probably will. The Bears could still bring in a veteran or even draft a guy with more talent and upside than Brown.
Center: Roberto Garza
Age is creeping up on Garza. Should he enter the season as the team's starting center, it will likely be his last in the spot.
Right Guard: Gabe Carimi
Can Kromer fix Carimi? He has not worked out well at tackle, and at guard, he hasn't been much better. This spot could be taken away from him should the team decide to bring back Lance Louis.
Right Tackle: J'Marcus Webb
Webb Nation lives on in Chicago but shifts to another side. Webb is not a terrible player but has a tendency to get lazy. He should do a better job under new coaching and on the less intrusive right side.
Right Defensive End: Julius Peppers
Peppers will have some extra pressure on him thanks to his inflated salary and Urlacher moving on. He becomes one of the unquestioned leaders on the defense, and the team will rely on his production in a new era.
Right Defensive Tackle: Stephen Paea
The Bears are still waiting for Paea to show the consistency they were looking for. At times he can be a great run stuffer but still tends to disappear quite often.
Left Defensive Tackle: Henry Melton
The franchise tag has been put on Melton, and that means he has a hefty salary this year. The team might not be in any rush to sign him long term until it sees more consistency out of him. The Bears likely don't want another Tommie Harris situation on their hands.
Left Defensive End: Shea McClellin
You don't spend a first-round pick on a kid without thinking he's ready to go after Year 1. He needs to prove he's a three-down end and will get every opportunity to do so.
Weakside Linebacker: Lance Briggs
The steady vet will have to be that now more than ever. With Urlacher and Nick Roach gone, he is the last man standing in the unit.
Middle Linebacker: Dom DeCicco
Does this really say Dom DeCicco? Yikes! This has to change. Expect a veteran to be brought in as well as a rookie.
Strongside Linebacker: J.T. Thomas
Thomas is not as worrying as DeCicco but still doesn't wow anybody. Like the middle linebacker spot, expect some competition to show up by the start of training camp.
Right Cornerback: Charles Tillman
The crafty veteran will join forces with Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers to assume the role of Brian Urlacher's leadership. If the last two seasons have shown us anything, it is that he still has a lot left in the tank.
Left Cornerback: Tim Jennings
Can Jennings replicate what he did last year? He will try his hardest for sure because he will look to get paid at the end of the next season, either by the Bears or somebody else.
Free Safety: Chris Conte
Conte has turned into a solid reliable safety, and you need that in this league—especially with a change in coaching staff.
Strong Safety: Major Wright
The Bears need Wright to stay healthy again like he did last year. They also need him to play stronger around the line of scrimmage with the holes at linebacker.
Kicker: Robbie Gould
He is back from injury and hopefully still good as Gould.
Punter: Adam Podlesh
Podlesh is reunited with his former special teams coach Joe DeCamillis. His best seasons were under DeCamillis in Jacksonville.
Kick/Punt Returner: Devin Hester
Marc Trestman will use Hester only as a return man. That's great news for Hester and the offense.