Complete 2014 Chicago Bears Offseason Preview and Predictions
The team wasted little time re-signing some of its veterans, bringing back Jay Cutler, Tim Jennings and Matt Slauson on multiyear deals and fired two defensive assistants (Tim Tibesar and Mike Phair). They retained the services of defensive coordinator Mel Tucker with the hopes of providing him with adequate talent on the field.
There are still many questions and unknowns for this team moving forward, but there is plenty that will keep Emery and his staff busy this offseason.
Here is the complete 2014 Chicago Bears offseason preview and predictions.
Defense Will Be King in the Draft
In my latest mock draft, I pegged the Bears to select six defensive players with their seven available draft picks. Phil Emery is more than aware of the team's need to add youth and depth on defense, per a report by Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times, "Did we have enough depth to win football games? The answer is no. From a personnel perspective, I had not done enough to provide enough depth."
The best and most cost-effective way to add depth to a team is through the draft. Some of the best teams around the league (Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers) have done a tremendous job of developing their own players through the draft.
This year's draft is full of impactful defensive tackles but is down on pass-rushers. Guys like Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman, Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald, Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt and Florida State's Timmy Jernigan could all be fits at defensive tackle for the Bears. The Bears may have to look to free agency to find a defensive end but should have no problem finding help in the middle of the defensive line.
Another strong position is the secondary where there is a lot of talented safeties and cornerbacks. Louisville's Calvin Pryor, Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and USC's Dion Bailey could all be in the mix at safety, while Missouri's E.J. Gaines, Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard all make sense at cornerback.
Emery will have to prove that he can draft well defensively in 2014 as his first two drafts were filled with more questions on defense than answers.
Many 2013 Contributors Set to Become Free Agents
Phil Emery was not shy in free agency last offseason but made a lot of short-term, one-year deals in hopes that a player could bounce back and work hard for a long-term contract.
They were able to get a solid year out of guard Matt Slauson who signed a one-year deal prior to the 2013 season, and he was able to parlay that into a four-year, $12.8 million deal that he signed just after the end of this past season (h/t Chicago Tribune).
Despite re-signing soon-to-be free agents like Jay Cutler, Slauson, Tim Jennings and Robbie Gould, the team still has 24 players who are set to become free agents:
|Henry Melton||Defensive Tackle|
|Devin Hester||Kick Returner|
|Corey Wootton||Defensive End|
|Patrick Mannelly||Long Snapper|
|Jonathan Scott||Offensive Tackle|
|Nate Collins||Defensive Tackle|
|Eben Britton||Offensive Tackle|
|Dante Rosario||Tight End|
|Landon Cohen||Defensive Tackle|
A good majority of those soon-to-be free agents were contributors in 2013, and Emery will have a tough task of trying to determine which players make the most sense to bring back.
Veterans like Tillman, Garza and Mannelly likely make the strongest case to return, but given the tight salary-cap situation right now, all of their futures are up in the air.
New Assistant Coaches Look to Fix the Defense
After a dismal year for the defense, the Bears parted ways with linebackers coach Tim Tibesar, defensive line coach Mike Phair and assistant defensive line coach Michael Sinclair. They wasted little time signing Paul Pasqualoni as defensive line coach, Reggie Herring as linebackers coach and Clint Hurtt as assistant defensive line coach.
Pasqualoni is most well-known for his tenure as Syracuse's head coach from 1991-2004, going 107–59–1 during his 14-year career. He had stints with the Miami Dolphins and Dallas Cowboys as a defensive coordinator and defensive line coach from 2006-2010. He has extensive experience running both a 4-3 and 3-4 defense.
Herring has 33 years of coaching experience, including eight as a linebackers coach in the NFL, most recently with the Houston Texans. He and Pasqualoni coached together back in 2010 with the Cowboys when Pasqualoni was Dallas’s defensive coordinator/defensive line coach, and Herring served as linebackers coach.
Hurtt is a former Miami defensive lineman who began his coaching career with the Hurricanes in 2001 as a volunteer strength coach, then served as a graduate assistant from 2003-04 before being named the team's defensive line coach. He has extensive experience in a 3-4 defense.
All three new assistant coaches have experience in multiple fronts, something the Bears eluded to wanting in 2014 in their end-of-the-year press conference. While it is tough to nail down the type of defense the Bears will be running next season considering the state of flux the defense is in right now, bringing these three coaches in should help the defense considerably in 2014.
Cuts Will Be Needed to Free Up Cap Space
It is no secret that the Bears will need to be active in free agency to help bolster their roster, but since they have roughly $12.8 million of cap space to work with, according to CBSChicago.com's Dan Durkin, they will need to release some players to free up more cap space.
The team could extend a guy like Brandon Marshall and spread out his money to free up more space, but releasing high-priced, underperforming veterans may be the most logical solution.
According to Joel Corry of CBSSports.com, Peppers has a $14 million salary in 2014, and his cap number is over $18 million. The Bears will gain $9.82 million of cap room by releasing him before June 1.
Additionally, according to Jeremy Stoltz of Bear Report, cutting wide receiver Earl Bennett ($2.45 million cap hit in 2014, no dead money), running back Michael Bush ($1.85 million in savings), punter Adam Podlesh ($1 million in savings) and wide receiver Eric Weems ($1.1 million in savings) would help open up $6.4 million more in cap space.
By cutting those five players, the Bears would free up an additional $16 million to spend in free agency, giving them far more options than they had before.
Expect them to make some, if not all, of these cuts this offseason to allow them more flexibility in free agency.
Impact Defensive Players Will Be Targeted in Free Agency
Throughout the Seattle Seahawks' run to their first Super Bowl title, it was clear that defense can still win championships.
Seattle dominated with pressure up front and a dynamic secondary, and teams throughout the league will be trying to duplicate the success the Seahawks had in 2013 for years to come.
The Bears sit with virtually a blank slate on defense in 2014, with only Tim Jennings and Lance Briggs as the true givens to start in Week 1 barring any sort of injury.
While the draft will be an important part to getting the defense back on track, the team could look to the free-agent market to find an impact player on defense.
The defensive line may not have as many impactful free agents as the secondary could with guys like Donte Whitner, Bernard Pollard, Antoine Bethea or T.J. Ward all set to become free agents this offseason.
According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, via Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk, Ward wants to return to Cleveland next season, but it would not be a complete shock if he tests the free-agent market. If he elects to stay in Cleveland, the team could look to Whitner, who—despite his reputation as solely a run-stopper—had a nice season in pass coverage in 2013.
Pollard and Bethea are both excellent run defenders who can put a good hit on the opposition and could be impact players in 2014 for a defense that struggled to find consistency at the position all of last year.
Josh McCown Open to a Return to Chicago
2013 was a resurgent year for Josh McCown. After an up-and-down NFL career, McCown had begun a career as a high school football coach until the Bears came calling near the end of the 2012 season after he had spent time with the team in 2011 and training camp the summer before.
He was thrust into action after an injury to Jay Cutler in late October and finished the season throwing for 1,829 yards, 13 touchdowns, one interception and a 109.0 quarterback rating in eight games.
He threw four touchdowns and ran for another while completing 27 of 36 passes for 348 yards and a career-high 141.9 passer rating en route to a 45-28 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in December and was named NFC Player of the Week.
The Bears have fully committed to Cutler after signing him to a long-term extension but would be wise to try and bring McCown back in 2014.
There were hints of McCown wanting to retire, but he told the Waddle & Silvy Show, according to ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson, "It's going to have to look really good for me to go someplace else because my heart is in Chicago and that is where I want to be."
Bringing back McCown, at a reasonable price, will help solidifiy the quarterback position as a whole and will help keep Cutler happy.
Charles Tillman May Be 2014's Brian Urlacher
The 2014 offseason is starting similarly to the 2013 offseason where one of the team's best and most respected players is set to become a free agent.
Last offseason it was Brian Urlacher, and this season it is Charles Tillman.
The Bears offered Urlacher a $2 million one-year deal, and Urlacher refused, opting to retire and join Fox Sports 1 as an analyst.
Tillman now finds himself in a somewhat similar position. While he has yet to be offered a formal contract, he stated on the Laurence Holmes Show last week, via CBS Chicago, "In a perfect world, I will finish as a Bear. I guarantee you I will retire as a Chicago Bear. I guarantee that."
His statement of guaranteeing that he will "retire as a Chicago Bear" does not necessarily mean he is set to return in 2014, but it shows his willingness to consider returning, but it all depends on the sort of money the team has to spend on free agents.
Urlacher was unaware of the team's financial situation last offseason when they only offered him $2 million, and he said in an interview on In Depth with Graham Bensinger, according to ESPNChicago.com's Michael C. Wright, this past September:
They knew they weren't gonna move off of that offer. I just wish they'd have told me that. I wish they would've said, "Hey, we have this amount of money for you. This is all we can pay you. If you want to play, we want you back. We want you to play for us. This is the situation. We can pay you this. We want to bring a young guy in behind you, and maybe he'll start or whatever. But we want you here on our team."
If the Bears indeed want Tillman back, but are limited financially, they could learn from the Urlacher situation last offseason. They may be able to bring Tillman back for less money if he becomes aware of their financial situation.