Predicting the Chicago Bears' Starting Lineup After Free-Agent Signings
The dust has settled after a hectic initial free-agency period. It would be hard to imagine the Bears being done in adding players. They are likely to see how the market unfolds in hopes of finding some value.
Going into free agency, the Bears had a lot of holes in their starting positions. They were able to fill some of those by adding some key pieces and bringing back a few of their own.
This is the initial starting group if the season were to start tomorrow. Given some of the starters on this list, it's plain to see the Bears still have some work to do.
The Bears still have a few holes on their roster. The team needs to likely find at least two more starters via the draft or free agency.
Free safety is still an issue despite bringing in M.D. Jennings, there is an inexperienced punter on the roster and the return game is a big question mark.
Next is a breakdown of each starter by position, as well as analysis on each player. This group is likely to change as the team brings in more free agents and goes through the draft in May.
Jay Cutler: The Bears are all in on Cutler after signing him to a seven-year, $126 million contract with $54 million guaranteed. Just so there's no quarterback controversy, the team let last season's backup phenom Josh McCown go to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers via free agency.
Cutler threw for 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in his first season in head coach Marc Trestman's offense. He will look to play a full 16-game season for the first time since 2009.
Tailback, Matt Forte: It was an outstanding dual-threat season for Forte last year. He made it to his second Pro Bowl on the strength of over 1,300 rushing yards and 74 receptions. Forte had 12 total touchdowns.
Fullback, Tony Fiammetta: After agreeing to a new deal in January, Fiammetta returns as Forte's lead blocker. He did a solid job last season and chipped in with four receptions. He could be a bigger part of the offense with an extra season under his belt and more developed receiving skills.
Wide Receiver 1, Brandon Marshall: In this offense Marshall is still the primary receiver. Despite the emergence of Alshon Jeffery last year, Marshall still had 100 receptions, nearly 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns. Jay Cutler will continue to look for his favorite receiver in 2014.
Wide Receiver 2, Alshon Jeffery: Can Jeffery prove to the NFL he wasn't a one-year wonder? His sophomore season saw him take a tremendous leap as one of the league's top weapons. He made his first Pro Bowl appearance after producing 89 receptions with over 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns.
Slot Receiver, Marquess Wilson: The Bears have officially cut Earl Bennett. ESPN Chicago was the first to break the story, saying Bennett refused to take a pay cut for the second straight year. This allows second-year man Wilson to step up and take control of the slot. Wilson has been working out with Marshall and Jeffery this offseason and has more upside than Eric Weems and Domenik Hixon.
Martellus Bennett: The Black Unicorn has improved his stats in each of the past two seasons. There shouldn't be any reason as to why he won't do the same in 2014. With another year in the offense and with Jay Cutler, Bennett should have more than five touchdowns this upcoming season.
Left Tackle, Jermon Bushrod: Last year's big free-agent acquisition will enter his second year with the Bears as the blindside protector.
Left Guard, Matt Slauson: One of the more underrated free-agent pickups for the Bears last season is back as the team's starting guard. He impressed so much the Bears decided to give him a four-year deal back in January.
Center, Roberto Garza: It was important to keep the offensive line intact for another season. Kudos to the Bears and Garza for getting a deal done. This will likely be the 13-year veteran's last season in the NFL.
Right Guard, Kyle Long: What started as a questionable first-round pick by many has turned into a Pro Bowl player, household name and fan favorite. Long brings energy and a much-needed mean streak to the team.
Right Tackle, Jordan Mills: The Bears found a starting tackle in the fifth round last year. Mills was a pleasant surprise as he played well alongside Long. He suffered a foot injury in the last game of the season but is expected to be ready for training camp.
Left defensive End, Willie Young: The Bears were able to pry away promising defensive end Young from the Detroit Lions. The sack numbers weren't there last year with just three but it was his first season as a starter. He was among the league leaders in quarterback pressures and should generate more sacks as he matures into his role.
Nose Tackle, Jay Ratliff: The Bears brought Ratliff back after he showed great energy last season in his return from a brutal groin injury. The team is hoping he can regain some of the Pro Bowl success he had in Dallas for nine years.
Defensive Tackle, Nate Collins: This is a seat Collins is likely keeping warm until the Bears bring in a young player in this year's draft. They are still very thin at the defensive tackle position and need to address it in the first round. Collins works best as a rotational lineman.
Right Defensive End, Lamarr Houston: After missing out on Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, the Bears set their sights on former Raiders lineman Houston. The versatile end can also play tackle and will be a focal point of the defensive line. He had six sacks and 56 tackles last year. Houston signed a five-year, $35 million contract with the Bears with $15 million of it guaranteed.
Weak side Linebacker, Lance Briggs: The 11-year veteran and seven-time Pro Bowl player returns as the team's unquestioned leader on defense. Briggs will look to return to form and play more than the nine games he was in last year.
Middle Linebacker, D.J. Williams: Shea McClellin and Jon Bostic will get some looks at middle linebacker but neither have the experience and wherewithal Williams has. As long as he's healthy, he should have the position he was brought in to play last year before getting hurt with a pectoral injury.
Strong Side linebacker, Jon Bostic: Early on Bostic will beat out McClellin for the starting position but expect the players to split time here. Bostic is a better outside linebacker right now and is a more natural fit for the position on first and second down. McClellin will be brought in as a pass-rusher from the linebacker spot on obvious passing downs. He could also surprise the offense and drop back in coverage to give a different look.
Right Cornerback, Charles Tillman: It was a tense few days as Bears fans saw Tillman visit former coach Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay. He left the Bucs without a deal and the Bears were able to bring back their veteran corner for one year. His leadership and big play capability are still important to this team as long as he stays healthy.
Left Cornerback, Tim Jennings: It seems like ages ago when the Bears re-upped Jennings for another four years back in January. He's coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons and has become quite a bargain player for the Bears.
Nickel, Kelvin Hayden: A torn hamstring ended Hayden's season last year before it started. Isaiah Frey was thrust into the role but the veteran will return to take back his role. Frey did an admirable job last year but when healthy, Hayden is still a better option in the short term.
Free Safety, Chris Conte: As much as it may pain Bears fans to see his name, there just isn't a better option on the roster than Conte right now. If M.D. Jennings is the starter in Week 1 then there's a serious problem. Conte wasn't good last year but Jennings was certainly worse with the Packers.
Strong Safety, Ryan Mundy: The Bears lacked a physical presence from Major Wright last year. He was actually worse than Conte and was a big contributor to the poor run defense. Mundy will come in and be better. He's a surer tackler and takes better angles on the runner.
Kicker, Robbie Gould: The team's best kicker in franchise history is back with a new deal and is looking to etch his name in league and franchise record books.
Punter, Tress Way: By default the undrafted rookie free agent from last year makes the list until the Bears bring in competition for him.
KR/PR, Domenik Hixon: The former Panthers and Giants receiver has a history of returning kicks. His kick and punt return average is on par with Eric Weems and he could be on the chopping block with the rise of Marquess Wilson and the team's new love for taller receivers.