Chicago Bears: What's Next for Them?

Andrew MaisonneuveCorrespondent IFebruary 4, 2011

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 16:  Head coach Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears reacts in the second half against the Seattle Seahawks in the 2011 NFC divisional playoff game at Soldier Field on January 16, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

It was a season of highs and lows for the 2010 Chicago Bears. The loss to the Packers in the NFC Championship game left fans scratching their heads in disbelief. The criticism brewed into a firestorm of questions regarding Jay Cutler’s injury and his physical toughness.

The team now finds itself surrounded by uncertainties, questions and unknowns heading into the offseason. The contract extension for Lovie Smith, the team's franchise quarterback having questionable decision making and attitude problems are just the tip of the iceberg for the Bears.

It was Jay Cutler’s injury that sparked the media frenzy after the game, regarding the severity of his injury. It’s fair to say that every athlete has his or her own tolerance level to pain when dealing with an injury. For other professional athletes to publicly share their opinion on someone else’s pain tolerance is ridiculous to say the least.

It was unfortunate that Cutler's physical toughness was being questioned. Jay Cutler is a physically tough football player; however, his mental toughness and attitude is a glaring problem for the young quarterback on and off the field.

His behavior after the game helped solidify why his mental toughness and decision making brewed into a major concern. It's not that he walked up two flights of stairs for a nice dinner with his trophy girlfriend, or that he was filmed walking around at an outdoor mall in California without even a limp in his step.

It’s the fact that he knew the media would further exploit the situation, causing more friction between him, the organization and the fans. It’s the fact that Cutler and the Bears failed to provide adequate PR efforts to stop the already damaged reputation. Jay Cutler was injured, plain and simple. I’m sure he wanted to play and grind it out to the end. Unfortunately for him and the Bears, it was what happened off the field and after the game that will forever haunt him and the organization.

Bears head coach Lovie Smith is 63-49 with a 3-3 postseason record. Throughout this season, Smith has shown the ability to lead a team loaded with different personalities and player traits. Smith has shown the continued tradition of strong Bears defenses, three times ranking in the NFL's top five.

That being said, let’s not forget that just a year ago, there was speculation that the Chicago Bears head coach was on the hot seat. Some of his decision making this year has been question, such as why Todd Collins was ahead of Caleb Hanie in the depth chart this season.

General manager Jerry Angelo has publicly stated they are working out an extension for Smith. The question is how much he is worth. Smith will earn $5 million in 2011, the final year of his current deal. It’s still unknown what his extension will be worth.  It’s also fair to note that a head coach is only as good as his assistants. Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli excelled in his first year as a D-coordinator, and Mike Martz showed his ability to make this offense a productive unit.

Rod Marinelli did score a new defensive line coach already this offseason. Mike Phair has spent the last six seasons with the Seattle Seahawks; however, only three of those years were on the coaching staff. Phair served as assistant linebackers coach (2008), assistant defensive line coach (2009) and defensive assistant (2010).

It's no secret that the Bears defensive unit is aging, but still played at a very high level in 2010. It was very fortunate for the Bears that most of the key players stayed healthy throughout the season. The Bears will no doubt be looking at improving the depth on both sides of the ball with player acquisitions.

The Bears offensive line made a huge turnaround in the second half of the season; however, it still needs to be improved. Roberto Garza is signed through 2011. He played well, with five starts on the left side and 11 on the right. He should be back in Chicago next year manning the right guard position. It's likely that Chris Williams, who is signed through 2012, will return to a tackle position. Williams did shift to the left guard position last season; however, his production was average at best.  Jerry Angelo will have an interior lineman on his radar going into the draft.

The Bears have some work to do this offseason. Every year teams will need to deal with some roster turnover due to injuries, age and contract status. The Bears are no different. One thing is for sure, the Bears have good players and a good coaching staff. It will take some work to get this team back into the playoffs in 2011. Considering that the Green Bay Packers were not very healthy, the Detroit Lions are getting stronger and the Vikings will improve, the NFC North division will be very hard to win.