This is the closest to a must-win game the Bears will see this off-season. Especially with their hated rivals up north winning Super Bowl XLV.
The unofficial start to the off-season starts right after the Super Bowl, when teams already start planning their future for the 2011 NFL Season. That is, if there is a 2011 season.
Since taking over with the Chicago Bears, Jerry Angelo hasn't had the great drafts that are needed to win in the NFL. Sure, you can build a team around trades and free agency, but it's almost impossible to build a Super Bowl team that way.
The way to win in the NFL over recent years is to build through the draft. In fact, two-thirds of Pro Bowl players this season were third round picks or lower.
This year's draft for the Chicago Bears could be one that will impact the future of this team for a long time.
The Bears aren't getting any younger and going into the season were the fourth oldest team in the NFL. They have a 15 players over the age of 30, including Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, and Olin Kreutz.
With the talent the Bears have on both sides of the ball, they could be looking at another 2 years as a window of opportunity to win the Super Bowl. After that, however, they could be in for a huge downfall.
Let's look at the past five drafts for the Chicago Bears and how their players have panned out.
2006: The Bears were coming off a NFC North Division Championship, but a disappointing loss at home against the Carolina Panthers in the playoffs left a sour taste in their mouths. The Bears knew they were close to being a Super Bowl contender. Here's how they drafted.
The Bears didn't have a first round pick, but did have two second round picks. They spent those picks on safety Daniel Manning and CB (at the time) and converted kick returner Devin Hester.
We all know the Bears hit the nail on the head with Hester, but Manning wasn't a great pick. He also wasn't a horrible pick. Manning gave the Bears another option at safety, which later they would trade Chris Harris because of a log jam at the safety position.
Manning has started the past few seasons for the Bears, which is a positive compared to the rest of that 2006 draft for the Bears. In order they selected Dusty Dvoracek, Jamar Williams, Mark Anderson, J.D Runnels and Tyler Reed. All five of those players are currently off the Bears roster. Anderson was released this season, and Williams was traded for safety Chris Harris.
2007: Fresh off a Super Bowl loss to the Colts, the Bears had the chance to become an elite NFC team for the next few years. That was the plan however. With a relatively weak division at the time, a solid draft to fix a few sore spots was just what the Bears needed. Let's see how they did.
The Bears addressed their tight end problem by selecting Greg Olsen out of Miami. Olsen gave the Bears a big physical tight end who could go up and get the ball. Him and Desmond Clark were supposed to give the Bears a duel threat at the position. It just hasn't happened.
Olsen hasn't had a bad career for the Bears, and still remains a valuable threat for Jay Cutler and this offense. Clark, however, has faded off into the sunset.
The offensive line wasn't getting any older for the Bears, so that problem had to be addressed as well. Building youth on the line was key for retaining control of the division and NFC. The Bears didn't address their offensive line problems until the fourth and seventh rounds. They selected guard Josh Beekman (fourth) and tackle Aaron Brant (seventh), but both haven't cut it for the Bears. Beekman remains on the current roster but hasn't produced much at all.
With their six other picks, the Bears selected defensive end Dan Bazin, running back Garrett Wolfe, linebacker Michael Okwo, safety Kevin Payne, and corner backs Corey Graham and Trumaine McBride.
Wolfe and Graham turned out to be special team stars for the Bears, but you can't spend your drafts building up your special teams. The remaining players currently are off the roster.
It was a overall disaster draft for the Bears, deserving a grade of a D.
2008: The Bears had a disastrous 2007 season and the future wasn't looking pretty. They went into the 2008 season with Kyle Orton as their starting quarterback, but still had problems at positions, including running back, wide receiver, safety, and offensive line.
The Bears lost receivers Bernard Berrian and Mushin Muhammad, and replaced them with average ones at Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd. Lloyd would turn out to have a Pro Bowl season with the Broncos this year.
In the first three rounds the Bears did an impressive job at targeting their weakness at offensive line, running back and wide receiver.
They selected tackle Chris Williams in the first round, running back Matt Forte in the second round, and wide receiver Earl Bennett in the third round. All three are currently on the Bears roster, and did contribute to the success of the past season.
Williams is still a work in progress with the Bears, but evidence has shown the Bears are starting to figure him out on the line. They found a diamond in the rough with Matt Forte, who led them in yardage last season and his rookie year. Earl Bennett has been their most consistent option at wide receiver and will battle for the starting job in training camp.
Only four of the Bears' other nine picks from that draft are still on the team, and only one of them has seen the field on a nice steady basis.
2009: There were not many expectations for the 2009 draft. Just a few weeks prior to the draft, the Bears had acquired quarterback Jay Cutler from the Denver Broncos in exchange for a 2009 and 2010 first round pick, plus a third round pick in 2010.
The Bears felt like they got their franchise quarterback they had been searching for since Sid Luckman was quarterback. Cutler had a horrible 2009 season, but rebounded by leading the Bears to the NFC Championship game this season.
With their franchise quarterback set, the Bears felt like they could make a serious run in the NFC. There were still holes on both sides of the ball, and especially at wide receiver. The big debate was whether the Bears receivers at the time could get the job done for Cutler.
Since the Bears didn't find any solutions in the previous drafts for their aging offensive line, that was another concern heading into the draft.
Out of the nine selections the Bears made, only four players are still on the current roster. Two of those four players are valuable options for the Bears. Wide receiver Johnny Knox was a starter this past season, and corner back D.J Moore has seen considerable time on the field.
2010: This was the most recent draft for the Chicago Bears, and it came after a disaster season. It was win or be fired for Lovie and Jerry Angelo. It was a very important draft for the Bears front office. Without picks in the first two rounds, the Bears would have to find gold in the later rounds.
They lost their first round pick in the trade with Jay Cutler. Their second round pick was lost in the trade for the late Gaines Adams, who passed away in the 2010 off-season.
The Bears still had question marks on the defense, which, without Brian Urlacher, had a horrible year. The offensive line was also another problem, as it had been for the past four years, and the Bears still didn't solve it.
With their third round pick, the Bears took safety Major Wright out of Florida. Wright is expected to fill the gap at safety with Chris Harris. He split time with Manning, and could be the starter in 2011.
The Bears focused on defense by taking defensive end Corey Wooten (fourth round), and cornerback Joshua Moore (fifth round). With their remaining picks, the Bears selected quarterback Dan Lefevour and tackle J'Marcus Webb.
Lefevour was cut in the preseason, but Webb was inserted into the starting lineup to help fix the Bears' problems on the offensive line. Once again, it looks like the Bears couldn't find gold in the later rounds with the exception of Wright and Webb, who are being waited on to pan out.
The Bears recent draft blunders might cost Chicago another chance at a Super Bowl run in the upcoming years. Poor moves by the front office costing them picks, or players in return also contributes to that.
Bringing in Julius Peppers and Jay Cutler were a nice step in the right direction for the Bears, but their horrible drafts offset those moves.
The Bears have weaknesses on their team that need to be addressed if they want make another run at a NFC Championship Game appearance.
They have an offensive line that can't protect their franchise quarterback and a line that hasn't been fixed in five years. A line that gave up a league high 58 sacks last season and frustrated their quarterback more than anyone else.
They do not have a "number one" type of receiver to complement Jay Cutler's strong arm.
They also have an aging defense that needs youth to establish a new foundation. A defense that needs to teach and mentor rookies for the future.
With a crucial 2011 draft coming up, where the Bears have problems that need to be fixed, can Angelo answer the call?
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