With the season nearing its climax—or fizzle, if you prefer—for the Chicago Bears, one has to start wondering who will be here next year.
Wasted opportunity and bad breaks being the story on this year's season for the Bears, changes have to be in the works.
Yet, so many of the Bears players showed marked improvement or solidified their status this season that it becomes difficult in some cases to determine who should be kept around.
Also interesting is the prospect of the trade. Who can the Bears spare that will help the team get younger and build a brighter 2012, as well as stabilizing an aging team for the future?
And then, you have the duds. Those who should just be cut outright.
Today, we'll take a look at who the Bears should keep around, who they should shop as trade bait and who they should drop like a hot potato.
The defensive line is a tough place to look. There are so many great personalities there and a lot of fan favorites. If this were a popularity contest, the line would be saved as a whole. But it's not, and it's time to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Because the defensive tackles are so frequently rotated, the entire group has been looked at rather than just listed starters Melton and Toeaina.
Julius Peppers: Let's be honest here. There's really no suspense with Pep. Peppers is arguably the best defensive end in the game and is nearly guaranteed a bronze bust when he hangs up the cleats. And the Bears couldn't possibly get as much out of him in a trade as he is worth to this team. Verdict: Keep
Israel Idonije: Idonije has been an interesting player to watch develop over the past few years. Last year, he peaked and made a name for himself. Unfortunately, this year, he's not played to the same level, and it's hurt Peppers and the Bears. But Izzy still has some value and might garner some interest on the trading block.
Unfortunately, Izzy will be a free agent and the Bears would have to sign him just to pull off a trade. Either way, it's time for the Bears to move on. Alex Smith was a better defensive end and the bears let him go. Verdict: Cut
Henry Melton: The Bears saw something in Melton that made them decide that if he added some weight, he could be a standout 3-Tech. They were right, and Melton currently is second only to Peppers in sacks and has recorded a sack in four of the last five games. And he's still improving. Verdict: Keep
Matt Toeaina: The Bears originally brought Toeaina in for depth, and I doubt they thought he would eventually start on this defense. Yet, he's done precisely that. Solid against the run and capable of creating reasonable pressure, the Bears are likely to keep Big Toe around for a while even if he isn't in future plans for the starting lineup. Verdict: Keep
Amobi Okoye: Okoye has given the Bears their money's worth this season, considering they signed him at a bargain-basement price. But his lack of skill against the run leaves him too one-dimensional for the Bears to pay Okoye again. He has trade value, but like Idonije, will be a free agent come year's end. Verdict: Cut
Stephen Paea: Paea was drafted just this year, and the Bears aren't going to let a second-round DT slip away after only one year...especially a good one. I expect Paea to start in 2012, and that all that needs to be said. Verdict: Keep
Anthony Adams: Adams has been one of my favorite players over the past few years and is as solid a run defender as the Bears have had in the last decade. That being said, Paea and Toeaina are solid run defenders. The Bears need to get younger on defense, and it might be time to look away from the 31-year-old Adams and into another direction.
Adams might actually have some trade value. He's an exceptional and underrated run defender, and there are plenty of teams who might want to part with a third-day pick to clog up the middle of a porous run defense. Verdict: Trade
Not so much greatness in the Matadors of the Midway. Yet, there are scraps to salvage from the "offensive' linemen.
Chris Spencer: I wasn't high on Spencer when the Bears brought him in. I'm not afraid to admit when I'm wrong. Spencer has been the best overall linemen for the Bears this season. Other than a move to Center, I don't see Spencer going anywhere. Verdict: Keep
Chris Williams: If Williams could just stay healthy, he might topple Spencer as the team's best linemen. The move to guard seems to have done wonders for the former first-round pick. Yet, those injury concerns continue, and the Bears have to be cautious. But CW is signed through 2012, so the Bears don't have to rush any decisions and can afford another year to determine if Williams is worth a new contract. Verdict: Keep
Roberto Garza: The more I look at Garza, the more I realize the Bears need someone else under center. Roberto gave the Bears a lot of good years, but time has caught up to the veteran. Verdict: Cut
J'Marcus Webb: Can we be done with the Webb experiment now? He stunk last year, but his rawness and athleticism bought him some time. Time's up. Verdict: Cut
Lance Louis: I had high hopes for Louis, and there are plenty out there who still do. He's playing out of position and has put up some good games. He's also put up some absolute stinkers. This is another case of the end not coming soon enough. Verdict: Cut
Gabe Carimi: The Bears first-round pick showed skill and promise before his season-ending injury. Given his talent and his first-round status, this one isn't even debatable. Verdict: Keep
Edwin Williams: Williams has been solid in his relief of the injured Chris Williams and has shown enough promise to warrant his return. If the Bears lose a guard—which isn't exactly out of the question given Chris Williams history—it's nice to know that the Bears have a capable backup in their pocket. Verdict: Keep
I don't think there will be many surprises here.
Jay Cutler: He might be an anti-social jerk, but he's our anti-social jerk. Besides that, he's tough as nails and has one of the best arms in the league. After everything the Bears gave up to finally get a quarterback of Cutler's caliber to Chicago, you can bet Jay retires here. Verdict: Keep
Matt Forte: Through 11-and-a-quarter games, Forte nearly reached 1,500 yards from scrimmage. He's not the best at anything, but he's very good at everything. He may not like it, but the Bears will franchise tag him, and they may do it twice. Verdict: Keep
Tyler Clutts: One of the few pleasant surprises this season has been fullback Tyler Clutts. The Bears don't generally use fullbacks in the running game, but Clutts has excelled in his blocking assignments. That's exactly what a fullback need to be in this offense. Verdict: Keep
Marion Barber: Rather than going off the deep end over a couple of boneheaded plays by Barber in the past couple of weeks, It's not that the Bears wouldn't have even been in the Bronco's game were it not for Barber. He wasn't brought in to start, he was brought in to complement and be the short yardage back. In that role, he's been great. Verdict: Keep
The secondary was supposed to be a weakness coming into the season. Turns out that they have been, for the most part, a strength.
Charles Tillman: Tillman is probably the most underrated corner in the NFL. He might not be the quickest or the most agile, but he's one of the most physical. He plays the press arguably better than anyone in the league, forces fumbles at an unreal pace and tackles like he thinks he's a safety. Verdict: Keep
Tim Jennings: Quietly, while everyone went on noticing Tillman, Tim Jennings has actually graded out higher than his ball-punching counterpart. He's been better in coverage and has allowed the lowest catch percentage in the secondary. Verdict: Keep
DJ Moore: Moore really came on this season as a nickle, and the Bears actually have had more on the field for more snaps than strong-side linebacker Nick Roach, even though he's played three fewer games due to injury. Verdict: Keep
Chris Conte: What a surprise Conte has been for fans, many of whom were angry when the Bears "reached" in the third round to get the corner-turned-safety. But Angelo personally scouted Conte and apparently can still do that. The rookie has been all right. Verdict: Keep
Major Wright: If I had been asked six weeks ago if Wright would be on the team next season, I would have said no. Boy, was I wrong. Verdict: Keep
Here we go...
Roy Williams: Perhaps, nobody on this team deserves to be released more than Roy Williams does. It's not that he drops a lot of balls, because there are other players with similar drop numbers on the team, but the real problem is that he drops balls in the clutch. The Bears need him to be reliable at the most crucial times, and Williams is not. Verdict: Cut
Devin Hester: The Hester experiment has officially failed, and the Bears need to take note the next time they decide a play-making corner should be moved to offense. They wrecked Rashied Davis and then Devin Hester in this way. That being said, Hester still has a ton of value as a return man and could do well in a limited role on the offense. Besides, his special teams contributions are the best ever. Verdict: Keep
Earl Bennett: Bennett's superman mystique is stating to wear off. First, Roy Williams has a better catch percentage. Also, he doesn't seem to be able to get separation against top defenders. But Earl still has a lot of good qualities, not the least of which is his fearless attacking of the ball over the middle—something that's unique to him this year. Verdict: Keep
Johnny Knox: Knox has continued to improve this season and has seen his drops fall over last season as well as the interception rate of target thrown his way—a statistic he led the league in last season. Had Cutler not fallen, Knox may have been the first Bear to cross 1,000 receiving yards since Marty Booker circa 2001. Verdict: Keep
Kellen Davis: What a disappointment. We were told that Greg Olsen was traded because Davis fit the scheme better. Turns out that Olsen has blocked better than Davis last season and this one. How such a big target can miss so many asses, I don't know. Verdict: Cut
And finally, we come to the heart of the team, the linebacking corps.
Brian Urlacher: Much like Peppers, suggesting that Urlacher pack his crap and exit the building is nothing short of hilarious. The Bears saw what the defense looks like without the key piece it is built around on the field in 2009. The Bears know what they have and Urlacher will retire a Bear. Verdict: Keep
Nick Roach: Roach has had no greater critic over the years than yours truly. He hadn't every really shown that potential the Bears kept talking about, and even as the year began, Roach looked lackluster at best. But as the season wore on, Roach improved. Not just a little, but a lot. He finally seems comfortable in what he's doing, and it shows. He's invaluable in run support. Verdict: Keep
Lance Briggs: Briggs has two seasons left on his contract. He wants another new deal and made a big stink about it after making a big stink about wanting a new contract just three years ago. I've often thought Briggs was a talented player who was made to look like an All-Pro by the scheme, the presence of Brian Urlacher and the coaching of Bob Babich.
Look at the time Briggs has missed and the exceptional stats put up by players like Nick Roach, Jamar Williams and Brian Iwuh in his stead. I say give him what he wants and get something to help the offense with the booty from the trade. Verdict: Trade
And now it's your turn, ladies and gentlemen. Step up to the soapbox below—known as the comment thread—and let us know who you would keep, cut or trade.