Technically, theChicago Bears
final regular season game ended against the Minnesota Vikings, but some would argue that it ended when Jay Cutler went down with the season ending thumb injury. I believe that when Caleb Hanie failed to lead the Bears to a single win over four teams that had a combined 30-34 record this season, that is when the off season began. The failure of the front office and coaching staff to have a viable backup to Cutler is one of the many reasons change is needed and why this is the most critical off season the organization has faced since Mike Ditka was fired in 1992.
Two days after that final regular season game against Minnesota, something strange happened over at Halas Hall.
One of the McCaskey's finally stepped out of the shadows and decided to take hold of what is the family business. Having only made the playoffs three out of the past eight years and tired of watching division rivals Detroit and Green Bay accumulate young talent and translating them into wins, McCaskey and Bears President and CEO Ted Phillips finally stepped up to the plate and fired long time General Manager Jerry Angelo. After many failed draft picks such as Michael Haynes in 2003 and Dan Bazuin in 2007 to name a few, Angelo’s run was finally ended. McCaskey, saying the decision was all Phillips and that he only offered his input. Regardless, both men finally realize that in order to compete in the division, let alone, theNFL
they need to have someone running the show who knows how to identify talent and surround himself with people who can do the same. And so the search begins for a new GM who’s one stipulation coming in will be that they will have to work with Lovie Smith, at least for the 2012-13 season. The list includes San Diego Chargers director of player personnel Jimmy Raye and New York Giants director of college scouting Marc Ross.
Hours later after the firing of Angelo, Head Coach Lovie Smith and rogue offensive coordinator Mike Martz decided to part ways. Lovie citing philosophical differences the reason for Martz’s resignation. Differences that have to include Martz and his seven step drops getting the franchise quarterback Jay Cutler sacked 75 times in two seasons. The Bears moved swiftly and promoted offensive line coach Mike Tice to the position. Tice, who is regarded as one of the best offensive line coaches in the league will call the plays and continue to have an active role with the offensive line. But the Bears will still hire an offensive line coach as well as a quarterback’s coach who will be consulted on the passing offense. One candidate whose name is being bounced around is Jeremy Bates, who worked with Cutler very closely in Denver and helped him get to the pro bowl in 2008.
The next general manager must immediately begin to infuse the roster with young talent via the draft and free agency. The Bears have a franchise quarterback in Jay Cutler, who before the thumb injury was playing the best stretch of football in his career. What is evident is the lack of talent around him. Other than Pro Bowl running back Matt Forte, the offense is void of talent. You look to the north of Chicago in Green Bay and the wide receiver depth chart goes four to five players deep. With guys like Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, and tight end Jermichael Finley to name a few, Aaron Rodgers only problem is who to throw to on any given down. Then you look at Detroit with Matthew Stafford having arguably the best wide receiver in the league in Calvin Johnson, Cutler is clearly behind the eight-ball. This off season there will be plenty of good offensive weapons that could hit the market for the Bears to make a run at. Difference makers like Vincent Jackson, Dwayne Bowe and Marques Colston will be available. The draft is deep at the wide receiver position and the Bears could target such standouts like Notre Dame's Michael Floyd. The number one free agent that needs to be signed is do-it all running back Matt Forte. Unable to get a long term contract done before and during the regular season, Bears management has said Forte is a priority this off season. If a long term deal can’t be worked out, it’s likely the Bears will hit him with the franchise tag. There are also questions about the men blocking for Forte and Cutler. Is J'Marcus Webb the long term answer at left tackle? Will 2011 first round draft pick Gabe Carimi fully recover from his knee injury? A line that has struggled mightily at times over the past two years will need to come together in order for the offense to be successful.
On the defensive side of the ball the Bears must address what is a solid and veteran group, but that is aging quickly. Perennial Pro Bowl linebackers and the heart of the defense, Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher are 32 and 34 years of age respectively. They are still playing at a high level, but for how long? There is no depth behind them. Peanut Tillman, the Bears best cornerback who was just named to his first Pro Bowl, is 31 but has logged a lot of minutes and has taken a beating over the years. The safety position is in flux with Major Wright, Chris Conte and Craig Steltz all starting at some point during the past season. The Bears best player on defense, Julius Peppers will be 32 at the start of the 2012 season. He still commands a double team and is as good as ever, but will the decline start soon? The Bears have always relied on their defense, and if this is to continue this is the off season to begin restocking the shelves with some youth that can learn from the veterans and eventually take over.
As the Bears search for a General Manager to take over the reins, there will be much work to be done to take one of the most historic franchises in the NFL and lead them back to the promise land. In the Windy City, the winds of change are starting to blow through.