Perpetually coming close to contention, what do the Bears need to fix to become a real playoff candidate in 2017?
As we go on through the 2016 NFL season, we see which teams should consider a rebuild, and which teams can establish themselves as legitimate contenders. There are always teams in the middle, but they are not focused on as much as the ones on the ends of the spectrum. Here we can focus on any team that isn’t a top-tier Super Bowl favorite this year. After writing about the Browns last week and the Bills recently, the ever-disappointing Chicago Bears are in the spotlight today. While every season it seems as if the Bears are finally ready to put everything together, something happens to crush the dream of the team and its fans. In the middle of a horrific 2016 regular season in which the wheels came off early, the team is ready to look towards 2017 and put this season in the rear view. Below are some ways they can work on fixing their team and finally breaking down the door to the playoff scene.
Coaching and Front Office: No major flaws
The blame for the Bears’ unsatisfactory seasons in recent years cannot be placed on the front office. GM Ryan Pace came in after the 2014 season and has brought in two impressive draft hauls, as well as strong free agency classes. Some notable names for Pace: Kevin White, Pernell McPhee, Jerrell Freeman, Leonard Floyd, Jordan Howard, and Akiem Hicks. The coaching staff is also one of the better ones in the league, led by head coach John Fox and a strong defensive coordinator in Vic Fangio. One issue may be offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and his inability to coax a good year out of Jay Cutler after an above-average 2015 season, but it remains to be seen if it is just the talent of Cutler that holds back the offense.
Offense: An unsurprising Cut-ler
One of the main reasons for the Bears’ lack of success is the play of quarterback Jay Cutler. Since being traded to the Windy City after decent time in Denver, he has posted poor numbers and has the attitude to match his play. Cutler is a cancer to the team, and his release, along with the savings on the cap, will be extremely beneficial for the team. Aside from the quarterback position, the team is in a relatively good spot. Injuries along the offensive line have caused problems, but at full health, it would likely be a top-10 unit. Kyle Long, Hronnis Grasu, and Cody Whitehair create a formidable interior, with decent tackles in Charles Leno and Bobby Massie as bookends. If the team can hold on to Alshon Jeffery, it would keep a strong receiving unit together. Kevin White showed some promise before getting injured after four games. Jordan Howard has been a workhorse for the team, carrying the load when Cutler fails to get the offense going. All in all, the offense could use some better offensive line and receiver depth, but they are trending upward headed towards next year.
Defense: Talent stopped by injury
The Bears, if at full health, would likely have one of the better defenses in the league. Kyle Fuller went down early with an injury after having a good 2015 season. Linebacker Lamarr Houston, defensive lineman Ego Ferguson, and defensive tackle Will Sutton are all being missed by Vic Fangio’s squad. While there have been major injuries to the team, some players, such as rookie corner Cre’Von LeBlanc, have stepped up in their absence. The recent additions of Pernell McPhee, Jerrell Freeman, and Leonard Floyd have already paid dividends for the team, with all of them performing well in their respective linebacker roles. Some secondary and defensive interior depth could be required to sustain good performance in the face of injury, but for the most part this team has the defensive pieces it needs to create some success.
2017 Free Agents of Note: WR Alshon Jeffery, WR Marquess Wilson, SS Chris Prosinski, K Connor Barth
Positions of Need: QB, OT, OG, WR, CB, ILB, K
2017 NFL Draft*:
Round 1, Pick 3: QB Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina
Round 2, Pick 3: DT Vita Vea, Washington
Round 3, Pick 3: WR James Washington, Oklahoma State
Round 4, Pick 3: ILB Kendall Beckwith, LSU
Round 4, Pick 13 (from BUF): OT JJ Dielman, Utah
Round 5, Pick 3: CB Fabian Moreau, UCLA
Round 7, Pick 3: K Daniel Carlson, Auburn
*Compensatory picks not included at this time