We take a look at the Chicago Bears’ biggest offseason needs on the offensive side of the ball
It’s that time of year to discuss the Chicago Bears positions of need, and as in recent years, they have several. With a solid coaching staff in place, and a strong draft that yielded several starters and contributors in 2015, the Bears rebuilding phase is well on its way. But even if he lands a strong 2016 draft class, Ryan Pace needs to bring in several pieces via free agency to help pull this whole thing together.
One side of the ball that requires some significant focus is the offense. While Jay Cutler was able to put together a pretty solid year, injuries to key players was a concern all season, and showed that a much deeper depth chart is needed moving forward.
Here is a position breakdown:
Jay Cutler comes into the season as the starter, but after that, the drop off in talent is pretty evident. After cutting backup Jimmy Clausen last season, David Fales was promoted to backup for the rest of the season. After the season, ex-Bear Matt Blanchard was signed to a futures contract. Neither Fales nor Blanchard have any level of starting experience, and a solid veteran backup should be a target in free agency. The draft is a possibility as well, as Jay Cutler is not getting any younger.
Coach John Fox prefers a stable of running backs to carry the load, and the Bears will need to bring in some veteran options via free agency to compete. Jeremy Langford showed great promise last season, and will be given the opportunity to take over the reigns as a full time starter.
He is a strong runner, and can catch out of the backfield, but he will have to improve his blocking to earn his snaps. Ka’Deem Carey was given more playing time towards the end of the season, and showed some promise, but he may not be starting material at this point. Bringing in a veteran or two should be a focus. The draft is also an option.
While this position has been fading away in recent years, some of the top performing rushing teams still have a bruising fullback leading the charge. And this is something the Bears need to consider bringing back into the fold. Modern day fullbacks tend to be good receivers as well, which is something that this offense could use by creating mismatches out of the backfield. Whether it is an H-back hybrid type, or full fledged back, this position needs to be considered.
Signing Alshon Jeffrey to a long term deal should be a no brainer, but that remains to be seen. At the very least, the franchise tag should be applied while a long term deal can be worked out.
Second year player Kevin White returns from an injury that kept him out his entire rookie season. While he is extremely talented, he is still an NFL unknown, and will have to earn his way onto the field. Eddie Royal is a very good 3rd wide receiver, but he needs to stay healthy.
Marquess Wilson has shown promise, but he has had problems staying healthy as well. Beyond that, the remaining names have been non-factors, and this position should be addressed in both free agency and the draft.
Martellus Bennett is a very talented tight end, and can create nightmares for opposing defenders. But rumors of unhappiness with the team and his contract are always flying around, so it is unknown if he will be back with the team. If he does return, that bodes well for the position.
Behind him is Zach Miller, who had a very strong season after taking over for the injured Bennett. But he has had injury concerns most of his career, and will be 32 next season. After that is Khari Lee, who the team traded for last year. He did not show much during the season, and this is a position of need that should be addressed in free agency and the draft.
If I had my way, Kyle Long would be moved to left tackle and stay there for the rest of his career. Give him a full offseason, and let him go to work. But, I am not making the decisions, and I am sure many people will argue with this.
During Pace’s offseason press conference, he gave Charles Leno a vote of confidence at left tackle, but this position needs to improve. If Long is not moved, a veteran free agent should be brought in to compete with Leno.
Kyle Long was moved here last season, and had his ups and downs. Long has a bright future at right or left tackle, and will cement himself as one of the best very soon. But depth has been an issue across the entire offensive line, and this should be a focus in free agency and the draft. Tayo Fabuluje is an option here, and at other positions across the line, but still is young and unproven.
Third round pick Hroniss Grasu took over at center for the injured Will Montgomery, and played pretty well, but he needs to get much stronger if he is going to survive in the NFL. Veteran Matt Slauson played some games at center and performed very admirably. Slauson is at his best at guard, and until Grasu improves, bringing in a veteran makes a ton of sense.
This is a huge position of need. Vladimir Ducasse is not starting material, and makes a ton of mistakes. Patrick Omameh is a solid backup at best. The Bears need to sign a significant improvement in free agency. The draft is key to improve offensive line depth as well.
Matt Slauson is a very talented lineman, and great influence on the team both on and off the field. But with him having to slide over to center to cover injuries last season, the lack of talent drops off after that. As with the rest of the line positions, both free agency and the draft need to be used to improve overall depth.
While Marc Mariani showed some promise late in the season as a third down outlet for Jay Cutler, he did not show much as a returner. Late season pickup Deonte Thompson came on strong as the season progressed, and might be an option moving forward.
But adding competition via the draft is necessary here. Punter Pat O’Donnell had a decent season, and will most likely keep his starting gig. Bringing in a camp leg to keep up competition would be a good move as well. For years, kicker has not been a concern with Robbie Gould holding down the fort. Unfortunately, there has been a drop off the last few seasons, and some key games were lost as a result.
Gould appears confident in interviews, but it is not translating to the field when it counts. And that is what kickers are paid for; coming through in clutch situations. The Bears need to seriously consider focusing on this position in either free agency or the draft. Gould is paid very well, and needs to back that up…or earn his job from some free agent competition.