After another disappointing end to the 2013 season, the Chicago Bears find themselves in need of a defensive rebuild. In just two season, the team has seen it’s once porous offense soar to one of the league’s best. On the flip side of matters, the defense has not only gone “downhill” but they say themselves fall straight off a cliff.
In his season ending press conference, General Manager Phil Emery vowed the rebuild an old, injury depleted defense. This will not only be a two part process through Free Agency, which starts on March 11th and most importantly, the draft in May. Emery has a very questionable track record in his two years with the team drafting sustainable defense players. This year, the team will need nothing short of a great draft.
With six of the opening day starters from the 2013 roster entering Free Agency, a younger group is highly likely. It is no secret where the issues were on this defense and Emery should waste no time addressing them. The defensive line has to be the first and foremost point of focus and I believe it will be.
Julius Peppers and Stephen Paea are the only remaining starters off the defensive line to start the new league year. Paea is destined to stay through 2014 but Peppers with a pending $18 million cap hit, he is more than likely due for either a drastic pay cut or a cut from the 53 man roster.
Using the June 1st designation clause, the team would save $14 million in cap space, which could more than double their original projected cap figure. According to Above The Cap, the Bears are sitting close to $17 million below the newly projected $130 million salary cap. Accounting for $5 million for a draft class and $3 million for regular season roster moves, the Bears will be closer $9 million before any cuts. Cutting Peppers alone with a June 1st designation would slide them $23 million under the cap.
With creating more room and another need, Emery and contract negotiator Cliff Stein will need to be conscious of not only the current cap hit but future cap hits due to back loading contracts. Last year the two used under $10 million and were able to sign 5 starters, including mainstays Jermon Bushrod and Martellus Bennett, while providing “prove it” contracts to Matt Slauson, DJ Williams and James Anderson.
You can expect a similar offseason with another big signing or two to solidify the team’s starters for the future.
Defense line will be the biggest point of emphasis and with a collective 4 to 6 spots to fill, many of the teams’ financial and draft resources will be spend here. With pending free agents Corey Wootton, Henry Melton, Nate Collins and Jeremiah Ratliff, there will be some choices to be made. Wootton provides a cheaper long term rotational piece, while Collins and Ratliff could provide affordable depth. Melton has seemed to burn the bridge between himself and Emery, so he would be considered a long shot to be back.
Looking at pending outside free agents, big names like Greg Hardy, Michael Bennett, Michael Johnson, Linval Joseph, and BJ Raji head the defense line wish list. Lesser names such as Lamarr Houston, Everson Griffen, and Corey Peters would provide a cheaper alternative, while still bringing youth and starting capabilities.
Moving back to Linebacker, youthful scheme fitting options become more of rarity. Names like Brandon Spikes and Brian Orakpo will highlight the list as the more expensive options. recently cut Erin Henderson, Wesley Woodyard and Vincent Rey could supplement a more affordable and productive choice for a cap stricken team, like Chicago. Other options include in familiar faces in DJ Williams and James Anderson.
Cornerbacks provide a ton of depth, from youthful options to aging vets, the Bears could give themselves the best value if they chose to sink money into this deep position. Headlining names such as Vontae Davis, Aqib Talib, Alterraun Verner and Sam Shields will cost a pretty penny. Aging vets such as Charles Tillman, Asante Samuel, Brent Grimes and DeAngelo Hall will provide a cheaper “stop gap” if they chose to develop a later round pick. If they chose to sink money into other needs, the draft will be very deep from round one all the way into possibly the sixth round.
The most glaring issue in the secondary was obviously Safety. With Major Wright a pending free agent and Chris Conte not being guaranteed a starting job next year, the team will look to add at least two players. The draft will provide the cheapest alternative but it is not likely they are looking to possibly start two rookies at the tail end of this defense. Standout Strong Safety TJ Ward is likely to be Franchised by the Browns, which will lead to names like Jarius Byrd, Donte Whitner, and Chris Clemens to head the top of the crop. Other names like Stevie Brown, Ryan Mundy and Bernard Pollard could provide cheaper options, depending on space.
The Bears watched their struggling offense of many years shoot to second in scoring last year. With the largest weapons in the league, their franchise Quarterback re-signed, and their line solidified at all but one position, a starting Center and depth are the only needs.
Re-signing Josh McCown needs to be a top priority. If they can give Jason Campbell 3 million dollars to bomb a game and a half, they should have no issue retaining a top backup in the league.
Moving focus to receiver, the only need will be providing the already dynamic offense with a speedy vertical threat. The team could opt to use an in house option in recently sign CFL player Chris Williams. If they want to bring more competition or dedicate a small portion of it’s resources to this position, Emmanuel Sanders and Julian Edleman could be top options for a few million annually. Other options include draft prospects De’Anthony Thomas or Jalen Saunders.
With an impending cut of potential cap casualty Michael Bush, the team could rely on Michael Ford to take over. Impressing with his ability during pre season, his pass blocking left much to be desired. Drafting a late round back could be the best option but more resourceful options such as Donald Brown, James Starks, or LeGarrette Blount could serve as viable second options.
Tight end is a concerning position with the lack of depth. With the Fendi Onubun experiment wearing thin, it may be time to look another receiving threat that can provide sufficient blocking. The free agent market is very thin with recently suspended Fred Davis, Jeff Cumberland and Tony Scheffler providing the only logical options. With a deep and very large draft class, this may be the year to a mid round pick and use it on a well rounded Tight End.
The offensive line is the last stop and for the first time in a while, this can be classified as a smaller need. Mainstay Roberto Garza could be an option at an affordable cost. The free agent market also includes top Centers such as Alex Mack, Brian De La Peunte or Evan Dietrich-Smith. For a cheap and more efficient long term option, they could look to the mid-late rounds of the draft for a top prospect.
Punter is also a need but the most cost effective option may be using a late round pick to snag a good punting prospect or just create a competitive camp and bring out the best in a few vets.
This is the most important draft in Phil Emery’s young GM career. He will need to hit on a majority of his picks and some will have to be day one contributors. If he plays his cards right in the free agency period before the draft, he can set up many platoon options between rookies and vets to create more competition and a better overall product.