|Free-agency preview: Bears||
Team overview: New coaches often have to rebuild both sides of the ball. Not Marc Trestman. He comes to Chicago with this mandate: protect Jay Cutler, fix his mechanics, score more points. There’s little wrong with the defense, which allowed 17.3 points per game (3rd, NFL) and got a league-high 44 takeaways.
The Bears ranked 28th in total offense (310.6) and 29th in passing yards (187.4). Their respectable 16th-place finish in points (23.4) was misleading: Remember those eight interceptions returned for touchdowns?
Everyone knows the offensive line was shaky at pass-protecting. The line wasn’t great at run-blocking either. Despite having Matt Forte and Michael Bush, the Bears averaged a mediocre 4.2 yards per carry. A beefed-up line, plus another weapon or two for Cutler, could rejuvenate this offense.
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What the depth chart tells you: Not a single offensive lineman received a positive grade from Pro Football Focus, though left tackle J’Marcus Webb wasn’t horrible. Right tackle was a disaster. Center Roberto Garza has one year left on his deal, while guards Lance Louis, Chris Spencer and Chilo Rachal are free agents. Really, you could make a case for blowing up the entire unit.
After tight end Kellen Davis made 19 catches last season, the Bears are in the market for an upgrade. "We need a tight end that can create stress in the middle of the field," tight ends coach Andy Bischoff told the Chicago Tribune. "We need a receiver who can catch the ball and we need a receiver who can block enough to be lined up in the backfield."
Ideal free agency and draft strategy: CBSSports.com draft analysts Rob Rang and Dane Brugler see the Bears taking Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert with the 20th overall pick.
The Bears have almost no salary cap space after tagging defensive tackle Henry Melton. But they can create some by restructuring Julius Peppers’ contract, extending Charles Tillman and cutting players like Davis ($2.5 million savings) and Matt Spaeth ($1.6 million). The Bears want to keep Brian Urlacher, but not at his $7.5 million salary. Same for Devin Hester ($2.4 million) and Earl Bennett ($2.35 million).
Chicago would then pursue a tackle like two-time Pro Bowler Jermon Bushrod, who worked with new offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer in New Orleans.
What will happen: Bears fans have to hope the team addresses its O-line problems through free agency and the draft. They’ll try to give Cutler more weapons so he doesn’t have to throw seemingly every pass to Marshall. Then it will be up to Cutler to raise his completion percentage, cut down on his turnovers and lead the Bears back to the playoffs.
-- By Larry Hartstein
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