QB Jay Cutler, TE Michael Gaines, OT Orlando Pace, OT Kevin Shaffer, OT Frank Omiyale, OLB Pisa Tinoisamoa, FS Josh Bullocks.
DT Jarron Gilbert, WR Juaquin Iglesias, DE Henry Melton, CB D.J. Moore, WR Johnny Knox, OLB Marcus Freeman, FS Al Afalava, G Lance Louis, WR Derek Kinder.
QB Kyle Orton, QB Rex Grossman, WR Brandon Lloyd, WR Marty Booker, OT John Tait, OT John St. Clair, G Terrence Metcalf, OLB Joey LaRocque, FS Mike Brown, S Brandon McGowan.
2009 Chicago Bears Offense:
Bears fans have been waiting for this for decades. Finally - a franchise quarterback. Talks of Sid Luckman and Jim McMahon being the only competent signal-callers in franchise history can finally die down. Chicago somehow robbed the Broncos and committed Grand Theft Quarterback, landing Jay Cutler for essentially a future first-round pick and Kyle Orton.
With all of this pressure, however, will Cutler live up to the hype? I think so. Detractors cite that Cutler threw a ton of picks last year and couldn't get the Broncos into the playoffs. I say that Cutler was forced into making poor throws late in games because his defense, which is to blame for Denver's late-season collapse, continuously let Cutler down. Cutler tossed 18 interceptions, but did so in 616 attempts. Orton, meanwhile, launched 12 picks, but did so in 465 attempts behind a comptent stop unit. Thus, the two quarterbacks' interception percentage in 2008 was nearly identical.
So, with that in mind, what's all the fuss about? Well, Cutler compiled 4,526 yards and 25 touchdowns last season, and maintained a YPA of 7.3 - a figure Orton could never obtain because of his limited arm strength. Cutler can make every single throw on the field, which will open up Chicago's offense in ways its fans never imagined.
Cutler should be able to hit Devin Hester on multiple long bombs this season. Hester's transition from return specialist to wideout was rough at first, but he improved tremendously at the end of the year. If you take Hester's final 12 games and exclude the two contests Orton either missed or failed to play anywhere near 100 percent, the Miami product racked up 41 receptions and 564 yards. Those numbers will be a lot better with Cutler under center.
While either Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox, both of whom are rookies, is expected to make a contribution in the next two seasons, Cutler should feel more comfortable with split end Earl Bennett, as the two played together at Vanderbilt. Bennett didn't catch a single pass as a rookie, but the chemistry that he has with Cutler could pay dividends in 2009. Meanwhile, Cutler's top weapon is tight end Greg Olsen; the No. 7 tight end in my 2009 Fantasy Football Rankings, Olsen caught 54 passes for 574 yards and five touchdowns last season. Cutler loves to go to his tight ends, so Olsen is poised for a big season.
All of this said, the Bears will remain a run-first team despite the acquisition of Cutler. The reasoning for this is understandable once you remember whom Chicago has in the backfield. Matt Forte, now in his second year, is one of the top running backs in the league. As a rookie, Forte rushed for 1,238 yards and scored 12 total touchdowns. He also caught 63 passes for 477 receiving yards, so he's yet another weapon Cutler will have at his disposal.
Forte's YPC wasn't very impressive (3.9), but that figures to improve based on the upgrades the Bears made up front. Chicago is stacked at offensive tackle with Orlando Pace, Chris Williams, Kevin Shaffer and Frank Omiyale. Pace can still be very effective if he's in the lineup, but unlike the Rams, the Bears have the depth so they don't have to rely on him; Pace has missed 25 games the past three seasons. Williams, entering his second year, was chosen with the 14th-overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, so you know he has a ton of talent. Shaffer is an excellent run-blocker, while Omiyale was a top backup with the Panthers in 2008.
As for the interior, center Olin Kreutz continues to shine as one of the top players at his position in the NFL. Right guard Roberto Garza hasn't missed a start in three years. Josh Beekman was a liability at left guard last year, and he'll have to hold off Omiyale, who can also play inside.
2009 Chicago Bears Defense:
The Bears have maintained one of the league's better defenses for years, so while they were 16th in points allowed (21.9 ppg), eighth versus the run (3.7 YPC) and sixth against the pass (6.5 YPA), it was surprising to see that they couldn't get to the quarterback.
Chicago managed just 28 sacks on the season, and no player had more than six. Alex Brown held that figure, while Adewale Ogunleye and Tommie Harris managed only five. Nickel rusher Mark Anderson, two years removed from garnering 12 sacks as a rookie, mustered just one in 2008.
While having Jay Cutler under center ensures more leads, which in turn will mean better quarterback pressure, the personnel the Bears have at defensive end should have been upgraded this offseason. Ogunleye turns 32 on Aug. 9, so he may not have a double-digit sack total ever again. Brown, who just turned 30, specializes against the run and will never be a dependable sack-artist. Meanwhile, Anderson has declined in each of his three NFL seasons, so hopefully new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli can get the Alabama product back to his 2006 production. The Bears also drafted Henry Melton in the fourth round, but ends seldom contribute as rookies.
At defensive tackle, Harris had been great in his first few years in the NFL, but struggled in 2008 with a knee injury. Again, having Marinelli on the coaching staff can only improve Harris' technique, but that doesn't matter if the former Pro Bowler can't stay healthy.
Speaking of staying healthy, Dusty Dvoracek, currently penciled in next to Harris, has missed 35 games in his three NFL seasons. A torn biceps tendon ended his 2008 campaign after 12 games. If Dvoracek gets hurt again, it'll be up to second-year Marcus Harrison or oft-injured Anthony Adams to take his place. Rookie Jarron Gilbert, who led the nation in tackles for loss at San Jose State last year, could be brought in on obvious passing downs.
Though the pass rush will be better in 2009, it won't be completely potent, which will put pressure on Chicago's secondary. Fortunately, the Bears' No. 1 corner, Charles "Peanut" Tillman, broke up 17 passes in 2008 and was excellent in coverage. At the other corner position, Nathan Vasher started off his career brilliantly, but has missed 20 games the past two years. Fourth-round rookie D.J. Moore, who was a late first-round prospect in the fall, will lobby for playing time.
When Vasher was hurt in 2008, Corey Graham started in his place and played extremely well. But given the void they had at free safety, the coaching staff decided to move Graham over to that position. The third-year Graham is a talented defensive back, but he has never played safety before. However, if Craig Steltz steps up, he'll play the position, allowing Graham to stay at corner. Meanwhile, Kevin Payne was solid as a first-year starter at strong safety last season.
The strongest unit on Chicago's defense is obviously the linebacking corps, comprised of Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Pisa Tinoisamoa. Urlacher, a former Pro Bowler, struggled with a neck injury in 2008, but appears to be healthy now. Briggs, meanwhile, qualified for the Pro Bowl last season, thanks to his 110 tackles, three interceptions and 13 passes defended. Tinoisamoa was recently acquired from the Rams, who released him because he didn't fit their new scheme. Tinoisamoa is a bit undersized, and will have to compete with Nick Roach to be Chicago's starting strongside linebacker.
2009 Chicago Bears Schedule and Intangibles:
One thing you can look at to measure a team's success the following season is how many close games they lost the preceding year. Of Chicago's seven losses, all but one (at Minnesota) was determined by a touchdown or less. Of those six close contests, three were decided by a field goal or less.
Going into the 2008 campaign, if you told me that Devin Hester wouldn't score on a return, I would have asked you to tell me what sort of injury he incurred. Hester, perhaps exhausted from running routes as a receiver, struggled as a punt returner, averaging just 6.2 yards per attempt. Luckily for the Bears, Danieal Manning took a kick return to the house and maintained a sterling 29.7 kickoff average.
Robbie Gould is an extremely accurate kicker, as he's 89-of-101 (88.1 percent) the past three seasons. More importantly, Gould is 32-of-39 from 40-49 yards during that time span. The only knock on him, however, is that he has yet to nail a 50-yarder in his career (0-of-2).
Punter Brad Maynard maintained a mediocre 41.2 average, but that's because he nailed a whopping 40 kicks inside the opposing 20.
The Bears will be tested early. They open at Lambeau on Sunday night. They go home to battle the Super Bowl champion Steelers, and then they fly out to the Pacific Northwest to take on the Seahawks. And after two bye weeks (Lions and the real bye), they travel to Atlanta. Fortunately, things get easier; three of Chicago's final five contests are at home (Rams, Packers and Vikings). The only tough contest is a road battle at Baltimore. The Bears close out the season with another bye week (at Detroit).
2009 Chicago Bears Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2009 Chicago Bears Analysis: This is the way I look at the NFC North. The Vikings barely beat out the Bears last year, despite the fact that the latter had Kyle Orton (and Rex Grossman for two games) under center. While Minnesota didn't make any great improvements, Chicago added one of the top young quarterbacks in the NFL and made multiple upgrades to its offensive line.
With that in mind, the Bears have to be the preseason NFC North favorites. Cue the Viking hate mail!
Looking at Chicago's picks alone, the team had an excellent draft. Even though it didn't have any Day 1 selections, it still managed to acquire three second-round prospects in Jarron Gilbert, Juaquin Iglesias and D.J. Moore.
Iglesias and Moore fill big needs, while Gilbert and Henry Melton both offer great positional value. Chicago struggled to get to the quarterback in 2008, so those two players should be able to help in that department.
Of course, the reason why the Bears didn't have a first-day choice is because of the Jay Cutler trade. As it turns out, Chicago gave up Kyle Orton, Robert Ayers, Alphonso Smith and Richard Quinn for one of the top young quarterbacks in the NFL. Josh McDaniels, epic fail.
Grade given on 4/27/09: A+
2009 NFL Draft Picks:
68. Jarron Gilbert, DT, San Jose State
You can never go wrong adding defensive line depth, and the Bears couldn't get to the quarterback last year. Jarron Gilbert is incredible value here. (Pick Grade: A)
99. Juaquin Iglesias, WR, Oklahoma
Juaquin Iglesias was a projected second-round prospect, so you have to love this from a value standpoint. Juaquin Iglesias also fills a big need. Outstanding selection. (Pick Grade: A)
105. Henry Melton, DE, Texas
Henry Melton wasn't productive at Texas, but he has great measurables. The Bears needed to find someone to get to the quarterback, and it never hurts to have great defensive line depth. (Pick Grade: A)
119. D.J. Moore, CB, Vanderbilt
D.J. Moore was a second-round prospect going into the 2009 NFL Draft, so the Bears got unbelievable value at No. 119. They needed a corner because Nathan Vasher struggled in 2008. (Pick Grade: A)
140. Johnny Knox, WR, Abilene Christian
The Bears once again are proving why they're competitve every year. This is yet another solid pick. (Pick Grade: B)
154. Marcus Freeman, OLB, Ohio State
A possible third-round prospect, the Bears are pretty fortunate to get Marcus Freeman in the middle of Round 5. They needed a linebacker, so this is yet another great choice by Jerry Angelo. (Pick Grade: A)
190. Al Afalava, FS, Oregon State
The Bears finally address the free safety position. This pick makes sense in terms of need and draft value. (Pick Grade: B)
246. Lance Louis, G, San Diego State
Adequate value here; Lance Louis provides offensive line depth, which never hurts. (Pick Grade: B)
251. Derek Kinder, WR, Pittsburgh
The draft range matches up with the pick. The Bears drafted three receivers, so it'll be tough for Derek Kinder to make the team. (Pick Grade: B)
Bears fans were thrilled. They finally had a quarterback. Sure, their record was just 5-3, but the three losses all came to playoff-bound teams by three points or less. Kyle Orton was discussed as a possible MVP candidate, owning 10 touchdowns and just four interceptions in eight contests. Unfortunately, Orton suffered an ankle injury against the Lions, causing the Bears to lose three of the next four (two of the losses were blowout defeats to divisional rivals). The skid proved to be too much, and Chicago missed the postseason by just one game.
Lions sign G Terrence Metcalf
Falcons sign WR Marty Booker
Bears sign C Donovan Raiola
Bears cut OLB Joey LaRocque
Bears announce retirement of S Glenn Earl
Chiefs sign S Mike Brown
Broncos sign WR Brandon Lloyd
Texans sign QB Rex Grossman
Bears sign OLB Pisa Tinoisamoa
Bears sign TE Michael Gaines
Patriots sign S Brandon McGowan
Bears sign OT Orlando Pace
Bears acquire QB Jay Cutler and 5th-rounder from Broncos for QB Kyle Orton, 2009 and 2010 first-rounders and 2009 third-rounder
Bears sign OT Kevin Shaffer
Bears sign S Glenn Earl
Browns sign OT John St. Clair
Bears sign FS Josh Bullocks
Bears cut G Terrence Metcalf
Bears re-sign RB Kevin Jones
Bears sign OT Frank Omiyale
Bears announce retirement of OT John Tait
Bears cut WR Marty Booker
Defensive End: The Bears usually have one of the tougher defenses in the league. That wasn't the case this season - they ranked 16th in points allowed - mainly because they couldn't get pressure on the quarterback. Chicago had just 28 sacks on the year, and no one had more than six. Mark Anderson completely disappeared; he had just one sack on the season. The Bears should be able to get someone like Larry English at No. 18 overall. Drafted Henry Melton
Free Safety: Mike Brown had some great years for the Bears, but his time in the league is running out. Given that he's a free agent, there's a good chance he's not even back with the team. If Brown leaves, all Chicago will have at free safety is Danieal Manning, who's more of a dynamic return specialist than anything. Signed Josh Bullocks
Cornerback: If either Malcolm Jenkins or Vontae Davis falls to the Bears at No. 18, don't expect them to hesitate. Nathan Vasher's play completely fell off last year. Drafted D.J. Moore
Right Tackle: Right now, the Bears are probably looking at a battle between 34-year-old John Tait and John St. Clair, who gave up 10 sacks in 2008, for the right tackle position. Ouch. Signed Orlando Pace, Kevin Shaffer and Frank Omiyale; announced retirement of John Tait
Possession Receiver: Devin Hester improved as a receiver throughout the season and has definitely emerged as a potent deep threat. However, the Bears need a reliable possession receiver across from Hester. Drafted Juaquin Iglesias and Johnny Knox
Strongside Linebacker: Hunter Hillenmeyer was benched in favor of Nick Roach late in the year. Can Roach thrive as a full-time strongside linebacker? That remains to be seen. The Bears should find some competition for the second-year defender, though doing so isn't a top priority. Signed Pisa Tinoisamoa; drafted Marcus Freeman
2009 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Orlando Pace, OT, Rams. Age: 33. Signed with Bears
The Rams had to cut Orlando Pace because he was making a ridiculous amount of money. At 33, Pace is still very effective - assuming he's healthy. Pace has missed 25 games the past three years.
Kevin Shaffer, OT, Browns. Age: 29. Signed with Bears
One of the weakest links on Cleveland's offensive line, but not a huge liability either. Kevin Shaffer will find a job as a spot-starter at the very least.
Pisa Tinoisamoa, OLB, Rams. Age: 28. Signed with Bears (1 year)
Led the Rams in tackles last year. A 4-3 weakside linebacker.
Frank Omiyale, OT, Panthers. Age: 26. - Signed with Bears (4 years, $14 million)
Josh Bullocks, FS, Saints. Age: 26. - Signed with Bears (1 year, $525,000)
Glenn Earl, S, Texans. Age: 28. - Signed with Bears (1 year)
Donovan Raiola, C, Cardinals. Age: 26. - Signed with Bears
Michael Gaines, TE, Lions. Age: 29. - Signed with Bears
Chicago Bears Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 8): $19 million
Mike Brown, FS. Age: 31. Signed with Chiefs
It's a shame, but it looks like Mike Brown's career is winding down. He was an incredible player when healthy, but he spent far too many weeks on injury reports.
Rex Grossman, QB. Age: 29. Signed with Texans (1 year, $620,000)
Can anyone believe that Rex Grossman is almost 30? I guess time flies when you're injured and/or committing turnovers.
John St. Clair, OT. Age: 32. Signed with Browns (3 years, $9 million)
John St. Clair is as good as gone; he gave up the third-most sacks in the NFL of all left tackles. He's nothing more than a solid backup at this point.
Brandon McGowan, S. Age: 25. - Signed with Patriots (2 years)
Brandon Lloyd, WR. Age: 28. - Signed with Broncos
Kevin Jones, RB. Age: 27. - Re-signed with Bears (2 years, $3.5 million)
Divisional Rival History: Detroit Lions: Take out a bizarre 2007 season where the Lions somehow swept the Bears, and Chicago has won six straight in this "rivalry." Green Bay Packers: Brett Favre and the Packers dominated the Bears for years. That's not the case anymore. Under Lovie Smith, Chicago is 7-3 against Green Bay. Minnesota Vikings: The home team has claimed 12 of 14.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2009 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)