QB Jason Campbell, RB Michael Bush, WR Brandon Marshall, G Chilo Rachal, OLB Geno Hayes, KR Eric Weems.
Early Draft Picks:
DE Shea McClellin, WR Alshon Jeffery, S Brandon Hardin, TE Evan Rodriguez.
RB Marion Barber, DT Amobi Okoye, DT Anthony Adams, CB Corey Graham, S Brandon Meriweather.
2012 Chicago Bears Offense:
The band is back together. Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall have been reunited after spending three years apart. The two were an aerial force in Denver, with Marshall catching 206 passes for 2,590 yards and 13 touchdowns in the two seasons they were together. It's still remarkable that the Bears were able to land such an immense talent like him for just a pair of third-round picks. The deal was a no-brainer, and it's really perplexing that the Dolphins would let him go for such a low price.
Cutler has to be a happy man. Not only does he have Marshall again, but he also doesn't have to worry about taking another injury because of Mike Martz's inept blocking schemes. The days of dropping back 15 yards in the pocket are over; Cutler can run a normal offense with a heavily upgraded receiving corps. In addition to acquiring Marshall, the Bears also used a second-round pick on Alshon Jeffery. The South Carolina wideout was considered to be a top-15 prospect a year ago, but fell because he played all of 2011 completely out of shape. The Bears will need to make sure they're on Jeffery because his weight is a major issue.
The rest of Cutler's supporting cast is comprised of reliable slot receiver Earl Bennett, unproven tight end Kellen Davis, and of course, running back Matt Forte. The situation with Forte is troublesome. The disgruntled 26-year-old wants a big contract, but Chicago's front office is reportedly concerned about his knees. Forte sprained his MCL in Week 13 last season, while the repercussions of carrying the ball 833 times at Tulane cannot be ignored.
It's a shame that the Forte contractual situation has gotten so ugly. Chris Johnson also had an ugly dispute heading into the 2011 season, and he consequently struggled after he signed his contract. The same thing could happen to Forte, assuming the impasse is even resolved. If it's not, Michael Bush will handle the workload. Bush, signed over from Oakland, is a talented runner who will, at the very least, be used heavily on the goal line.
Forte and Bush will be running behind an offensive front enhanced by coordinator Mike Tice, one of the premier offensive line coaches in the NFL. It seems that year after year, Tice is handed a group of non-talents and somehow transforms the group into a capable unit. He once again has his work cut out for him because left tackle J'Marcus Webb was responsible for a ridiculous 14 penalties and 12 sacks in 2011. Webb seemed to have progressed as the season went along - he permitted just two sacks between Weeks 9 and 16. Unfortunately, Jared Allen came along and beat him for four sacks on Jan. 1.
The other major weak spot last year was at right tackle; Lance Louis surrendered eight sacks in 13 starts. The Bears won't have to worry about him there because 2011 first-round pick Gabe Carimi will be back from a knee injury. Louis, instead, will compete for the starting right guard position with newly signed Chilo Rachal. A former 49er, Rachal is in terrific shape, down to 310 pounds. He'll also try to steal left guard Chris Spencer's job. The only interior job absolutely locked in Roberto Garza at center. He recently turned 33, but he's still a sound blocker, especially when it comes to pass protection.
2012 Chicago Bears Defense:
It's been proven time and again that Chicago's defense is a completely different unit without Brian Urlacher. The future Hall-of-Fame middle linebacker tore his MCL and PCL in the final game of the 2011 season, but said he's "100-percent on track" to be ready for training camp. That's great news for the Bears, because even though Urlacher recently celebrated his 34th birthday, he's still a very impactful player. He showed no signs of slowing down last year.
Chicago's other blue-chipper, Julius Peppers, registered 11 sacks last season. That number doesn't indicate how forceful he was. Peppers was always in the backfield, and he completely shut down the run. But he was only one man, and Chicago really wanted to bolster its pass rush, which is why the front office spent the No. 19 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft on Shea McClellin. The Boise State product went a bit earlier than where most projected him, but he has drawn comparisons to Mike Vrabel because of his ability to get to the quarterback and also drop into coverage. He'll challenge the run-stuffing Israel Idonije for the left end job.
The rest of the defensive front is comprised of defensive tackles Henry Melton, and either Matt Toeaina or Stephen Paea. Melton did a fabulous job as an interior pass-rusher last year, racking up seven sacks. Toeaina and Paea, meanwhile, will battle it out to see who the starting nose tackle is. Toeaina played more last year, but wasn't very effective. Paea was better despite coming off a knee injury. The 2011 second-rounder will likely take over the job soon.
Like last year, the final two members of the front seven are outside linebackers Lance Briggs and Nick Roach. Briggs was awesome like always, playing great in every facet of the game. He'll be 32 in November, so he should still be able to perform as well as ever. Roach, meanwhile, is a decent, two-down run-defender.
The secondary, ranking seventh versus the pass in 2011 (6.8 YPA), returns intact for the most part. The only player who is gone is Brandon Meriweather, and he lost his job to Chris Conte in October. The new free safety played really well for a rookie before suffering a foot injury in December. Conte should be better in his second NFL campaign. He'll once again start next to strong safety Major Wright, who can be a liability in coverage.
Chicago's cornerbacks make up for Wright. Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings were great last year; they surrendered a combined one touchdown and picked off five total passes. They were also very good in run support. The Bears bolstered their depth at the position, signing Kelvin Hayden and Jonathan Wilhite to go along with D.J. Moore, who tallied four interceptions in 2011.
2012 Chicago Bears Schedule and Intangibles:
Chicago's special teams usually rank among the league's elite, and the unit didn't disappoint in 2011. Devin Hester had a whopping three return touchdowns (two punts, one kickoff), averaging an amazing 16.2 yards per punt-return attempt in the process.
Robbie Gould definitely deserved the 6-year, $15.5 million contract he received last May, as he's hit at least 83.3 percent of his field goals in each of the previous six seasons. He was 28-of-32 in 2011, including a perfect 6-of-6 from 50-plus.
Adam Podlesh was a bit of a disappointment last year. The Bears brought him in to upgrade Brad Maynard, but he averaged just 43.9 yards per attempt with fewer than a quarter of his attempts placed inside the 20 (21-of-89).
The Bears have six tough opponents in the first 11 weeks of the season, battling the Packers (road), Cowboys (road), Lions (home), Panthers (home), Texans (home) and 49ers (road). It does get easier after that though, with four of the next five coming against the Vikings (twice), Seahawks (home) and Cardinals (road).
2012 Chicago Bears Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2012 Chicago Bears Analysis: If it weren't for all of the injuries the Bears incurred last year - mainly to Jay Cutler and Matt Forte - they would have made the playoffs and perhaps advanced deep in the postseason tournament. They return most of their talent, and even added a very potent offensive weapon in Brandon Marshall, so there's no reason to think this team couldn't make a run at the Lombardi Trophy - just as long as everyone stays healthy for a change.
Goals Entering the 2012 NFL Draft: The Brandon Marshall trade was just the beginning. The Bears need to continue to bolster Jay Cutler's supporting cast. The offensive line still needs to be retooled, while the receiving corps is devoid of play-makers outside of Marshall. Chicago also needs to find a capable pass-rusher across from Julius Peppers.
2012 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The Bears didn't improve the offensive line (surprise), but they did everything else they were supposed to do. They found their second pass-rusher in Shea McClellin, and they also obtained a No. 2 wideout in Alshon Jeffery. Evan Rodriguez, meanwhile, could be a solid intermediate target for Cutler.
There are some concerns though. McClellin was widely considered a second-round prospect until he was pushed up boards late in the draft process. He could definitely be a good player for Chicago, but No. 19 was the ceiling of his draft range. Jeffery, on the other hand, fell after being considered a top-15 prospect early on. He dropped for good reason though; he played at 230-240 pounds in 2011. If the Bears don't closely monitor him, he could eat himself out of the league.
Chicago reached twice after that, especially with Brandon Hardin in the third round. Why didn't the front office take someone like Bobby Massie to bolster Cutler's protection with that pick?
2012 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
19. Shea McClellin, DE, Boise State: B Grade
I'm fine with the Bears selecting Shea McClellin, but this is a bit higher than he probably should have gone. There were also better defensive ends available according to the consensus board, like Whitney Mercilus and Chandler Jones. But draft projections are unpredictable, and McClellin could easily end up being better than any of them. This is a solid pick.
45. Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina: B Grade
The Bears have moved up for Alshon Jeffery for a fifth-round pick. I can't exactly blame them. He has immense talent and is worth the risk in the middle of the second round. I say "risk" because he has serious weight issues. He played at 230-240 pounds last year and looked like he could barely move. Jeffery's boom or bust. He can be great if he wants to be, but he could just as easily eat himself out of the league in three years. The Bears better make sure he stays in shape.
79. Brandon Hardin, S, Oregon State: D Grade
This is a pretty big reach. No major big board had Brandon Hardin ranked above No. 125. He belonged in the fifth round. If Chicago really wanted him, it should have traded down.
111. Evan Rodriguez, TE, Temple: B- Grade
The Bears are guilty of another reach here - albeit a slighter one. Evan Rodriguez fills a need; Mike Martz is gone, so the Bears are actually going to use the tight end position in the passing game.
184. Isaiah Frey, CB, Nevada: C Grade
I did not expect Isaiah Frey to be drafted, and neither did any of the major publications. At least he fills a need; cornerback depth had to be addressed.
220. Greg McCoy, CB, TCU: C Grade
What's with the Bears drafting UDFA-caliber cornerbacks in the final couple of rounds? Again, this fills needed corner depth.
Someone on the Bears must have defiled an Indian burial ground. The team was 7-3 heading into Thanksgiving weekend, but would drop five of six because Jay Cutler and Matt Forte were knocked out with serious injuries. And to make things worse, Brian Urlacher tore his MCL and PCL in a meaningless Week 17 game at Minnesota.
Bears sign DT John McCargo
Bears sign DT DeMario Pressley
Bears sign OLB Geno Hayes
49ers sign G Chilo Rachal
Buccaneers sign DT Amobi Okoye
Bears sign CB Kelvin Hayden
Bears sign CB Jonathan Wilhite
Broncos sign QB Caleb Hanie
Bears sign WR Devin Thomas
Vikings sign CB Zackary Bowman
Bears announce retirement of RB Marion Barber
Ravens sign CB Corey Graham
Bears sign RB Michael Bush
Bears re-sign S Craig Steltz
Bears re-sign DE Israel Idonije
Redskins sign S Brandon Meriweather
Bears re-sign TE Kellen Davis
Bears sign WR Eric Weems
Bears re-sign QB Josh McCown
Bears sign ILB Blake Costanzo
Bears sign QB Jason Campbell
Bears acquire WR Brandon Marshall for two third-round picks
Bears re-sign CB Tim Jennings
Bears tender RB Kahlil Bell
Bears cut DT Anthony Adams
Wide Receiver: Jay Cutler loves throwing to Earl Bennett, who should just be a secondary option. Roy Williams and Johnny Knox aren't the answer. The Bears will look at Michael Floyd, Kendall Wright and Alshon Jeffery at No. 19 in the 2012 NFL Draft. Traded for Brandon Marshall; drafted Alshon Jeffery; signed Devin Thomas
Left Tackle: I think it's safe to call J'Marcus Webb a lost cause at left tackle. He was guilty of a whopping 12 sacks and 14 penalties in 2011.
Cornerback: Three of Chicago's top four cornerbacks, including starter Tim Jennings, are set to hit the market in March. I currently have the Bears selecting Alfonzo Dennard in my 2012 NFL Draft. Re-signed Tim Jennings; signed Jonathan Wilhite and Kelvin Hayden
Interior Lineman: Chris Spencer was a sieve at right guard; he allowed the third-most pressures in the NFL last year. The Bears can either draft a right guard to replace him, or a center so Roberto Garza can move back to Spencer's position. Both Peter Konz and Cordy Glenn will be options at No. 19. Signed Chilo Rachal
Tight End: Mike Martz was a crazed lunatic who didn't like to use tight ends in his offense. He is gone though, so Chicago could use the third-round pick it acquired for Greg Olsen on a new tight end. Re-signed Kellen Davis; drafted Evan Rodriguez
Running Back: Retaining Matt Forte will be Chicago's No. 1 priority this offseason. Franchised Matt Forte; signed Michael Bush
Strong Safety: Major Wright isn't a very good safety. Meanwhile, both Brandon Meriweather and Craig Steltz are free agents. Re-signed Craig Steltz; drafted Brandon Hardin
Linebacker Depth: The Bears should be prepared just in case Brian Urlacher can't start the season on time because of his MCL and PCL tears. Signed Geno Hayes amd Blake Costanzo
Defensive End: I'm just listing this as a formality because Israel Idonije is a free agent. Idonije already said that he'll be re-signing with Chicago. The Bears could stand to find an upgrade though. Re-signed Israel Idonije; drafted Shea McClellin
Defensive Tackle Depth: The Bears cut Anthony Adams, so they'll need depth here behind Henry Melton, Matt Toeaina and Stephen Paea if they can't re-sign Amobi Okoye.
Backup Quarterback: The Bears will need a capable backup behind Jay Cutler if Josh McCown isn't re-signed. Signed Jason Campbell; re-signed Josh McCown
2012 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Michael Bush, RB, Raiders. Age: 28. Signed with Bears (4 years, $14 million)
Michael Bush will be overrated on the market. He wore down as the season went along, and he didn't even start the whole year or anything. That's a big red flag.
Jason Campbell, QB, Raiders. Age: 30. Signed with Bears
Look up the definition of mediocre in the dictionary, and you'll probably find a picture of Jason Campbell. Campbell has been really consistent in his two years with the Raiders, completing about 60 percent of his passes and throwing slightly more touchdowns than interceptions.
Eric Weems, WR/KR, Falcons. Age: 27. Signed with Bears (3 years)
Eric Weems scored two special-teams touchdowns in 2010, but couldn't find the end zone this past season. However, he was still effective, maintaining solid averages in both punt and kick returns.
Geno Hayes, OLB, Buccaneers. Age: 25. -- Signed with Bears
Blake Costanzo, ILB, 49ers. Age: 28. -- Signed with Bears (2 years, $2 million)
Devin Thomas, WR, Giants. Age: 25. -- Signed with Bears
Kelvin Hayden, CB, Falcons. Age: 29. -- Signed with Bears
Chilo Rachal, G, 49ers. Age: 26. -- Signed with Bears (1 year)
Jonathan Wilhite, CB, Broncos. Age: 28. -- Signed with Bears
Nate Collins, DT, Jaguars. Age: 24. -- Signed with Bears
DeMario Pressley, DT, Panthers. Age: 26. -- Signed with Bears
John McCargo, DT, Buccaneers. Age: 29. -- Signed with Bears
Chicago Bears Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Matt Forte, RB, Bears. Age: 26. Franchised by Bears
Matt Forte was having an All-Pro season before suffering an MCL sprain right after Thanksgiving. In just 12 contests, he rushed for 997 yards (4.9 YPC) and caught 52 balls for 490 receiving yards. With no holes in his game, he's one of the top running backs in the NFL.
Israel Idonije, DE, Bears. Age: 31. Re-signed with Bears (1 year)
Israel Idonije stuffs the run well and gets decent pressure on the quarterback. He'll be 32 in November, however.
Kahlil Bell, RB, Bears. Age: 25. Tendered by Bears
I liked what I saw out of Kahlil Bell late in the year. He collects a good number of yards after contact, displays great vision and patience, and picks up his blocking assignments well. He can also catch passes out of the backfield.
Tim Jennings, CB, Bears. Age: 28. Re-signed with Bears (2 years)
Tim Jennings played well last year (57.3%, 0 TDs), but at 5-8, 185, he's pretty scheme-specific. He means much more to Chicago than most other teams.
Amobi Okoye, DT, Bears. Age: 25. Signed with Buccaneers (1 year, $2 million)
After being discarded by the Texans, Amobi Okoye found a home with the Bears as a rotational defensive tackle who can pressure the quarterback.
Brandon Meriweather, S, Bears. Age: 28. -- Signed with Redskins (2 years, $6 million)
Anthony Adams, DT, Bears. Age: 32.
Zackary Bowman, CB, Bears. Age: 27. -- Signed with Vikings (1 year)
Roy Williams, WR, Bears. Age: 30.
Caleb Hanie, QB, Bears. Age: 27. -- Signed with Broncos
Divisional Rival History: Detroit Lions: The teams split in 2011. Chicago had won 10 of 12 before that. Green Bay Packers: Jay Cutler is 1-5 against the Packers. Minnesota Vikings: The home team has claimed 16 of 19. This excludes that weird game at the University of Minnesota.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2012 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)