TE Martellus Bennett, TE Steve Maneri, OT Jermon Bushrod, G Matt Slauson, G Eben Britton, DE Kyle Moore, DE Turk McBride, DT Sedrick Ellis, DT Andre Fluellen, OLB James Anderson, S Tom Zbikowski.
Early Draft Picks:
G Kyle Long, ILB Jon Bostic, OLB Khaseem Greene, OT Jordan Mills. Bears Rookie Forecast Offseason Losses:
QB Jason Campbell, WR Johnny Knox, TE Kellen Davis, TE Matt Spaeth, G Gabe Carimi, G Chilo Rachal, G Lance Louis, C Chris Spencer, DE Israel Idonije, DT Matt Toeaina, OLB Nick Roach, OLB Geno Hayes, ILB Brian Urlacher, CB D.J. Moore.
2013 Chicago Bears Offense:
The band was back together. All seemed well, until everyone remembered that there were only two members in the band. Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall reunited after spending three years apart and didn't skip a beat; Cutler targeted Marshall heavily, and the talented wideout responded by catching a career-high 118 balls for 1,508 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The problem with the 2012 Cutler-to-Marshall connection was that Marshall was the only receiver Cutler could throw to. The other wideouts either struggled to get open or failed to stay healthy. There were no tight ends to speak of either. Chicago's front office absolutely had to do something about this in the spring. It brought in former Giants' tight end Martellus Bennett via free agency. Bennett was an inconsistent player in New York last year, though he still managed to log 55 receptions for 626 yards and five touchdowns. He's much better than Kellen Davis, Matt Spaeth and the other tight ends Chicago had on the roster in 2012.
Bennett was the only addition, so the Bears have to hope that Alshon Jeffery improves. Jeffery, chosen in the second round last April, had his moments - a 3-80-TD line in the opener and a 4-76 outing in the finale - but didn't do much in between because he suffered through two injuries. Having said that, Jeffery has been working very hard this offseason, reportedly trimming down from 12-percent body fat to 8 percent. Having Jeffery as a viable option would help Cutler decrease his turnovers (18; 14 interceptions, 4 lost fumbles) and raise his touchdown number (19).
Cutler is also expected to lean heavily on Matt Forte in the passing game. Forte had a career-low 44 receptions in 2012, but that figure is expected to rise into the 60s because head coach Marc Trestman likes to have his running backs catch passes. Forte should also reach 1,000 rushing yards again; he's hit 929 or more in each of his five NFL seasons.
Something the Bears have failed to do ever since acquiring Cutler is protect him appropriately. The gun-slinger has taken far too many sacks over the years. In an effort to change that, Chicago made two bold moves concerning the offensive line this offseason. It first signed left tackle Jermon Bushrod to a 5-year, $36 million contract on March 12. Bushrod surrendered just four sacks as New Orleans' blind-side protector last year, but that's a bogus number because Drew Brees gets rid of the football so quickly. If Bushrod were protecting a normal quarterback, his sack total may have approached double digits. He's not much of an upgrade over J'Marcus Webb, who will move over to the right side.
Chicago's second bold move was spending the No. 20 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft on guard Kyle Long. The Oregon product has immense upside, but was way too raw to be chosen in the middle of the first round - especially considering that he plays a position of low value. Nevertheless, Long will be an upgrade over what the Bears had at right guard last season (Lance Louis and Gabe Carimi). Carimi, a first-round bust, was traded to Tampa Bay, allowing former Jet Matt Slauson to take over. Center Roberto Garza is solid, but on the downside of his career at the age of 34.
2013 Chicago Bears Defense:
The Brian Urlacher era is finally over. One of the all-time greats in Bears' history, Urlacher was released because the two parties couldn't agree to financial specifications. There was some talk that Urlacher would sign with the Vikings, but the eight-time Pro Bowler ultimately decided to retire. He's fully expected to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, sometime between five to seven years from now.
As for the present, Chicago will need to move on without him. Though his skills had clearly eroded by 2012, his leadership and instincts on the field will be missed. The Bears signed D.J. Williams in free agency, but the 31-year-old former Bronco was perceived to be just a temporary solution in the middle of the defense. Chicago's front office agreed, spending a second-round pick on Florida linebacker Jon Bostic. Williams was signed to just a 1-year deal, so it's likely that Bostic will take over as the starter in 2014 - unless he really impresses in training camp and preseason.
Bostic wasn't the only linebacker chosen relatively early this April. Chicago used a fourth-rounder on Rutgers' Khaseem Greene, which was considered a steal. Greene will sit behind Lance Briggs, who is still playing on a high level. However, Briggs, 33 in November, will be a free agent in March 2015. Greene may take over in two years. Meanwhile, the other linebacker spot will be manned by former Panther James Anderson, who isn't very good. There's no long-term solution for him just yet, but perhaps Williams can move into that spot if Bostic shows enough to start right away.
The linebacking corps is the only area in which Chicago made drastic changes this offseason. Everything else remained pretty static, save for the departure of defensive end Israel Idonije. Losing Idonije isn't a big deal even though he was sound against the run and recorded 7.5 sacks last year. That's because the Bears have Corey Wootton (7 sacks) and 2012 first-rounder Shea McClellin ready to take over across from Julius Peppers, who is still at the top of his game. Peppers logged 11.5 sacks last season.
The Bears also have a strong pass-rushing presence in the interior of their defensive line. Henry Melton, who has developed into one of the league's top defensive tackles, notched six sacks in 2012 - a high number for a player at his position. He'll once again start next to Stephen Paea, who is an underwhelming player. There wasn't much depth behind those two until Sedrick Ellis was signed in June.
With so much pressure from the front seven, Chicago's secondary will be able to thrive again. Charles "Peanut" Tillman and Tim Jennings played like one of the NFL's top cornerback tandems this past season, combining for a whopping 12 interceptions. Unfortunately, there is very little depth behind the two starters. The Bears will have to do something about this quite soon because both Tillman and Jennings will be hitting free agency next spring.
Chicago has similar issues at safety, as Major Wright is also entering his contract year. Re-signing Wright will be extremely important because he's a very sound defensive back with no weaknesses to his game. He'll once again start next to Chris Conte, who is decent in coverage. The Bears actually have depth here with Tom Zbikowski and Craig Steltz.
2013 Chicago Bears Schedule and Intangibles:
There surprisingly hasn't been much of a disparity between Chicago's home and road records recently. Over the past three seasons, the Bears are 16-10 as hosts and 14-10 as visitors.
Chicago's special teams usually rank among the league's elite, but the unit disappointed in 2012. Devin Hester failed to find the end zone, and the team was actually outgained on kickoff returns.
Robbie Gould definitely deserved the 6-year, $15.5 million contract he received two springs ago. He went 21-of-25 last year. More impressively he's a perfect 8-of-8 from 50-plus the past couple of seasons.
Adam Podlesh tied for 18th in net-punting average last season, but was fourth in attempts placed inside the 20.
The Bears have a pretty taxing schedule. They open up with two games against teams that made the playoffs last year (Bengals, Vikings), and then five of their next six contests are against the Steelers, Saints, Giants, Redskins and Packers. The Ravens loom two weeks after that Green Bay contest.
2013 Chicago Bears Rookies:
Go here for the Bears Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.
2013 Chicago Bears Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2013 Chicago Bears Analysis: Chicago has improved its supporting cast and bolstered its offensive line, all of which has to make Jay Cutler extremely happy. The Bears seem poised to overtake the Vikings as the second-place team in the NFC North, but they don't have enough to unseat the Packers just yet. However, they'll definitely contend for a playoff spot, so they may get a third shot against hated Green Bay in January again.
Please note that the overall grade is not an average of all the individual grades. Other things are taken into account like team needs and goals.
Goals Entering the 2013 NFL Draft: Different year, same strategy: The Bears must build around Jay Cutler. The Martellus Bennett and Matt Slauson signings were nice, but help is still needed at left tackle. A speed receiver and another tight end would really help as well. And of course, Brian Urlacher is gone, so a new middle linebacker will have to be considered.
2013 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Chicago's draft class very much mirrors the Giants'. Like Justin Pugh at 19, Kyle Long was a reach at 20, but again, it wasn't nearly as bad as what the Cowboys would do 11 selections later. And like New York, the Bears would recover and draft solid talents who filled positions of need.
The Bears did a good job of bolstering their linebacking corps. Jon Bostic will be the heir apparent to Brian Urlacher, while Khaseem Greene, a major steal at No. 117, will be an effective player on the outside in the future.
Excluding Greene, my favorite pick of Chicago's was Cornelius Washington at No. 188. Many considered him a mid second-day prospect, so to obtain him in Round 6 as a potential future replacement for Julius Peppers was phenomenal. The next pick, Marquess Wilson (No. 236), provides tons of upside. He quit on his football team at Washington State, but that may not have been entirely his fault. He has the potential to be a solid weapon for Jay Cutler down the road.
Overall, I'm a fan of what Chicago did, save for its first-round choice. As I did with the Giants, I'm rewarding this front office with a solid "B".
2013 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
20. Kyle Long, G, Oregon: D Grade
Well... at least this fills... a need... Umm... I'm kind of speechless right now. With Tyler Eifert and stud defenders like Desmond Trufant and Sylvester Williams available, the Bears decided to take an inexperienced second-round guard. Long may have been around for Chicago's next selection, so this pick is extremely questionable.
50. Jon Bostic, ILB, Florida: B Grade
The Bears hope they've landed their successor for Brian Urlacher. Middle linebacker was a big need, and Jon Bostic is definitely worthy of being chosen 50th overall. I would have gone with Arthur Brown, but there must be major medical concerns with him because he has first-round talent.
117. Khaseem Greene, OLB, Rutgers: A Grade
Khaseem Greene was viewed as a second-round talent by many, but it's not too surprising to see him fall a bit because he doesn't fit many defenses. The Bears don't mind though, as they fill a need with a good value selection.
163. Jordan Mills, OT, Louisiana Tech: B Grade
So, I guess the Bears wanted to focus on the offensive line and linebacker groups in the draft. Jordan Mills is a right tackle who should be able to challenge J'Marcus Webb. He fits the range, so this is a solid pick.
188. Cornelius Washington, DE, Georgia: A+ Grade
I don't understand why Cornelius Washington fell to the middle of the sixth round. Washington is a Day 2 talent. He is raw, but that's fine because the Bears won't really need him until Julius Peppers moves on.
236. Marquess Wilson, WR, Washington State: A- Grade
Why not? Marquess Wilson was once considered a second-round prospect, but he quit on his team because he didn't get along with head coach Mike Leach. It has to be considered that Leach is a bad guy, so Chicago is right to take a shot on Wilson.
The Bears were 7-1 in early November and looked poised for a deep playoff run. Then, the injuries came. Jay Cutler suffered a concussion in a loss to the Texans, while several defenders also went down. The result was a 3-5 finish that got Lovie Smith fired.
Lions sign DE Israel Idonije
Bears sign DT Sedrick Ellis
Buccaneers acquire G/OT Gabe Carimi from Bears for sixth-round pick
Bears announce retirement of ILB Brian Urlacher
Bears sign G Eben Britton
Cardinals sign G Chilo Rachal
Bears sign DT Andre Fluellen
Bears sign DE Kyle Moore
Bears re-sign QB Josh McCown
Bears sign G Matt Slauson
Dolphins sign G Lance Louis
Browns sign QB Jason Campbell
Bears re-sign CB Kelvin Hayden
Bears re-sign OT Jonathan Scott
Bears sign OLB James Anderson
Bears sign S Tom Zbikowski
Browns sign TE Kellen Davis
Bears sign TE Steve Maneri
Bears sign DE Turk McBride
Panthers sign CB D.J. Moore
Steelers sign TE Matt Spaeth
Bears re-sign CB Zackary Bowman
Raiders sign OLB Nick Roach
Bears re-sign DT Nate Collins
Jaguars sign OLB Geno Hayes
Bears cut DT Matt Toeaina
Bears cut TE Kellen Davis
Bears sign TE Martellus Bennett
Bears sign OT Jermon Bushrod
Bears franchise DT Henry Melton
Bears announce retirement of WR Johnny Knox
Offensive Tackle: Fixing the offensive line is priority No. 1 this offseason. J'Marcus Webb was beaten early, but improved as the season went along, so I don't know if the Bears want to keep him at left tackle or move him to the right side. Either way, they need help at tackle. Signed Jermon Bushrod; drafted Jordan Mills
Left Guard: Another position that desperately needs to be upgraded. Chance Warmack has to be the pick if he's on the board at No. 20. Signed Matt Slauson and Eben Britton; drafted Kyle Long
Two Linebackers: Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach are free agents, but both needed to be upgraded anyway. I know Urlacher was hurt last year, but he was awful. He'll be 35 in May. Drafted Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene; signed D.J. Williams and James Anderson
Tight End: Jay Cutler needs someone to throw to besides Brandon Marshall. A dependable intermediate target would be a big boost. Signed Martellus Bennett
Defensive Tackle: The Bears cannot allow Henry Melton, their top pass-rusher, to walk away. Even if he's retained, depth is needed here. Franchised Henry Melton; signed Sedrick Ellis and Andre Fluellen
Wide Receiver: Alshon Jeffery is expected to develop into a capable No. 2 receiver across from Marshall, but the Bears should still add another receiver.
Cornerback: Three of Chicago's top six cornerbacks from last year are free agents. Re-signed Kelvin Hayden and Zackary Bowman
Quarterback: Jason Campbell didn't work out as Jay Cutler's backup. He's a free agent anyway. Re-signed Josh McCown
2013 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Martellus Bennett, TE, Giants. Age: 26. Signed with Bears
Martellus Bennett was solid all around for the Giants in terms of receiving and blocking. He proved that he can be a quality starting tight end in the NFL, so he'll be rewarded accordingly.
Matt Slauson, G, Jets. Age: 27. Signed with Bears)
Matt Slauson is sound in pass protection, but doesn't run block very well. He beat out Vladimir Ducasse for the starting left guard job in 2012.
D.J. Williams, OLB, Broncos. Age: 31. Signed with Bears
D.J. Williams has missed lots of time over the past couple of years because of injuries and suspensions. He can be a decent starter if he's on the field, but he'll be 31 in July.
Jermon Bushrod, OT, Saints. Age: 29. Signed with Bears
Jermon Bushrod run blocks well, but he can't pass protect at all. He surrendered four sacks in 2012, but that number would've been much higher if Drew Brees didn't release the ball so quickly.
Sedrick Ellis, DT, Saints. Age: 28. Signed with Bears
Sedrick Ellis has been an enormous bust for the Saints as the No. 7 pick in the 2008 NFL Draft. There's still time for him to turn his career around though.
Kyle Moore, DE, Bills. Age: 26. -- Signed with Bears
Eben Britton, G, Jaguars. Age: 25. -- Signed with Bears
Tom Zbikowski, S, Colts. Age: 28. -- Signed with Bears (1 year)
James Anderson, OLB, Panthers. Age: 29. -- Signed with Bears (1 year)
Steve Maneri (RFA), TE, Chiefs. Age: 25. -- Signed with Bears
Andre Fluellen, DT, Lions. Age: 28. -- Signed with Bears
Turk McBride, DE, Saints. Age: 28. -- Signed with Bears
Chicago Bears Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Henry Melton, DT, Bears. Age: 26. Re-signed with Bears (1 year, $8.5 million)
Henry Melton is one of the top interior pass-rushers in all of football. He could stand to be better against the run, but he deserves a big contract after getting to the quarterback more effectively than Julius Peppers.
Israel Idonije, DE, Bears. Age: 32. Signed with Lions (1 year)
Israel Idonije is coming off a fantastic season in terms of getting to the quarterback (7.5 sacks) and stopping the run. He'll be 33 in November, however.
Brian Urlacher, ILB, Bears. Age: 35. Announced retirement
Based on the way he played last year, Brian Urlacher probably deserves 1.5 stars. He was terrible. However, he was hurt throughout, so maybe he can recover and be at least an OK starter again.
Nick Roach, OLB, Bears. Age: 28. Signed with Raiders
Nick Roach hasn't been a liability as a starting linebacker, but Chicago can do better.
Matt Spaeth, TE, Bears. Age: 29. Signed with Steelers
Matt Spaeth is an awesome blocker, but doesn't offer much as a receiver.