Chicago Bears (Last Year: 8-8)
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2014 NFL Season Preview:
WR Domenik Hixon, WR Josh Morgan, C Brian De La Puente, DE Jared Allen, DE Lamarr Houston, DE Willie Young, DE Trevor Scott, OLB Jordan Senn, S Adrian Wilson, S M.D. Jennings, S Ryan Mundy, S Danny McCray.
Early Draft Picks:
CB/S Kyle Fuller, DT Ego Ferguson, DT Will Sutton, RB Ka'Deem Carey, S Brock Vereen. Bears Rookie Forecast
QB Josh McCown, RB Michael Bush, WR Earl Bennett, DE Julius Peppers, DE Corey Wootton, DT Henry Melton, OLB James Anderson, CB Zackary Bowman, S Major Wright, P Adam Podlesh, KR Devin Hester.
2014 Chicago Bears Offense:
The Bears had one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL this past season. They averaged 27.8 points per game despite the fact that their starting quarterback was out for a quarter of the year. There's only one thing that could potentially prevent the team from matching its great offensive output, and that would be another injury to Jay Cutler.
Chicago was very fortunate to have Josh McCown available in 2013; otherwise, its season would've gone up in flames. The Bears ultimately missed the playoffs, but they were highly competitive until the very end. McCown is gone now, however, so all the team has as an alternative to Cutler is Jordan Palmer, David Fales and Jimmy Clausen. This wouldn't be a huge problem if Cutler weren't so injury-prone. Cutler hasn't played a full 16-game slate since 2009; he's missed 12 contests in the past three seasons. It's likely that he'll be out for at least a couple of games, so Chicago will probably struggle in his absence, despite Marc Trestman's best efforts.
The coaching staff needs to make sure Cutler is protected as well as possible to avoid using one of those three aforementioned backup scrubs. For that to happen, the Bears need to have their young linemen block better. This is mainly pointing at right tackle Jordan Mills, who struggled mightily as a rookie. Mills couldn't pass block to save his life for most of the year, though he did improve toward the end. The team's other rookie, Kyle Long, was much better at right guard, but still was pretty inconsistent. He was a first-round choice, so he has potential and should improve as a consequence.
The left side of the offensive line is much better. Jermon Bushrod held up well at left tackle, save for an embarrassing matchup against Robert Quinn in the middle of the season. Left guard Matt Slauson was the best blocker on the team this past season, while center Roberto Garza was solid as well.
If Cutler can stay on his feet, he should be able to post monstrous numbers. He has two All-Pro-caliber receivers to throw to, after all. He and Brandon Marshall have great chemistry, and now defenses can't completely focus on Marshall because Alshon Jeffery has emerged. Jeffery actually posted more receiving yards than Marshall (1,421 to 1,295), and he's just 24, so the sky is the limit for him. Cutler will also be able to target Martellus Bennett once again; the big tight end hauled in 65 passes for 759 yards in 2013.
The running game was also extremely effective. Matt Forte rushed for 1,339 yards and nine touchdowns on a 4.6 YPC clip. He also logged 74 receptions out of the backfield, which was a seasonal career-high for him. Trestman promised to have Forte more involved on offense, so that would explain why his catch count increased by 30.
2014 Chicago Bears Defense:
As good as Chicago's offense was, the defense was even worse. The unit ranked last or close to it in almost every major category, surrendering 29.9 points per contest. Wholesale changes had to be made, but it doesn't appear as though the front office did enough.
The Bears spent most of the offseason signing defensive ends. They brought in four of them: Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and Trevor Scott. However, this isn't as impressive as it sounds, given that the team lost Julius Peppers and Corey Wootton in the process. Peppers showed major signs of decline this past season, but the same could be said for Allen, who figures to start across from Houston; the former Raider had a terrific 2013 season. Young and Scott will provide quality depth.
The interior of the defensive line is more of an issue. The Bears spent a couple of second-day selections on the interior, taking Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton. However, Ferguson is raw, while Sutton is more of a situational pass-rusher. Otherwise, Chicago didn't do anything to improve this area. Jay Ratliff and Stephen Paea will be back, but neither played very well this past season.
Chicago didn't bring in anyone to help with what was a very weak linebacking corps this past season. Lance Briggs, the top player in that group, was in the lineup for just nine games in 2013 because of a shoulder injury. He'll be back, but the concern with him is that he'll turn 34 in November. He'll probably decline, but even if he does, he's still much better than what Chicago had this past season, which includes rookies Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene, both of whom struggled. At least one will have to improve. Meanwhile, bust defensive end Shea McClellin will be moving to strongside linebacker in an attempt to spark his career. That move probably won't pan out.
Speaking of rookies, Chicago used its first-round selection this May on Kyle Fuller, an explosive, 6-foot defensive back. Fuller can basically play anywhere in the secondary. He might eventually be used at safety, but it sounds like he'll be utilized at outside cornerback across from Charles Tillman, with Tim Jennings moving inside to nickel. Tillman struggled this past season, but he played through injury, so he might be able to rebound. Jennings will at least perform well, so it's sounding like Chicago's cornerback group should be better in 2014.
The same, however, can't be said for the safeties. The top five players at the position are the anemic Chris Conte, the awful M.D. Jennings, the decrepit Adrian Wilson, journeyman backup Ryan Mundy and fourth-round rookie Brock Vereen. Unless Vereen proves to be a pleasant surprise right away, the Bears will surrender tons of deep passing plays once again this season.
2014 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 four seasons, the Bears are 21-13 as hosts and 17-15 as visitors.
Chicago's special teams usually rank among the league's elite, but Devin Hester won't be returning kickoffs or punts for them for the first time since 2005. On the bright side, the Bears defend the opposition very well.
Robbie Gould definitely deserves the 4-year, $15 million contract he received in December. He went 26-of-29 in 2013, and he's 11-of-12 from 50-plus the past three seasons.
Adam Podlesh was one of the league's worst punters in 2013, which would explain why Chicago spent a sixth-round pick on Miami's Pat O'Donnell.
The Bears have a mixed schedule. They have to deal with tough opponents like the 49ers, Saints, Patriots and Packers twice. However, they also get the Bills, Jets, Dolphins, Panthers, Cowboys and Vikings twice.
2014 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.
2014 Chicago Bears Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2014 Chicago Bears Analysis:
The Bears will once again be competitive, and they will have a chance to claim the NFC North. However, they won't have the luxury of both having a capable backup for when Jay Cutler gets hurt and seeing Aaron Rodgers go down for half the season. Considering the state of its defense, Chicago will probably have to enter the playoffs via the wild-card route.
10-6 (2nd in NFC North)
2014 Fantasy Football Rankings
More 2014 NFL Season Previews
NFL Draft Team Grade: B-
Goals Entering the 2014 NFL Draft:
Defense, defense, defense. The Bears have to bolster every single level of their stop unit with multiple upgrades. They may take a running back or tight end late in the draft, but they have to focus on fixing their pathetic defense.
2014 NFL Draft Accomplishments:
I only really disliked two of Chicago's selections: Second-rounder Ego Ferguson was a reach, while Pat O'Donnell in the sixth frame was a bit silly because he's a punter. Yes, Rich Eisen, punters are people too, but that doesn't mean they should be chosen in the sixth round.
The Bears otherwise made three quality selections in the first four rounds to improve their defense. Phil Emery loves picking players who can be used at multiple positions, so Kyle Fuller made a ton of sense because he can start at cornerback and safety. Will Sutton should be able to improve the interior of the defensive front, while Brock Vereen provided great value at the end of the fourth frame.
Chicago had somewhat of a decent haul overall, but I just wish it used its second-rounder on a better prospect to improve its stop unit.
NFL Draft Individual Grades:
14. Kyle Fuller, CB/S, Virginia Tech: B+ Grade
Everyone on ESPN is saying that the Bears landed a talented cornerback, but I'm not so sure Kyle Fuller plays corner. I've heard they like him as a safety. He does fit what Phil Emery looks for in defenders, and that's why I had him selecting Fuller in my mock. There's no doubt that he fills a big need, and he was undoubtedly one of the better players on the board.
51. Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU: C- Grade
I don't think this is as much of a reach as Mel Kiper and Todd McShay are making it out to be. I had him in the third round though, so the Bears are still taking him too early. Ego Ferguson fills a need, but Chicago could have waited on him and chosen another (better) defender who could help them against Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford.
82. Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State: B+ Grade
This Chicago defensive tackle pick is not a reach. Will Sutton was seen as a potential first-round prospect entering the 2013 season, but he struggled mightily this past fall. If Sutton can lose the bad weight he put on, he could regain his great pass-rushing ability, which will obviously come in handy against Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford.
117. Ka'Deem Carey, RB, Arizona: B- Grade
I thought the Bears would pick a running back, but I figured it would be later, given all of their issues on defense. Ka'Deem Carey fits the range and fills a need as depth behind Matt Forte. He's also a good match for Marc Trestman's offense, but Chicago should have addressed the other side of the ball.
131. Brock Vereen, S, Minnesota: A- Grade
No surprise that the Bears are picking a defensive back. They traded up into this slot, but it's worth it because Brock Vereen is a minor steal. Vereen was projected by some to be a third-round pick, so this is a nice value selection.
183. David Fales, QB, San Jose State: B Grade
Phil Emery is a liar. He told the media that he didn't see the point in drafting quarterbacks late because they seldom panned out. I don't mind this pick though because David Fales could have gone earlier. Chicago needed a backup quarterback.
191. Pat O'Donnell, P, Miami: C- Grade
I'll never give a good grade for a punter because they can be signed off the street. Unless a punter comes along who can blast the ball 80 yards every single time, I'll never go higher than a C.
246. Charles Leno, OT/G, Boise State: A- Grade
The Bears love picking players who can play multiple positions. That applies to Charles Leno, who can be used at tackle and guard. He probably should have gone in Rounds 5-6, so this is a nice value pick.
It's ironic that after decades of great defense and inept quarterback play, the Bears would deal with a controversy involving two talented signal-callers when their stop unit completely fell apart. Josh McCown played extremely well when Jay Cutler was out of the lineup, but Marc Trestman opted to go with Cutler upon the starter's return. Chicago lost two of its final three games, but that wasn't Cutler's fault; the defense simply couldn't stop the opposition.
Bears sign S Adrian Wilson
Bears cut DE Israel Idonije
Patriots sign OLB James Anderson
Browns sign WR Earl Bennett
Bears sign WR Josh Morgan
Steelers sign P Adam Podlesh
Bears sign C Brian De La Puente
Buccaneers sign S Major Wright
Bears re-sign OT Eben Britton
Giants sign CB Zackary Bowman
Bears sign DE Jared Allen
Vikings sign DE Corey Wootton
Falcons sign KR Devin Hester
Bears re-sign CB Sherrick McManis
Cowboys sign DT Henry Melton
Bears sign S Danny McCray
Bears re-sign S Craig Steltz
Bears sign DE Israel Idonije
Bears cut WR Earl Bennett
Packers sign DE Julius Peppers
Bears re-sign CB Charles Tillman
Bears re-sign TE Dante Rosario
Bears sign DE Willie Young
Bears sign WR Domenik Hixon
Bears sign S M.D. Jennings
Buccaneers sign QB Josh McCown
Bears cut DE Julius Peppers
Bears re-sign ILB D.J. Williams
Bears sign S Ryan Mundy
Bears sign DE Lamarr Houston
Bears sign OLB Jordan Senn
Bears cut RB Michael Bush
Bears re-sign DT Nate Collins
Bears re-sign QB Jodan Palmer
Bears sign DE Trevor Scott
Bears re-sign DT Jay Ratliff
Bears cut P Adam Podlesh
Bears re-sign CB Kelvin Hayden
Bears cut TE Dante Rosario
Bears re-sign C Roberto Garza
- Two Safeties: Major Wright is a free agent. Chris Conte, well, I don't think Chicago fans are going to forget his ineptitude in the win-and-in season finale anytime soon. Signed Ryan Mundy, Adrian Wilson, M.D. Jennings and Danny McCray
- Defensive Tackle: Henry Melton is a free agent. He's coming off a poor season with some off-the-field incidents, so perhaps the Bears can re-sign him cheaply. If not, the 14th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft could be used on this position. Re-signed Jay Ratliff
- Two Cornerbacks: Chicago was able to re-sign Tim Jennings, but Charles Tillman will need to be replaced, as his contract has expired. Two corners have to be added: One as a new starter, and the second one for depth. There will be lots of options this May. Re-signed Kelvin Hayden and Charles Tillman
- Defensive End: Julius Peppers, coming off a disappointing 7.5-sack campaign, counts more than $18 million against the cap. It's sounding like he could be let go. If that's the case, a replacement will be needed. Signed Lamarr Houston, Jared Allen, Willie Young and Trevor Scott
- Strongside Linebacker: The Bears had major issues at linebacker this past season. Lance Briggs was hurt, while Jon Bostic struggled, though he was a second-round rookie, so he can improve. The team's greatest liability was at the strongside position with James Anderson.
- Center: Roberto Garza is a 35-year-old free agent. The Bears will obviously need a new center if they can't retain him. Re-signed Roberto Garza
- Running Back Depth: Michael Bush was released, so depth is needed here.
- Right Tackle: Jordan Mills struggled last season, but he was a mere fifth-round rookie, so he'll be given another chance.
- Tight End Depth: Dante Rosario is a free agent. Depth will have to be obtained behind Martellus Bennett. Re-signed Dante Rosario
- Punter: The Bears released Adam Podlesh.
Follow me @walterfootball for updates.
2014 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Lamarr Houston, DE, Raiders. Age: 27.
Signed with Bears (5 years, $35 million)
Lamarr Houston, the Raiders' best player, is a strong pass-rusher and is even better at shutting down the run. He'll only be 27 in June, so he deserves a massive contract.
Jared Allen, DE, Vikings. Age: 32.
Signed with Bears (4 years, $32 million)
Jared Allen has been one of the NFL's top pass-rushers over the past seven years, but he struggled a bit at times this past season. A sign of age, or was this just a fluke? The team that signs him to a big contract will have to worry about Allen declining at 32.
Willie Young, DE, Lions. Age: 28.
Signed with Bears (3 years, $9 million)
The sack numbers don't show it, but Willie Young had a solid season both in terms of rushing the passer and stuffing the run. At just 28, he deserves a fairly decent-sized contract.
Brian De La Puente, C, Saints. Age: 29.
Signed with Bears (1 year)
Brian De La Puente has been a quality starting center for the Saints during the past few seasons. He deserves a decently sized contract.
Ryan Mundy, S, Giants. Age: 29.
Signed with Bears (2 years)
Ryan Mundy has done well filling in for injured players at the safety position. He's strong against the run, but is somewhat weak in coverage.
- Adrian Wilson, S, Patriots. Age: 34. -- Signed with Bears
- M.D. Jennings (RFA), S, Packers. Age: 26. -- Signed with Bears
- Josh Morgan, WR, Redskins. Age: 29. -- Signed with Bears
- Domenik Hixon, WR, Panthers. Age: 29. -- Signed with Bears
- Danny McCray, S, Cowboys. Age: 26. -- Signed with Bears (1 year)
- Jordan Senn, OLB, Panthers. Age: 30. -- Signed with Bears (1 year)
Chicago Bears Free Agents:
Salary Cap: TBA.
Henry Melton, DT, Bears. Age: 27.
Signed with Cowboys
Henry Melton was one of Chicago's top defenders entering the 2013 season, but he struggled prior to tearing his ACL in late September. He was also charged for misdemeanor assault in October. He should be able to rebound if healthy, but the knee injury is a natural concern.
Major Wright, S, Bears. Age: 26.
Signed with Buccaneers (1 year)
Major Wright played very well in 2012, but had an awful 2013 campaign. Perhaps he deserves a mulligan, as he battled neck and hamstring injuries all season. He's only 26, so he should be able to rebound.
Julius Peppers, DE, Bears. Age: 34.
Signed with Packers (3 years, $30 million; $7.5 million guaranteed)
Julius Peppers did not look like the same player in 2013. He recorded 7.5 sacks, which isn't indicative of how poorly he played. He struggled to put pressure on the quarterback and was pushed around in run support. Peppers, who turned 34 in January, will never be dominant again, but there is some bounce-back potential if he's motivated enough.
Roberto Garza, C/G, Bears. Age: 35.
Re-signed with Bears (1 year, $1.5 million)
The versatile Roberto Garza had yet another solid season for the Bears. Unfortunately, he'll turn 35 in March.
Charles Tillman, CB, Bears. Age: 33.
Re-signed with Bears (1 year)
Charles Tillman used to be known as one of the NFL's top cornerbacks, but he struggled mightily in 2013 before tearing his triceps. Perhaps he'll be able to rebound, but given that he'll turn 33 in February, there's a chance he has completely fallen off.
Devin Hester, KR, Bears. Age: 31.
Signed with Falcons (3 years)
The greatest return specialist in NFL history, Devin Hester proved that he's still dangerous by taking back a punt for a touchdown in 2013. He'll be 32 in November though, so it remains to be seen how much longer he'll be effective.
Josh McCown, QB, Bears. Age: 35.
Signed with Buccaneers (2 years)
Josh McCown credited Kurt Warner for his improved play. Perhaps Warner should be an NFL coach because McCown was prolific when starting in place of Jay Cutler, completing 66.5 percent of his passes and maintaining a 13-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio on an 8.2 YPA.
Corey Wootton, DE, Bears. Age: 27.
Signed with Vikings (1 year)
Corey Wootton happens to be solid in run support, but he's only average when it comes to rushing the passer. He had seven sacks in 2012, but saw that number cut in half this past season.
James Anderson, OLB, Bears. Age: 30.
Signed with Patriots
James Anderson covered well this past season, but was exposed against the run after Henry Melton was sidelined with an injury.
- D.J. Williams, ILB, Bears. Age: 31. -- Re-signed with Bears
- Zackary Bowman, CB, Bears. Age: 29. -- Signed with Giants
- Dante Rosario, TE, Bears. Age: 29. -- Re-signed with Bears
- Jay Ratliff, DT, Bears. Age: 33. -- Re-signed with Bears (2 years)
- Earl Bennett, WR, Bears. Age: 27. -- Signed with Browns (1 year)
- Michael Bush, RB, Bears. Age: 30.
- Eben Britton, OT, Bears. Age: 26. -- Re-signed with Bears
- Blake Costanzo, OLB, Bears. Age: 30.
- Nate Collins, DT, Bears. Age: 26. -- Re-signed with Bears (1 year)
- Craig Steltz, S, Bears. Age: 28. -- Re-signed with Bears (1 year)
- Adam Podlesh, P, Bears. Age: 31. -- Signed with Steelers
- Kelvin Hayden, CB, Bears. Age: 31. Re-signed with Bears (1 year)
- Sherrick McManis, CB, Bears. Age: 26. -- Re-signed with Bears
- Anthony Walters (RFA), S, Bears. Age: 25.
- Jonathan Scott, OT, Bears. Age: 31.
- Jordan Palmer, QB, Bears. Age: 30. -- Re-signed with Bears (1 year)
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