As promised, we’re back with part two: A look at the Chicago Bears.
Where they were heading into the offseason: The trade for Jay Cutler gave some Bears fans hope 2009 would be a good season. Not so much. Cutler was his typical up-and-down self, only this time there were more downs and ups (26 picks). The Bears were near the bottom third in points scored (19th, 20.4 per) and points allowed (21st. 23.4 per). The defense, usually the staple of Lovie Smith’s teams, struggled in other areas, as well: 22nd in interceptions and 27th in third down conversions allowed. The result of all this? A 7-9 finish.
Where they were heading into free agency: On the first full day of free agency, the Bears declared themselves the kings of the market, dishing out roughly $121 million. Obviously, the majority of that dough went to defensive end Julius Peppers ($91 mil), but the signings of running back Chester Taylor ($12.5 mil) and tight end Brandon Manumaleuna ($17 million) were not cheap, either. Not surprisingly, the Bears did little after that, outside of signing cornerback Tim Jennings and releasing corner Nathan Vasher, a long-time key player for that defense.
Where they were heading into the draft: The trades for Cutler and defensive end Gaines Adams (who, sadly, passed away in January) left Chicago with no picks in either of the first two rounds. The Bears targeted their defense with their first pick, safety Major Wright. Defense, for the most part, was focused on the rest of the way, too, with players like defensive end Corey Wooton and corner Joshua Moore being selected.
Where the Bears are now: Not much better than they were a year ago, from the looks of it. Yes, Chicago garnered a lot of attention for bringing Peppers on board. But to me, it’s never a good idea to dish out $91 million to a guy who only plays when he wants to (Peppers usually limits his good performances to national spotlight games and damn near disappears the rest of the time). Will there be five or six games where he dominates? Yes, but remember, it’s a 16-game season.
The money spent on Peppers/lack of top draft picks left the Bears completely unable to address the rest of their defense, a shell of its former self and aging, seemingly, in dog years. As a result, I don’t see how that unit is going to be any better, overrated Brian Urlacher staying healthy or not. Smith is a brilliant defensive mind, no question about it, but even he can only do so much, after all.
Not mentioned in any of the above sections were a pair of big coaching moves made by the Bears: the addition of offensive coordinator Mike Martz (picked only after Green Bay denied Chicago the opportunity to interview quarterbacks coach Tom Clements) and o-line coach Mike Tice.
I continued to be baffled as to why people talk Martz up as such a “genius.” It’s been a loooong time since his glory days in St. Louis and, last time I checked, Martz was a complete failure in both San Francisco and Detroit. He appears to have more talent here than he did in either of his last two stops, sure, but is he smart enough to coach them up? The Tice addition is a little better, as he knows how to work with o-linemen. But, again, there just isn’t a lot of talent in that group.
As for the actual players on offense, there are some positives. The Taylor signing was a nice move. He is a crafty veteran who’s a great pass catcher and will help in third down situations. There’s a pair of young receivers I also like in Devin Aromashodu and Johnny Knox.
Everyone talks about Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark, but if you look at Martz’s schemes, traditionally they don’t utilize the tight ends all that much. Will he change now? And there’s also the issue of Matt Forte not being anywhere near the player people thought he was going to be.
What does all this mean for Cutler?
Well, he should be better in 2010, if for no other reason than it’d be hard for him to be much worse. But I still feel like Cutler is more Jeff George than Brett Favre (the player Cutler clearly wants to be). His decision-making is just so awful at times and that isn’t likely to change playing behind a suspect line where he’ll have to make quick decisions. Plus, you have to wonder how well he and Martz – two very strong personalities – will mesh, particularly when times get tough.
When you add all this up, you come away with a picture of the Bears: A team with some big names and not-so-big resumes, a squad that is likely to hover around six or seven wins this year.
Lovie, get that realtor’s number handy.
Offseason grade: C-
We’ll be back Tuesday to look at the Minnesota Vikings.