Priority number one was finding a new head coach. Phil Emery and the Chicago Bears found theirs just north of the boarder in Marc Trestman, a man with marked yet unsustained success as an NFL assistant coach, who went to the CFL in 2008 and won back-to-back championships in his second and third years.
While many have both lauded and scoffed at the hire—scoffers citing Trestman’s ties to the inferior Canadian League as a negative—the fact that he was able to find such quick and absolute success in the CFL tells me something about his ability to lead a team. That seamless transition leads me to believe I can expect the same in 2013 upon his return to the NFL.
Trestman now expects to duplicate an immediate path to success here in Chicago, but in order to do it he’ll have a number of issues to address prior to the regular season. Side-by-side, he and GM Phil Emery are already scouting the next crop of NFL hopefuls at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL this week. With that in mind, and as things stand today, let’s have a look at what comes next.
In-house free agents
The Bears have 20 players on the current roster due to become free agents on March 12, 2013. Those players are (all players listed below are unrestricted free agents except as noted):
- RB Kahlil Bell
- CB Zack Bowman
- QB Jason Campbell
- CB Kelvin Hayden
- LB Geno Hayes
- DL Israel Idonije
- G Lance Louis
- K Olindo Mare
- QB Josh McCown
- DT Henry Melton
- DB D.J. Moore
- S Troy Nolan
- DT Amobi Okoye
- G Chilo Rachal
- LB Nick Roach
- T Jonathan Scott
- G Chris Spencer
- LB Brian Urlacher
- DT Nate Collins*
- RB Armando Allen**
* Denotes restricted free agent
** Denotes exclusive rights free agent
In a future post, we’ll begin to break down each of the names above, discussing their current value to the team and their probability of returning in 2013. But for our purposes here, the list is simply to help illustrate the first of many issues facing the front office.
One name that stands out to me right now is Lance Louis. Louis was easily the team’s most productive offensive lineman before tearing his left ACL in Week-12 last season. Louis underwent surgery to repair the damage, but the injury remains a question-mark moving forward because Louis is not expected to be ready to go by the start of training camp come late July.
Another name, of course, is Brian Urlacher. Where the team intends to go defensively long-term will be a factor in deciding his future, as well as his perceived durability. Where Urlacher stands now, he’s not in a good position to make big play to another team in free agency, so if the Bears want him, I think they’ll have the leverage they need to do it at the right price. But that remains to be seen.
External free agents
Chicago will also look at a myriad of external free agents to fill holes along the offensive line, the tight end position, and to bolster depth at other positions. The team will have money to play with—about $14.5M as currently constructed—to go out and add key contributors via free agency. Given their “building, not rebuilding” approach to the 2013 season, I do expect them to be players.
Big players? Not sure. But players.
Phil Emery may have a strong desire to build through the draft, but if he wants to get back to being a competitor this season, as has been the mantra, he’ll need more than the prospects he’ll choose with the 20th overall pick and beyond, especially without a third-round choice to boot.
If the Bears don’t add a starter to the offensive line in free agency, and at least one other who they believe can contribute early on via the Draft, I’d be marginally surprised. Marc Trestman is known by his colleagues for putting an emphasis on the offensive line and the security of the quarterback, and it will be his first priority in Chicago.
In fact, shoring up the trenches was one of the first things Trestman did in his inaugural season with the Montreal Alouettes. While I fully intend to get into ranking and breaking down some of who I believe to be the key external free agents in part two of the afore mentioned future-post, here are some of the offensive tackles who could be available for you to think on:
- Ryan Clady
- Jake Long
- Will Beatty
- Jermon Bushrod
- Branden Albert
- Sebastian Vollmer
Like I said above, I expect the Bears to select an offensive lineman in the early rounds of the Draft, which will begin on April 25. The other main position in need of attention, as noted by many, is the tight end position. The Bears will need to catch up with the rest of the League in this regard and broaden their horizons in the passing game with another reliable receiver who can strain the middle of the field.
Without a third-round choice (it goes to Miami in final payment on the Brandon Marshall deal), rounds one and two are about it for Chicago in terms of adding realistic contributors. Additionally, what they do in free agency will have a corollary effect on what they do in the Draft.
The Scouting Combine, by the way, will be held in Indianapolis, February 23-26.
Under contract cuts
This is the one people tend to miss. There are currently players on the Bears’ roster in danger of being cut based on a number of preexisting factors. With the addition of a new head coach, those factors could range from scheme fit, to performance issues, to cap figures, to trade bait, to all of the above.
Take Kellen Davis, for example. I’d label him a potential performance/scheme casualty. Julius Peppers, while less likely, could be a cap casualty. Devin Hester could turn into an all-of-the-abover. These instances will be fewer than some of the others, but it is an issue, as there is never a head coaching change devoid of roster conversion. No matter how miniscule.