The Chicago Bears' search for a new general manager concluded on Saturday when the club named Phil Emery as the fifth GM in franchise history. Here are five issues facing Emery, who meets the Chicago media for the first time Monday afternoon at Halas Hall:
1. The upcoming NFL Draft: The Bears’ failure to draft enough impact players, especially in the years following the 2006 Super Bowl berth, ultimately proved to be Jerry Angelo's undoing. Currently holding four picks in the first three rounds, it's critical for the Bears to hit on at least two impact players who can step in, stay healthy and potentially start. There are to be no more redshirt seasons. The Bears can no longer afford to draft the likes of Jarron Gilbert, Juaquin Iglesias, Dan Bazuin, Marcus Harrison and Michael Okwo in the earlier rounds. Emery was hired, partly, because of his extensive college scouting background. The quickest way to get a franchise back on the track is to draft well. The quickest way to destroy a franchise is to draft poorly. More than anything, Emery's tenure as Bears general manager will be defined by his draft record in the month of April.
2. Forte's deal: For whatever reason, the Bears and Angelo were unable to reach an agreement on a contract extension with Matt Forte last summer. Now that Forte is an unrestricted free agent, Emery has three choices; (1) sign Forte to a new contract, (2) apply the franchise tag or (3) trade the star running back. The best-case scenario would be for the two sides to resume talks and begin to try and find some common ground in regards to guaranteed money. If Emery can step in and close a fair deal that benefits both parties, it would earn him instant credibility with the fan base. Where Angelo failed, Emery could succeed.
3. Repairing the offense: The Bears have the quarterback (Jay Cutler) and the running back (Forte), but are in bad need of playmakers in the passing game at both wide receiver and tight end. Under Angelo, the Bears drafted a receiver in either the first or second round just once (Mark Bradley, 2005) and haven't paid a large sum of money to a wideout in free agency since Muhsin Muhammad that very same year. That needs to change. Mike Martz ruined the tight end position in Chicago. That needs to be fixed. If the Bears and Emery are smart, both can be accomplished this offseason.
4. Making it work with Lovie Smith: Smith has many strengths as a head coach. He treats star players like royalty, which in turn makes it easier for him to keep the locker room. He is a sharp defensive mind, even if people take issue with the actual system the Bears run. He's won his share of games, which in the end is all that really matters. And he is beloved by the McCaskey family. That last fact alone is some of the best job security a man can ask for. But Smith has issues when it comes to evaluating talent. This is where Emery needs to take control of the roster. There is nothing wrong with a coach giving his recommendations on players, but at the end of the day, Emery must be the decision maker, not Smith. Smith is a fine coach. Leave it at that.
5. Briggs situation: Don't forget about Lance Briggs. He either wants a new deal or wants to be traded. Briggs is still an elite player who was just voted to his seventh consecutive Pro Bowl. But he is under contract through 2013, and the Bears already paid him the bulk of the money in the first few years of the six-year extension he signed in March 2008. Briggs going public last year with his demands on the eve of the regular season really upset Angelo. Let's see how Emery responds.