With an aging defense full of question marks, the Bears have plenty of needs as they head into May's NFL draft.
At the scouting combine, general manager Phil Emery seemed to hint that he'd be open to dealing their first-round pick, repeatedly mentioning the depth of offensive playmakers at the top of the draft, not an area of need for the Bears.
So if you were Emery, would you make a deal to acquire more picks? Our panel weighs in on that and more in an offseason edition of Four Downs:
Fact or Fiction: The Bears should trade their 14th pick for more picks later in the draft.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. The Bears are open for business. The problem is most teams are in the same boat. In a perfect world, a team would always find a way to move back in the draft and stockpile additional picks. Think how valuable those extra draft choices would be this year as general manager Phil Emery attempts to rebuild the defense. But it takes two teams (at the minimum) to pull off a trade. The Bears would love to listen to offers for No. 14 if any come their way.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. The Bears aren't one player away on defense. Not that I advocate playing a ton of rookies, but the team needs depth and it needs depth at a good price. If they can get two picks in the top three rounds, preferably including a lower first-round one, for the 14th, go for it. That's why general manager Phil Emery shamelessly touted all of the offensive weapons available at that spot while speaking to reporters at the combine. The Bears' rare stability on offense gives them room to maneuver in the draft.
Fact or Fiction: Henry Melton is more likely to return to the Bears than Charles Tillman.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. This is tough one. I think both are 50/50 to return. I almost wonder if Melton, because of his age, will receive better offers in free agency than most of us expect, even though he is coming off an ACL injury. There is no reason for the Bears to overpay to keep Melton. None. In my opinion, Tillman is still one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. He'll have options, but with his age and recent injuries, the Bears could still be in position to bring him back, if Tillman wants to continue playing in Chicago. That's the big question. Does Tillman really want to stick around and play for the new regime? Free-agent cornerbacks were paid about $4.5 million annually last year. If the price is around the same next month, I believe the Bears might be inclined to go that high to keep Tillman. That's why I feel of the two, Tillman has a better shot to continue his career with the Bears.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. Tillman wants to test the free-agent market and at his age, this will likely be the last full payday he will see. I hope he gets paid in full. Tillman will go down as an all-time great, the epitome of the Bears defense during this era. He'll be signing autographs, cutting ribbons on car dealerships, and eating free at steakhouses until he's old and gray. But unless he's willing to sign cheap, and why would he, he's not coming back. Melton, meanwhile, is damaged goods after tearing his ACL last season. He'll come at a lower cost and give the Bears the heft they were missing in the front when he and Nate Collins went down. The Bears will likely draft a young lineman with their first pick and a vet like Melton will help ease him in.
Fact or Fiction: The Bears should draft a quarterback in the middle rounds.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Why not? Even if the Bears do re-sign Josh McCown in free agency, the team will eventually need to add a young quarterback to the roster. Let's face it, Jay Cutler is playing on a three-year deal. Whatever happens beyond 2016 is entirely dependent on Cutler's performance and health. But there are no guarantees. McCown, if he returns, will turn 35 years old in July. The Bears need to keep an eye on the future. Now, the Bears won't draft a quarterback just for the sake of drafting a quarterback. You can't force it. But if a quarterback the Bears covet is available in the middle rounds (Alabama's A.J. McCarron, LSU's Zach Mettenberger, Georgia's Aaron Murray, etc), the club should seriously consider addressing the position. Head coach Marc Trestman knows what he is looking for at the quarterback position. Give it to him, if the right guy remains on the board on the second or third day of the draft.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. There's a groupthink about this idea, that the Bears have to draft a quarterback for Trestman to develop. I disagree, though I certainly wouldn't criticize if they found an undervalued QB late in the draft. Well, until I see him throw, that is. My take: Unless the Bears get a bundle for that 14th pick, I think draft picks this season are too precious to spend on a quarterback project when you have a starter set for the next few years. Armed with his new extension, Jay Cutler is essentially signed for three years, though I'm guessing he's in Chicago for another four. While this draft is being touted for good quarterbacks, there will be more next year and the year after that. The Bears should be looking at current sophomores and juniors and plan to draft one next season. This season, they should be trying to lock up McCown for another year or two, and if that doesn't work out, another veteran.
Fact or Fiction: Shea McClellin will be a much better NFL linebacker than defensive end.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. I believe McClellin has a better shot to succeed in a two-point stance. McClellin is a great athlete. Let's not forget that important fact. Football is about putting players in the best possible position. I cannot guarantee that McClellin will thrive at linebacker. But I'll take my chances with McClellin rushing the quarterback with a running start versus a tight end, as opposed to having him operate at defensive end with his hand on the ground against an offensive tackle. New skill development coach Joe Kim will work hard with McClellin to enhance his pass-rushing skills. That's the plan, at least. The organization wants McClellin to turn into a really good football player. He seems to have the right attitude. We know he has certain talents. Now the Bears have to unlock the potential. Linebacker gives them the best shot to do just that. If he fails, he fails. But it won't be for a lack on effort on McClellin or the Bears' parts.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. We have no idea how he'll play this unfamiliar position. Is he quick enough to play linebacker? Can he shed blocks? Let's say he starts at strong-side linebacker. Teams will game plan to attack him, and if his defensive linemen can't dominate their opponents, he's going to be hung out to dry. This move signifies the Bears' last-ditch effort to salvage the first-round draft pick. It's not a no-brainer move aimed to sending him to the Pro Bowl. Now, maybe he picks up the change quickly and has a nice career. But I'm guessing his linebacking tenure looks a lot like his defensive end time, a few good plays, and some tantalizing potential, overshadowed by disappointment.