Our latest discussion with Jeff Dickerson on "Chicago's GameNight" at ESPN 1000 generated an interesting question: What should be the top priority for new Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery?
I broke my answer into two parts, based on the short and long terms. Immediately, Emery needs to upgrade a receiving corps after an ineffective attempt to bolster last season's group with free agents Roy Williams and Sam Hurd. New offensive coordinator Mike Tice will place a heavy emphasis on the power running game, but he also wants to throw the ball downfield and needs bigger and better targets to do that.
In the long term, however, Emery needs to address a defense built around four Pro Bowl players who are all on the wrong side of 30.
The issue isn't so much that defensive end Julius Peppers, cornerback Charles Tillman and linebackers Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher are aging. All four keep themselves in excellent physical condition and played at a high level in 2011.
More worrisome is that none of the four have a potential heir on the roster. As a result, Peppers, Briggs, Urlacher and Tillman were all among the 2011 NFL leaders in playing time at their positions. We've already noted that Briggs played every defensive snap this season. The rest of the numbers are in the chart.
Urlacher will turn 34 in May. Peppers just turned 32, Briggs will be 32 in November and Tillman turns 31 later this month. It's important to note that none of them need to be replaced in 2012, at least based on their 2011 performances. But restocking so many key positions is a multiple-year project that hasn't begun.
The job of a general manger is to provide a steady infusion of talent to ensure an orderly transition at key positions, whenever possible. Emery needs to jump-start that process for the Bears' defense. It might not be time to find the next Brian Urlacher or Lance Briggs, but the Bears need to at least start thinking about it.