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Multiple decisions loom for Bears this offseason

12/29/2014


Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery spoke confidently Sunday during a pregame interview on WBBM, as if business would continue as usual at Halas Hall in the wake of the team's season-ending 13-9 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

"Obviously, it's at the end of the season," Emery said. "So on Monday, we'll have a team meeting. Our coaches will hold that meeting. After that, they'll start evaluating players. We've already done that from a personnel perspective, and we'll move forward."

Perhaps Emery knows what the coaches don't at this point, which is unlikely, as multiple staffers believe they'll be fired as soon as Monday, according to sources. But regardless of whether Emery or the coaching staff is retained, several key issues need to be addressed, and it's unclear whether it can all be accomplished in one short offseason.

The new league year and the start of free agency fall on March 10. Then on April 30, the 2015 NFL draft kicks off in Chicago. A few months later, in July, the Bears begin training camp at Olivet Nazarene University.

Somewhere between now and July, the Bears need to make decisions and moves that push the franchise in the right direction. Coach Marc Trestman believes he has the answers and plans to present them soon at Halas Hall.

"I expect to be back. I couldn't look at it any other way," Trestman told reporters after the finale in Minneapolis. "My plan is to continue to finalize my notes now that this season is over and make sure that [when] the opportunity arises, I'll be able to explain how we fix this thing. All I know right now is we've got a meeting tomorrow at 11 o'clock with the team, and we're moving forward from there. Nobody understands the situation better than I do. I've lived it every day for the last two years and certainly the last six months. So I think I have some expertise in that area. In putting my thoughts down, I don't think there's anybody in a better position to assess it other than myself and Phil [Emery]."

In stumbling to a 5-11 record and five consecutive losses to close the season, the Bears fielded a roster in 2014 featuring an NFL-high 17 rookies, which would be a positive heading into the offseason, if the majority of the young players were promising. Some are, no doubt, but for the majority that's not the case.

Regardless of whether the organization drops the general manager or the coaching staff, once the preliminary decisions are made in the coming days, the Bears need to upgrade the personnel on both sides of the ball.

Offensively, the Bears possess several talented weapons at the skill positions and adequate blockers in the middle. But the club needs to add a legitimate deep threat in the slot to take some of the pressure off Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery on the outside, in addition to acquiring some depth at the position.

Most importantly on that side of the ball, the Bears need to figure out what to do with enigmatic quarterback Jay Cutler, who finished Sunday's game with a passer rating of 75.2 on 23-of-36 passes for 172 yards and no touchdowns. Cutler's 2015 salary of $15.5 million is already fully guaranteed, and if he remains on the roster on the third day of the new league year, a $10 million guarantee on his 2016 salary kicks in. Given the team's decision to bench Cutler after a horrid performance during a 31-15 loss to New Orleans on Dec. 15, his future appears to be murky, and there's no guarantee a new coaching staff or general manager would be on board with the quarterback leading the 2015 Bears.

Trestman said Sunday he believes Cutler can be part of the team's plans in 2015, but that's not set in stone, either. Given Cutler's immense arm talent, there's no doubt a market will exist for the quarterback's services this offseason. But the Bears need to make a move on that front sooner rather than later.

Cutler said he hasn't considered the possibility of having to play for a fifth offensive coordinator since 2009 if the team fires the current coaching staff.

"I don't think anyone knows what's going to happen," Cutler told reporters. "No one knows what direction we're going. I'm pretty confident we'll know soon. I don't think it's going to be something that's going to drag out. We won't consider anything until decisions are made, then we'll take it from there."

On defense, Chicago needs a severe talent makeover, mainly in the secondary at both safety positions, as Ryan Mundy was basically a career backup before joining the Bears, while Chris Conte isn't likely to be brought back, as his deal is set to expire. The Bears could also help themselves by acquiring at least one cornerback to pair with promising rookie Kyle Fuller, as veteran Tim Jennings has underperformed since signing a four-year deal last January worth $24 million. Perhaps he's better suited, at this point, to play nickel. Charles Tillman isn't likely to return either, considering he's finished on the injured reserve in each of the past two seasons, due to tearing the same triceps muscle, and the club also needs to upgrade at linebacker, as franchise stalwart Lance Briggs isn't expected back.

"It's an absolute necessity this offseason. You don't just sit around and talk about what happened last year," defensive tackle Jeremiah Ratliff told WBBM just hours before Sunday's game. "Get up and do something about it every day; weight room, running. Everyone individually knows what they need to get ready for next year. So don't dream about it. Go do it."

Same goes for this franchise's ownership.