Bears eye change after 8-8 finish

The Chicago Bears are facing some big questions as they sift

through the wreckage of a lost season.

At the top of the list is this: Will Mike Martz be back for a

third season as offensive coordinator? Coach Lovie Smith wasn’t

tipping his hand on Monday.

”We’re evaluating everything and Mike’s a part of that,” Smith

said. ”So I can’t tell you. Mike is a guy who’s been around a few

years. I haven’t had a chance to sit down with Mike to see exactly

which way he wants to go, and which way we want to go.”

Changes figure to be in store for the Bears after they finished

8-8 following a monumental collapse with quarterback Jay Cutler

injured that left them out of the playoffs for the fourth time in

five years. They dropped five straight before winning the finale at

Minnesota, and as the losses mounted, so did speculation that Martz

was on his way out.

He has an expiring contract, and although he has said he hopes

to return, Smith was noncommittal. He said he needed ”to sit down

with Mike and I haven’t done that.” He said he hopes to have a

decision ”as soon as possible,” but ”that could take some

time.”

Besides Martz, special-teams coordinator Dave Toub and Pro Bowl

running back Matt Forte have expiring contracts.

Forte’s rookie contract is up, and he’s coming off his first Pro

Bowl season. So even though he didn’t play after spraining the MCL

in his right knee early in a loss to Kansas City on Dec. 4, he

figures to be in line for a big payday. He came into his fourth

season looking for an extension, and general manager Jerry Angelo

insisted the Bears tried hard to get something done.

”Of course, he’s going to say that,” Forte said.

Forte was reportedly offered a deal that guaranteed about $13

million or $14 million, but might have been looking for something

closer to the five-year, $43 million contract with $21 million

guaranteed that Carolina gave DeAngelo Williams.

”We weren’t even close to that at the beginning of the season.

My agent told me the longer we wait, the harder it’s going to get

to do,” Forte said.

The question is: Will he get a multiyear deal or will the Bears

place the franchise tag on him?

”I have no idea,” Forte said. ”Nobody’s talking right now, so

we’ll see.”

Asked if he’ll report to camp if the Bears slap him with the

franchise tag, Forte said, ”I have no idea.”

Forte’s stock certainly was soaring before he went down. He went

into the game against Kansas City leading the league in yards from

scrimmage and third in rushing. He finished with 1,487 scrimmage

yards and ran for 997, averaging 4.9 yards per carry.

Forte was clearly having his best season as a pro before it got

cut short, and he doesn’t think the injury should diminish his

value.

”I didn’t have surgery, I don’t have to have surgery,” Forte

said. ”There’s nothing wrong with my knee. It’s actually healing

up pretty well so I don’t think that does anything.”

The Bears’ freefall had already started by the time Forte was

injured.

It began when Cutler broke his right thumb trying to make a

tackle following a late interception against San Diego on Nov. 20.

The Bears were putting the finishing touches on their fifth

straight win when everything came apart.

Besides losing the two best players on offense, Chicago saw

receiver Johnny Knox suffer a season-ending back injury.

There were key mistakes by running back Marion Barber in close

losses to Kansas City and Denver, and big struggles for backup

quarterback Caleb Hanie with Cutler sidelined. He went 0-4 as the

starter before Josh McCown got the nod.

The injuries and a lack of depth certainly didn’t make Martz’s

job any easier. He also left himself open to second-guessing at

times with his play-calling, but the offense was clicking before

Cutler went down, with Chicago averaging about 32 points during

that five-game win streak.

”We would like him back,” receiver and return star Devin

Hester said.

If they don’t bring back Martz, the Bears would be looking at

their third offensive coordinator in four years. Then again, they

won the NFC North in their first season with him a year ago.

”That would be tough to do, but it happens all the time,”

Forte said. ”You’ve got to learn the playbook. When Coach Martz

first came in, we learned his plays and did pretty well. It’s just

when there’s no consistency and having to change the playbook and

all that, that makes it a little more tough.”

What made it tougher was the lack of a backup quarterback,

top-tier receiver and issues protecting the quarterback even if

Smith had this to say about the offensive line: ”I think this is

the best situation we’ve been in since I’ve been here with our

offensive line.”

Considering the line ranked 27th through Sunday, that’s a

stretch. Either way, Smith insisted the Bears don’t need sweeping

changes.

”I definitely don’t think we need a complete overhaul, by any

means, and our players know that,” he said.

As for Toub, he could be in line for a head coaching job, and

the Bears declined comment on a Chicago Tribune report that the

special teams coordinator will interview for the Miami Dolphins’

opening.