Nov 1, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (17) reacts after missing a pass during the second half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
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The Chicago Bears have loads of questions to answer with NFL free agency on the near horizon. Many of them involving their own roster.
This article will cover two keys for the organization. First is which of their players have expiring contracts and the possibility of being re-signed. Then it’s a matter of figuring out the teams’ biggest roster needs with the market set to open in just over a month.
Alshon Jeffery, WR
Far and away the biggest name on the list that the Bears will have to address. Alshon Jeffery has missed a combined 11 games over the past two seasons. Seven for injury and another four due to a PED suspension. Yet in that time he still managed to put up over 1,600 receiving yards with three different quarterbacks. At 6’3″ he’s shown to be one of the best 50/50 receiver in the league. Throw the ball up and odds are he’ll be the one to catch it.
Yet the Bears have remained quiet on whether or not they want to extend him. He hasn’t exactly made it clear he deserves top receiver money. He hasn’t been reliable or productive enough. Yet the fact remains they have few options on the roster if he leaves.
Brian Hoyer, QB
The 30-year old quarterback was brought in for the specific reason of being a stable backup behind Jay Cutler. This job at least he fulfilled admirably. Brian Hoyer kept the Bears in a number of games during the season and even claimed one of their three victories. However, a broken arm ended his year early. He finished with 1,445 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. Whether that’s enough to get brought back is something to monitor.
Cornelius Washington, DE
Vic Fangio hasn’t concealed his excitement about the possibilities with Cornelius Washington the past two years. The former 6th round pick has loads of athletic potential the team has tried to tap. Unfortunately injuries keep getting in the way. Thankfully 2016 was his first year where he played most of the games, finishing with 20 tackles and two sacks. Maybe a third season under Fangio will be the charm. It does look like he might be figuring things out.
Oct 20, 2016; Green Bay, WI, USA; Chicago Bears wide receiver Cameron Meredith (81) rushes with the football behind offensive lineman Eric Kush (64) during the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Green Bay won 26-10. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Ted Larsen, OG
The man who became famous for starting fights during training camp. One can’t deny that Ted Larsen likes to play a physical game. He gets after it on every snap and actually played pretty well in a number of relief appearances this season. However he also suffered some inconsistency issues that really had a direct hand in killing the Bears offense at times. So if he were to come back it would have to be on the cheap and as a backup again.
Eric Kush, OG
Of the two primary free agent guards, Eric Kush was by far the bigger surprise. Having gained some fame for his antics on HBO “Hard Knocks” when he was with the Los Angeles Rams, the 27-year old prove to actually be quite an effective reserve. When Josh Sitton went down with nagging injuries, he was the one who stepped in and the Bears offense really didn’t lose much steam. Kush is exactly the kind of younger, experienced player they would want as their primary swing guard. Presuming he’s open the idea.
Johnthan Banks, CB
Chicago claimed him off waivers from Detroit a few weeks before the end of the regular season. It was clear the move wasn’t a last ditch attempt to save them. Johnthan Banks is a former 2nd round pick who started out with two good years in Tampa Bay before scheme and coaching changes really hurt his development. The Bears present a system that fits his style for the first time in years. Odds are his goal is to get healthy and come back with a full off-season to prepare. That is unless another team swoops in with an offer, which is unlikely.
Dec 24, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Bears kicker Connor Barth (4) and punter Pat O’Donnell (16) warm up prior to their game against the Washington Redskins at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
Sam Acho, LB
He’s been one of the great ambassadors for the Bears the past couple seasons and a quality rotational backup who can do a little bit of everything. He finished with 27 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. He also provides some veteran experience on special teams as well. At 28-years old there’s no reason to think the Bears should just cast him out. He can still fulfill that same niche with the team provided he doesn’t raise his asking price too high.
Marquess Wilson, WR
The story of this young man is an ongoing tragedy. Kicked out off his college team due to conflict with the coaches, he became a 7th round pick of Chicago in 2013. From there he battled his way up the depth chart to get on the field. For brief flashes he showed so much potential as a receiver. Then he would suffer an injury that derails everything. It happened last season and again this season. He’s still just 24-years old but the inability to stay healthy makes it difficult to justify bringing him back again.
Connor Barth, K
It was an unenviable task for Connor Barth, being the one to replace Robbie Gould. Things did not start out well. He missed a number of key kicks that really hurt in some tight games. That said Barth seemed to settle into a rhythm towards the end of the year, hitting five of his last six field goals. He’s no Vinatieri but he’s at least experienced and reliable from within 40 yards. Until the Bears find somebody better, that’s enough.
Other Free Agents:
Nov 20, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) runs with the ball against the New York Giants during the third quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Top Team Needs
Like this is any surprise. Two of the three Bears quarterbacks from 2016 have expiring contract and the other is Jay Cutler, whom everyone thinks is done in Chicago. Not only is the depth becoming a concern at the position, this team has no definitive starting option either. That makes it by far the biggest priority for them. Teams don’t win in the NFL without at least a serviceable quarterback. This franchise knows than better than anybody.
The secondary was a real liability for the defense this year. Not only did they suffer a series of ill-timed breakdowns in tight games, they also forced just 11 takeaways on the year. Keeping in mind the Bears had 44 in 2012. Suffice to say the cornerback and safety positions are both well below average on this unit. If the Bears are going to become a serious defense again in this league, they have to find guys on the back end who can make a play.
3. Tight End
Trading Martellus Bennett may have been the right call for chemistry issues, but it definitely opened up the Bears to a world of hurt at tight end. After Zach Miller went down with injury, they had zero options on the roster worth mentioning. Modern NFL offenses need a tight end who can threaten in the passing game. The Bears saw this first hand when Bennett was at his best. Thank must take advantage of a strong draft class to solve this issue.
4. Defensive Line
Akiem Hicks was a superb addition by Ryan Pace and he front office. Jonathan Bullard still has plenty of promise after an inconsistent rookie season. The concerns up front lay with Eddie Goldman. When healthy, he’s near impossible to contain without multiple blockers. That’s just it though. Goldman has dealt with a series of injuries to his lower extremities already. Concerning for sure, and it increases the likelihood this team should consider adding more help up front.
5. Offensive Tackle
Some will list this much higher. In truth the Bears aren’t totally devoid at tackle. Bobby Massie and Charles Leno are far from great, but they showed in 2016 they could at least be passable. Given the relative weakness of the upcoming draft and free agent periods at the position, it might not be wise to prioritize it this year. Even so, if an opportunity does come up where a good one is there for the taking, it’d be foolish not to pounce.