Improving the Chicago Bears defense starts with addressing these key positions in the 2017 offseason.
More was expected from the Chicago Bears defense in 2016. After drafting Leonard Floyd and signing linebackers Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman in free agency, the Bears were supposed to have a dominant front-seven. In addition, it was anticipated that young players such as Adrian Amos, Harold Jones-Quartey, and Bryce Callahan were going to take that next step. Well, that clearly didn’t happen.
The Bears finished 24th in points allowed and 15th in yards allowed. Injuries plagued the team, but Vic Fangio’s defense was a major disappointment regardless, and a huge reason why the team won only three games.
Adding more impact talent and playmakers on this side of the ball is a must. With over $50 million to spend in free agency and seven picks in the upcoming draft, the Bears front office has no excuse for why they cannot accomplish this. While the entire defense could use more talent (and depth), Ryan Pace and the Bears brass should focus on these key positions first:
It seems like every year this is a major issue for the Bears. Adrian Amos and Harold Jones-Quartey entered 2016 entrenched as the starters. Instead of making a big jump, both players regressed. Jones-Quartey only had one interception in 2016 and was benched during games. Amos was benched periodically as well, and 31 games into his NFL career, he’s still searching for his first pick. Neither are the long-term answer for the Bears, and an upgrade at both positions is a must.
Another huge area of need for Chicago. 2014 first-round pick Kyle Fuller missed the entire 2016 season, and his future in Chicago is very murky. Deiondre’ Hall showed flashes, but he only played a combined 79 snaps on the year. Tracy Porter is great in the locker room, but counting on him to shadow an offense’s No. 1 receiver is a big mistake. Porter graded-out at a horrendous 40.6 on Pro Football Focus, yet he played through numerous injuries late in the year. The Bears do have some intriguing options in the slot with Bryce Callahan and Cre’von LeBlanc, yet both struggled with injuries and consistency.
In other words, the Bears need help. In addition to two new safeties, the Bears could also use two new starting corners, or at the very least, one corner who could match-up with elite receivers in the league. Adding playmaking ability to the secondary is a must, as the Bears had a historic-low eight interceptions in 2016.
This can come in the form of a defensive lineman (i.e. Jonathan Allen via the draft) or an outside linebacker. The future is very bright for Leonard Floyd and, if he can stay healthy, he could earn a trip to the Pro Bowl next year. Akiem Hicks, who is entering the last year of his contract, had a career year in 2016. At 27 years old, he can be an integral part of the defense moving forward.
As the league has shown, the best way of slowing down elite offenses is with a relentless pass rush. The Bears have some nice pieces, but like the rest of the defense, they seem to always be hurt. Lamarr Houston is coming off his second major knee injury in the past three years, Pernell McPhee has missed nine games in the past two seasons and Eddie Goldman has missed 15 games in the past two seasons. A defense can never have enough pass rushers, so adding another dynamic player would be a welcomed sight.
This is obviously a special teams need, but it should not be overlooked. The Bears as a team only averaged 21.4 yards per kick return and 8.0 yards per punt return. Eddie Royal, the Bears’ primary punt returner, figures to be released. Deonte Thompson, the Bears primary kick returner, constantly made poor decisions time and again and needs to be replaced.
We all remember the impact on games Devin Hester had when he was a member of the Bears. He flipped field position and single-handely won some games for the Bears. For an offense that struggled to score in 2016, the Bears need all the help they can get to put some points on the board. Adding an electrifying returner to the mix would be a big help.