Chicago Bears: 7 building blocks for 2016
The Chicago Bears have entered their second offseason under the guidance of general manager Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox. They started making significant upgrades to their roster last year, but there's still a lot of work to be done. Before tackling free agency and the draft, here are the Bears' top seven building blocks heading into the 2016 season.
1. Kevin White
The Bears spent the seventh-overall pick in last year's draft on wide receiver Kevin White, but he did not play in a single game as a rookie. An August shin surgery landed him on the physically unable to perform list, where he spent the entire season. The Bears are counting on White to bounce back in 2016. This 6-foot-3, 217-pound pass-catcher could be a difference-maker outside the numbers and over the top, especially if fellow wideout Alshon Jeffery is retained on either a long-term deal or via the franchise tag.
2. Jay Cutler
Quarterback Jay Cutler has dealt with a lot of criticism throughout his career, but his 2015 season did not fit the narrative. He was careful with the ball, throwing only 11 interceptions -- his lowest total in a season in which he played at least 15 games. The clean play led to a career-best passer rating of 92.3 for the 32-year-old signal-caller. Overcoming the loss of offensive coordinator Adam Gase (now head coach of the Miami Dolphins) will be a challenge, but Cutler has a degree of familiarity with former quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains as his replacement.
3. Pernell McPhee
On the defensive side of the ball, outside linebacker Pernell McPhee is Chicago's biggest building block. The Bears signed him in free agency so he could star in Vic Fangio's 3-4 scheme, but injuries got in the way of that plan. The 6-foot-3, 275-pound pass-rusher only notched six sacks in his first season as a starter. The Bears should continue to build around him, though, since McPhee is versatile enough to plug into multiple positions. He signed a five-year, $38.75 million contract last offseason, so Fangio must find a way to feature him.
Bears linebacker Pernell McPhee is a versatile defender who should be featured in 2016.
4. Kyle Long
The Bears have a great offensive lineman in Kyle Long, but he played out of position all season. Although he's a proven Pro Bowler at guard, the team needed him at right tackle in 2015. He wasn't as effective on the edge, so Chicago should look to tuck him back inside next season. In order to make that happen, the Bears have to acquire at least one starting-caliber offensive tackle in free agency or the draft. When Long moves back to guard, Jay Cutler should experience better pass protection and the running backs should find more room to run in between the tackles.
5. Eddie Goldman
Although the Bears are still waiting for Kevin White to make his debut, second-round draft pick Eddie Goldman has already made a tremendous impact. The 332-pound nose tackle anchored Chicago's 3-4 defense as a rookie, collecting 22 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 15 games (12 starts). The Bears are still in the process of discovering their identity on the defensive side of the ball, but Goldman offers a tremendous starting point. He provides a solid foundation for a unit that should be built from the inside out.
6. Kyle Fuller
The defensive backfield isn't Chicago's strongest position group, but the team does have some talent back there. Cornerback Kyle Fuller was a first-round investment in 2014 (14th-overall draft pick). Although he experienced a little bit of a sophomore slump from a statistical standpoint, the 23-year-old has certainly established himself as a serviceable starter. He needs a little help in order to reach the next level. If the Bears improve at the safety position and bring in a solid corner to start opposite him, Fuller could be the NFL's next star to have an island named after him.
7. Jeremy Langford
A changing of the guard could be underway in Chicago. Matt Forte has been the team's featured running back since 2008, but he's 30 years old and nearing free agency. Jeremy Langford, a fourth-round draft pick, emerged as a viable replacement during his rookie season. Like Forte, he's a versatile back who can handle a lot of carries, catch passes and protect the quarterback. He forced his way into the mix in 2015, finishing with 816 yards of offense on 170 total touches in a limited role. Those numbers should give the Bears plenty of confidence in his future.