Make no doubt about it; the Bears were dreadful in 2016, which led them to receiving the #3 Overall pick in this year’s draft. However, there are some bright spots on the roster, and the team even tallied three players (RB-Jordan Howard, C-Cody Whitehair and LB – Leonard Floyd) on the NFL All-Rookie team in 2016, more than any other NFL Team. Jordan Howard provides a nice spark in the backfield behind a very stable and solid Offensive Line. Throw in some high cap flexibility with $51.5 million and no player guaranteed more than $8 million against the 2017 salary cap, and that leads to a ripe situation for General Manager Ryan Pace to be very active in Free Agency once the new league year begins March 9th. That’s about where the bright spots stop.
Questions abound this squad as there are many holes to fill, starting with quarterback as the disappointing Jay Cutler era looks to be over. The current incumbents in Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley and Connor Shaw are all set to be free agents and rumblings out of Chicagoland are that Hoyer will be re-signed to be the team’s default option to start at QB. The Bears may also look to explore signing free agents Colin Kaepernick (San Francisco), Mike Glennon (Tampa Bay), or Ryan Fitzpatrick (New York Jets) as potential short-term veteran stopgaps. If the Bears decide to go with a QB in the first round, they will be dependent on which quarterback the 49ers pass on as they are expected to take a QB with the #2 pick. The Bears also must be certain in their selection of a QB as they have too many holes to roll the dice. Mitch Trubisky, the gunslinger from North Carolina, and DeShone, Kizer the ultra-athletic QB from Notre Dame, and National Championship winning QB Deshaun Watson from Clemson are the top 3 QB’s in this not so impressive QB class. Expect the Bears to settle on Hoyer and a veteran free agent to ride out the 2017 campaign and groom a young QB picked on day 2 or 3 of the draft.
At Receiver Cameron Meredith made a big stride in 2016 and looks to be in the team’s plans going forward along with Kevin White who will return after suffering a season ending fractured fibula and veteran Eddie Royal coming back hoping to round back into his reliable slot WR form. With Alshon Jeffery proclaiming he is looking for a winner to join, expect Jeffery to collect a massive contract elsewhere while the Bears look to fill the gap with some later round draft selections, and veteran free agent wideouts such as Pierre Garcon (Washington), Kendall Wright (Tennessee) or Kenny Stills (Miami). Tight End Zach Miller was having a great 2016 campaign until he suffered a Lisfranc fracture in his right foot back in November. It’s a long recovery process, but Miller has been through it before on his left foot in 2014. In October, Miller will turn 33 and with no depth behind him since the departure of Martellus Bennett, the Bears will also need to plug this hole and start planning for the future. In a position becoming in high demand in NFL circles it is imperative the Bears shore up this position. If Tight End O.J. Howard from Alabama falls to the Second Round he might be too much for the Bears to pass up on.
A lack of Defensive Line depth and efficient EDGE Rushers hindered the Bears throughout the season as they finished ranked 27th against the run. Luckily for Chicago if they look to help sew up this weakness they will be in position to draft the Bednarik and Nagurski award winner, Defensive Lineman Jonathan Allen from Alabama with the #3 pick. Allen would be the safest First Round pick for the Bears and would fill an immediate need. Free Agent DL Calais Campbell (Arizona) would be an ideal signing for the team to make as well. The Bears’ linebacking corps is settled for the moment so only expect them to add for depth purposes in the draft.
The secondary will need to take a big step as far as causing turnovers and making big plays. While the lack of a legitimate pass rush didn’t help matters, the Bears had a -20 giveaway/takeaway difference, forcing only 11 total turnovers (8 INT’s/3 fumble recoveries). While statistically, in terms of passing yards allowed, the team was actually in the top 10, most of that is accounted for the team consistently playing from behind with teams running down the throat of their porous run defense. Veteran cornerback Tracy Porter played admirably while dealing with a nagging knee injury throughout the season, and 2014 First Round Pick Kyle Fuller returns after missing all of 2016 after undergoing knee surgery during training camp. Slot corner Bryce Callahan is expected to make a jump after a solid showing, but durability seems to be a major issue for him as well. Backup CB Cre’von LeBlanc has shown flashes but also found himself making some major cover mistakes (see Jordy Nelson 60 yard catch to set up Game Winning FG in week 15). Where it gets really ugly is at the Safety position. Free safety Adrian Amos, along with Strong Safeties Harold Jones-Quartey and rookie Deon Bush, combined for all 32 starts at safety, but managed just 10 pass breakups all season and one interception. The Bears will definitely look to make a defensive back a priority within their first three picks of the draft and possibly look at free agents such as Safety Tony Jefferson (Arizona), CB Morris Claiborne (Dallas), CB Stephon Gilmore (Buffalo) and DB Micah Hyde (Green Bay).
The Bears have plenty of work to do to get back to respectability, but they seem to be slowly re-routing the ship in the right direction. Then again these are the Bears who have gone 40-56 with no playoff appearances since their 2010 NFC North Division Championship so futility has become expected by the fan base and it will be up to GM Ryan Pace and Head Coach John Fox to turn things around so Chicagoans have something other than the Blackhawks to cheer about in the freezing winter months.