We don’t have time for Top 10 lists. They’re usually padded with at least a few wasted fillers and crappy selections, so I’m going to stick to Top 5 lists. For my first Top 5 list of the 2012 season, I’m going to look at the Top 5 Bears Facing a Make or Break Season in 2012.
#5 – Chris Williams
Williams was a Jerry Angelo first round draft pick, so with Angelo gone, Williams doesn’t have the GM in his corner trying to show off his “genius-ness.” Williams has bounced around the line and struggled with injuries from Day 1 here. 2012 is the last year of his rookie deal and you can be damn sure if he loses the battle for the starting left tackle spot, he’s not going to get a new deal with the Bears.
#4 – Major Wright
Wright is another player in a battle for playing time. He has all the physical tools, but his mental game has been questioned. The next bad angle he takes could be his last.
#3 – Henry Melton
You might be noticing a theme with the first few selections – guys in the last year of their deals. Melton had a strong campaign last year and showed flashes of being an impact player at the coveted 3-technique position. He’ll need to exceed his 2011 season if he wants to get a contract extension and continue his Chicago Bears career.
#2 – Devin Hester
Yes, I’m saying that the NFL’s all-time return man faces a make or break season. Back in 2008 when he negotiated a deal to pay him like a top wide receiver, the Bears have been trying to pass him off to the fans as a legitimate offensive weapon. While his work in the return game has benefited the offense, let’s face it, the Devin Hester Wide Receiver experiment has been a failure. This is make or break time for Hester as a wide receiver and possibly as a Chicago Bear.
Hester is due a hefty raise in 2013 while the league is taking almost half of his return opportunities away. That might make him too pricey for the Bears to keep around next season primarily as a returner. The Bears have been loading up on return men in free agency and the draft , possibly preparing for life without Hester. I’m not sure about the specifics of Devin’s contract and bonus for next season but here’s what I was able to dig up. If he fizzles as a WR, the Bears might consider him too expensive to keep as a return specialist, especially if other returners pan out. If he completely blows up as a wide receiver and triggers a huge performance based bonus in his contract, it could spell a ridiculous ending for Hester as a Bear too. It’s a crazy Catch-22 for #23.
#1 – Lovie Smith
Whenever a new GM takes over a team, he wants to shape the team in his own image. It’s rare that a GM is hired with the prerequisite of keeping the incumbent head coach. Even though he’s not stepping between the white lines on Sunday, Lovie is just as important as anyone on the Bears to the outcomes on Sundays. Lovie faces the same situation former coach Dick Jauron faced when Jerry Angelo took over back in ’01. That vintage of Chicago Bears went 13-3 and saved Jauronimo for another season.
Lovie is in a different situation than Jauron. He’s one of the most tenured coaches in the NFL and has an NFC Championship appearance and Super Bowl appearance under his belt, but despite those accomplishments, this is a results oriented business. The Bears have missed the playoffs in 4 of the last 5 seasons, so the pressure’s definitely on Lovie to put a winner on the field. He’d tell you he faces a “win or else” pressure every season, but the hype around this team carries an extra bit of pressure. If the Bears fail to make the playoffs or stumble early, this could be the end of the Lovie Story in Chicago.
Who did I miss? Is there another Bears player that you think has a bigger “Make or Break” season than the 5 I listed? Let’s hear your comments and