The term rebuilding is “code” for salary cap management issues that are being addressed. The Bears are a veteran team with a handful of very large contracts to some very key players. Brian Urlacher was jettisoned from the den most recently and the Bears are feverishly adding talent at the Linebacker position with both free agent signings and two draft picks. This is a good thing as Urlacher is gone and not coming back and Briggs is two years from the end of his contract. At 32 years old, it is hard for me to imagine a scenario where Briggs returns given the emphasis and resources recently expended at the linebacker position and the future resources to be expended on the offensive side of the ball.
The Bears have several veterans whose contracts will be expiring at the end of the season or in 2014 as well. Most alarmingly, the Bears have two pro bowl Cornerbacks that will have contracts expiring at the end of this season in Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings. Both had big years and will look to be paid for their services.
Who do the Bears have in the wings behind these two players? No young up-and-coming talent is on the roster. The Bears fielded, in my opinion, the best secondary in the NFC North last season and will likely do so again in 2013…but beyond that, the view is foggy at best. Look for the Bears to sign Jennings to an extension as he is 29 years old and has a few years in front of him. Tillman, on the other hand, is 32 and playing at a high level to be sure. How will the Bears handle him? My guess is like Urlacher..a modest extension offer in a take it or leave it manner. The time for rebuilding for the secondary may be at hand.
On the defensive line, we have Julius Peppers’ contract expiring after the 2015 season. This leaves the, now 33-year-old player, in a contract situation of potentially diminishing impact while having a contract that is very large and potentially obtrusive to securing other free agent talent. The Bears look to have a good bit of talent on the defensive line with Corey Wooton and Henry Melton under contract this year…but not after this year. What is now a team strength, looks to be in a precarious position. The Bears don’t have to rebuild yet but should injury, performance or contract negotiations go against the team, the strength could turn into a weakness in a blink of a season.
If both Melton and Wooten continue to grow, improve and stay healthy the Bears will have difficult decisions in front of them. Can they keep both players under contract with Peppers still consuming so much of the cap $ on the defensive line? I think not. This is perhaps, the most potentially volatile contract conundrum the Bears will have to tackle (pun intended).
Devin Hester has a contract expiring at the end of this season. If ever there was an argument for a return specialist to make the hall of fame, the argument will begin and end with Devin Hester’s career. The interesting part of this situation is that return men, in general, are easy to acquire through the draft. Hester’s productivity at the return game will not be easy to replace, however. Given that Goodell’s leadership has neutered the kick off return, I would not be surprised if Hester did not make the 2013 roster, unfortunate as that may sound.
Lastly, we will look at Jay Cutler’s contract situation. Cutler is now 30 years old and playing in the final year of his contract. Say what you will of his career as a Bear, he is the best Bear QB that I have seen in my lifetime. It is hard for me to fathom a season that Cutler regresses from a statistical standpoint. Only injury can derail what looks to be a productive 2013 for Cutler…still, as the old saying goes, “show me”.
There has been no move, since Cutler arrived in Chicago, to create competition for him and I expect that to continue unless he has a bad season. Look for the Bears to negotiate an extension for him after the 2013 season, and failing that, franchise him while drafting a young talent. My money is on an extension though, as a rookie QB is surely the strongest sign of failure to effectively manage talent acquisition and contract negotiation on the offensive side of the ball. Failure to address the QB position effectively would be a signal that the Bears are officially entering a rebuilding mode.
Emery has a “win now” mode of behavior that I have not seen in years, if ever. Emery is inheriting a very successful defense which is laden with big stars, big egos and big contracts. His draft picks will be pivotal in terms of avoiding the dreaded rebuilding years on the defensive side of the ball. On offense, he is using all the tools he has available to transform the unit into a dynamic, play-making unit capable of winning games and the division. Cutler is the key to avoiding an offensive let down. The Bears have reloaded on the offensive line and that combined with a dynamic offensive mind at head coach bodes well for the Bears in the upcoming years. This is all predicated on the assumption that the defense maintains it’s effectiveness.
The reality of managing an NFL team lies in the ability of the GM to draft well while judiciously sprinkling in some key free agent acquisitions that does not land the team in salary cap purgatory. The way I see it, the Bears are loaded for success in 2013, but I have a hard time projecting beyond that as the team is poised for significant roster change beyond this season.
Well Bear fans…how do you see the roster playing out?