By Bryan Dietzler
The 2016 season has just about come to an end and the Bears are on the hunt for some talent. They have a lot of needs in several areas and they will have the money and the draft picks to try to fill them. Another thing that will factor in is injuries. The injury bug hit the Bears hard and those players that status of those players heading into the 2017 season will be key. Will they be fully healthy or will the Bears have to find long term replacements?
General Manager Ryan Pace will have his work cut out for him this off-season trying to fill all the Bears holes. What are the Bears missing? What positions are the neediest as they head into this coming off-season?
This writer has identified top five areas of need for the Bears heading into free agency and the 2017 NFL Draft period. These are needs that the Bears should fill and would help them win more games next season. Let’s look at the what and the why of these needs and see what the Bears can do to take care of them before training camp this summer.
Quarterback-Some may consider this to the Bears’ number one need heading into the off-season. There, there are a lot of choices and a lot of options here and the Bears should be able to solidify this spot. With Jay Cutler, still under contract and several other players still on the team up to free agency, the Bears could go a few different ways. The scenarios will be discussed in a future article but for now, it’s clear. The Bears desperately need help at quarterback.
A likely scenario is that the Bears could find a “bridge” quarterback in free agency or by trade and then draft a future starter. They could also rely on one of the guys they have on the roster right now to get them through until a draft pick is ready. Whatever they decide to do, Chicago needs to figure this position out this off-season or the current coaching staff and general manager may not be around to figure it out next year.
Safety-The safety position has been a contentious one for several seasons and it’s time the Bears address it. Unlike other years, there is some strong safety talent at the top of the draft so drafting a safety early might be a good option. There is also a guy named Eric Berry who should end up being a free agent this year (if the Chief’s don’t re-sign him). If the Bears could get him, he could instantly and effectively upgrade their secondary.
This position must be addressed this off-season. The Bears have struggled so much there and the weakness at safety has cost them games. This is the year to pull the trigger and get a quality starter at one of the two safety positions. Perhaps they could get help at both. If they can’t get this figured out this off-season, they will struggle there again for a long time.
Tight End-Zach Miller, when he plays, is an adequate starter but he is not a dynamic one. His health is also a concern. After him, the Bears have no one who can be a solid starter (blocker and receiver) at tight end. They could try to find a free agent or make a trade butthere are some decent tight ends coming out in the draft. Spending a third or a fourth-round pick on someone could net them a future starter. But it would take time for them to develop.
The Bears had thought they had solidified the position with Martellus Bennett but they had to separate themselves from him. Now, they need someone who can become the type of player Bennett was without the drama. That player can be found in the draft. We will profile some great, mid-round tight ends, later.
Cornerback-With Kyle Fuller never a sure thing and Tracy Porter regressing, the Bears need to shore up at least one, if not both, of their cornerback spots. As with the other positions, free agency may be one place to look for a starter. However, the draft will allow them to develop long term depth. The Bears secondary gave up a lot of critical plays in 2016 so getting help is a must.
Keeping Porter one more season and drafting a young corner could be the Bears’ best bet here. Like safety, the cornerback spots were another problem area for the Bears in 2016. They must get those fixed ASAP.
Offensive Tackle (left tackle)-Charles Leno Jr. was a serviceable left tackle last season but the Bears need something more. Also, if Leno was to get hurt, the team would be in serious trouble. They could try to look for some help there in the draft and pick up someone a little later . But, that is not where you find your strong starting left tackles.
Free agency is another option here. But, perhaps the best choice is for the Bears to draft a left tackle to compete with Leno Jr. Then this draftee could either push him or take over his starting job. But maybe only great, quality left tackles can be found in the first or second round? Would the Bears go for one there?
Judging by this list, it can be seen that the Bears cannot find all the help they need in the first three rounds of the draft. Why? Because most of your immediate starters are found in those rounds. The Bears have more needs for starters than they do draft picks in the first three rounds. That’s why they need to find help using a balance of free agency and the draft. If they can do this successfully they will take care of most of their needs.
In future articles, we will look at how the Bears can fill these positions through free agency and the draft. What players will be available and which will be the best fit? Those questions and more will be answered soon.