NFL DRAFT NEEDS: NFC NORTH Lions | Packers | Vikings OVERVIEW
The Bears put the hopes of their franchise on the shoulders of quarterback Jay Cutler, but the verdict after one season is still up in the air. Cutler led the team to a 7-9 record while throwing 27 touchdown passes and a league-high 26 interceptions. However, the offensive shortcomings can't be blamed entirely on Cutler. The rushing attack was hardly an attack at all, ranking 29th as they averaged just 93.2 yards per game. Matt Forte had a sophomore slump and gained just 3.6 yards per carry. He was hampered by injuries and didn't look like the player he was a year ago. Chicago signed Chester Taylor to a four-year, $12.5 million deal to take some of the load off Forte. The struggling ground game was also the fault of the five blockers up front. The line has to play better to improve the rushing attack and create a balanced offense. Orlando Pace was a mere shadow of his former self at left tackle and was cut in the offseason. Chris Williams moved to the left side in place of Pace and played much better, but one of the top priorities come draft day will be strengthening the interior of the line, where both guards are very average players. Problems stood out on both sides of the ball. The once stout Chicago defense was again a pedestrian unit, ranking 17th as they allowed an average of 337.8 yards per game. Head coach Lovie Smith took over defensive coordinator duties with little improvement. The passing defense rose from 30th in 2008 to 13th last season, but what they didn't give up through the air they allowed on the ground. The rushing defense dropped from being one of the top five units in 2008 to ranking 23rd in 2009. Smith relinquished coordinator duties in the offseason, as Rod Marinelli will handle that going forward. Chicago landed the top prize of the free agent class in Julius Peppers, signing the Pro Bowl defensive end to a six-year, $91.5 million contract. A player of his caliber will have a profound impact on the defense. He'll greatly improve the effectiveness of the front four by bringing pressure off the edge and stopping the run. His presence could also help the secondary, where starting cornerbacks Zack Bowman and Charles Tillman are bigger, physical players whose ability to slow receivers off the line will be much more effective with Peppers shortening the time opposing quarterbacks have to throw. The Bears were active in free agency due to a shortage of draft picks, but big needs still remain. Trading their first-round pick for Cutler and second-rounder for Gaines Adams left Chicago without a draft choice until the third round. The Bears now only hold selections No. 75, 109, 141, 181 and 218. OFFSEASON REPORT FRANCHISE PLAYER: None TRANSITION PLAYER: None UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: LB Darrell McClover (was not re-signed), DE Adewale Ogunleye, RB Adrian Peterson (was not re-signed), LB Pisa Tinoisamoa (was not re-signed) RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: S Josh Bullocks (received original-round tender at $1.226 million and signed offer sheet), DE Mark Anderson (received second-round tender at $1.759 million), S Danieal Manning (received original-round tender at $1.176 million), LB Jamar Williams (received original-round tender at $1.176 million), LB Nick Roach (received second-round tender at $1.684 million), DT Dusty Dvoracek (was not tendered) EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: RB Kahlil Bell (received one-year tender and signed offer sheet), LB Tim Shaw (received one-year tender and signed offer sheet), DT Matt Toeaina (received one-year tender and signed offer sheet) PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: S Josh Bullocks, RB Kahlil Bell, LB Tim Shaw, DT Matt Toeaina PLAYERS ACQUIRED: DE Julius Peppers (signed for six years at $91.5 million), RB Chester Taylor (signed for four years at $12.5 million), TE Brandon Manumaleuna (signed for five years), CB Tim Jennings (signed for two years), WR Eric Peterman, TE Eddie Williams PLAYERS LOST: T Orlando Pace, RB Kevin Jones, CB Jason McKie, CB Nathan Vasher, DE Alex Brown, G Tyler Reed, TE Fontel Mines, FB Jason McKie, LB Darrell McClover, DE Adewale Ogunleye, RB Adrian Peterson, LB Pisa Tinoisamoa, DT Dusty Dvoracek DRAFT NEEDS OFFENSIVE LINE -- Chicago has to perform better up front if the offense is going to take a step forward. The running game was nonexistent last year, and the Bears need a balanced offense to take the pressure off Cutler. They're fairly solid on the edges, as former first-round pick Chris Williams moved to left tackle and played better than he did on the right side. He's expected to start there in 2010 and should be an upgrade over Orlando Pace. Kevin Shaffer's an adequate starter on the right side, but the problem lies on the interior. Olin Kreutz is still solid at center, but he's getting old and isn't the player he used to be. At guard, Frank Omiyale struggled early and was benched for four games in the middle of the season. On the other side, Roberto Garza's an average player. The Bears not only need more depth on the offensive line, but could stand to upgrade some of their current starters as well. FREE SAFETY -- Chicago has plenty of strong safeties, but needs a free safety with deep coverage ability and ball skills. Last season, Bear safeties combined for just one interception. The lone pick came from Danieal Manning, a 10-game starter who was tendered as a restricted free agent. With a safety class as deep as this year's, Chicago should target a player with more coverage ability at some point in the draft. WIDE RECEIVER -- Jay Cutler excelled in his last season in Denver throwing to Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal, two dynamic pass catchers. It's not breaking news that quarterbacks have more success with more talent around them. That being said, the Bears have some quality receivers, but lack a No. 1 target. Devin Hester's improved at the position, and led the team with 57 catches for 757 yards, but still isn't a true No. 1. He'd be better working out of the slot where his dynamic running ability would pay dividends. Earl Bennett was much better in his sophomore campaign, and Johnny Knox had a stellar rookie season, but both are better twos and threes. Cutler needs a big target who can get vertical to compliment his powerful arm. Devin Aromashodu came on strong late in the year and is the team's biggest receiver at 6-foot-2. Chicago would be wise to continue adding weapons to Cutler's arsenal.