Now that the Chicago Bears, namely general manager Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox, have mostly assembled the 2015 coaching and front office staffs, let’s examine the next crucial steps for the team to take as the off-season moves along.
Determine Jay Cutler’s future
With an entirely new staff and therefore schemes taking shape, Cutler will be working with his fifth offensive coordinator in his seven-year stint in Chicago. New offensive coordinator Adam Gase will have to work quickly with Fox to determine if they believe Cutler can be salvaged for the 2015 season coming off a very poor 2014 campaign. Cutler lead the league in turnovers and was part of an ugly media situation with former offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer and a benching week 15 from former head coach Marc Trestman. To his credit, Cutler handled both situations very professionally, and in the grand scale of things it was hard to sort out whether Cutler was really the problem after all or just a scapegoat for a failing coaching staff. Regardless, Cutler’s poor play on the field cannot be ignored, so the new staff has to look at Cutler’s body of work and decide if he can fit.
Working against Cutler is the fact that the new staff just came from working with Peyton Manning for three seasons, so the bar has been set very high. The new staff won’t just look at Cutler’s raw talent, but his intangibles as well, which at most every point in Cutler’s career have been questioned fair or not.
Working for Cutler are two things: He is already under contract and been paid $15.5 million for the 2015 season, with $10.0 million more coming on March 12th if the Bears don’t make a move, so financially moving Cutler could be a difficult proposition. Add on top of that the dismal draft and free agent class of quarterbacks available, and it’s hard to see how the Bears could justify moving on from Cutler unless they have a really good succession plan in place or simply see him as a lost cause.
Set the defensive plan in motion
Under the two years of Trestman, the Bears defense has plummeted in league rankings. Previous head coach Lovie Smith was stuck on a 4-3 cover-two scheme his tenure and was mostly successful with it, and under Trestman defensive coordinator Mel Tucker stuck with the 4-3 scheme while attempting to implore wrinkles that never quite worked. So at a minimum it’s been 11 seasons of 4-3 defense in Chicago.
Enter new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who notably runs a 3-4 scheme and had great success with it the past four seasons while in San Francisco. Can Fangio and Fox realistically install a 3-4 scheme with the 4-3 personnel the Bears currently have on their roster? That challenge is very real.
First and foremost are weeding out the players who simply aren’t part of the Bears future, whether they are the aging veterans, poor fits in any defense, and even the ones who didn’t play hard or quit under Trestman when things went south (they are there if you look hard enough).
Second, take a real hard look at the home-grown Bears on defense and find a place for them on the defense if possible. The Bears are one of the worst teams in the league recently at developing and using their draft picks, something that Pace has vowed to change going forward.
Third, Fangio and Fox must bring a sense of accountability and attitude back to the unit, something that was sorely lost under Trestman and Tucker. We can throw in defensive fundamentals also just for good measure.
Unfortunately, completely revamping the Bears defense is not a one-year fix, but if it’s going to happen it’s best to do it now and start fresh, have a plan, and begin building with current players who fit and then supplementing through this year’s draft and free agency.