The Chicago Bears entered the 2014 NFL season expecting to be a playoff contender. Instead, Jay Cutler imploded and the defense became porous as injuries took their toll, leading to a 5-11 finish. Chicago lost their final five games.
After the season, Chicago cleaned house, firing Head Coach Marc Trestman and General Manager Phil Emery. In January, Chicago hired former John Fox, who coached the Broncos and Panthers, to take over as head coach and Ryan Pace as general manager.
Additionally, long-time Bear Lance Briggs was not re-signed and Chris Tillman left the team for the Panthers. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who was acquired in a trade with the Dolphins in 2012 for a pair of third round draft picks, was traded to the Jets.
Despite the team’s poor performance on defense, the Bears focused on offense in the draft, using their first round selection on West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White. Only two defensive players were drafted, one of which (Eddie Goldman) is projected to actually make a difference.
The Bears also acquired Pernell McPhee and Antrel Rolle in free agency, but the latter is 32 and his best days are behind him. Despite being arrested twice last season for domestic violence, the Bears signed Ray McDonald, despite three arrests in 2014 for violent crimes. The move quickly backfired as McDonald was arrested twice in May and was quickly released.
Chicago’s schedule this season is also tougher, with eight games against returning playoff teams and another contest again the Chargers, who finished with a 9-7 record.
Jay Cutler’s days in Chicago are numbered. The Bears were desperately trying to give him away leading up to the draft, but could not get a taker (Tennessee refused to deal the No. 2 pick in the draft because Chicago was insisting they take Cutler.). Cutting Cutler this season would have cost the Bears $13 million, but they will actually save $4 million by letting him walk in 2016.
This may be Matt Forte’s final productive season as well. He turns 30 in December and already has 1,817 career carries under his belt.
The strength of their offense, however, will be in their receivers. Alshon Jeffery is already established and White is lightning fast and oozes with potential. Martellus Bennett has broken out since joining the Bears. Cutler has the arm strength to make all the throws in the NFL, but he is a poor decision maker and quickly becomes a gunslinger (with disastrous results) when the offense isn’t firing on all cylinders.
Chicago will bottom out this year, and Fox and Pace can afford to without worrying about their jobs. Cutler will be gone after the year and a new franchise quarterback will be found. The Bears are in for a rough road ahead, especially with an improving Minnesota and a Packers team who nearly made it to the Super Bowl last season in their division. Chicago will regress and could very well be one of the worst teams in the NFL in 2015. Currently, I have them picking first overall in my 2016 NFL mock draft.
After the season, a lot of turnover is likely to happen. Jared Allen can be released and save the team $8.5 million in the process. If Rolle doesn’t produce, his contract in 2016 is not guaranteed either.
The good news for Bears fans looking to the future, however, is the team will already have about $30 million in cap space before releasing players.