The new league year is rapidly approaching, and the Chicago Bears – coming off a 3-13 season – have needs. That much is clear.
HOWEVER, not all needs are created equal.
Luckily, GM Ryan Pace will be armed with a ton of cap space to address these many needs across the board. Of course, Pace might have a different vision of the future than head coach John Fox, but that still means he should constantly be in talent-acquisition mode.
Using Pro Football Focus‘ 2016 grades as a guide, let’s dissect which needs are most pressing entering the new year.
Jay Cutler played just 279 snaps, but his 41.9 grade (albeit, in limited action) was a career worst – in the Ryan FItzpatrick-Brock Osweiler-Blaine Gabbert realm of bad. It was also a steep drop from the 80.8 grade he posted in 2015 under offensive coordinator Adam Gase.
The long-term need is obvious, but the Bears have a pair of in-house bridge candidates the team could bring back in 2017 without paying a free agent premium. Matt Barkley, for one example, took the most snaps (409) last season, but Brian Hoyer (311 snaps) had the best grade (81.1). And for what it’s worth, Barkley’s 73.8 grade ranked 23rd of 34 qualifying quarterbacks, per Pro Football Focus. Even still, it’s hard to get past Barkley’s turnover-prone season as he threw the same number of interceptions as Carson Palmer (14) did in 2016 – but did so in 381 fewer attempts.
Tracy Porter played the most snaps of any Bears cornerback and had a team-worst 40.6 grade, which was the fifth worst among the 112 qualifying cornerbacks. Outside of quarterback, there is no position on the Bears in need of more of an upgrade than cornerback (fortunately, the draft looks strong there).
At safety, Deon Bush played enough to qualify on the PFF grading scale, but his 56.6 grade was the worst among the Bears’ safeties and ranked 81st among 89 qualifiers.
The need in the secondary is overwhelmingly strong.
Deonte Thompson (68.2) and Eddie Royal (64.3) were qualifying receivers who graded out as “below average,” as did non-qualifiers Kevin White (69.2) and Josh Bellamy (67.6). And if Alshon Jeffery is indeed out of the picture, it would make Cameron Meredith (74.5) the only receiver with an average grade or better slated to return for 2017.
The Bears are set to move in a new direction at quarterback, but whether the team gets the improvement it seeks at the position will depend on the pieces around the new signal caller. If the new quarterback is surrounded by sub-par pass catchers, the cycle of mediocrity will continue.
You could put the tight end position in this spot as well, as the need for a quality pass-catching option there is clear, as well.
The play of the Bears’ interior linemen gives a glimmer of hope moving forward, but a brief glance at the tackles can wash that away in a flash. The need at tackle stems from Bobby Massie, who was signed to a free agent contract last season and saw his PFF grade (69.9) slip for the second straight season. Not that Charles Leno Jr. (70.8) was much better, but he had his best season (by PFF’s standards) and it represented a significant improvement from 2015. In the end, he and Massie ranked 41st and 43rd, respectively, among Pro Football Focus’ 78 qualifying tackles.
If the Bears are serious about making improvements in the passing game, protection at tackle should be a high priority.
Mitch Unrein played the second most snaps among Bears interior defenders, and a 51.8 grade placed him among the lowest graded players at his position.
Unrein was the weak link among interior defenders, as Akiem Hicks (83.1) had the 15th best grade, while Eddie Goldman (80.0 in 197 snaps) looked as if he was well on his way. Finding a player to replace Unrein at right end in the base defensive front would address the second biggest need on defense.