Charles Tillman created many turnovers in 2012 (USA Today Sports Images)
Over the next few weeks, "Shutdown Corner" will pay homage to "Office Space" (TPS reports) as we take a quick look back at each team's 2012 season and a look at what lies ahead for the 2013 offseason. We move to the NFC North and the Chicago Bears.
2012 record: 10-6
What went wrong: The Bears got off to a hot start, opening the season with a 7-1 record. Then their schedule got much tougher as their next six games were against playoff-caliber teams. Unfortunately for the Bears, and Lovie Smith, they lost five of those six games, including home losses to the Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers. The Bears also quarterback Jay Cutler to a concussion in the Texans loss, causing the team to turn to Jason Campbell for a 32-7 road loss to the San Francisco 49ers.
A once 7-1 record became an 8-6 mark and the Bears needing to win plus receive help from other teams over the final two weeks of the season to reach the postseason. The Bears did their part, but help never came, and a once-promising season ended with a 26-24 win over the Detroit Lions on Dec. 30.
The Bears' biggest problem remained its offense. The Bears ranked 29th in passing yards per game, were 24th in passing yards per play as Cutler and Campbell combined for just under 3,300 yards and 16 interceptions in nearly 500 attempts. The Bears continued to struggled with pass protection, allowing 44 sacks and ranking 24th in Football Outsiders' "Adjusted Sack Rate" metric with an 8.1 percentage identical to equally-maligned offensive lines on the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals.
What went right: The Bears' defense was phenomenal throughout much of 2012, ranking fifth in total defense, third in scoring defense, and creating a league-high 44 turnovers. Chicago's defense was not content with just creating turnovers and handing the ball back to their offense. The Bears had 10 return touchdowns in 2012, including three by Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman, who had three interceptions and 10 forced fumbles.
Tillman was one of four Bears defenders to start in the Pro Bowl. Joining Tillman were cornerback Tim Jennings, who led the NFL with nine interceptions, and defensive end Julius Peppers and defensive tackle Henry Melton. Peppers had 11.5 sacks in 2012, while Melton was solid against the run and had six sacks from his interior line position. Joining the defensive standouts in Honolulu was wide receiver Brandon Marshall who caught 111 passes for 1,508 yards and 11 of the Bears' 21 passing touchdowns in 2012.
After ranking first in Football Outsiders' special teams DVOA in 2011, the Bears' special teams unit took a little dip, but still managed to rank sixth in 2012. On 25 returnable punts, the Bears allowed just 84 punt return yards last season and opposing kick returners didn't fare much better (20.7 yards allowed per return).
Coaching/front office changes: After missing the playoffs, and a continual failure to develop on offense, Bears GM Phil Emery fired head coach Lovie Smith and hired Marc Trestman, a highly-regarded offensive coach – he was the 49ers offensive coordinator in the mid-1990s – who was most recently the head coach of the Montreal Alouettes. Trestman filled out his staff with offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis, three coordinators who have drawn interest for NFL head coaching positions the last few offseasons.
Estimated 2013 cap space: $9.874 million
Henry Melton could receive the franchise tag this offseason (USA Today Sports Images)
Possible cap casualties: The Bears have a little less than $10 million in cap space to work with and some key players – most notably Henry Melton – to retain. The Bears could gain some cap relief by restructuring the contract of Matt Forte, who is due a $4 million roster bonus on March 16. Converting that into a signing bonus spread over the three remaining seasons of Forte's contract would save the Bears over $2.6 million in 2013.
Quarterback Jay Cutler is scheduled to earn $8.97 million in cash with a $10.37 million cap number in the final season of his contract and could receive an extension at some point this season. The Bears may also want to renegotiate and extend the contract of Brandon Marshall, who has two years and $18.6 million remaining on the contract that was acquired last March from the Miami Dolphins. It's been two calendar years since the Bears last restructured the contract of Julius Peppers, who is due $12.9 million in base salary and has a cap number of $16.383 million this season.
Unrestricted free agents
Kahlil Bell, RB
Zackary Bowman, CB
Jason Campbell, QB
Kelvin Hayden, CB
Geno Hayes, LB
Israel Idonije, DE
Lance Louis, G
Olindo Mare, K
Josh McCown, QB
Henry Melton, DT
D.J. Moore, CB
Troy Nolan, S
Amobi Okoye, DT
Chilo Rachal, G
Nick Roach, LB
Jonathan Scott, OT
Chris Spencer, OC
Brian Urlacher, LB
Restricted free agents
Nate Collins, DT
RFA tender amounts in 2013 are:
• $1.323 million for right of first refusal and/or original draft round compensation
• $2.023 for right of first refusal and second round draft selection
• $2.879 for right of first refusal and first round draft selection
Franchise Tag candidates: Any other offseason, seeing Brian Urlacher on a list of potential unrestricted free agents would immediately bring about discussion of the franchise tag. However, it's 2013 and, while he's still productive, Urlacher turns 35 in June. The Bears new coaching staff has been noncommittal towards bringing Urlacher back for another season and, in all likelihood, the eight-time Pro Bowler will get a chance to test the unrestricted free agent market.
The Bears' top free agent priority is defensive tackle Henry Melton, a former running back at Texas and 2009 fourth-round pick who has developed into one of the top defensive tackles in the NFL. The six-foot-three, 295-pound Melton spent his rookie season on injured reserve and played sparingly in his second season, but has 13 sacks in 29 starts over the last two seasons and earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl in 2012. Even with a deep group of defensive tackles in the 2013 draft, Melton would do quite well on the free agent market and the Bears will likely use the franchise tag to keep him in Chicago. Based on a projected league-wide cap number of $121 million, the franchise tag for a defensive tackle would be worth $8.313 million in 2013.
Previous installments of the "Offseason TPS Reports" series:
AFC East: New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills
AFC North: Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers, Cleveland Browns
AFC South: Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans
AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, Denver Broncos
NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Washington Redskins
NFC North: Detroit Lions
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