COMMENTARY | The Chicago Bears' 2013 season will become one of the most famous years in history, thanks to Webster's dictionary deciding to use it as the new definition for the word "irony."
Irony: ex. After years of bailing out a mediocre Chicago offense, the Bears' 2013 defense gave up 30 points per game to ruin any chance the team had at a playoff berth.
Fans are now left sitting in the burnt out wreckage of disappointing 2013 season, and it's the Bears' storied defense holding the matches and lighter fluid. What must be done to ensure Chicago has a defense that can compete again in 2014?
All the talk has been about whether or not the Bears would choose to re-sign Jay Cutler this offseason, but equally-as-important free agents will hit the open market on the defensive side of the ball as well.
Charles Tillman: Injuries caused "Peanut" to miss eight games this season, but his value was still very much on display. Tillman recorded three interceptions and caused three fumbles in just half a season of work. At 32-years-old, Tillman may start seeing the declining years of his career, but his absence was a big reason the Bears' defense caused 16 fewer turnovers this season than it did in 2012.
Tim Jennings: After a Pro Bowl season that included nine picks, Jennings turned in a respectable four-interception campaign 2013, but he certainly was not the same player without Tillman lining up on the opposite side of the field. Aside from the one deflected interception he grabbed against the Packers in Week 17, Jennings had zero interceptions when Tillman was sidelined. At only 5-foot-8, Jennings was suddenly forced to matchup against the No. 1 wide out on every team. Although he does have a lot of value as a complementary corner, Jennings may be looking for shutdown-corner money, and he simply does not fit that bill.
Henry Melton: The Bears' interior lineman is going to have a lot of leverage at the negotiating table this offseason. After a Pro Bowl season in 2012, Melton missed all but three games in 2013. The hole left by their run-stuffer may have been the most glaring personnel issue this season. The Bears went from ranking No. 8 against the run in 2012 to the absolute worst team at stopping opposing running backs in 2013. Chicago gave up 161.4 yards per game on the ground, including allowing a franchise record six straight 100-yard rushers.
Other Notable Defensive Free Agents: Corey Wootten, Major Wright and D.J. Williams.
Is Mel Tucker Safe?
I'm sure the Chicago front office has already sent an "I'm sorry, please be our new defensive coordinator" basket of mini muffins and chocolate hearts to the doorstep of Lovie Smith, but Lovie probably wouldn't allow himself to return in a diminished role after the Bears fired him as head coach in 2012.
The new man in charge, Marc Trestman, certainly did improve the Chicago offense, but he also brought in Mel Tucker from the Jacksonville Jaguars to coach up the defensive side of the ball. It wasn't all Tucker's fault. Injuries did make his job nearly impossible, but I just can't image a Lovie Smith-coached defense allowing Jarrett Boykin to causally pick up a fumble and walk into the end zone like Tucker's D did against the Green Bay Packers in the deciding game of the season.
The Bears' defense dropped from No. 5 to No. 30 in just one season, and someone does have to take the blame.
The 2014 Draft
The Bears will have the No. 14 overall pick in the upcoming draft, so they should be able to select a difference maker to help the defense. The problem is that the Bears need help in a lot of different areas. Assuming Melton is re-signed, the interior D should get a shot in the arm, but an injury to Lance Briggs showed just how vulnerable the Bears are at linebacker. Despite what Chicago chooses to do with Tillman and Jennings, their corners are still getting old, and Major Wright and Chris Conte aren't exactly going to be confused for Pro Bowlers.
HaHa Clinton-Dix, Safety, Alabama: Is this pick just because I want to hear the announcers say "HaHa" multiple times each game? Yes. But it is also because the Alabama star is the top-rated safety in the entire draft. HaHa did have to undergo surgery to repair a torn meniscus this season, but is expected to make a full recovery.
Louis Nix, Defensive Tackle, Notre Dame: A healthy Henry Melton will help, but the Bears could turn a weakness into a strength very quickly by also adding the Golden Domer's run-stopper. Teaming "Irish Chocolate" with Melton could give Chicago its own version of the Detroit Lions' Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley upfront.
It will not get any earlier next season for Chicago. In addition to expecting a healthy Aaron Rodgers all season, the Bears will not enjoy the cupcake out-of-conference schedule this did in 2013.
Road Games: The road will be treacherous in 2014 as the Bears will travel to play the New England Patriots, Carolina Panthers, Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets in their non-divisional games.
Dalton Russell has covered the Chicago Bears in print and online media since 1998. He lives just outside the shadow of the iconic architecture of Soldier Field.
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- Charles Tillman
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