Behind the superb seasons of RB Matt Forte and WRs Alshon Jeffrey and Brandon Marshall, all of whom produced 1,000-yard seasons running and receiving, respectively, the Bears managed to finish second in the NFL in points per game with 27.8, behind only the Denver Broncos' record-setting outburst.
Despite starting QB Jay Cutler missing five games due to multiple injuries, the Bears still put up their best offensive numbers in nearly a decade, with backup QB and fan favorite Josh McCown stepping up and boasting a 13:1 TD:INT ratio.
The offensive line, an area that has been largely a problem for them in recent years, was a major improvement this season, with four new starters, including rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills, and C Roberto Garza each starting all 16 games.
But despite the success they had, there are sure to be changes on that side of the ball. Let's take a look at how the Bears might prioritize each position in the upcoming NFL Draft in May:
Quarterback: The Bears entered the 2014 offseason with no quarterbacks under contract. That changed rather quickly, as they locked up Jay Cutler to a seven-year deal with $54 million guaranteed (all of which will be paid in the first three seasons).
The Bears face an interesting decision with McCown, who, after playing for the league minimum last season, was not able to re-sign with the team before testing free agency. He was spectacular in place of Cutler in 2013, and the Bears would surely love to have McCown back.
But at what price? Some analysts have estimated he may get as much as $5 million annually on the open market, and with Chicago already paying Cutler an average of $18 million, that may be too much for the cap-conscious Bears.
The Bears' decision to draft a quarterback may not be tied with whether they get him back, anyways. McCown, who will be 35 at the start of next season, won't be around forever, and Marc Trestman may enjoy the task of developing a young QB should Cutler be lost to injury in the future. Expect the Bears to look closely at drafting a QB late in the draft, with the 5th-7th rounds being the most likely scenario.
Running back: Matt Forte provided another phenomenal season for Chicago in 2013, amassing nearly 2000 all-purpose yards en route to earning his second trip to the Pro Bowl.
But there wasn't much else to cheer about from the running back position for Chicago. Michael Bush carried the ball only 63 times all season, compared with Forte's 289. He has a cap hit of $3.85 million for next season, and is considered a strong candidate to be released to free up money for elsewhere.
The Bears have liked what they have seen out of backup Michael Ford in practice, and at only 215 lbs. is a better fit in Trestman's offense than the 240 lb. Bush. Therefore, it's unlikely the Bears would use a draft pick on a running back unless they are wowed by someone's abilities. Forte is so much of a bell cow for Chicago offensively that they simply don't need to invest a heavy amount into the backup position.
Wide Receiver/Tight End: Arguably the area with the most stability and consistent production, the Bears had two 1,000 yard receivers in Jeffrey and Marshall. Couple those two with TE Martellus Bennett, who chipped in with 759 yards and five touchdowns, and the Bears appear set for years at the receiver positions.
The Bears may look to cut WRs Earl Bennett and Eric Weems in cost-saving moves similar to that of Bush because they have liked last year's 7th round pick Marquess Wilson and view him as a potential replacement for Bennett and Weems, who was used primarily on special teams, is viewed within the organization as expendable in terms of his salary.
At TE, backup Dante Rosario will be a free agent this off-season as well, but he was used so sparingly that the position probably isn't of enough importance to merit using a draft pick on one. Expect the Bears to, depending on the situation with Bennett and/or Weems, to look more towards free agency at both of these positions when the time comes.
Offensive Line: By re-signing LG Matt Slauson to a four-year contract at the beginning of the off-season, they ensured that four of their starting offensive linemen (along with LT Jermon Bushrod, RG Kyle Long, and RT Jordan Mills) will be under contract for at least the next three seasons.
The lone exception to that group is C Roberto Garza, who is set to enter free agency this off-season. Garza has been with Chicago since 2005 and took over at center in 2011. The Bears have already expressed interest in retaining the 35-year-old Garza, who has said that he would like to return as well. But the Bears may decide it's time to move on and could potentially look to get younger at the position by drafting a replacement with an early round pick, possibly as early as the 2nd round. It's an unlikely scenario, but one that exists nonetheless.
Another point of emphasis for Chicago will be how to address the backup tackle position, which was occupied by Eben Britton in 2013. Britton will be a free agent as well, and he did a nice job when his number was called during the season, as Trestman often likes to bring in a sixth lineman in obvious passing situations.
He also performed admirably in the season finale against Green Bay when Mills went down with a broken bone in his foot that eventually required surgery. The Bears expect Mills to be fully healthy for the off-season programs. If anything, the Bears would only spend a late round pick on a tackle and hope to hit another home run like they did with Mills last season, whom they selected in the fifth round.
Billy Grayson is a Yahoo contributor from Chicago and diehard Chicago sports follower. He is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia. To view his previously submitted content, follow the link to his Yahoo profile.
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- Jay Cutler
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