After the Seattle Seahawks won Super Bowl XLVIII, all 32 teams officially entered the offseason and started plotting how they could position themselves for a shot at Super Bowl XLIX. Shutdown Corner will look at the offseason blueprint for each of the 32 NFL teams, presenting one team a day (using the 2014 draft order, starting with the Houston Texans and finishing with the Seahawks), leading you right up to the start of free agency on March 11.
2013 record: 8-8
Projected current salary-cap space (according to OverTheCap.com): $7.6 million
Possible salary-cap casualties: DE Julius Peppers, WR Earl Bennett, RB Michael Bush.
Draft situation: Have 14th overall pick, own all of their original picks except for their seventh-rounder (traded for Dante Rosario). Also own Tampa Bay Buccaneers' sixth-round pick (via Gabe Carimi trade).
Revisiting 2013: The Bears took the NFC North by the horns early on and managed to remain in contention all the way up to Week 17, despite the midseason injury to Jay Cutler. McCown stepped in and proved to be a godsend, keeping the passing game vibrant in head coach Marc Trestman's first season and helping elevate receiver Alshon Jeffery to superstar status, alongside Brandon Marshall. The problem was the defense. It was terrible against the run, having been gashed by injuries up front, and the safeties frequently allowed big plays in pass coverage and missed tackles. Losing at home to the Green Bay Packers in the final game of the season cost the Bears the No. 4 slot in the postseason.
Reasons for optimism: With Cutler signed long term, the team has few glaring offensive needs this offseason. Marshall, Jeffery, Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett are four of the best receivers at their respective positions, and the offensive line made huge strides last season, assuring Trestman's offense of being one of the better all-round units in the league. Cutting Peppers will help free up an $18 million chunk of cap space to attack several needs on defense, and there's an opportunity to get younger after a few spots on all three levels had become long in the tooth.
Glaring hole to fill: The interior of the defense needs a major refurbishment; the run defense was historically bad. That means help must come at defensive tackle, middle linebacker and safety. There are some possible internal solutions for all three, but more help is needed. Melton is a possibility to return, but he's coming off ACL surgery. Collins, Ratliff and Wootton (who plays inside too) could come back, but using the 14th pick on a tackle is a strong possibility. Linebacker Jon Bostic looked out of place inside, and Williams is no guarantee to re-sign. Wright is a free agent, and Chris Conte struggled at safety all season. Expect the bulk of their cap space — which could exceed $20 million after all the cuts — to be spent fixing these spots.
Toughest decision: The Bears thought enough of Melton a year ago to place the franchise tag on him, and yet so much now has changed. His torn ACL meant a lost season, and it likely wiped out the chances of him receiving the tag for a second straight year. It would just cost too much. Plus, as GM Phil Emery said at his season-ending press filibuster, the team wants to know that Melton is committed fully to football, before it brings him back. The most likely scenario will be a one- or two-year deal for Melton to come back, assuming the market is a little soft for him. But how much to the Bears spend to keep him? A situation worth watching, to be sure.
Best-case offseason scenario: The team has said it will not switch defensive schemes full scale to a 3-4 front, but that doesn't mean the Bears aren't seeking more versatility up front, something both Trestman and Emery spoke of at the scouting combine. Expect an overhaul up front and some new bodies along the defensive line, which appears to be the focus both in free agency and through the draft. The team must find both space eaters to combat the leaky run defense and also penetrators to boost a limp pass rush. If the team also can re-sign Garza and beef up the secondary (cornerback is also a position of need), it shouldn't have too many major holes heading into training camp.
Previous Blueprints: 32. Houston Texans; 31. Washington Redskins; 30. Jacksonville Jaguars; 29. Cleveland Browns; 28. Oakland Raiders; 27. Atlanta Falcons; 26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers; 25. Minnesota Vikings; 24. Buffalo Bills; 23. Detroit Lions; 22. Tennessee Titans; 21. New York Giants; 20. St. Louis Rams
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