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We’re just over a month into the Chicago Bears’ offseason, and it’s already been a busy one. The Bears have been involved in trade talks for multiple veteran quarterbacks around the league, which is just one of many questions on offense that need to be answered heading into 2021.
Before the offseason kicks into gear with the start of free agency next month, we’re taking a look at some of the biggest questions by position for this team in what’s going to be a make-or-break season for general manager Ryan Pace and head coach Matt Nagy.
After looking at the questions on offense, let’s wrap it up for a pair of units with less concern but still plenty of questions: Defense and special teams.
Here’s one question at every position for the Bears’ defense and special teams heading into an important offseason.
Defensive line: Which reserves will Chicago be able to bring back?
AP Photo/Jim Mone
The Bears defensive line has been one of the most consistent units over the last few years. With Chicago set to return Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman and Bilal Nichols, they have a good starting trio to lead their defensive front. But this unit has also been known for some rotational pieces that have served key roles, and the Bears will have four defensive linemen hitting the free-agent market next month in Roy Robertson-Harris, Brent Urban, John Jenkins and Mario Edwards. Robertson-Harris has already alluded to the fact that he doesn't believe he'll be back in Chicago next season while the outcome is better for players like Urban, Edwards and perhaps Jenkins. Although, the Bears are set to get back Goldman in 2021 after he opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns. Depth has been a vital part of this defensive line's success over the years, which means Chicago should try to retain whoever they can.
Inside linebackers: How will the Bears address depth concerns?
Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini
One of the biggest surprises from last season was Chicago's failure to address depth concerns at inside linebacker. Especially considering both Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan were coming off injuries. After Nick Kwiatkoski and Kevin Pierre-Louis departed in free agency, the Bears were left with Josh Woods and Joel Iyiegbuniwe as their reserves, which didn't inspire a lot of confidence. Now, heading into 2021, the same concerns remain with depth at inside linebacker. While Trevathan played an entire 16-game season for just the third time in his career last season, Smith suffered an elbow injury in the regular-season finale against the Green Bay Packers, which forced Woods into action. While he wasn't terrible, it was clear the Bears weren't super confident in their depth as they activated practice squad linebacker Manti Te'o to play in Smith's place in the wild-card loss to the New Orleans Saints. The Bears need to address their lack of depth at a position where both starters have an injury history.
Outside linebacker: How much will Bears invest in the pass rush?
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo
While Khalil Mack had a bounce-back season, Chicago's pass rush failed to return to its dominant force seen a couple of years ago. Even with signing Robert Quinn to a $70 million deal to upgrade the pass rush with someone that could take advantage of Mack pulling double teams. The Quinn signing proved to be the biggest blunder of the offseason for Pace, especially as former first-round pick Leonard Floyd had his breakout season with the Los Angeles Rams, notching a career-high 10.5 sacks. There's no doubt that Quinn should muster a better performance in 2021, considering he managed just two sacks. While Quinn proved solid in other areas, his job as a pass rusher is to sack the quarterback, which he struggled to do last season. Outside of Mack and Quinn, the Bears have rookie Trevis Gipson on the roster, and they'll need to bring in some reserves at outside linebacker as Barkevious Mingo and James Vaughters are set to hit free agency.
Cornerback: What will Chicago do at nickelback?
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
As Pace faces the challenge of navigating a decreased salary cap where he has a handful of free agents and roster spots to fill, one of those questions comes at nickelback. Buster Skrine, who signed with the team back in 2019, has one year remaining on his deal. The Bears could save $2.7 million in salary cap space by parting ways with him this offseason, which would leave a void in the slot. With Skrine missing the final five games of the season with a concussion, Chicago got a good look at one of their developmental guys in Duke Shelley, who took over in the slot. Shelley was decent enough, and we'll soon learn whether the Bears have enough confidence in him to part ways with Skrine.
Safety: Who will be starting opposite Eddie Jackson in 2021?
AP Photo/Matt Ludtke
Eddie Jackson is the only safety currently under contract with the Bears in 2021, which means the Bears have plenty of work to do at the position this offseason. Starting with who will be lining up opposite Jackson. Tashaun Gipson had a solid season with Chicago, and he'd be someone the Bears could consider bringing back on a team-friendly deal, especially considering the salary cap is set to decrease by around $18 million in 2021. If Chicago chooses not to re-sign Gipson, they'll have a new safety for the third straight season. It's possible they could turn to the NFL draft for another young safety prospect. Otherwise re-signing Gipson at an affordable price makes the most sense. Then there are the reserves that are all set to hit the open market in Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson and Sherrick McManis, who Chicago could re-sign at the right price.
Specialists: Will the Bears lock up Cairo Santos to an extension?
Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports
The Bears were finally able to break the Robbie Gould curse in 2020 with Cairo Santos' breakout performance. Funny enough, Santos wasn't the intended kicker, and it took Eddy Pineiro suffering a groin injury for Matt Nagy to bring in Santos as an insurance policy. Santos connected on 30-of-32 field goals (93.75%) and broke Chicago's franchise record for consecutive made field goals with 27, eclipsing Robbie Gould's record of 26. Now, Santos is set to become a free agent next month, and the Bears have to prioritize re-signing him this offseason. While it probably isn't as high on the to-do list, starting with what to do at quarterback and with receiver Allen Robinson, Pace can't risk letting the first good kicker since Gould walking away in free agency.