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Bears Tue Aug 27 2013
The Bears should be a playoff contender once again in 2013. Though the defense might not play up to the all-world standards that fans have become used to, the hope is that the rebuilt offensive line combined with a quick release, West Coast style offense brought in by Marc Trestman will improve the offense enough to balance out the team. Playing football in mid-January is certainly not a guarantee to the degree that a team like the Packers making the playoffs is, but the Bears can do it.
Picking a Super Bowl winner before the season begins is a fool's errand. In a league that is defined by skull-jarring hits and body clashes that make people cringe from the comfort of their couches, injuries can't be predicted in advance without help from Doc Brown. Heck, it's even hard to predict the Super Bowl team right before the playoffs begin when the odds are 1-in-6.
Once you make the playoffs, the cards have to go your way. It's sad, but that's what it comes down to in the one and done business of the NFL. The Ravens wouldn't have made it to the AFC Championship game had Broncos safety Rahim Moore not blown the coverage on a 70-yard touchdown with 38 seconds remaining to tie the game 38-38 in the Divisional round. You don't need 'something special' to win a Super Bowl. You need to be lucky.
By that deduction, the Bears have a chance at reaching the Super Bowl. It's unlikely that they'll get there, but the NFL is a crazy league. And the Bears need to realize the opportunity that they have in front of them because it might be their last shot a title in the foreseeable future.
Ten of the Bears 26 projected starters (that last number includes kicker, punter, and return specialist -- considering the importance of those positions) will be free agents at season's end. Combined with the jumps in salary cap hits from free agent signees Jermon Bushrod and Martellus Bennett, the team won't be able to afford to bring everyone back unless a number of them come at a discounted price.
Jay Cutler's contract situation has been discussed at length, but the possibility of him being given the franchise tag to buy the Bears another year of evaluation in the Marc Trestman system seems unlikely when looking at the salary landscape of the entire team. The tag would cost roughly $15 million, which is a $5 million jump from his current cap hit. The team simply can't afford that if they plan on bringing back key players at other positions.
Outside of Cutler, the Bears offense is actually pretty set. Roberto Garza and Matt Slauson are the only other free agents on that side of the ball. Slauson is playing on a one-year deal, and Garza could very well be the biggest weakness on a line that will likely feature four new faces next Sunday against Cincinnati.
Defensively is where the scenario turns nightmarish if you're a Bears fan. Henry Melton, Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, Major Wright, and Nate Collins are all due for new contracts, and the latter two are the only ones that might come in under $4 million per season. The Bears will likely focus on the younger guys from that group, but the importance of Tillman and Jennings can't be understated because the team hasn't drafted a player with a high pick at cornerback for years.
To make room for all their own free agents, the Bears might do what many consider unthinkable: cutting Julius Peppers. At a cap hit over $17 million next year, the Bears could release the perennial Pro Bowler to save $11 million against the salary cap. If he doesn't perform this season like he has in almost every other year of his career, it might not even be a difficult decision for the team to hand him his walking papers; knowing that he'd be playing the 2014 season at age 34 doubles down on that idea.
The Bears can extend their championship window if they're able to keep most of their potential free agents. But the chances of them bringing back all of their impact players is highly unlikely, making this potential run at the Lombardi trophy more important than it has been in years. Anything can happen.