There was a Jekyll-and-Hyde nature to the 2016 Chicago Bears. They lost six games by one score – and then they lost six more by double-digit counts.
The end result was a 3-13 record – and the likely end of the Jay Cutler era in Chicago.
But Head Coach John Fox and GM Ryan Pace will get another year to start showing some progress. And there is talent on this team. Three players made the Pro Football Writers Association All-Rookie team. And several more players, such as WR Cameron Meredith, showed some promise. All this adds up to a team that may not be all that far away from being competitive.
How close? We asked Jake Perper, founder of Bears Backer and co-host of the Unnecessary Roughness Bears Podcast, to help sort that out.
Zoneblitz: How would you assess the 2016 season and was keeping John Fox the right move and how would you assess the work of Fox and GM Ryan Pace to this point?
Perper: Assessing the Bears isn’t easy after the showing they put on the field this season. The consensus was John Fox would have a year two turnaround after winning six games a year ago. However, the Bears fought the injury bug, showed their youth and lack of depth much too often. The 2016 draft class is Ryan Pace’s best one in two tries. Keeping Fox I wouldn’t say is the best move, but giving him one more year won’t hurt as the Bears continue the rebuild. I’m a big fan of Pace, he needs another nice draft and solid free agency to help his cause though.
Zoneblitz: What does the QB position look like if the team moves away, as expected, from Jay Cutler? Yahoo! Sports says the Bears are the odds-on favorite for a Romo acquisition… Matt Barkley? David Fales? Draft pick? You?
Perper: I’m not quite sure how Tony Romo is a significant upgrade over Jay Cutler. I know Cutler is hurt often, but Romo is a guy who has had serious back issues. If the Bears move on from Cutler, either Matt Barkley or Brian Hoyer could be back to compete with a draft pick. Mike Glennon is an intriguing option in free agency. I’d take a shot on him as a bridge quarterback if he isn’t too pricey.
Zoneblitz: Jordan Howard merits a discussion of his own – he stepped right in for Matt Forte. What’s his ceiling?
Perper: I’ve been a huge advocate of Jordan Howard’s for quite some time. I studied a lot of his game tape prior to the draft and he impressed in the preseason and it was no shock to see him perform the way he did. If he can improve pass catching skills, Howard could very well be a top 5 back in a full season of work. His vision and power is tremendous.
Zoneblitz: Alshon Jeffery guaranteed a Super Bowl in in 2017-18. Will he be hoisting that Lombardi trophy with the Bears or for some other team in 2017?
Perper: That is hard to say. After the year that he had, I’m not sure he’ll get elite money from anywhere even the Bears. But if I’m sitting in the Bears’ front office there is no way I’m letting leave town. Here’s why. If Jeffery is gone, the Bears will have Kevin White, Eddie Royal, Cameron Meredith and Daniel Braverman as the only four receivers on the roster. White has played in four games in two NFL seasons, Royal is constantly banged up and mostly likely gone and Braverman is beyond unproven. Pairing Jeffery with Meredith, White and another receiver would be wise.
Zoneblitz: There is some young talent on offense in Jordan Howard, Cameron Meredith, Cody Whitehair, etc. And Leonard Floyd joined Howard and Whitehair on the PFWA All-Rookie team. Does this team have a core you can see developing into something?
Perper: Yes absolutely. Everyone wants to blame Pace for his pick of White two years ago. The need was there and he may have reached a bit, but it seems that he likes guys with pure athleticism and tons of upside in Round 1. His ability to evaluate talent in the middle part of the draft is very solid. Like mentioned above, if Pace can hit on a couple of the 2017 picks and add proven talent in free agency, this team should bounce back.
Zoneblitz: The O-Line appears to be largely taking shape, with Whitehair. What’s Kyle Long’s role in 2017 – left tackle? Right tackle? Guard? And how does that unit look in 2017 versus the end of this year?
Perper: Kyle Long should stay right where he is. Once he returns to full health this off-season, the Bears will want him at right guard. Having veteran Josh Sitton at left guard and Cody Whitehair at center makes the interior very solid. Bobby Massie disappointed in his debut season, but the Bears can move on from him this off-season. Charles Leno Jr. is an underrated asset at left tackle who I thought played very well throughout. Right tackle is the need here.
Zoneblitz: It appeared at times the defensive front seven had some potential but the backfield mostly struggled. Would you agree with that assessment and what do you think needs to happen to fix the defense?
Perper: Yes absolutely. Last season, the Bears were thin at cornerback and safety, but this year it was that much worse. Guys you never heard of took the field, made starts and rotated spots at the bottom of the roster. The Bears need a full-fledged playmaking free safety in the worst way and a No. 1 cornerback. The defense is built on making plays up front, but without help on the back end it is hard to stop any offense.
Zoneblitz: What do you want to see the Bears do in free agency and the draft?
Perper: The needs in no apparent order in my mind are free safety, cornerback, defensive end, quarterback, right tackle, wide receiver and tight end. Will the Bears fill all of them? I’m not sure. But they’ll have the cap space to do a ton if they get rid of Cutler, veteran linebacker Lamarr Houston, Royal and Massie. Expect the Bears to be aggressive this off-season especially when you consider how awful the attendance was at Soldier Field late this season. Chicago can’t be the laughing stock of the league, the fans won’t allow it.
Zoneblitz: While it was a 3-13 season, there seems to be more potentially useful nuggets on this team than a typical one with that record – how far is this team from being in the mix again?
Perper: I really thought the potential for a turnaround this season was there. Too many issues occurred with injuries, personnel and coaching. The draft and free agent period will be telling in where the Bears want to be next season. Obviously, it is too hard to predict anything, but I can see them competing to be 9-7 at the very least. That is predicated on solid moves and staying healthy.
Follow Jake Perper on Twitter at: @BearsBacker
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