What If the Chicago Bears Bomb This 2013 NFL Season?
Most fans and experts believe the retooled Chicago Bears under new head coach Marc Trestman will at least be in the running for a playoff spot this 2013 NFL season. However, there is always the chance that due to certain circumstances the team goes into a tailspin. It happened to a very talented Philadelphia Eagles squad last year partly due to coaching issues and partly because of injuries. As a result ownership decided to clean house and start fresh. What can Bears fans expect if something similar happens in Chicago?
Jay Cutler is gone
Peyton Manning missed one season because of injuries and despite leading his team to the playoffs every year the Indianapolis Colts still felt it was time to go in a new direction. Jay Cutler has gotten Chicago to the playoffs once in four tries. A lot of that is due to problems that were out of his hands such as untimely injuries, depleted talent on offense and poor coaching. However, his ongoing struggles to protect the football (63 interceptions and 14 lost fumbles) and testy relationships with every play caller the Bears bring in has put him in a position where 2013 may very well be his last shot to prove he is worth franchise quarterback money.
Chicago GM Phil Emery is perfectly comfortable letting Jay play out the rest of his contract. At age 30 Cutler doesn't have the leverage he would've had a few years ago. His obvious talent makes it dangerous for the Bears to let go but they have several options at their disposal including the franchise tag. If Cutler chose to leave he would end up in his fourth new offense in five years. That does not signal a bright future for a quarterback at that age. There is no doubt his best hope is to mesh with Trestman and turn the Bears offense around. If he can't, Emery has the green light from ownership to do what is necessary to get the team on the path to winning a championship. Despite being the most talented quarterback in team history, not even Cutler is immune to that.
Quarterback shopping starts in the NFL Draft
The 2013 class didn't offer any solutions for the Bears but the 2014 crop of college quarterbacks figures to have loads of talent for Trestman and the offensive coaches to nurture. Deciding who they will take obviously is impossible to say because their draft position won't be decided until their regular season ends. However, it's safe to say something close to a 4-12 or 5-11 record will put them in or close to the top five selections. That should give them ample opportunity to pluck a young talent.
A majority favorite of draft experts early in the process is Louisville standout Teddy Bridgewater. His unforgettable performance against powerhouse Florida in the Sugar Bowl has scouts buzzing. While he has a great arm, accuracy and plenty of athleticism it is his knowledge of the little things that makes him so intriguing. His foot work in the pocket is reportedly top notch as is his patience. He also manipulates defensive backs with his eyes in order to protect his receivers. That is the mark of a franchise quarterback.
Clemson passer Tajh Boyd has coaches interested after another solid year in 2012. He tossed 36 touchdowns and just 13 interceptions despite getting sacked 31 times. The toughness is there, as is the NFL caliber arm. His completion percetage and yards per pass also went up. If he continues to improve he is top ten lock given his athletic talent. What experts worry about is his slight height disadvantage at 6'1". Playing through that will prove he's worth the risk.
A.J. McCarron continues to fly under the radar for a lot of people. That is hard to believe since he's won two-straight national championships for Alabama and threw 30 touchdowns last year to just 3 interceptions. What has held him back is the simple fact he plays for the Crimson Tide, a team built on dominant defense and dominant rushing attacks. Most prefer to label McCarron as a "game manager." Yet at 6'4" he has the ideal height of a pro quarterback and he's shown plenty of times he has the arm to stretch defenses. While not the most athletic quarterback his winning history and ability to protect the football would have to interest teams.
Julius Peppers will lead a veteran exodus
Nobody wants to use the dreaded word "rebuild" but if Cutler is out and the Bears hunt for a replacement, it makes sense for the team to cut any excess baggage they can in order to save money and get younger. Leading the list of potential cuts is defensive end Julius Peppers. The perennial Pro Bowler has done great things for the Bears since joining them in 2010 but his contract has become a costly weight to carry. Even if the team does well this year his future is cloudy in 2014 because of the hefty $17 million cap hit he will bring. That means the Bears will likely part ways.
Among other veterans who could join him include linebacker Lance Briggs. He turns 34 next year and Chicago has already drafted a potential replacement in Khaseem Greene. A down season could mean curtains for the defensive stalwart who has always been a somewhat minor headache to the front office. Corners Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are also free agents next year. Among the veteran players looking to stay, they have the best chance since the team failed to fill the depth chart behind them with any young talent in the draft.
On the other side Robert Garza, Earl Bennett and J'Marcus Webb could join Cutler in an offensive purge. Devin Hester may get thrown onto that pile if he fails to regain his status as the best return man in football. All in all, any traces of the Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith era will disappear.
There is one fundamental truth about this team and this coming season. Anything less than the 10-6 finish they had a year ago will not prevent Emery and the front office from making further changes. The fans and indeed the ownership have grown tired of the mediocrity. If this Bears team is not good enough, then the time is fast approaching where they should get started in building a new one. That means a new quarterback for the new head coach and new leaders for the next generation.