“In the offseason you’re trying to improve your ballclub,” Smith said. “We’re not saying we have all of those areas taken care of. We’re going to try to bring in as many good football players as we possibly can. That’s why we’re down here [at the Combine]. Of course, there’s free agency and there’s a lot of different ways for us to improve..."
After the mockery of 2007, the Bears have some important issues to fix. As the veteran cuts start to roll in and the rookie class of '08 starts to come into focus, it gets clearer and clearer what the Bears should - and likely will - do this spring and summer to get out of the basement in the NFC North.
First, let's look at the areas of greatest need:
OG - Brown leaves a big hole in his wake, and there's a thin draft class for interior linemen
OT - Miller left a big hole when he was in; huge draft class.
RB - Benson's not cutting it. Angelo's committed to bringing in competition. Thin FA class, deep draft class
QB - Nobody's the answer. Rex is back for another year, but will he see the field?
WR - apparantly we have none anymore. Which is fine....if we do things right.
DT - need a run-stopper to line up next to Harris. Bauzin and Adams come off IR, adding rotational depth, and Toeania surprised me late last season.
FS/SS - Brown can't be trusted and Archuletta can't play. Weak draft class.
Now, the solutions (as I see them):
OG: Has to happen in FA. Rumors are the Bears are targeting Faneca, the biggest name out there, who'll command a huge contract. I'd like to see Jake Scott come in, a product of the Colts system, a big, young guard who should be had for a decent price.
OT: Draft. Williams, Otah, or (if he falls, doubtful) Clady in the first round. A first-round commitment is always a big one, but pick a tough OT and you'll get 10-15 years of service from him.
RB: Call it a hunch, but I see Chicago native Michael Turner lining up in front of former college teammate Wolfe next year. At first it looked like he would command an absurd contract, but the unusually deep RB draft class has hurt his FA value quite a bit. They'll try to shop Benson but likely have no takers, he'll likely be cut and claimed by someone off of waivers. Don't see them drafting an early-round running back for the third time in five years.
QB: Rex or Orton (<-my vote) will be fine for now, if they can fix the run game and the defense. Griese is likely to get traded or cut. A rookie will be picked up in round two or three, (Woodson? Johnson? Both fit the Bears mold: big-armed QB's who need some work to succeed in the NFL) and sit the bench until 2009, or late 2008 if things are going really bad.
WR: Lovie envisions Hester as a WR1, but I'm not so sure. Going from a mediocre CB to a top-flight WR at NFL-pace is no easy task, but worst case scenario he's versatile enough for an occasional break-away touchdown or trick play. Bradley, Davis, and Haas round out the crew, but there'll likely be an early-round pick getting some reps (Rd.3, in my estimation). Add to that two pass-catching TE's (Olsen and Clark) and a re-vamped run game, and it's the perfect scenario for Kyle Orton: an occasional bomb to stretch out the field, but generally short passes and runs, designed at eating up the clock and letting the defense rest.
DT: Maybe a late-round pick-up, but should have decent depth for now, especially if Harris is 100%.
FS/SS: Huge concern. Mike Brown appears to be still on the team for next year, and the Bears have won the last 10 games or so that he's both started and finished, but he's got a hefty price tag (2.4 mil) for someone who's played 25% of the games the last 4 years. Payne looked solid until he went on IR last season, but I'd like to see the Bears make a move here. My pick? Trade for the Raider's Huff. Talented safety, just too much money invested in the position in Oakland. They've taken a defensive back in the first round of 5 of the last 7 drafts. They say he's got even more talent than he's shown, just needs good coaching. If there's one thing the Bears can do, it's coach anyone into defensive success. I think it's a long shot, but I'd love to see it, wouldn't mind giving up one of our 3rd rounders + something else to get a talent like that.
And that does it. Jamar Williams was drafted to replace Briggs, so let him go. Pray like crazy that Urlacher's back to form next year, with what I consider the best CB tandem in the league, a re-vamped run game, and the Beast that is Tommie Harris playing on two healthy legs for once, the Bears could once again be a force in the NFC.
Coming tomorrow (or later today if I get bored at work): My first mock draft for the 2008 draft.