[This rant turned out to be a LOT longer than I originally planned. If your eyes glaze over somewhere in the middle, feel free to skip to the end for Sneaky Pete's No B.S. State of the Bears!]
Random thoughts on the Bears' off season:
Departures: Fred Miller, Ruben Brown, Mushin Muhammad, Bernard Berrian, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Brian Griese.
Miller was a disaster last year, and at his age (33 or 34 years old) it's not likely that he's going to improve much.
I was a little surprised at Brown being let go. I thought he had another year or two left in the tank, and he seems to be a classy guy. But, as he said during an interview with Mike North on WSCR in Chicago, "The Bears aren't going to pay [big money] for an old guy like me!" He wasn't bitter about being cut loose, he told North that it was just business and the Bears have to invest in their future. I can't really argue with that logic. I'm left wondering if Brown's shoulder injury isn't worse than advertised, though.
Mushin Muhammad had been getting #1 WR money for #3 WR performance the past two seasons. He really rubbed me the wrong way after the season was over and he started chirping about the Bears "Getting a bargain" in terms of his pay. It makes me wonder if the Bears didn't try to renegotiate his contract. Anyway, he's gone now and he won't be more than a #3 receiver on another team. Too bad, the Bears could use a #3 receiver like him. Just not at the price he was demanding!
It was a shame that the Bears couldn't keep Berrian for at least one more year. I think his arrow is still pointing up, even though he took a step backward last season. But, I think the Bears were right in not paying an exorbitant amount of money for an inconsistent performer. He simply dropped too many key passes last year. (Although not as many as Muhammad did!) I just wish Berrian had landed somewhere other than Minnesota! Speaking of the Vikings, I'm not sure how many catches he thinks he's going to reel in up there considering the QB situation in Minnesota might actually be WORSE than the QB situation in Chicago! Ah well, it's not the Bears' problem any more.
Ayanbadejo? I think it was really stupid of him to take his case to the media saying he had two Pro Bowl appearances in the past two years and should be getting paid appropriately. He's a full-time special teamer and he doesn't return punts or kicks! A lot of people were lamenting his departure to me. Give me a break. I like Ayanbadejo's fire, but he's not even a viable option as a back-up linebacker! Guess what Brendon? Jamar Williams or Michael Okwo will fill your spot nicely on special teams in 2008, AND they can back up the starters if needed! Good luck with the Ravens.
Griese's departure was a bit of a surprise to me when I first heard about it, but I keep hearing about division in the locker room last season, and I keep hearing about how it centered on Griese. He's been tagged as a locker room cancer before, so I tend to believe what I'm hearing. Remember those images on TV of Orton and Griese huddling together on the sidelines while Grossman was listening to his iPod on the bench? Remember how we were all thinking Grossman was a jerk for not being interested in the game after being benched? Well I want to go on record as saying maybe we were wrong when we piled on Grossman. Maybe he was simply reacting to something Griese said or did off camera. Who knows?
Retained: Lance Briggs & Rex Grossman.
I think the Bears made the right choice on both counts. Briggs is an impact player on defense. He is a "proven commodity." I wouldn't have been too worried if he left, because I think Jamar Williams has great potential, but Williams is still relatively unproven. He's only played in a handful games.
Grossman? Well if Griese was being a problem in the clubhouse and Orton is still unproven, it only makes sense to sign Grossman for another year. This offseason is very... Um... Barren in terms of available talent at the QB position. There was no reason for the Bears to pay another mediocre free agent too much money just because they unexpectedly entered "rebuilding mode" on offense. And make no mistake; the Bears are in rebuilding mode on offense.
New arrivals: Marty Booker & Brandon Lloyd.
I don't think there's anything to get really excited about here. Booker was probably added to get a veteran presence in the locker room. Unless the O-line improves drastically, I think he'll be lucky if he hauls in more than 40-50 catches this year. And that's only if the Bears get a serious threat to line up at the other WR position. At least the Bears didn't over-pay him. Don't get me wrong; I think the Booker signing is the Bears' most exciting move thus far. Why am I excited? It's certainly not because of his broken (and tied) team records from his first stint with the Bears; he's a different (read: much older) receiver now. But if Booker takes the same number he had before (86), I can wear one more jersey next season! I've already grabbed it from the basement! (See my profile pics!) If Booker takes a different number, I'll just be that much cooler, according to Josh's rules of jersey wearing!
Lloyd showed some potential with the 49ers, but was buried on the Redskins depth chart last season. As we've seen with Adam Archuleta, that's not a good sign! My projected starters at WR next season are Hester and Bradley with Booker spelling Hester early and often. Bears fans should keep their fingers crossed in hopes that Mark Bradley and Greg Olsen do some serious developing during the offseason!
We need O-linemen!
I've read that this years' draft is weak when it comes to guards, so the Bears will need to find a free agent or transform one of the five guards on their current roster into a starter. There are no more big name free agents out there in terms of OG, but look for the Bears to make a "Roberto Garza-esque" move. Garza wasn't highly touted, but he's played well for the Bears.
Sneaky Pete's generic draft picks, based on needs (in order): OT, WR, QB, RB, SS, DT.
More thoughts on the draft:
I'm not sure the Bears will draft Rashard Mendenhall even if he's still available. Why? Mike Mayock (NFL.com) compares Mendenhall to... (drum roll please) Cedric Benson. Ouch. I'm summarizing, but Mayock says that Mendenhall has a lot to learn about following his blockers, is not shifty enough, and doesn't possess breakaway speed. Furthermore, Mayock says Mendenhall is careless with the football. So, if *I* were in charge of personnel for the Bears, I'd stay away from him. Don't get me wrong, I like the kid. He seems like a decent guy. Maybe Mendenhall has more character, and maybe that makes all the difference. But, I would be gunshy after the disaster that was CB last season.
I also wouldn't be surprised if the Bears trade down in the first round to get an extra draft pick. They could use the extra picks to rebuild the offense.
Free agent acquisitions?
The Bears need depth at DT, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them sign a moderately priced, solid but not spectacular DT. Are there any available? I haven't even looked recently. Before they run out and sign a free agent, they should take a look at those guys who filled in at the end of last season. Kennedy is already gone to the Jags. I would love to see Toeina get a shot next season. I thought he had a great motor. Anthony Adams played fairly well too. The Bears still have Israel Idonije, who I like as a guy who can spell the starters. But the Bears need another solid starter!
Dusty Dvoracek? I'll get excited when he finishes an entire season, playing the way the Bears say he can.
Addendum: Hey! Good news! I just checked the Bears website and it seems the Bears have signed Babatunde Oshinowo from the Browns practice squad! Whew! It looks like the DT problem has been solved! Are you picking up the sarcasm? Good, because I'm laying it on pretty darn thick...
Now that former free agent RB Michael Turner is out of the picture, don't be surprised if the Bears sign a relatively unknown RB for microbucks. And don't be surprised if said RB is starting by midseason!
Sneaky Pete's State of the Bears
Devin Hester will still be the most dangerous scoring threat for the Bears as a kick and punt returner. I will be very surprised if he's very effective on a consistent basis in the passing game. Why? Because I don't believe he has the capacity to read defensive coverage, let alone make the same read as the QB. I think he's going to be more of a "run really fast that way and I'll just throw it up" type receiver. And that isn't going to work very well if the Bears can't protect the "flavor of the week" QB next season.
Overall, it's looking pretty bad for the Bears' offense unless the front office makes some brilliant moves. I think the defense will be solid next year, provided Dusty Dvoracek stays healthy and proves to be as good as the Bears think he can be. They also need to address the SS position, but there's a chance Kevin Payne will work out there. There's no real reason to believe special teams will be worse.
IMHO, if the season started today, Bears fans would be going through the same stuff we've been going through for the past decade (or two or three): Good defense, good special teams, cr@ppy offense. Is there any reason to think anything else? I didn't think so.