The Bears believe they have their franchise quarterback in Jay Cutler, and disgruntled running back Matt Forte is one of the league's better all-around featured runners, whether he gets his long-sought-after long-term deal or plays this season for the $7.742 million franchise salary.
But that wasn't enough to compete with the NFC North rival Packers, and it wasn't even enough to get to the playoffs after both Cutler and Forte suffered season-ending injuries after a 7-3 start last season.
So team president and CEO Ted Phillips fired general manager Jerry Angelo and hired Phil Emery, who was given the immediate task of closing the talent gap between the two long-time rivals.
Emery wasted no time making a big splash and taking a big gamble by trading a pair of third-round draft picks for three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall. The 6-4, 230-pound Marshall has a long history of off-the-field problems and a recent diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, which may or may not explain multiple allegations of violence against women.
None of that baggage has prevented Marshall from putting up monster numbers for the past five seasons, two of which occurred in Denver, when Cutler was his quarterback. The Cutler-Marshall reunion is expected to be nothing short of prolific, the kind of pitch-and-catch combination never before seen in Chicago.
But that was just the beginning of Emery's restocking of an offense that lacked firepower and especially depth. The new general manager also added productive, powerful running back Michael Bush, who is capable of replacing Forte in the event of injury and would otherwise provide an excellent complement, one with the size to move the pile and factor is short-yardage situations.
The addition of veteran Jason Campbell, a starter for almost his entire six-year NFL career, gives the Bears their best backup quarterback in recent memory. Campbell's presence should prevent a repeat of the disaster that occurred last season should Cutler suffer another serious injury.
Two more wide receivers were added in free agency, Eric Weems and Devin Thomas, both of whom should also improve an already elite special teams unit. Second-round wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, an enticing 6-3 target who can go up and get it, gives the Bears a second big wide receiver, which is two more than they've usually had in the past. A red-zone pairing of Marshall and Jeffery could be exactly what Cutler needs to join the league's elite quarterbacks when it comes to putting up big numbers.
But the Bears' biggest offensive problem last season was a porous offensive line that has failed to adequately protect Cutler the past two seasons, allowing 105 sacks. The only addition to that mediocre group is journeyman guard Chilo Rachal. But the return of 2011 first-round draft pick Gabe Carimi is expected to solidify the right tackle spot after he started just two games last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
Other than Carimi and center Roberto Garza, the rest of the line is a question mark and must improve if the Bears are to utilize their new skill-position weaponry.
The Bears are better in every offensive area than they were a year ago, but the line's ability to protect Cutler remains the wild card. They saw last season how important his health is to their success.
Defensively, the Bears and Emery were content to do some minor tweaking. The biggest impact is expected to come from first-round pick Shea McClellin, the Boise State defensive end who is being counted on to diversify and intensify a pass rush that relied almost exclusively on Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers last season. McClellin doesn't have to become a full-time starter in his first season to justify what a lot of draft watchers considered a reach at No. 19 overall, but the Bears need him to pressure opposing quarterbacks who had the luxury of too much time last season.
Unrestricted free agents like cornerback Kelvin Hayden and linebacker Geno Hayes will provide better depth but not necessarily a talent upgrade in the starting lineup, which hopes to get one more quality season from its 30-something core of stars - Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers and Charles Tillman.
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