By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) There’s no use looking back now. The 2011 season is over and it’ time to start preparing for the future. While there is plenty of time to do all the detail work and prepare for the upcoming season by studying free agents and the draft, it’s fairly clear that the Bears will have to make significant changes in the offseason.
Just like the game of football is determined by offense, defense and special teams, the makeup of the team is determined by the actions of the front office, the coaching staff and the players. Change is needed in all three areas to avoid future collapses.
Board chairman George McCaskey is the current Halas descendant in charge of the franchise. He can leave all decisions up to team president Ted Phillips if he wants, but McCaskey may want to use his influence to make sure the Bears make changes that can assure a new direction for the state of a team that has some talent but is also starting to age in some key positions.
Bring in a new general manager. Retirement rumors have been swirling around Jerry Angelo for more than a year. That’s a nice way to go. Push Angelo towards retirement in a way that he will understand that he really doesn’t have any choice. Angelo’s imprint helped lead the Bears to a loss in the Super Bowl and another appearance in the NFC Championship game. But he has failed repeatedly in the key rounds of the draft and his failure to address the backup quarterback position has cost the team two years in a row. Remember, when Jay Cutler injured his knee in the NFC Championship game last year, the choices were Todd Collins and Caleb Hanie. When Cutler’s broken thumb forced him out of the lineup this year, his choice was Hanie. First-round draft picks like Marc Colombo, Michael Haynes, Cedric Benson and Chris Williams have been failures. Tommie Harris was a star for a short while, Greg Olsen was a serviceable player for the Bears before moving on and it’s too early to tell on Gabe Carimi. It’s just not enough. Say good bye, Jerry.
Push Mike Martz out the door. Very few coaches in NFL history have gotten more mileage out of one or two great seasons the way Martz has. When the Rams won the Super Bowl following the 1999 season, Martz grabbed nearly as much credit as head coach Dick Vermeil from his offensive coordinator slot. While the Rams had a great offense, veteran wide receivers coach Al Saunders may have deserved just as much credit as Martz. Nevertheless, Martz was head coach of the Rams from 2000 through the early part of the 2005 season and then served as offensive coordinator for the Lions and 49ers before moving onto the Bears. Martz can open up the passing game, but he doesn’t sustain success and wears out his welcome quickly. That’s the case in Chicago. Send Mrs. Doubtfire packing.
Sign Matt Forte to a new contract. Perception is reality. The Bears may have held the upper hand with Forte since he was under contract in 2011 and they did not have to give him an upgrade in pay and add years of security. It may appear to be a wise financial move since Forte got hurt after a great start. But the Bears may have lost by winning. The non-stars on the Bears know that if the team is not going to reward Forte, they are not likely to get paid. The franchise tag seems obvious, but the Bears will send a better message by giving the versatile Forte a new contract and sending a new message to current Bear players and potential free-agent signees.
Rebuild the offensive line. This is a perennial problem for the Bears and it needs to be addressed again during the offseason. Roberto Garza has done a competent job at center and former Seahawk Chris Spencer is also a solid addition at right guard. Carimi has to get healthy and start contributing next year. Aside from those players, the Bears don’t have quality on the line. Lance Louis is a hustler who is limited. Williams is a major disappointment. J’Marcus Webb is just a body at right tackle.
Find a dependable wide receiver. The position has been a disappointing area for years. Earl Bennett is a good-hands receiver who can make plays on third down. Johnny Knox has to recover from a fractured vertebrae and is simply not dependable despite game-breaking speed. The Devin Hester experiment is over and he’s not a go-to receiver. Roy Williams just doesn’t care about sacrificing to make plays. Sam Hurd is gone but not forgotten – for all the wrong reasons. It’s time to move on and get a new crew.
Look to the future on defense. It’s still the strongest area on the field but the unit is aging. Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers and Charles Tillman are all over 30. Peppers is still a great player while Urlacher, Briggs and Tillman are still effective, but the clock is ticking and all will need to be replaced at one point. It’s better to start that process sooner rather than later or the defense may lose its effectiveness.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.