Bears mailbag: Will they be a winner next year?
BY NEIL HAYES | Commentary
Linebackers Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher, two possible Hall of Famers, are showing no signs of decline on defense. | Scott M. Bort/Sun-Times Media
Q: My biggest concern is whether this team can be consistently good. Will this team be a winner next year? Or will they miss the playoffs for the next year or two? -- Jesse
A: It’s a simple question that is difficult to answer in today’s NFL. Defensively, they have three potential hall of famers who show no obvious signs of decline. The offensive line needs fortifying, and other positions need to be upgraded on both sides of the ball, but there should be opportunities to accomplish that via free agency and the draft. There’s no reason why the Bears shouldn’t continue to field competitive teams. In this league, however, there is such a fine line between success and failure that a few key injuries and/or bad breaks can scuttle a season.
Q: Why was Todd Collins the No. 2 quarterback. Sean [Jensen] gave me a “he has experience” answer back when I originally asked the question so if you can give me an answer without using the “e word” I would be most appreciative. -- Mike
A. I don’t know if I can. This was Mike Martz’s decision. The offensive coordinator has always preferred a veteran backup. Based on his comments made during the offseason and in training camp, I don’t know if he ever trusted Hanie, who hasn’t always been the most accurate passer, which is something Martz covets. I have been told that Collins was the more consistent in practice. For whatever reason, what was obvious to everybody after watching the Collins throw four picks against the Carolina Panthers wasn’t obvious to Martz, who stubbornly stuck with Collins. I do know the competition was close enough that the staff was considering moving Hanie back to No. 2 late in the season and only gave Collins two possessions before putting Hanie in versus Packers.
Q: Can you (or any reporter that has covered the Bears over the last seven years) ever remember Lovie Smith admitting that he made a mistake about anything? -- JohnF
A. He admitted he made a mistake when he failed to challenge Jay Cutler’s touchdown-that-wasn’t-a touchdown in a loss to the Washington Redskins earlier this season.
Q: What happens in the 2012 draft if there is no 2011 season? -- Santee Jack
A: I would assume the draft would go on as usual. Players couldn’t sign contracts with teams until a new collective bargaining agreement has been reached, however.
Q: If no CBA is approved before (I think) March 4th, what (if any) personnel moves can be made to improve the Bears? -- DSMBear’sFan
A: Teams cannot sign free agents or rookie free agents until a new CBA is in place. In terms of the draft, it’s business as usual. Team just can’t sign their picks.
Q: The truth of the matter is that Jerry Angelo really has not done a very good job in the draft judging by some of his many busts. Do you think he has the ability to bring this team to a Super Bowl level or better yet to surpass the Packers or are we in for more of the same? -- Al Leppellere
A: Experienced personnel people will tell you that everybody goes through ups and downs in this unpredictable business. Angelo’s definitely needs an “up” period not only to keep this team competitive but to quiet his many critics. He shook up the front office and has a hand-picked assistant in Tim Ruskell. After giving up two No. 1 picks for Cutler, this is a critical offseason for the longtime general manager.
Q: Mike Martz is so wrong for this team! Why don’t the Bears promote Mike Tice as offensive coordinator so we can get back to “Bear” football? This would also save Jay Cutler’s’ life! Your thoughts? -- Tripper
A: You may think Martz is wrong for the Bears but it’s Lovie Smith’s opinion that matters. He hired Martz and it’s hard to imagine him giving up on him now, especially after a season in which Martz emphasized the run as much as he ever has during his career. The other key is continuity. I can’t stress this enough. Talk to quarterbacks who have had multiple offensive coordinators and they will tell you how much of a disadvantage it is. At this point of his career, Cutler needs to continue to learn and mature in one offense rather than switching to another. Besides, while the offense was disappointing at times this season, it wasn’t as if it was a bust. The unit improved dramatically late in the season and put up big numbers against quality teams like the Jets and Eagles.
Q: By my reckoning the Bears need in order of importance: 1. left tackle, 2. top quality cornerback, 3. pass rusher to complement Peppers, 4. Brian Urlacher’s eventual replacement. Are there any upcoming free agents or suitable college players the “thrifty” Bears can get to upgrade there roster? -- Rick Gregg
A: You left out center. It’s absolutely critical they begin to develop Olin Kreutz’s eventual replacement. It’s so important, in fact, that I might put it second on your list behind acquiring a left tackle. There will be plenty of options available via free agency and the draft. Honestly, I don’t know if “thrifty” is part of the equation. The Bears have proved they’re willing to spend big money to get the players they need. Every franchise looks for bargains. When it comes to player acquisition, however, I don’t know if it’s fair to keep labeling the Bears as “cheap.”
Q: It has been reported that the owners are seeking to lower the cap to 2007 or 2008 levels. If this happens, the Bears would already be right at the cap limit given expecting signings of current roster players. This does not include players like Matt Forte, Anthony Adams, Izzy, Manning and others who will be seeking raises. If the Bears are unable to sign quality free agents to help bolster the offensive line, defensive line rotation at end and tackle both, and a weak secondary, what are the chances that you think Angelo scores major finds at offensive tackle, center, guard, corner, defensive tackle, defensive end in the upcoming 2011 draft? -- Creighton
A: You’re describing a haul like the Bears’ 1983 draft, when they landed Jimbo Covert, Willie Gault, Mike Richardson, Dave Duerson, Tom Thayer, Richard Dent and Mark Bortz. As you know, a draft like that doesn’t happen very often, but I don’t know if one of the best drafts in team history is needed to make this team successful going forward. Let’s use the offensive line as an example. If they can find a left tackle of the future maybe Edwin Williams can develop into the center they have been looking for. At 6-foot-7, 360 pounds, guard Herman Johnson is intriguing. If offensive line coach Mike Tice can do for him what he’s doing for J’Marcus Webb, the Bears may not need to draft multiple offensive lineman to field a much improved unit next season. We saw several young players make big strides this past season, which isn’t something we’ve always seen in the past. If that trend continues the Bears may not need as much outside help as you might think.
Q: What are the possibilities of getting Albert Haynesworth? He seems to want to play in a 4-3 defense such as the one the Bears have and he’s on the outs with Shanahan and the Redskins. Don’t give me any of this crap about defective character. Angelo is selective at best about that. -- Don
A: As much as it would be great to add a player of Haynesworth’s ability, I would tread carefully here if I were Angelo. One of the primary reasons for the Bears’ success was chemistry. Defensively, the highest-profile players -- Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs -- are the most unselfish, and everybody else falls in line. If Angelo has reason to believe that Haynesworth would follow suit, he should explore the option. If he’s less than convinced, he shouldn’t risk upsetting a locker room that has been one of the team’s greatest strengths.