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Chicago Tribune photo.

Chicago Tribune photo.

Will Karmin, North Shore Country Day 

With the NFL offseason underway, the Bears have plenty of decisions to make. Coming off of a disappointing 3-13 season, the current Bears regime must show some improvement in the offseason in order to avoid the hot seat. Though the Bears had a poor season, there is still some hope as they have managed to maintain a fairly solid core foundation. The team also led the NFL in cap space on the injured reserve (IR) with 32+ million dollars and was tied for the third most players (22) on the IR.

The Bears have a ton of cap space this offseason, with upwards of 57 million dollars in cap space. The Bears could save an additional 14 million dollars by releasing Jay Cutler, giving them 71 million dollars of cap space. With this scenario, the Bears could also save another five million dollars by cutting Lamarr Houston, giving the team 76 million dollars.

At quarterback, the Bears have a very sticky situation. The Bears could pursue a number of options that involve keeping Jay Cutler. The possibilities include re-signing Brian Hoyer, which would cost anywhere from 5-7 million dollars, signing Tony Romo or drafting a quarterback. Another route might contain a trade for Jimmy Garoppolo. This is the route I would take as the cost would amount to less than one million dollars. In return for Jimmy, I would trade my 2018 first round pick, along with my third round pick this year. With my offseason plan, my hope is that the Bears turn into an upper half team next season so my first round pick next season will not be as valuable as it is this season. My hope is the Bears can muster about 8-11 wins next season with this plan. Garoppolo looked good when he played, and having three redshirt seasons behind Tom Brady can only be a positive. Garoppolo could be the franchise quarterback the Bears are looking for, and if he is not, they would not have to resign him next offseason. Since Garoppolo and General Manager Ryan Pace both went to Eastern Illinois for college, this trade makes a lot of sense. For the backup spot, the Bears should not invest the 5-7 million price tag on Brian Hoyer. Instead, they should draft Nathan Peterman, a quarterback from Pittsburgh University in the third,fourth, or fifth round. This would be a nice developmental project for the Bears coaching staff. Overall, this plan is very cost efficient as the Bears would invest very little money on both Garappolo and Peterman.

At running back, the Bears really do not need to make any moves. They are pretty set with the combination of Jordan Howard, Jeremy Langford, and Kadeem Carey. Howard will serve as the face of the franchise for years to come, and they do not need to touch this position. There is one position the Bears are lacking: a speedster running back such as Darren Sproles-a player that can participate on special teams. However, the Bears can look for a playmaker like this later down the line.
At the wide receiver position, the Bears have a tough decision. Should they let Alshon Jeffery walk away, franchise tag him, or sign him to a long term extension? I would give him a long term extension.This offseason, I would first resign Alshon Jeffery. I would offer him a five year extension in the 65-70 million dollar range. If he were to decline, I would franchise tag him. Cameron Meredith proved to be a reliable receiver this season, and the Bears should keep him and Kevin White around. If Kevin White can turn into a formidable receiver, the one the Bears hoped for when they drafted him number 7 overall, then the Bears will have a top notch receiving core. If White struggles, and last season was a fluke for White, the Bears will have to address their wideouts next offseason. Resigning Jeffery will give the Bears roughly 60-63 million dollars in cap space if you account for Garoppolo and Peterman.

Tight End is also a tricky position for the Bears. The Bears currently have Zach Miller, but he is injury prone. When healthy, Miller gives the Bears solid production. Even though he is good when he is on the field, Miller is just unreliable because of his many injuries. While this is a free agent class with a lot of tight-end talent like Martellus Bennett and Cameron Brate, the Bears should shoot towards drafting a tight end in the second round. If the Bears can land O.J. Howard, they should draft him without a doubt. If he is not available, they should draft David Njoku out of Miami (Florida). If both are unavailable, the Bears should roll their dice and hope the combination of Zach Miller, Daniel Brown, and Ben Braunecker can contribute. The Bears have a lot of cap space, but this money needs to be saved for the secondary.

The offensive line is actually a point of strength and weakness for the Bears. The Bears have one of the best interior offensive lines in the NFL with a starting combination of Josh Sitton, Cody Whitehair, and Kyle Long. They also have Hroniss Grasu, Ted Larsen, and Eric Kush to back them up. Grasu was the Bears starting center, but he tore his ACL before the season started. This position opened up for Cody Whitehair, and he played fantastic football as the starting center. He made the all rookie team, and he will be a pro bowler for years to come. With weak offensive tackles, the Bears wonder whether they should start Grasu at center and Whitehair at tackle. I would not move Whitehair back to tackle unless Grasu plays exceptionally well in OTA’s and preseason. Bobby Massie played better by the end of the season so he will play at right tackle. The Bears will then sign Andrew Whitworth for a three year contract/ 8 million per year to serve as a staple for the Jimmy Garoppolo’s blindside at left tackle. The additions of Garoppolo, Howard or Njoku, and Whitworth will give the Bears an extremely competent offense. The Bears offense would look a lot like that of the Cowboys. With this lineup, the Bears would have a dominant offensive line with a great, young running back, thus creating a running juggernaut. They would compare to the Cowboys by having a great number one receiver and a smart and accurate quarterback. The lineup would look like this:

Garoppolo – Howard -Jeffery -White – Meredith -Zach Miller/O.J. Howard/ David Njoku- Whitworth – Sitton – Whitehair – Long – Massie.
Defensively, the Bears will have about 50 million dollars to work with. First, I would take a surprise first round pick. I would draft Solomon Thomas from Stanford. Thomas is actually from Chicago, making this is a great reunion. I would not take Jonathan Allen as he does not have have the superstar potential of a player like Solomon Thomas. Analysts compare Thomas to the old defensive end from the 49ers, Justin Smith. If the Bears were to take Malik Hooker, I would be fine with that as he will be a stud in the NFL. In my offseason plan, I would have the Bears signing two safeties, so taking Hooker would be off the table. My offseason plan also would consist of the Bears going with one of two packages: Eric Berry/Solomon Thomas or Calais Campbell/Malik Hooker. I would have the Bears go with Berry and Thomas. Campbell is a great defensive end, but his numbers last year do not jump out at me as he had only eight sacks and 53 tackles. This is not bad by any stretch; it is just not an eye popping number. Whichever package you like is personal preference, but I think the Bears need a proven leader in the secondary. Thomas would round out the Bears defensive line, giving them a top notch defensive line of Akiem Hicks- Eddie Goldman- Solomon Thomas. The linebacking core does not need any work as is right now. It would be nice for them to become healthier and less injury prone, but Floyd-Trevathan-Freeman-Mcphee is a very good linebacking core. The secondary is where things get foggy. The Bears have 50 million dollars to spend. Berry will most likely cost 11 million dollars, giving the Bears 39 million dollars to work with. Then I would sign Tony Jefferson, an emerging star at safety who costs nearly seven million dollars. This move would give the Bears roughly 32 million dollars to work with on cornerbacks. Ryan Pace loves tall and physical cornerbacks. This leads me to believe the Bears will sign Trumaine Johnson. Johnson had a drop off this season as he was the 35th ranked cornerback by Pro Football Focus (PFF) and had just one takeaway. I believe this was a fluke, and he will rebound nicely. He is too athletically gifted not to rebound next season. This should cost the Bears around 13 million dollars per season which will leave them with 19 million dollars to sign A.J. Bouye. He is the real crown jewel of cornerbacks this offseason. Bouye had a breakout year, and his play differs from Johnson as he is smaller. Bouye would cost about 13 million dollars, leaving the Bears with approximately six million dollars left in cap space.

This vision of the team may not be the actual product that Ryan Pace puts together as it would require five signings, a trade, and the draft choices I have highlighted. However, I would hope Pace would try to build something similar to my proposed team this offseason. My offseason has its downside in that it would cost the Bears draft picks and cap space flexibility, but I think the additions make sense. Here is the final product:
Garoppolo – Howard -Jeffery -White – Meredith -Zach Miller/O.J. Howard/ David Njoku- Whitworth – Sitton – Whitehair – Long – Massie.
Hicks – Goldman – Thomas – Floyd – Freeman – Trevathan – Mcphee – Johnson – Berry – Jefferson – Bouye.

Where do you think this team would rank in the NFL?

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