Chicago Bears commentary: A new cross to bear in pivotal offseason

Maybe it was the quarterback controversy.

Maybe it was a lackluster defensive line led by an aging Julius Peppers. Or maybe, just maybe, it was all Chris Conte’s fault.

Regardless, the Bears have once again found themselves on the outside looking in. Chicago failed to make the playoffs for the third straight season.

Entering the first full offseason under head coach Marc Trestman, the Bears cannot afford to hibernate. Change is underway as Trestman will fully implement and shape his regime as he enters his second season with the Bears. The coach created a successful system with the Bears’ offense, finishing with the second most points in the league. The defense, however, is set to undergo necessary change as they finished ranking as one of the league’s worst.

Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker finds himself on the hot seat. The struggling and often laughable play of the unit was a fairly large cause of a mediocre 8-8 record. The status of Tucker has yet to be addressed by Trestman and general manager Phil Emery. Countless injuries on the defensive side of the ball could factor in the decision to bring back Tucker for a second try.

The offense enters the offseason with little uncertainty. Chicago recently made the bold decision to lock up quarterback Jay Cutler with a seven-year, $126 million contract. The commitment to Cutler and slew of offensive weapons allows for Chicago to focus on the defensive side of the ball in both free agency and the NFL Draft. Moreover, Chicago displayed consistency in protecting the quarterback. Guard Matt Slauson was recently re-signed to a four-year deal, leaving veteran center Roberto Garza as the only remaining starter without a contract. The team could, in fact, look to bring Garza back while also drafting a young center in the later rounds of the draft.

As Emery prepares for his third draft as the general manager of the Chicago Bears, he now must find playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. In his first two drafts, Emery focused on the offensive side of the ball. He struck gold with players such as wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and guard Kyle Long. Still, defensive end, safety and linebacker are the biggest weaknesses on the defense.

With Peppers set to receive $18 million in 2014, Chicago could end up cutting him to create more cap space. In addition, Emery discussed possibly moving former first-round draft pick Shea McCellin from defensive end to outside linebacker in an effort to receive more production from him. Safeties Major Wright and Conte continuously struggled throughout the year. Conte’s mistakes could cost him his job. Rookie linebackers Jon Bostic and Khaseeme Greene played inconsistently throughout the year as they both filled in for injured veterans D.J. Williams and Lance Briggs.

That being said, Trestman and Emery have their work cut out for them. Decisions also loom on whether to re-sign veteran players such as cornerback Charles Tillman, defensive tackle Henry Melton and defensive end Corey Wootton.

With a total of 25 Bears having expired contracts, the roster will most likely have a different look entering the 2014 season. Chicago holds the 14th overall pick in the first round of the NFL draft along with six later picks. With so many positions to fill, trading down in the draft is likely possible to obtain more picks. Expect Chicago to demonstrate a more laid back approach in free agency as opposed to recent years. Rather than signing marquee players, Chicago will need to fill its roster with young, unproven players.

Proper scouting will be a point of emphasis leading up to the NFL draft in May. Expect Chicago to continue to build on the success of their offense and attempt to create a sense of success on the defense.