CHICAGO – Big moves are in the books. Now, options are on the table.
The Bears hold the 20th pick in the NFL draft, and there are a number of ways they can go.
That’s because they already addressed their most immediate needs. Besides hiring coach Marc Trestman to replace Lovie Smith, they signed Jermon Bushrod and Martellus Bennett. That gave them the top-tier left tackle and play-making tight end they craved, and it gave general manager Phil Emery some flexibility with the draft starting Thursday night.
“It allows us to look at all the positions for each and every pick,” Emery said. “Certainly those two, along with the other signings that we’ve had.”
The Bears still have needs on the offensive line and at linebacker. Depth on defense is an issue, and there’s the little matter of quarterback Jay Cutler and his expiring contract.
There’s also the chance they will trade down and possibly out of the first round, considering Emery basically put up the “sale” sign and welcomed all shoppers. It’s not hard to see why, with the Bears holding only five picks and none in the third or seventh rounds. They have a second-rounder (50), fourth-rounder (117), fifth-rounder (153) and sixth-rounder (188), but they don’t have the numbers for a team that’s trying to add depth and youth.
If the Bears stay at 20, Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker might be an option. The same goes for North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams and Tennessee receiver Cardarelle Patterson. And if they decide to go with a linebacker, well, how about Georgia’s Alec Ogletree or Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o, baggage and all?
Ogletree had a four-game suspension to start the season and a DUI arrest one week before the combine. He also was suspended for a game in 2010 after being charged with stealing a fellow athlete’s motorcycle helmet. For Te’o, it’s about the fake girlfriend hoax and less-than-stellar showings in the national championship game and at the combine.
Both players came up during Emery’s news conference last week. He confirmed meeting with Te’o and called him “a very good person, a very squared-away guy.”
Asked about Ogletree and his issues, Emery said the Bears do their homework.
“We work extremely hard at knowing the character of the players,” he said. “And then whatever we find out about their background, their personal behavior and any incidences they’ve been involved in off the field, whether we find those acceptable for us and whether the fit’s right for us.”
No matter which way the Bears go, they’ll have a different look next season.
They fired Smith and replaced him with the offensive-minded Trestman, hoping he can spark a stagnant offense and get the most out of Cutler.
They parted ways with Brian Urlacher, the eight-time Pro Bowl linebacker and heart and soul of the defense, even if they left the door slightly ajar for a return.
They lured Bushrod from New Orleans with a five-year deal, adding a Pro Bowl left tackle to a beleaguered offensive line and finally giving Cutler the protection he needs on his blind side. They added a playmaker at tight end in Bennett and signed former New York Jets guard Matt Slauson.
They’ll have two new starting linebackers alongside perennial Pro Bowl pick Lance Briggs with D.J. Williams replacing Urlacher in the middle and James Anderson taking over for the departed Nick Roach on the strong side.
All that comes on the heels of a 10-win season that ended with a second straight collapse and the Bears missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six years.
For all their moves, though, there still is plenty of work to be done.
The offensive line remains a question mark. And the Bears could use a youth injection on defense, too, particularly with Briggs, Julius Peppers and Charles Tillman in their 30s.
Most of their major new additions are on one-year deals, and with an expiring contract and no heir apparent in place, Cutler’s future is in question.
If he struggles, the Bears could make a clean break. And if he has a middle-of-the-road year, they might have a tough decision. If nothing else, another quarterback could become a trade asset.
“Jay’s contract status doesn’t impact it,” Emery said. “I’d like to draft a quarterback every year. If we could find the right quarterback, those are very valuable in terms of the position, obviously I don’t see that you can have a winning franchise and a championship franchise without a high-quality quarterback, so you want to give yourself as many chances as possible. They’re also very valuable from a trade perspective.”