With the Scouting Combine now over, the first step in what may be the Bears’ most important draft in years has wrapped up.
Next comes a wave of Pro Days across the country to see if players that general manager Phil Emery, college scouting gurus Marty Barrett and Jeff Shiver, head coach Marc Trestman and others observed and interviewed over the past several days rise or fade in their interest.
I’m giving this draft that title not only because this is Emery’s specialty, but because the state, age and cost of the present roster that’s fallen short of the playoffs the past two years is creating some difficult decisions.
At this point, it looks like the Bears are between eight and nine million dollars below the salary cap with minimal, if any, increase expected for the 2013 season. Just franchise-tagging Henry Melton would use up all of that space, without taking into consideration Brian Urlacher (or a starting linebacker replacement), Nick Roach and Jason Campbell.
If you want Jonathan Scott to return as a backup as well, create some space for him too. And we haven’t even gotten around to the fantasy free agents many fans would love to see this team pursue to fill needs (especially on the offensive line).
The Bears can always--and are expected to--ask Julius Peppers to restructure his contract to avoid a $16 million cap hit. The club has six other players making between five and 10 million dollars (lowest to highest: Jennings, Forte, Briggs, Tillman, Marshall and 2014 free agent Jay Cutler). Another option would be freeing up space by parting ways with two of the bigger-ticket disappointments from this past season--Kellen Davis ($3.8 million) and Devin Hester ($2.9 million).
For every hole that needs to be filled, like linebacker, nickel back, defensive tackle (if Melton leaves), offensive line, backup quarterback, tight end, and third or fourth wide receiver, salary cap space must be created. If it is not, things will have to change through the coaching and philosophies of Trestman and his staff, as well as this draft.
The Bears only have five picks right now: in the first, second, fourth, fifth and sixth rounds. Some real prudent decisions must be made over the next several weeks--if they haven’t been already--on veteran personnel, the salary cap puzzle, and making the picks they need to make in order for this team to be a playoff contender again.
There is certainly some impressive talent in place, but there are enough questions about the holes that remain to make the decisions that will be made in March and April just as important as the games played in November and December.