The Bears have a lot of areas to improve upon if they have any plans of chasing down the top of the NFC North. While it looks like the Lions and Packers are at various stages establishing themselves among the elite, Chicago is always dangerous and shouldn’t be overlooked. So, let’s take a look at some of the guys coming and going.
S Brandon Meriweather
The safety got scooped up by Washington this offseason as it was pretty evident he didn’t fit in with Chicago’s Cover 2 defensive scheme. Meriweather played with the New England Patiots for four years before heading to Chicago for this past season, playing in 11 games and starting four. He’s got lots of talent and should walk into a starting role with both former Redskin starting safeties leaving D.C. (LaRon Landry and O.J. Atogwe).
RB Michael Bush
Whether it be injuries or otherwise, the Bears were unable to sign Pro Bowler Matt Forte to a long term contract this offseason. So they gave him the franchise tag, and he felt very similar to how Cliff Avril felt when the Lions tagged him: frustrated. Can you blame them? It’s a tough to sympathize considering the lofty tag price for running backs ($7.7 million next season), but longevity is the issue here. After slapping the tag on Forte, they slapped him in the face by signing former Raider Michael Bush, who was arguably the best second string running back in the league. But hey, this isn’t about Matt Forte. Bush brings not only insurance to one of the more explosive backs in the league, but another dynamic to their game. He’s a bigger guy with, forgive me for the cliche, “down-hill running speed.” A perfect compliment, and perhaps motivator, for a guy like Forte.
QB Jason Campbell
I feel Campbell played decently for the Raiders early last year, but I’ve never really seen him as a starter. That being said, he’s going to be one of the best backups in the league, just like Michael Bush. And, also like Bush, he brings another element to the game if he does see playing time: physicality. Jay Cutler can sling it a mile, but Campbell can come into the game and get you 40 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Solid insurance for the Bears who seem to want all the leftovers from Oakland.
CB Tim Jennings
Jennings re-signed to a two-year deal worth a little over $4 million with the Bears. With the departure of defensive backs Zack Bowman and Corey Graham, Jennings appears to become the clear-cut starter opposite Charles Tillman. They may still make a move in the draft, however. Jennings hasn’t been an incredible force in terms of play-making, but the Bears get a solid defender for good value- he pulls in only $900,000 of that contract this season.
WR Roy Williams (UFA)
This is really only relevant to Lions fans of the mid to late Millen era- it’s interesting to see where the once-popular Lion ends up each off-season. His production hasn’t been the same since he left Detroit for Dallas, and he couldn’t restore himself in Chicago. Now that Jay Cutler has a new toy to throw to (read on…), Williams is likely on his way out.
Brandon Marshall (trade)
Okay, this isn’t a free agent move, but it’s worth noting. The trade that brought Marshall to the Bears is deceptively dangerous. While many are quick to write Jay Cutler off, he hasn’t really had a true number one receiver while in Chicago. Marshall will fill that role and we’ll finally see what Cutler can do with a legitimate weapon.
Overall Rating: B+
The NFC North has been relatively quite thus far. The Bears, Packers and Lions have made calculated, intelligent moves without breaking the bank. The Bears didn’t lose too much; Meriweather has talent, but didn’t fit well in Chicago. Instead of pursuing a headlining free agent, the Bears went after quality veteran backups that will contribute right away. Now they need a good draft to bring in the new talent.