Season grade: D-
Season summary: The Bears regressed in Year 2 under coach John Fox. Nineteen players landed on injured reserve, but the club looked bad even when the roster was healthy. At no point during training camp or the preseason did the Bears resemble a legitimate contender. Fox's group dropped six of their first seven games, erasing all intrigue and interest before the end of October. The team lost starting quarterback Jay Cutler at two separate points of the season, but the offense generally ran better under reserves Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. Cutler's eight-season run in Chicago probably ended on the final play of the Bears' 22-16 road loss to the New York Giants, when fittingly, Cutler threw an interception. Outside of a surprise victory over Minnesota on Halloween night, the Bears had almost no memorable team moments. None. The offense, under coordinator Dowell Loggains, struggled all season to score points. The Bears' defense -- the strength of the team led by Vic Fangio -- mostly played well but struggled mightily on Christmas Eve against Washington. Special teams hasn't been relevant in Chicago since coach Dave Toub left town. At least the Bears did develop a several young players -- Jordan Howard - who broke Matt Forte's franchise rookie rushing record, Leonard Floyd, Cody Whitehair and Nick Kwiatkoski -- but the best thing that can be said about the Bears' 2016 campaign is that it's over.
Biggest draft need: Quarterback. General manager Ryan Pace needs to pull the trigger and draft a quarterback -- something he has not done in Chicago. The 2017 quarterback draft class is average, so the Bears are not expected to take one until after the first round. Still, the Bears will have plenty of quarterback prospects to sift through beginning in the second round. Chicago needs to find its version of Dak Prescott. Continuing to ignore the position is unacceptable. The Bears also need help in the secondary, including a playmaker who can intercept the ball.
Key offseason questions:
Can the Bears find a replacement for Cutler? Since Cutler, 33, is unlikely to return for a ninth season in Chicago, the Bears have to trade for, sign, or draft multiple quarterbacks. Barkley (if he re-signs with Chicago) deserves strong consideration for a backup role in 2017, but the Bears need a better No. 1 quarterback. The first call the Bears should make is to the New England Patriots about Jimmy Garoppolo, who is from the Chicago suburbs and attended Eastern Illinois University. There is no guarantee the Patriots have interest in trading Garoppolo, but it's worth a shot. In the event Pace is unable to acquire Garoppolo, he's expected to address the position via the draft. The 2017 quarterback class isn't strong enough at the top for the Bears to use their first-round pick on a passer, but there are plenty of intriguing prospects in the second, third and fourth rounds to consider. Regardless of the methodology, the Bears have to replace Cutler. That ship, which netted the Bears only one playoff appearance during his eight seasons, has long since sailed. The fact it has taken the Bears so long to reach that conclusion is an indictment on the entire organization.
Can the Bears find a way to keep WR Alshon Jeffery? Jeffery, 26, is headed to free agency unless the Bears apply the franchise tag again. The Bears will have plenty of salary-cap space, so carrying Jeffery with another tag (over $17 million) would not be the end of the world. Maybe the two sides hammer out a multiyear deal, but if Jeffery reaches the open market, he is expected to strongly explore other options. Former top pick Kevin White has played in only four regular-season games. The Bears will have a top-five pick, but it's unlikely they take another receiver. So keeping Jeffery around might be a good idea. Chicago fans like to criticize Jeffery, whose missed time because of injury and suspension, but he's the best young receiver developed by the team in recent memory. The Bears have a keeper in Cameron Meredith, but he can't carry the team alone. Losing Jeffery would create a glaring hole on the roster.
Will the Bears shake up the front office? The McCaskey family hasn't delivered a championship since 1985 -- the longest drought among Chicago's major sports teams. On top of that, the Bears have failed to qualify for the postseason in nine of the past 10 years. The NFL's third-largest market deserves better. Frankly, the McCaskey family ought to consider selling the team, but since that probably will never happen, the franchise should bring in an experienced football executive to serve as team president. There are far too few football people in positions of power at Halas Hall. And no one knows who makes the important decisions (the McCaskey family? Ted Phillips? Pace? Fox?). Enough with hiring search firms and consultants; the Bears need a powerful football voice to oversee the entire operation.