How Bears operate once season ends

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- The Chicago Bears' season came to a disappointing close Sunday after a 33-28 loss to the Green Bay Packers, and it’s logical now to ponder what might take place next with the team.

Considering the team has 28 veteran unrestricted free agents, a list that includes mainstays such as quarterback Jay Cutler, cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings, center Roberto Garza, defensive tackle Henry Melton, and left guard Matt Slauson, the Bears have to decide which players to bring back for 2014. They have to weigh those decisions against the salary cap, potential unrestricted free-agent targets, and the NFL Draft in May.

So forget about the season’s end bringing about vacations for the coaching staff, front office and personnel people. That’s not how it goes. In fact, the movers and shakers won’t receive any down time until four or five days after the draft.

Here, we’ll try to explain how the games within the walls at Halas Hall continue to be played well past the time the players are done for the season on the field.

Bears convened at Halas Hall on Monday to go through end-of-the-season physicals and meetings with the coaching staff, before cleaning out their lockers to head to their offseason homes or -- for injured players -- to continue the rehabilitation process.

The club's personnel staff had already held meetings internally to evaluate the players already on the roster, in addition to taking an early, yet extensive, look at the upcoming market for unrestricted free agency. By the end of December most teams have already reviewed their teams internally and taken a hard look at the UFA market at every position.

Then, as the season ends, the personnel staff starts to hold college draft meetings. The Bears plan to hold their first college draft meetings during the first full week of January. At those meetings, the personnel staff pulls together all the information compiled from evaluations of pending free agents from outside the team, evaluations of its own free agents and evaluations of college players set to hit the draft. The idea is to determine the strengths and weaknesses in all those areas, and see how they balance out between strengths and weaknesses of the current roster. That gives Chicago’s personnel staff an initial blueprint for attacking the UFA market, signings of the team’s own free agents, and how to approach the draft.

Before making firm decisions on their own free agents and players from the UFA market, general manager Phil Emery and the personnel staff get the coaches involved.

As soon as the season ends, the coaching staff will put together player evaluations from Sunday’s loss to the Packers as well as season evaluations. Emery and the scouting staff will solicit input from the coaches on how they see the team’s players before holding meetings about those observations. Those meetings typically take place towards the end of January. After the coaching staff finishes its evaluations, Emery will take a look at those along with the scouting staff. They’ll then meet with those coaches individually, and later as an entire staff. That will take place no later than the first week of February.

Had the Bears advanced to the postseason, those meetings would have been pushed back, obviously. But ideally, the Bears will have completed their internal review -- with the scouts and coaching staff -- before the NFL Combine, which starts on Feb. 22. That’s how the Bears have conducted business for the last two years.

But this year, things should come together more quickly. Remember, in Emery’s first year as general manager, he didn’t come aboard until late January, which pushed back the timeline for completion of these tasks. Then last year, the team’s search for a head coach affected the timeline.

Because of the March 11 start of the league’s new year, Emery and the personnel staff will assign members of the coaching staff the key UFAs too observe early in February, before holding meetings about them once the team returns from the NFL Combine.

How the Bears decide which of their players to bring back is a complicated mix involving input from the coaches, the personnel staff and sometimes the players themselves. From the perspective of the coaches, the evaluation process is always ongoing and involves a combination of 16 game tapes and practice evaluations. But the discussion on a player doesn’t always focus solely on what he does on the field. The capacity to learn and perform what is being taught is evaluated, as is his interaction with teammates, work ethic in the weight room, his to attention to detail, how he works the game plans and whether he does work on his own are all discussed between the coaches and personnel staff as they try to come to a decision.

Interestingly, scouts and coaches evaluate tape differently. From the personnel perspective, a scout looks at the strength and weaknesses of a player and his ability to complete whatever task he’s asked to perform strictly from the physical and mental aspect. While a coach might look more at intricate detail, such as whether that player’s steps were correct in completing the task.

So from the personnel perspective, it’s much more about the ability to complete the task. From the perspective of the coaches, it’s about doing all the necessary things that enable the player to complete that task.

Complicated, huh?

But because of the way scouting and coaching work in conjunction, the Bears are always careful to maintain patience throughout the process. By the time the scouts are done holding their first draft meetings during the first week of January, they already have a decent feel for where they want to go with the players already on the team, and what the plan will be moving forward. But the personnel staff can’t and won’t proceed with making any final decisions on the direction they’ll go with players until they’ve received input from the coaching staff.

So by now, we’re sure you’re sufficiently confused. But the point is Chicago’s work didn’t end when they walked off the field after Sunday’s loss to the Packers. It’s been ongoing, and to a large measure, really just beginning.