You might have noticed this week that the ESPN.com Insider group posted its annual NFL Future Power Rankings, a projection that assesses how all 32 teams have positioned themselves for three years down the road. Don't view this project as a prediction of how teams will finish in 2016, but rather an analysis of how well each team is set up (or not) for sustainable success.
You'll need an Insider subscription to read the entire file, and on this occasion I'm only authorized to sneak you an excerpt of the analysis from one NFC North team. I thought the most interesting was the relative alarm with which the project views the future of the Chicago Bears.
The Bears ranked No. 22 overall (and last in the NFC North) in terms of their long-term path. As we've discussed often, their roster is aging, especially on defense. Their top three defensive players -- defensive end Julius Peppers, linebacker Lance Briggs and cornerback Charles Tillman -- could easily be gone by the 2016 season.
Moreover, the Bears' recent draft classes have produced a limited talent influx. The most recent hit has been the decision to give up on 2011 first-round pick Gabe Carimi and, as draft analyst Mel Kiper wrote: "[W]hile trades have been part of it, the Bears have almost nothing to show from the top of the draft from 2006 to 2011 on the current roster, and the 2012 class is still under review. Hopefully 2013 is the start of a string of success."
In fact, there are only 10 players remaining from the five drafts between 2006 and 2010, and already the Bears have parted ways with four of their 11 choices from 2011-12.
Also factoring in is the contract status of quarterback Jay Cutler, who could be a free agent after this season. It's difficult to project stability at the most important position when Cutler's financial position is so precarious.
There is genuine and legitimate postseason talk for the 2013 Bears. In 2016? It seems clear that there is much work left to be done.