Now that Black Monday has come and gone in Halas' halls, what now? What next?
We now know (officially) that being four games over .500 (10-6) is not good enough when you come in third in the strongest division in the NFC. But looking deep into the issues that really led to the Bears' underachieving season and looking deeper into what they need to do next, the realization that firing Lovie Smith is not the answer ... just the beginning.
If the Bears don't want to experience this again, another seasonal second half of self-imposed, self-inflicted, self-duplicating humiliation, they need to -- along with replacing Smith with someone of supreme competence and judgment as head coach -- do some of the following moving forward:
Trade Devin Hester (while he still has value and/or before he retires)
Hester has become a nonfactor in everything the Bears have asked him to do on both offense and special teams. No one is sure who to blame for this or where to put their finger on exactly what happened, but the Devin Hester we once knew and fell in love with is gone. Has been for a few years now. The next coach has to realize the obvious: Brandon Marshall, Earl Bennett, Alshon Jeffery, Kellen Davis and Matt Forte out of the backfield are enough receiving options for the Bears to work with; therefore, trading the one-time "lock" for the Hall of Fame has to be the new necessity.
Get at least one superstar for the O-Line (maybe two)
Since the arrival of Jay Cutler, the screams for an upgrade to the offensive line to give him proper, Drew Brees-like protection, has been nonstop. This will not be easy. NFL teams covet offensive linemen like Bravo does chefs and housewives. (In ESPN The Magazine's 2012 NFL preview, it cited the offensive line as worst unit on 11 of the NFL's 32 teams.) The Bears really need to go after a perennial Pro Bowl lineman and offer him a Cutler/Marshall/Peppers-comparable contract. Either attract someone whose contract is up for discussion (Jake Long) or try to use existing/expendable players on the Bears' roster to make a deal with teams that have good-to-great players on the offensive line (i.e., Cleveland, Buffalo, Kansas City) who are going to waste away because the teams they play for are so sorry. We found out the hard way this year that J'Marcus Webb and Gabe Carimi aren't gonna make it as the cornerstone linemen who will allow the offense the time it needs to thrive. To say an "upgrade" at this position is needed is an epic understatement.
Get Matt Forte some ankle-strengthening therapy
It seems like every game Forte's ankles are getting injured. He's becoming the Vince Carter of the NFL. It's obvious something is not right and something needs to be done. If his problem is chronic, cool. As long as we know what we're dealing with, we can deal with it. But watching Adrian Peterson do what he did this year and watching Alfred Morris do what he did didn't help Forte's cause at all. He's an ankle injury away from either the "damaged goods" or "soft" tag being permanently placed on him. Or worse, both.
This would solidify the defense and keep it as one of the best in the league in the second half of the season as opposed to just the first half, as has been the case the past two years. Brian Urlacher may/will (choose carefully) never be the face-of-the-franchise-level player he once was, and how much more can they ask of Lance Briggs before he wants another restructuring of his contract? This is equal to a defensive security policy. Lure that player here the same way they did Jennings in the offseason last season, and the 49ers and Seahawks won't be the only teams in the NFC this time next year that have offensive coordinators shook.
Make sure that Cutler fully understands that he will be next season's Lovie Smith if the outcome is anything close to the same
Just as the Bears showed that they had a no-excuse, zero-tolerance policy in place under the new Phil Emery regime with Smith, the front office needs to let the franchise QB know that just like Tony Romo in Dallas and Philip Rivers in San Diego, next season will be his all-or-nothing, one-and done, lame-duck-unless-you-make-the-Pro Bowl season with the organization if they don't play at least one game in January. Plain and simp. Those are the terms. Yes, the Bears may need to go out and get a better backup than Jason Campbell to let Jay know they are serious (Alex Smith, anyone?), but they have to make it clear that the no-excuse, zero-tolerance policy next season is all on him.
If the Bears do all of this (plus a few extra unmentioned and unmentionables) we won't be sitting around Chicago on New Year's Day next year wondering, "What the hell just happened?"