Finally, the Chicago Bears hired a new general manager in Ryan Pace. Now the club can intensify the search for a new head coach.
As we prepare for all the names to emerge in the search for a new coach, let's tackle a couple other questions with today's Twitter mailbag.
Thanks everyone for participating.
@mikecwright: I could see that happening. Jay Cutler's 2015 salary of $15.5 million is already fully guaranteed, and this team is looking at another $10 million for 2016 if Cutler remains on the roster on the third day of the new league year. If the Bears want to move on from Cutler, they need to have a plan in place, and I don't really see one with new general manager Ryan Pace just taking over and no head coach in place. As much criticism as Cutler has taken this season, you can't discount the fact he put up career numbers in completion percentage (66.1) and touchdown passes (28). Cutler's 3,812 passing yards ranked as the second best of his career, and his passer rating of 88.6 was also second-best in his nine NFL seasons. Obviously turnovers (24) and decision-making were the major issues for Cutler in 2014, but there were other factors involved beyond his control. When pondering moving on from Cutler, you have to look at all the viable options out there, and there aren't many. The upcoming free-agent class of quarterbacks is underwhelming, and even if the Bears were in position to select one of the top signal callers in the draft, throwing a rookie into the fire is still a crapshoot. Pace and Chicago's brass need to make sure they hire a coach capable of coaxing the most from Cutler without coddling the quarterback. That coach doesn't have to be a quarterback guru. In fact, he could come from a defensive background. The new hire needs to bang home the importance with Cutler of playing complementary football. I believe Cutler can be reined in, similar to what the Dallas Cowboys did with Tony Romo by beefing up the offensive line and shifting to more of a run-first philosophy. I'm not going to write off Cutler just yet.
@mikecwright: That makes sense, but to me they have got to fix the secondary first. Chicago's defense ranked No. 30 against the pass, and opponents completed 66.8 of their attempts against the Bears for a passer rating of 101.7. Obviously, the front seven plays into that, because if quarterbacks aren't being pressured, they are going to light you up. But it's unlikely cornerback Charles Tillman returns in 2015, and Tim Jennings struggled last season. So you have to think the team needs at least two new cornerbacks. Chris Conte likely won't be back, but even if the club did plan on re-signing him, the Bears still need at least two more safeties. At linebacker, the Bears at least have a couple of players in Jonathan Bostic and Christian Jones to build around. The club certainly needs to add there, but I'd say the secondary would be the priority this offseason.
@mikecwright: I'd go with Christian Jones, Kieran. I think he is this team's starting strongside linebacker for years to come. It's just too bad the coaching staff didn't put him in the mix earlier in the season. As Jones' reps increased, you saw a young player developing quickly, and I believe that will continue as he learns more about the NFL game. Obviously, a new coaching staff and possibly a new system could slow his growth somewhat. But to me, of all the players you listed, Jones has the best chance of making a significant jump. Ka'Deem Carey doesn't receive enough reps playing behind Matt Forte to make that leap. Brock Vereen, in my opinion, needs to drastically improve his strength and physicality moving forward.
@mikecwright: Not really, because I believe the priority from the beginning was for the Bears to fill the opening at general manager. With the club finally accomplishing that, I'd expect more names to emerge in the coaching search. There is definitely a chance the Bears missed the boat on Rex Ryan, because last I checked he was about to interview for a second time with the Atlanta Falcons. Consider this though: Pace did work with Rex Ryan's brother, Rob, in New Orleans. So there's some familiarity from that standpoint, and remember, Pace was bringing in players in New Orleans that fit that style of defense. So even though Rex Ryan hasn't emerged as a candidate for the Bears, I wouldn't rule it out, because nobody knows exactly what Pace and the team's brass is looking for in this search.
@mikecwright: See my answer above. I definitely believe the secondary is the more pressing issue. The Bears will need to fix it through a combination of smart decisions in the draft and free agency.