by Greg Talcott
Like a thunderbolt from Zeus himself, the Bears’ offseason began with the much-needed firing of Phil Emery and the worst coach in Bears history, Marc Trestman. Make no mistake, the Bears’ failure to hire Bruce Arians a few years ago set the Bears back a decade from being a legitimate championship contender. New GM Ryan Pace wouldn’t need to watch a lot of game film the last two years to know the Bears’ defense couldn’t tackle a case of jock-itch with an extra pair of hands. In comes the defense minded John Fox to replace the beleaguered Trestman, Canada’s worst export since Justin Bieber. In fact, considering the Bears’ defense ranked 30th in defensive yards allowed and no better than 30th in points allowed under Trestman, Bieber may not have been much worse as coach. The only thing that did not get addressed in the offseason has been the quarterback position, where Bears’ fans will once again have to suffer through a season with the most disinterested human being to ever play the position – Jay Cutler.
The last time this many people wanted to see Jimmy Clausen play quarterback was his first start at Notre Dame; now how long will they have to wait? The fact is, when John Elway traded Jay Cutler to the Bears, he was the big winner in the “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” exchange. John Elway knows three things; where to get tooth brushes with extra-large heads, how to play quarterback at a championship level, and how to build a championship caliber team. Jay Cutler can’t do any of those things and Elway knew it. Can the Bears win with Jay Cutler? Even for the most hardened Cutler haters, you can win with him; but it is going to take a dominating defense and running game around him. I am talking top 5 in both categories and put Cutler in position to pass efficiently and opportunistically; not as the focal point of the offense. The Bears have plenty to offer fantasy owners in 2015, but a legit fantasy QB is not one of them. Cutler should be relegated to back-up duties only in 2015, regardless of what hype you hear in preseason; there is more than enough track record to judge Jay Cutler by now.
The biggest problem with the Bears’ defense the last two years was not a Trestman issue specifically; that was a “Phil Emery is a jackass issue” in the way the Brian Urlacher situation unfolded. Regardless of whether he was at the end of his career or not, the Bears did not have anyone waiting in the wings to take his place. The Bears have always had their greatest success when they had strong play from the middle linebacker position; without it, they struggle (see: Butkus, Singletary, Urlacher). John Fox and former 49er defensive coordinator Vic Fangio are bringing a new 3-4 style defense to Chicago, which is going to require far more from the suspect linebacker corps the Bears had on the roster at the end of last season.
Enter Pernell McPhee, the Bears’ signature offseason defensive acquisition brought in to strengthen the pass rush. Moving Jared Allen to OLB opposite McPhee in hopes of improving upon Allen’s anemic 6 sack 2014 campaign. In the secondary, the Bears were in desperate need of help at the safety position where Chris “just outta reach” Conte has thankfully seen his time come to an end. Antrel Rolle should help limit the field day that opposing offenses used to have, gleefully running past the likes of Conte and his equally inept sidekick Chris Harris. Signing Rolle is expected to produce an uptick in takeaways from the position, having produced 26 interceptions and 8 forced fumbles over his career. The loss of Charles Tillman is impossible to replace, but the overall improvement of the supporting cast and coaching staff, combined with a more experienced Kyle Fuller and veteran Tim Jennings, have the Bears looking stronger heading into 2015.
The Bears’ defense will be significantly improved from 2014 and fantasy owners can once again consider them for a starting defense in deeper leagues. Expect the Bears to finish in the top 10 in both yards and points allowed with improved sack numbers.
This section is dedicated to the offense outside of Jay Cutler (again, if he is your fantasy starter and you are not in a 16-team league or more, you have a problem on your hands). On offense, the big question will soon become, “How much more does Forte have left?” Turning 30 in December would suggest he has a couple of years tops at this level of production, if that. Forte touched the ball 368 times last year and showed a drop below 4.0 yards per carry for the first time since 2009. Jeremy Langford was drafted out of Michigan State for exactly this reason. John Fox historically uses a multiple back approach vs the one-man show that is Matt Forte. Expect a significant drop off from the touches he saw the last two seasons, back below 300 total.
The wide receiver position will look much different; gone is malcontent wannabe TV star Brandon Marshall, and welcome to athletic super-freak Kevin White out of West Virginia. White will be a player to draft and stash in all keeper leagues at the very least, with a chance to produce WR2/WR3 level numbers on a consistent basis by the midway point of the season. Alshon Jeffery gets his chance to be WR1 for the Bears, but not for a championship caliber fantasy team. The Cutler Effect alone prevents him from being a legit WR1 each week; Jeffery narrowly outperformed soon-to-be 37-year old Steve Smith Sr., a player so old he has added Sr. to the back of his jersey. Between the two, frankly I would probably take Kevin White in round 8-12 than Alshon Jeffery in round 2-3…just sayin’.
Bottom line on the Bears for fantasy owners is this; all of their skill players should be expected to produce level two or three type numbers. Cutler is a great QB2. Forte is a very strong RB2. Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White are WR2/WR3 respectively to start the season with more upside potential on the latter. Martellus Bennett, assuming his mouth doesn’t cost him playing time or worse, is really the only frontline starter the Bears have from a fantasy perspective. The Bears, as a team and from a fantasy perspective, will be much improved in 2015; as a fan, don’t blur the lines between the love for your team and the promise of tomorrow with your fantasy success. Anyone who bought into the Cutler-Trestman Connection to base their fantasy draft in 2014 could tell you that.