Tough Decisions to Be Made Soon

The Chicago Bears have many more critical moves to make during the offseason than they did a year ago, and it wouldn't be a complete shock of all eight of their unrestricted free agents left the Windy City. The NFL experts from Scout.com have the latest on your Monsters of the Midway.

The consensus is that most of the work needed to restore the Bears to a playoff team after a 7-9 season must occur on offense.

With the exception of tight end, where exciting rookie Greg Olsen and underrated veteran Desmond Clark combined for 83 catches, 936 yards and six touchdowns, every area of the offense has plenty of room for improvement. The offensive line needs an infusion of youth, the running game requires someone capable of an occasional big play and the wideouts are unimpressive as a group – even with Bernard Berrian, who is expected to leave via free agency.

It won't be a total shock if the Bears don't re-sign any of their eight unrestricted free agents: Berrian, LB Lance Briggs, QB Rex Grossman, G Ruben Brown, TE John Gilmore, LB Brendon Ayanbadejo, and DTs Antonio Garay and Jimmy Kennedy.

Briggs, Berrian and Ayanbadejo are looking to strike it rich, and that doesn't fit the Bears' budget. It's possible they could franchise Berrian, even though $7.8 million seems like way too much money for a fragile speed guy whose 71 catches and 951 yards in 2007 were easily the best marks of his four-year career.

They'd like Grossman back at their price to compete for the starting job, and Gilmore is an unsung role player who might be better off remaining where he has a niche as a blocker. Brown is 36, coming off season-ending shoulder surgery and expected to hang it up. Garay provides little more than depth, and Kennedy is a few rungs below that.

It is assumed that the Bears will add a relatively young offensive lineman in free agency and draft at least one more. They are also seeking to create competition for the featured RB role and at quarterback. Both those positions could also be addressed in free agency and in the draft. Ditto wideout, where Berrian's expected departure would leave them with an aging Muhsin Muhammad, an ongoing project in Devin Hester, a talented but unproductive Mark Bradley and restricted free agent slot guy Rashied Davis, who ideally would be a No. 4 or No. 5 wideout.

1. Offensive line: After 12 years, RT Fred Miller's best days are long gone, and LT John Tait, 33, would benefit from a move to the right side. LG Ruben Brown isn't expected back for a 14th season after shoulder surgery, and six-year veteran Terrence Metcalf was a flop when given a chance to replace Brown.

2. Running back: Cedric Benson and backup Adrian Peterson both averaged 3.4 yards per carry. Of Benson's 196 carries, only one gained more than 21 yards, and he's coming off yet another injury – this one a fractured ankle. Of Peterson's 151 carries, none gained more than 21 yards. Tiny No. 3 RB Garrett Wolfe averaged just 2.7 yards per carry.

3. Quarterback: The Bears continue to hold out hope that Rex Grossman will undergo an Eli Manning-like metamorphosis, but they can't afford to wait much longer for him to start playing consistently like a first-rounder should.

4. Wide receiver: If UFA Bernard Berrian leaves, there is no No. 1 receiver or anyone who's even close.

Medical Watch
The Bears have been mum about Brian Urlacher's neck injury, but it didn't cause him to miss any games. So it isn't considered career-threatening, and he is expected to be completely healthy long before training camp starts. ...


G Ruben Brown
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

At 36, Ruben Brown may be too old to come back from shoulder surgery. ...

DT Tommie Harris' knee scope is considered minor. ...

DT Dusty Dvoracek's torn ACL should be fine by training camp, since the injury occurred in the 2007 season-opener. ...

The Bears would love to see a healthy Mike Brown back at safety, and he could be completely recovered from his torn ACL by camp, since it also happened in Week 1. But Brown's lengthy injury history could make him a salary cap casualty if he won't accept a renegotiated deal. ...

DT Anthony Adams (elbow) is expected to be completely recovered long before camp starts. ...

CB Nathan Vasher (groin) is already considered healed after missing 12 weeks during the season. ...

RB Cedric Benson (fractured ankle) says he'll be 100 percent by camp, but he will probably be on a limited schedule – maybe through the preseason. ...

S Kevin Payne (fractured arm) is 100 percent after being injured in Game 4 and missing the rest of the season. ...

DT Antonio Garay (fractured ankle) is questionable for the start of training camp. ...

Unrestricted Free Agents
LB Brendon Ayanbadejo wants to be the league's highest paid special-teams ace but won't get that kind of money from the Bears, even though he is outstanding in that realm. He's not a factor in the defense. ...

WR Bernard Berrian has great speed and big-play capability, but he's fragile and has had just one big season. The Bears could franchise him but it's doubtful they'd commit $7.8 million, even if he is their top wideout. ...

LB Lance Briggs has been voted to three straight Pro Bowls, but the Bears have backed away since he spurned a six-year, $33 million offer two years ago, although Brian Urlacher's neck injury could force the team to re-examine its stance on Briggs. ...

G Ruben Brown missed the final eight games of the season with a shoulder injury that required surgery, which, after 13 NFL seasons, is probably a career-ender. ...

DT Antonio Garay is a bottom-of-the-depth chart player who finished the season on IR with a fractured ankle. ...

TE John Gilmore has a niche as the blocking member of the Bears' troika, but with Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark around, he's expendable. ...

QB Rex Grossman has been wildly inconsistent the past two seasons. The Bears would like to have him around to compete for the starting job but will not pay him a starter's salary until he earns the job, which he will have to do even if he is retained. ...

DT Jimmy Kennedy was signed at the end of the season only because of an injury epidemic, and he got enough snaps to prove that he still can't play. ...

Restricted Free Agents
WR Rashied Davis is a tough, little, dependable guy suited to the slot or as a No. 4 wideout, and he contributes on special teams. ...

S Brandon McGowan is a big hitter with potential, but he's inconsistent as a pass defender and has an injury history.


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