Todd Korth: Are injuries the main reason for the Bears' collapse this season, or are there other factors involved?
John Crist: There is never one easy answer to explain why a Super Bowl competitor misses out on the playoffs completely the very next season, but there is no question that the Bears have been hit very hard on the injury front. Especially defensively, where Pro Bowl safety Mike Brown and emerging nose tackle Dusty Dvoracek – both also missed a lot of time in 2006 – were lost for the year after Week 1. Cornerback Nathan Vasher was sidelined 10 games with a bad groin, defensive tackle Tommie Harris has battled a sprained knee since September, and middle linebacker Brian Urlacher is struggling with tendinitis in his back – all three of these players are Pro Bowlers, as well.
On the other side of the ball, the quarterback carousel has been maddening to watch once again, Cedric Benson was a colossal disappointment in his first season as the starter at tailback before getting hurt, and a veteran offensive line has collapsed seemingly overnight.
TK: It obviously appears that quarterback will be Chicago's main priority in the offseason, but what other area of the team do you feel needs to be overhauled in order to improve the offense?
OT John Tait
Nam Y. Huh/AP Images
JC: Don't get ahead of yourself and just assume that the Bears will sell the farm to find a franchise quarterback in the offseason, and, believe it or not, I wouldn't be shocked if Rex Grossman, Brian Griese, and Kyle Orton are all back with the team in 2008. Priority No. 1 has got to be this offensive line, where injured left guard Ruben Brown has probably played his last NFL game, right tackle Fred Miller keeps killing drives with penalties, and center Olin Kreutz did not play up to his All-Pro standard this season. If the Bears can find a sturdy left tackle either in free agency or the draft, they can move John Tait back to his natural sport on the right side and potentially fix two positions at once.
As far as the defense is concerned, safety is the most glaring need because Mike Brown can't stay healthy, Danieal Manning appears to be regressing instead of getting better, and Adam Archuleta might have played himself right out of the league.
TK: Speaking of quarterbacks, why do you feel the Bears have gone through so many over the years? Does the media scrutiny get to these guys? The coaching? Ownership?
JC: If I knew the answer to that question, you might find me up in the front office at Halas Hall instead of just clicking my keyboard down in the media room a few days a week. The Bears have not had a Pro Bowler at the game's most important position since Jim McMahon back in that unforgettable 1985 season, and some of the names that have succeeded him under center are downright comical – Will Furrer? Henry Burris? Craig Krenzel?
I don't believe the media has anything to do with it because cities like New York and Philadelphia are much tougher on their professional athletes both in the stands and in the newspapers, although the coaching/ownership angle could have something to do with it. This franchise has been stuck in the past for quite some time and keeps trying to win with nothing more than the running game and tough defense, as evidenced by the fact that every head coach since Mike Ditka left town has come from a heavily defensive background.
TK: Do you think Lance Briggs will return to the Bears next season? He certainly didn't seem like a happy camper last offseason.
LB Lance Briggs
Jeff Roberson/AP Images
JC: The more I hear from Briggs, although he's only addressed the media twice all season, the more I think that he'll simply sign with whichever team offers him the most money. I do believe that he has some very strong relationships in the locker room, truly enjoys the city of Chicago, and appreciates the rabid fan base every Sunday, but he he just sounds like a mercenary at this point. He swore he'd never suit up for the Bears again before eventually caving when the front office called his bluff in training camp, and there's no question that watching the likes of Adalius Thomas and Nate Clements strike it rich in free agency this past offseason soured him severely.
Briggs actually spoke to reporters Wednesday after being named to his third straight Pro Bowl and said he could see himself in a Bears uniform again next season, but then he went on to say that he could see himself in a lot of uniforms.
TK: Who do you feel is one or two players that the Bears should offer contract extensions, or face the possibility of losing them to other teams in the upcoming free agency period or in 2009?
JC: Unlike last season, the Bears have a pretty lengthy list of potential big-name free agents: QB Rex Grossman, WR Bernard Berrian, LB Lance Briggs, and special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo to name a few. As I mentioned before, if I had to project right now, I see Grossman being retained because there really isn't anybody decidedly better who'll available on the open market. We've already discussed the Briggs situation. The prevailing sentiment around town says that Berrian will get paid, even though I still have reservations as to whether he can be a legitimate primary receiver. There hasn't been much talk about Ayanbadejo, but getting named to his second consecutive Pro Bowl will help his cause considerably.
Looking a little further down the road, Tommie Harris, arguably the best defensive tackle in all of football, will undoubtedly command a king's ransom after his rookie deal expires in 2008.