The Bears believe they have their franchise quarterback in Jay Cutler, and disgruntled running back Matt Forte is one of the league's better all-around featured runners, whether he gets his long-sought-after long-term deal or plays this season for the $7.742 million franchise salary.
But that wasn't enough to compete with the NFC North rival Packers, and it wasn't even enough to get to the playoffs after both Cutler and Forte suffered season-ending injuries after a 7-3 start last season.
So team president and CEO Ted Phillips fired general manager Jerry Angelo and hired Phil Emery, who was given the immediate task of closing the talent gap between the two long-time rivals.
Emery wasted no time making a big splash and taking a big gamble by trading a pair of third-round draft picks for three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall. The 6-4, 230-pound Marshall has a long history of off-the-field problems and a recent diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, which may or may not explain multiple allegations of violence against women.
None of that baggage has prevented Marshall from putting up monster numbers for the past five seasons, two of which occurred in Denver, when Cutler was his quarterback. The Cutler-Marshall reunion is expected to be nothing short of prolific, the kind of pitch-and-catch combination never before seen in Chicago.
But that was just the beginning of Emery's restocking of an offense that lacked firepower and especially depth. The new general manager also added productive, powerful running back Michael Bush, who is capable of replacing Forte in the event of injury and would otherwise provide an excellent complement, one with the size to move the pile and factor is short-yardage situations.
The addition of veteran Jason Campbell, a starter for almost his entire six-year NFL career, gives the Bears their best backup quarterback in recent memory. Campbell's presence should prevent a repeat of the disaster that occurred last season should Cutler suffer another serious injury.
Two more wide receivers were added in free agency, Eric Weems and Devin Thomas, both of whom should also improve an already elite special teams unit. Second-round wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, an enticing 6-3 target who can go up and get it, gives the Bears a second big wide receiver, which is two more than they've usually had in the past. A red-zone pairing of Marshall and Jeffery could be exactly what Cutler needs to join the league's elite quarterbacks when it comes to putting up big numbers.
But the Bears' biggest offensive problem last season was a porous offensive line that has failed to adequately protect Cutler the past two seasons, allowing 105 sacks. The only addition to that mediocre group is journeyman guard Chilo Rachal. But the return of 2011 first-round draft pick Gabe Carimi is expected to solidify the right tackle spot after he started just two games last season before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
Other than Carimi and center Roberto Garza, the rest of the line is a question mark and must improve if the Bears are to utilize their new skill-position weaponry.
The Bears are better in every offensive area than they were a year ago, but the line's ability to protect Cutler remains the wild card. They saw last season how important his health is to their success.
Defensively, the Bears and Emery were content to do some minor tweaking. The biggest impact is expected to come from first-round pick Shea McClellin, the Boise State defensive end who is being counted on to diversify and intensify a pass rush that relied almost exclusively on Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers last season. McClellin doesn't have to become a full-time starter in his first season to justify what a lot of draft watchers considered a reach at No. 19 overall, but the Bears need him to pressure opposing quarterbacks who had the luxury of too much time last season.
Unrestricted free agents like cornerback Kelvin Hayden and linebacker Geno Hayes will provide better depth but not necessarily a talent upgrade in the starting lineup, which hopes to get one more quality season from its 30-something core of stars - Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers and Charles Tillman.
Here's the stat that defines the Lions offseason: relevant free agents signed, four; offseason arrests, six.
Like it or not, fair or not, any momentum the Lions might have taken into the offseason from their 10-6 season and first playoff appearance since 1999 was derailed by a steady stream of drug busts and DUIs.
The latest came last Saturday (June 23) when starting right cornerback Aaron Berry was arrested in Harrisburg, Pa. and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, causing damage to an unattended vehicle and failing to give information to the police.
The rest of the rap sheet looks like this:
Leshoure has already been suspended for the first two games of the season and docked an additional two weeks of pay. Fairley, whose court date is July 31, is expected to get the same.
The Lions' organization, also likely to face a sizeable fine from the league, is scrambling for answers.
They are limited in what they can do by the collective bargaining agreement, which puts the onus on the league office to dole out punishment in these matters. The Lions could terminate the contracts of these players, particularly the multiple offenders, citing conduct detrimental to the team.
But that seems harsh, especially when you are talking about two young, talented players entering their second seasons, who because of the lockout didn't have the benefit of the league's rookie orientation process.
Fans and media are pushing for general manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz to crack down, to tighten the discipline, but these incidents happened in the offseason, with the players away from the team.
"I think that one thing to keep in mind is, the issues we've had have been almost all young guys, guys that are coming off their rookie years," Schwartz said during OTAs last month. "It's obviously a big concern that the problems have come up more than once for a few guys. We've always had an approach of there's some maturing things that go on, there's some mistakes that guys make that they learn from and things like that.
"But what we have here is a situation that it appears that a couple guys haven't learned, and that is a concern. But they are still young and there's still a lot in front of them and we are hopeful that they can, with a lot of other means at their disposal and our disposal, be able to get this under control and be able to put it behind them."
Think about this, too: If Leshoure's two-game suspension and four-game fine wasn't a deterrent for the likes of Berry, what else could the team do that would be worse, short of releasing them?
"This is not the standard of behavior we expect from any member of our organization," read a statement released by the Lions following Berry's arrest. "We have strongly and repeatedly emphasized the need to be accountable on and off the field, which makes this incident with Aaron all the more disappointing."
Don't think for a minute that this isn't causing Schwartz major grief. He prides himself on being disciplined, on managing and preparing for every situation imaginable. He has intimated that the offending players, particularly Leshoure and Fairley, were down to their last strikes.
"I think what we have here is a case of a few guys tainting the reputations of a lot of others," he said. "We have 90 guys out here working, most of which are doing a very good job and working with a good goal in mind. But the actions of a few have affected the reputations of not just the other guys in the 90, but also the organization as a whole and that's not a good situation.
"I'm a lot of things with this -- concerned, angry, there's a lot of different words. It's disappointing when our story is not about guys like Matt Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Brandon Pettigrew, Tony Scheffler, Jeff Backus, Rob Sims -- and I can keep going on and on. Unfortunately with situations like this, we all take ownership of problems that come to light that affect everybody."
Green Bay Packers
Perhaps it's a good thing the Packers won't see the Detroit Lions for the first time next season until Week 11 of the league schedule, which falls on the third weekend of November.
What's become a chippy rivalry between the longtime division foes added a new layer for potentially fueling more friction. Lions head coach Jim Schwartz indirectly may have taken a shot at counterpart Mike McCarthy's approach to the end of the Packers' offseason program.
McCarthy canceled practice on the second day of a three-day minicamp in mid-June to take the team to a range outside Green Bay for clay shooting.
Based on comments he later made, Schwartz seemingly had an issue with the likes of the Packers and other teams in the league that sacrificed a couple hours of work on the football field for a team-building exercise.
"We had no sporting clays today or no amusement parks or water parks. (It was a) work day of minicamp," Schwartz said as the Lions wrapped up their offseason workouts. "We take a lot of pride in the fact that we play for a blue-collar town, and we try to reflect that kind of work ethic."
Meanwhile, those associated with the Packers haven't uttered so much as a peep about the preponderance of off-the-field trouble met by Lions players the last several weeks.
A low-key disposition has been the Green Bay way since the team gathered in April.
In some ways humbled by how last season abruptly ended - a 37-20 home loss as the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs against the New York Giants after going 15-1 in the regular season - the Packers refrained from doing anything bold this offseason.
About the only attention given to Green Bay players was veteran receiver Donald Driver for winning the latest season of the "Dancing with the Stars" reality TV show and defensive end Anthony Hargrove, a team newcomer, for denouncing the NFL for the eight-game suspension he received for his alleged involvement in the New Orleans Saints' bounty scheme.
When the Packers reconvene July 25 for training camp and take to the field the next morning for the first practice, a quiet confidence will course through them.
Green Bay has quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the reigning NFL MVP who recently received validation as best player in the league by a vote of his peers. What's more, the team is driven to make up for the January disappointment and return to the Super Bowl after winning it in the 2010 season.
Whether the Packers are able to fulfill the tag of "favorite" that is again assigned to them likely will hinge considerably on a defense that proved to be Green Bay's undoing at the end of last season.
Veteran cornerback Charles Woodson withheld predictions on whether the unit can bounce back in a big way after general manager Ted Thompson looked to address its shortcomings with a defensive-minded approach in the spring. Thompson made moderate free-agent signings with Hargrove, tackle Daniel Muir and end Phillip Merling and used the team's first six draft picks on defensive players, led by end-turned-linebacker Nick Perry in Round 1.
"I know just looking at the film I've seen some good things. I know the coaches have seen some good things," said Woodson, who missed most of the offseason workouts. "But, you really never know until the season gets here and you start playing games.
"But, I'm excited," he added. "I think we've got some good young guys in here with good energy, some high-motor guys that can hopefully help us get to the quarterback and get back to playing an aggressive style of football that we like to play."
The Packers had all of their installations in by the minicamp and then used those two practice days as a review.
McCarthy is hopeful the spirited nature of the time spent on the field in the offseason will carry over to the start of training camp and percolate throughout the preseason.
"What I like is the energy of the newly acquired players, (what they) bring to camp," McCarthy said. "That's every year. (But) this is a little different because there's a lot of 'em on defense. So, you can definitely see the competition has really heightened from Day 1 over there."
McCarthy is looking forward to seeing further development out of a slew of younger players who weren't major contributors as rookies last season. They include linebacker D.J. Smith, cornerback Davon House, running back Alex Green, receivers Tori Gurley and Diondre Borel, safety M.D. Jennings and Derek Sherrod, a first-round draft pick who's coming back from a broken leg sustained last December and could challenge Marshall Newhouse for the starting job at left tackle.
Gurley and Borel, who spent all of last season on Green Bay's practice squad, face what Rodgers calls "a numbers game" as they try to win a roster spot at a position that is already chock full of talented players.
"The most important thing for those young guys (on the team) to understand, whether they're drafted or undrafted, is they can make this football team on special teams," Rodgers said. "They're going to get an opportunity in training camp. They're going to get an opportunity in preseason. And, if they prove that they're excellent special-teams players and can make the most of their reps on offense or defense, they're probably going to make the team."