Aside from a revamped coaching staff, the 2010 Bears figure to look a lot like the 2009 Bears who finished 7-9 in 2009. But the same can be said for most NFL teams.
All 32 teams will find it more difficult this offseason to do much more than tweak their rosters because of the restrictive nature of free agency prior to the upcoming uncapped season.
High-income teams like the Cowboys and Redskins may take advantage of the uncapped season to go on a buying spree, but they won't be bidding for the limited number if unrestricted players against the Bears. The Bears also won't be able to make much of a splash in the draft, considering they don't have a pick until the third round. So, even with new offensive coordinator Mike Martz coming aboard, the Bears' personnel won't change drastically.
"Our roster is pretty well set," general manager Jerry Angelo said. "We don't have the first two picks in the draft. And free agency, potentially will be very limited. It's not like we won't look for players like we do every year, but we're not going into this thinking we have to have an overhaul with our offense. "I feel like the nucleus of what (Martz) needs to make his offense work, it was very clear to me, that he felt very comfortable with our offensive personnel."
That expected void might have been filled in-house by former first-round pick Gaines Adams, but his unexpected death leaves the Bears in a predicament. Restricted free agent Mark Anderson was a flop when he was handed the starting job at right end in 2007, and he has just 9 1/2 sacks in the three seasons since his 12-sack rookie season in 2006.
The good news is there are some elite defensive linemen slated to become free agents. The bad news is they won't come cheaply, and some may be slapped with the franchise tag, effectively keeping them off the market. The Panthers' Julius Peppers, when motivated, is talented enough to lift the Bears' defense to a higher level all by himself. But Peppers is looking for a long-term deal with a salary of more than $1 million per game, and history says the Bears won't ante up that kind of money.
Peppers turned 30 last month, but isn't slowing down. He has 25 sacks over the past two seasons and has hit double figures in five of the last six seasons and six of his eight years in the league.
Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards will be a restricted free agent assuming that a new collective bargaining agreement isn't in place by March 4. And he'll get a high enough tender offer from the Vikings that will require at least a first-round pick as compensation, and the Bears don't have a first-rounder to give, since it went to Denver for Jay Cutler.
The Raiders are expected to slap a franchise tag on Richard Seymour, but the Titans' Kyle Vanden Bosch is expected to hit the market. Either one would be an upgrade for the Bears. Seymour is also 30, and he's coming off a down season in Oakland, where he was unhappy after being traded to the Raiders. But he was a Pro Bowl player with the Patriots and at 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds could also play tackle in the Bears' 4-3 scheme.
Vanden Bosch is 31, and his production has fallen off the past two seasons, when he had a total of just 7 sacks, but he had a total of 31 in the three previous seasons and made the Pro Bowl twice. His agent, Tony Agnone, recently refuted rumors that Vanden Bosch was mulling retirement.
At tackle, the Patriots have already slapped the franchise tag on two-time Pro Bowler Vince Wilfork. The 6-foot-2 Wilfork is arguably the most dominant defensive tackle in the game and a superb run stuffer.
Green Bay's 6-foot-2, 340-pound Ryan Pickett is also an excellent anchor against the run, and signing him would not only make the Bears better but weaken the Packers.
Angelo has said for year that he believes in having at least two quality running backs. Last year it could be argued that the Bears didn't have any, although some of Matt Forte's struggles must be attributed to an underachieving offensive line. Forte should bounce back this year, but backups Garrett Wolfe and Kevin Jones are both coming back from season-ending injuries, and Adrian Peterson is unrestricted and likely to leave.
The Steelers' Willie Parker and the Vikings' Chester Taylor are both scheduled to hit free agency. Both are veterans — Taylor is 30; Parker is 29 — but both have some miles left on their treads and could be ideal complements to Forte, although both are also capable of carrying the load in case of an injury.
At wide receiver, Torry Holt's name has been linked to the Bears since last year at this time. Holt, who was released by the Jaguars this morning, had some tremendously productive years playing for Bears new offensive coordinator Mike Martz when both were in St. Louis, but that was a long time ago.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Boy they've got some speed. And that really is kind of a diamond to me. When you look at that group, they can be a real strength of this football team." — Bears' offensive coordinator Mike Martz on the team's young wideouts.
Team president Tom Lewand said the Lions want to bring back linebacker Larry Foote, but it remains to be seen whether they can agree on a contract. Foote is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent March 5. "I think Larry genuinely has an interest in being here, and we genuinely have an interest in having him," Lewand said. "The question is whether we can work something out, and we'll continue to try to do that as we go forward."
Foote wants a multiyear deal to stay with his hometown team. He spoke out publicly two weeks ago about what he considered the Lions' lack of interest in him, but it didn't spur anything. "We expect that he will be a free agent," said Foote's agent, Brian Levy. "We're moving forward with that in mind."
The Lions' pending unrestricted free agents include Foote, cornerback Will James and tight end Casey Fitzsimmons.
"They keep wanting to dump players," defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said late last season. "I would like to be there to catch a lot of them, because I know a couple of those guys." Cunningham was the Chiefs' defensive coordinator from 2004-08.
"Some of those young kids I coached, I really believed they were going to be good players, and I know I'm right about that," Cunningham said. "Now what's happened there is the same thing in any organization. A new guy comes in, and they decide to go to the 3-4 defense when the structure of the personnel was built for the 4-3."
The Lions already acquired Turk McBride off waivers last season. The former Chiefs regime drafted McBride in the second round in 2007 to play on the defensive line. The new Chiefs regime tried to move him to outside linebacker, but it didn't work out.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The directive from Mr. (William Clay) Ford is to spend what it takes to win, and he's always been immensely supportive of those efforts. The key is making the right decisions underneath that mandate." — Lions president Tom Lewand, on owner William Clay Ford's approach to player payroll.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Running back Ahman Green, who turned 33 on Feb. 16, is confident he will remain a Packer.
Green is due to become an unrestricted free agent after he rejoined Green Bay in October last season, following a lackluster two-year stint with the Houston Texans.
"I'm very happy to be back and the team was happy to have me back," Green told the Kenosha (Wis.) News while at a charity event Feb. 14. "It sounds like I'll be back next season. I'm just getting myself in shape and getting ready for 2010."
Green served as a backup to Ryan Grant the second half of the 2009 season. He finished with 41 carries for 160 yards and a touchdown and became the Packers' all-time rushing leader.
If the Packers re-sign Green, he'll have to battle Brandon Jackson, DeShawn Wynn, Kregg Lumpkin and possibly a high draft pick Green Bay could target this year for the understudy roles behind Grant.
Poppinga was enrolled in a workshop at the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania, held Feb. 16 to 19.
It's the lowest slot they'll have to make their first pick since taking quarterback Aaron Rodgers at No. 24 in 2005.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I hope it's very bright. Our key is going to be we've got to bring back a lot of those same guys we had last year. A lot of guys' contracts are up this year. Thankfully, I'm just paid to play. There are some tough decisions that are going to have to be made this season. As long as we can keep that core group of guys together, I believe in (head coach) Mike McCarthy and the direction that he is taking this team." — Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, on the Packers' outlook in 2010 coming off a season with a playoff appearance.