Phil Emery tried to rebuild, while winning right now. It was an arduous position from the beginning after Jerry Angelo’s run as Bears general manager.
After Emery traded offensive lineman Gabe Carimi, the Bears were without one first-round pick from the Angelo era. Emery relied on free agency and big deals to strengthen the Bears’ weak spots.
So what does the next Bears’ GM have to work after Emery?
“[Our talent is] not where we want to be,” president Ted Phillips said when asked about the Bears’ talent gap in the NFC North. “It’s not where we want to be or we wouldn’t be here [firing Emery and coach Marc Trestman].
“So we’re expecting that gap, however large it is — it’s hard to define that — to close and close rapidly.”
According to ESPN and the NFL Network, the Bears put in official requests Wednesday to speak with Chiefs player personnel director Chris Ballard, Ravens assistant GM Eric DeCosta, Titans vice president of player personnel Lake Dawson, Texans director of pro personnel Brian Gaine and Saints director of player personnel Ryan Pace about their GM opening.
The New York Jets and the Bears are the only two teams looking for GMs, and candidates will evaluate the Bears’ situation as much as the Bears’ evaluate them. The cupboard at Halas Hall isn’t empty, but tough decisions loom.
Jay and Brandon
Figuring what do to with quarterback Jay Cutler and receiver Brandon Marshall, the leaders of the Emery/Trestman era, should be No. 1.
Cutler has some support in the locker room, but the best decision may be trying to move him and what’s left of his hefty contract (he’s already guaranteed $15.5 for 2015) out.
Marshall’s production declined because of injuries, but he also generated negative attention for the Bears for the first time this season. Cutting Marshall would cost the Bears more than $13 million.
Deals at WR and RB
The Bears’ next GM will have to work through two major contract situations with receiver Alshon Jeffery and running back Matt Forte entering the final years of their deals.
Jeffery wasn’t the highlight-reel machine this season he was in 2013, but he still made 85 catches for 1,113 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s due a big payday after his rookie contract, but questions remain whether he can be a true No. 1.
Forte has a cap hit of $9.2 million in 2015, the final year of a four-year, $30.4 million contract. He’s a fitness freak and just became the second running back in NFL history to have 1,000 yards rushing and 100 receptions in one season.
Injured pass rushers
Defensive ends Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young all remain on the books for 2015.
Allen is guaranteed $12.5 million for 2015. Last season wasn’t the best for the former Pro Bowler, but his production was hurt by pneumonia.
It’s the health of Young (torn Achilles tendon in Week 16) and Houston (torn ACL in Week 8) that really bears watching after their seasons ended on injured reserve.
Will the Bears have to find another pass rusher?
Having the No. 7 pick in the 2016 draft, there will be pressure on the next GM to find a Day 1 difference-maker. The Bears’ defense definitely needs a few.
In 2013, Emery hit a home run with Kyle Long, who is now a two-time Pro Bowl guard. Long is also an emerging leader in the locker room.
Cornerback Kyle Fuller, 14th overall pick in 2014, showed promise, making four interceptions and forcing three fumbles.
But 2012 first-round pick Shea McClellin still needs to prove his worth at linebacker. With Emery gone, he’s left without front-office protection.
Of Emery’s 20 draft picks, 16 remain on the roster, including all of them from 2013 and 2014.
Free agents to be
Unlike Emery’s predicament last year, the next GM doesn’t have several expiring contracts for key players on his table. The next GM actually inherits a fully signed offensive line.
Defensive tackle Stephen Paea and safety Chris Conte are notable pending free agents with their rookie contracts ending.
Linebacker Lance Briggs and cornerback Charles Tillman figured they were done in Chicago after their 12th seasons ended on IR. Will the next GM see otherwise?