With NFL teams stuck in a state of limbo thanks to the lockout, we are looking at where teams stand as they await the opening of the 2011 league year. Today, we take a look at the Bears.
Top three story lines
1. The offensive line gave up a league-high 56 sacks last season and the team only had the draft to address its most glaring weakness. The Bears spent their first-round pick on OT Gabe Carimi, who will start right away. There is uncertainty at center, as Olin Kreutz, an unrestricted free agent, will get a chance to gauge his value on the open market. Although he's past his prime and in decline, Kreutz would be very difficult to replace. Will the Bears go out and add a potential starter in free agency? There's no doubt O-line coach Mike Tice would appreciate it, as there are still question marks up front.
2. QB Jay Cutler has kept a pretty low profile this offseason after having his toughness questioned by several current and former NFL players during Chicago's loss in the NFC championship game. How will he respond? Cutler, who hasn't exactly embraced the spotlight, will be one of the most closely scrutinized players in the league when football starts up again.
3. Chicago has only two linebackers — Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs — under contract through next season, and while the team will be able to sign a third, sixth-round pick J.T. Thomas, when the lockout is over, it has no depth at 'backer at the moment. The Bears have tendered SLB Nick Roach, who will be a restricted free agent if the league operates under the same free-agency rules it did in 2010. Even if Roach is back, this is a position they'll have to address in free agency.
2011 free agency — whenever that happens
Unsigned players: DT Anthony Adams (8), WR Devin Aromashodu (3), OG Johan Asiata (1), RB Kahlil Bell (2), S Josh Bullocks (6), TE Desmond Clark (12), QB Todd Collins (16), WR Rashied Davis (6), CB K.J. Gerard (2), CB Corey Graham (4), QB Caleb Hanie (3), OL Levi Horn (1), LB Brian Iwuh (5), LB Chris Johnson (1), C Olin Kreutz (13), S Danieal Manning (5), P Brad Maynard (14), OLB Nick Roach (4), OLB Pisa Tinoisamoa (8), FB Eddie Williams (2), OG-C Edwin Williams (2), MLB Rod Wilson (5), RB Garrett Wolfe (4). (Editor's note: The number after a players' name is his years of service in the league. If the NFL decides to go with free agency under the same rules used in 2010, then a player would become a restricted free agent after three years and an unrestricted free agent after six years.)
Analysis: The Bears would like to have Adams and Kreutz back, but they'll both get a chance to explore opportunities on the open market. The failure to hammer out extensions for them before the lockout didn't sour relations between those players and the team and both have expressed interest in returning. Graham, a standout on special teams, and Manning, who started every game last season, are both hoping to be unrestricted. Chicago tendered both players and will likely re-sign them to one-year deals if the league operates under the 2010 free-agency rules. Roach also was issued a tender and he could be the team's starting strong-side linebacker. Hanie was tendered and is expected to return as Jay Cutler's top backup, although the Bears are not guaranteeing him that job. The club is set to part ways with Clark and Collins.
2011 rookie class
First-round OT Gabe Carimi (No. 29 overall) — Carimi will be a starter from Day One at left or right tackle. He has very long arms and slides well in pass protection, but is more of a leaner than a power blocker.
Second-round DT Stephen Paea (No. 53 overall) — Paea could slide into the rotation at three-technique, helping to replace the departed Tommie Harris. He's extremely strong and explosive, but he doesn't have great instincts.
Third-round S Chris Conte (No. 93 overall) — A hard-hitting converted linebacker, Conte will immediately contribute on special teams.
Fifth-round QB Nathan Enderle (No. 160 overall) — Enderle, a good-sized, heavy-footed pocket passer, is a project who will be developed by Mike Martz. The Bears expect him to become Jay Cutler's top backup.
Sixth-round OLB J.T. Thomas (No. 195 overall) — Thomas is an overachiever who figures to back up on the weak side and help on special teams.
*Seventh-round RB Harvey Unga — The Bears spent the 12th pick of the seventh round on Unga in the July supplemental draft, forfeiting their seventh-round selection in April's draft. He spent all of last season on injured reserve after injuring his hamstring in the preseason and probably will have to earn a role on special teams to gain a roster spot. A power back, he could get opportunities in short-yardage situations.
Lockout fallout: How impacted will the Bears be by the work stoppage?
On a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 being the most significantly impacted), the Bears rate a 3. There's consistency on the coaching staff — Lovie Smith has only one new position coach — and this is a veteran-laden team. The offense will be affected a bit more than the defense. There's little doubt that the offensive line could use all the practice time it can get, especially with a second-year player and a rookie manning the OT spots. There are a few starting spots that will be unsettled until we get a clearer picture of the free-agency rules, but the Bears won't suffer the pains caused by the lockout as much as many other teams.
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