Mark Busch/Shaw Media
Mark Busch/Shaw Media

The Bears' 12-4 record last season was the best they have had since 2006, when they went 13-3 and reached the Super Bowl.

Better yet, the Bears remain one of the younger teams in the NFL, and almost all of the key contributors are locked up for at least two more seasons.

The only starters slated to be free agents are Adrian Amos and Bryce Callahan, and the only other significant contributors they have to worry about retaining are Aaron Lynch, Patrick O’Donnell, Josh Bellamy and Benny Cunningham.

With reasonable health and continued growth, the Bears should be better in 2019, and the news should be almost as good in 2020.

The only concerning contracts then belong to Jordan Howard, Cody Whitehair, Danny Trevathan, Johnathan Bullard, Sam Acho, Chase Daniel and Nick Kwiatkoski.

The Bears' window to contend for a title appears to be open for the foreseeable future.

However, the Bears have a significant “issue” to deal with right now. I don’t think you can call it a problem because of all the young talent that is likely to get better, but for the first time in a long time, the Bears are very short on salary cap space and are without picks in the first two rounds of this year’s draft and the first round next year.

Minimally, Ryan Pace and Co. must either re-sign or replace Amos, Callahan and O’Donnell. They certainly have to replace Cody Parkey, and right now, they don’t have the cap space or draft picks to do it all.

And that’s before upgrading the talent at running back and tight end, which will be major offseason initiatives, as well.

At the moment, the Bears have about $6 million in cap space, and we’ve known for a while they’ll release tight end Dion Sims, freeing up another $6 million to get to about $12 million.

It probably is not enough to simply hold the line at four starting positions – and definitely not enough for upgrades.

There are two main ways to create more cap space.

The first is by restructuring other players' deals by deferring some of what they’re due in the short run but guaranteeing them more money overall.

The problem there is it pushes the problem down the road and could create an even bigger problem next year and the year after.

The other is by creating cap casualties, releasing quality players and replacing them with either younger or lesser talents who make less money.

The problem with that for the Bears is they only have a few players who make enough to really put a dent in the problem, and they don’t have enough talent to replace them without weakening another position.

The toughest decision for Pace will be Kyle Long.

Long will count about $8.5 million against the cap this year, and after missing only one game in his first three seasons, he has played only half a season each of the past three.

The problem is that if he’s healthy, Long still is easily the Bears' best lineman and one of the best guards in the league. The offensive line already is one of the less-talented groups on the team, and there is no one to step in and play like Long.

Next up would be Trevathan, who is slated to count about $7.5 million against the cap in the final year of his deal.

Yes, Roquan Smith is going to be a star, but it’s still a huge drop off from Trevathan to Kwiatkoski, and rookie fourth-rounder Joel Iyiegbuniwe showed nothing to suggest he’s ready to pick up the slack.

There are smaller savings available by releasing Chase Daniel ($3 million) and Sam Acho ($2 million), but neither really moves the needle.

The safest scenario among equally poor choices appears to be that the Bears will look to restructure the deals of players such as Long, Allen Robinson, possibly Trevathan, Prince Amukamara, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Kyle Fuller and a few others, maybe extend Whitehair and then make the difficult cuts on Daniel, Acho and possibly Bullard.

The joy of 2018 is over; now it’s time for the very tough business of getting even better.