Bears put 3-13 season behind them, hope for better in 2017
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — The Chicago Bears might be ready to split with quarterback Jay Cutler.
Top receiver Alshon Jeffery's future is in question. Change could be coming to the coaching staff, too.
The Bears have a big task ahead of them after finishing their worst season in decades last in the NFC North with a 3-13 record. They got shredded by injuries, suspensions and poor play overall.
Now, it's time to regroup.
"It was all bad," linebacker Pernell McPhee said. "I'm happy we're out of 2016."
The Bears are 9-23 in two seasons under John Fox, and they just posted their lowest win total in a non-strike year since the 1973 team went 3-11.
It didn't help that 19 players finished the season on injured reserve, including Cutler and guard Kyle Long. Jeffery and linebacker Jerrell Freeman also served four-game suspensions for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
It added up to the Bears finishing with their highest loss total since 1969 and missing the playoffs for the ninth time in 10 years.
"I want to go to the playoffs," Long said. "I want to have 10 wins before we get to the playoffs and have an opportunity to have home-field advantage. A frickin' playoff game in Chicago — can you imagine that?"
It hasn't happened since the 2010 team lost to Green Bay in the NFC title game. The Bears enter this offseason with the No. 3 pick in the draft and some big issues to address on their roster.
WHO'S THE QB?: The biggest question facing the Bears? That's easy.
The Bears' all-time leading passer, Cutler has no guaranteed money left on the seven-year contract extension he signed in 2014. At 33, he was limited to five games because of a thumb injury and then a torn right labrum that led to him being placed on injured reserve.
Then again, the Bears have no logical long-term replacement on the roster. That's an issue they need to address, whether they keep Cutler or bring in another veteran.
JEFFERY'S FUTURE: Though it's not clear if he will still be with them, Jeffery guaranteed a Super Bowl championship for the Bears next year. He even compared them to the New England Patriots.
"We're just like them, the only difference is just a few plays here and there," he said.
Jeffery played for the $14.6 million franchise tag this season. The Bears could tag him again if they don't agree to a multiyear deal, though that would be an expensive option to use on a receiver with a PED suspension and a history of injuries.
It would be easier to part with Jeffery if the Bears knew what they had in Kevin White, the No. 7 overall pick in 2015. But he was limited to four games because of a fractured left fibula after missing his rookie year with a stress fracture in his left shin.
"I'll be just fine," said White, who hasn't started running. "Just about getting my mobility back, getting my strength back."
ON STAFF: While Fox said last week he wasn't planning to make changes to his staff, he didn't quite slam the door on it, either.
Maybe he and general manager Ryan Pace will provide more clarity on the status of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains when they meet with the media on Wednesday.
There was a report of friction between Fangio and Fox a few weeks ago. Fangio might also get interviews for head coaching jobs.
Loggains came under scrutiny in his first season as Chicago's offensive coordinator.
GETTING HEALTHY: The Bears might need to determine if the organization can do anything to prevent another rash of injuries.
Cutler, Long, White, nose tackle Eddie Goldman and linebackers Lamarr Houston and Danny Trevathan all wound up on IR. Other important players shuffled in and out of the lineup because of injuries.
"I think I'm just going to put those packing peanuts and bubble wrap all over myself next year," said Long, who is recovering from ankle surgery and will undergo a less invasive shoulder operation. "I'm going to look like the Christmas Story kid. It'll be summer months, I'll be in like three North Face (jackets). But, yeah, honestly, it's football. It's a tortured existence from a physical standpoint."
BUILDING BLOCKS: There were some bright spots for the Bears.
Linebacker Leonard Floyd showed promise with seven sacks after being drafted No. 9 overall, though he did suffer two concussions late in the season.
Jordan Howard broke Matt Forte's franchise rookie rushing record with 1,313 yards. Rookie Cody Whitehair looks as though he has a home at center.
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