I certainly believe that the improvements that the Packers and Vikings need to make are far less than the Chicago Bears needed to make at the beginning of FA...
... However, I think with the addition of Mike Martz at offensive coordinator, Julius Peppers on the defensive line, Chester Taylor as a combo back with Forte, and a blocking TE (which was SEVERELY missing in 3rd-and-short situations; for you fans who thought John Gilmore was an afterthought a couple years ago-- think again!) I think the Bears have closed the gap quite significantly with the draft and OTA cuts still left in the offseason.
I think the biggest obstacle for the Chicago Bears last year was the 1.) offensive gameplan (R. Turner's deficiencies) 2.) weak pass defense and 3.) the offensive line.
The offensive line corrected itself with the "addition by subtraction method" as Orlando Pace just didn't have the juice that many was anticipating. i thought that he might have one year in him and that he would probably be a roster cut in 2010, but he was horrible last year and STILL was a roster cut in 2010. I liked the idea of Pace being brought in, but I wanted him to have a young backup that he could give instruction to throughout practice. Frank Omiyale and Chris Williams might have been those tackles taking instruction all along and perhaps that was managements idea all along. Nevertheless, I think the line came together better when Williams was moved to the LT and Schaffer was on the right. As I said early in the offseason, I expect Omiyale to be the RT and Chris Williams start the OTAs as the starting LT for the team. The Bears will need a solid left OG in 2010 as I'm certain that Beekman is not the man for that position. Ideally, I think the Bears see him as Olin Kruetz's replacement and I think he will start getting reps at Center in this year's OTAs. If not, I think we have to question "what is Beekman's place" as I asked in 2009.
Also, there are still some good veteran FAs available at the guard position. Football Outsiders ranked Bobbie Williams as one of the highest rated guards in the NFL last year with the Bengals in pass and rush protection. He has never missed a game due to a football injury in his time in the NFL and is around 32 or 33 years old (not exactly sure). Is he the long term solution at the position? No, but neither was John Tait, Rueben Brown, or Fred Miller. What happened with thos e additions was that ANgelo was suppose to work on finding their replacement and mentee over the course of the next one-to-two years as he stated at their press conferences in 2004 and 2005, but Angelo focused more of his attention to the defense and the offense got worse as the o-line aged. Williams could come in and be serviceable this season and the Bears could then look for a guard or two in 2011, which might make sense since Roberto Garza (who a lot of fans underrate, but consistently is high among statisticians assessment of NFL guards production) will be near 32 and need a mentee/backup.
Offensive gameplan was totally rearranged with the hire of Mike Martz and an injection of a completely new offense. Martz's offense is complex, but if executed properly can be quite successful as seen in St. Louis and in Detroit with Jon Kitna. What concerns me is the number of 7-step drops in the system and the WRs needing to recgnize the coverage and get open. I think Jay Cutler is a good QB who moves well in the pocket and avoids taking hits, but that is contingent upon getting steady play from the OL as we seen at the end of last year. I think he will get that next year and the run game should improve with Chester Taylor, who will drive Forte to get better and get in shape (which some experts say was the cause of his lack of production in 2009). A left guard is necessary for that transition, but I think its feasible for the offense to gel fairly quickly. Here's a question though: "How will a HIGH passing offense produce in Chicago December and January?"
That leaves just the defensive secondary and that has been my major concern the past three years as I just see the secondary (from a personnel perspective) being the major concern for lack of defensive ineptitude rather than any other area on the field. The loss of Brian Urlacher early on in the year CERTAINLY contributed to poor play and lack of motivation as well. Combine that with the loss of another on-the-field emotional leader in safety Mike Brown and its easy to say that the Bears of 2009 were a totally different team from a emotional and skill standpoint as Urlacher and Brown were the smartest players on that defense. Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs have always been the most athletic and aggressive players on the defense, but-- in the case of Tillman-- he has NEVER been a great cover guy but used intimidation and his aggressive tackling to make receivers "blink" at the thought of catching the ball in front of him. His shoulders are seeming to be giving out on him as Jerry Azumah's did 7-8 years ago and it seems as though he doesn't have much football in him. Briggs is a great football player, but doesn't have the on-field leadership that Brian Urlacher has. Briggs will give you 100 tackles each year, but he just doesn't make anyone else on the team better. Doesn't make him any less of player (still one of the top linebackers in the NFL), just not a great leader for a defense.
One of my first threads this offseason was listing that the Bears needs should start in the secondary-- in particular; the safety position. Over the course of the past 6 years when you look at the impact of Mike Brown on this football team it shows time and time again that in a C2/T2 system, having great safety play makes it easier on the CBs on either side of the field. Charles Tillman is a poor coverage defender, but in the games that Mike Brown was backing him up, he was able to keep things in front of him and KNOW-that-he-KNOWS that a intelligent and athletic Mike Brown had his back. 2004-2006 were some of Tillman's best years and its not easy to see that a smart, healthy, and young FS in the backfield made the game easier for him.
Good safeties are needed in a C2 and I hope that this is now clear to the Bears manageent.
I believe they will reconcentrate on the position via draft if they can't get a quality one in FA for a good price. Many speak of Atogwe and I think that's a valid request, but at the 6-7 million that he wants per year, that might be unreasonable for the quality of defender he is. Troy Polamalu is by FAR the best FS in the NFL. His contract?
7/23/2007: Signed a five-year, $33 million contract. The deal contains $15.375 million guaranteed, including a $10.975 million signing bonus. 2009: $2.9 million, 2010: $6.1 million, 2011: $6.4 million, 2012: Free AgentAtogwe is not at that level given that Polamalu plays for that much now and has not renegotiated his contract again, nor has a safety been drafted in a spot where the bar for a player with his [Polamalu] potential can be thought to garner that type of money. USC's Mays might get there this year, but that has yet to be determined as he would need to crack the top 8 or 9 draft picks to get the money that Polamlu receives now (signing and roster bonuses not included).
Atogwe will be available after the draft, but the demand will certainly go up as teams will have to address needs BEFORE camp. Can the Bears move before other teams and is this a place that Atogwe would want to play in? That remains to be determined.
Two things are certain about the safety position: 1.) the Bears need to adress it with a quality long-term solution and 2.) they are NOT going to pay any of the safeties currently on the market 6-7 million dollars.