In consecutive offseasons, the Chicago Bears have made dramatic moves that stand in contrast to nearly the entire history of one of the NFL's original franchises. Last year, they made the blockbuster trade to add QB Jay Cutler, and this summer they blew the doors off Halas Hall by blowing ridiculous coin on All Pro DE Julius Peppers and RB Chester Taylor.
Now the test will be if this year's additions turn into wins on the field.
Last year's team thought they had all the pieces to compete in the NFC North, but fell about flat. After selling more jerseys than they could print in Chicago, Cutler frustrated fans all season and the defense was destroyed by injuries.
Let's take a look at this year's team to see where there could be some fantasy value.
Cutler was blasted in Denver for how his departure went down, and despite being treated like a returning King in Chicago, his 26 interceptions left a sour taste for fans and fantasy owners. There was more to Cutler's season than those interceptions, though, and fantasy owners should have hope for Cutler to have a strong comeback season in 2010.
Despite his mobility, Cutler was sacked 35 times behind one of the worst offensive lines in football last year and many of his picks were thrown while under pressure. He was also playing with a young, inexperienced group of receivers and no depth at running back, so third and long was a regular issue for the Bears predictable offense. However, Cutler still threw for over 2,600 yards and his 27 touchdowns tied Eli Manning for eighth in the NFL last year.
This year, the Bears have spent money to improve their running game (Taylor), fixed a big issue on their offensive line (released Orlando Pace) and all of the Bears receivers have last year's experience on their resumes. However, the biggest reason for hope in the Windy City is Mike Martz bringing his wide open offensive style to the Bears. If Cutler and the Bears talented receivers can do even half of what the Greatest Show on Turf did for Martz in St. Louis, Cutler owners could be much more happy with him this year.
After a rookie season that made fantasy owners fall head-over-heels in love with him, Matt Forte crashed back to earth last year. His yards per carry was only 3.6, and after a mistake-free rookie season he had more fumbles (5) than touchdowns (4).
However, as we've already discussed the Bears had a serious issue on their depth chart at running back last year; after Forte's 969 rushing yards, Kahlil Bell ranked second on the team with 220 rushing yards and he wasn't even on the Bears' roster when the season started. The team only rushed for six touchdowns last year, and Cutler was the teams' third-leading rusher.
The addition of Taylor, who has experience splitting carries and being a productive back in Minnesota, should provide reason to think about the Bears' backfield again. If the Bears improved offensive line and Martz's game plan do anything, owners of both Forte and Taylor should expect both carries and receptions from their backs, and better than 4 yards per carry.
Both of these backs should be seen as strong considerations for a RB2 slot.
This is where the most fantasy intrigue rests on the Bears roster, and this position in Chicago could be one of the more interesting fantasy scenarios in the NFL this year. The group cost Cutler a number of interceptions last year, but their maturing and Martz's system should see an increase in productivity.
But from which players?
Devin Hester led the team with 757 yards, followed closely by Earl Bennett with 717 yards. But there were two other players that stole the headlines in Chicago last year. Johnny Knox, who was named to the Pro Bowl for special teams, was lightning in a bottle last year with five receiving touchdowns plus 927 kickoff return yards and a special teams touchdown. Devin Aromashodu burst onto the scene at the end of the year with four of his 24 receptions being in the end zone; Cutler lobbied for him all year, and when he saw the field on Sunday he was money.
Aromashodu's draft stock has skyrocketed this summer, but fantasy owners should be mindful that Martz's offense has a history of spreading the wealth all over the field. Taking any of the Bears receivers as more than a WR2 is not advised, but any of these four could be a great find in the mid- to late-rounds.
What will Martz do with Greg Olsen? He's never used a tight end much, but Olsen is arguably the Bears' best pass catcher and led the team with 70 receptions and eight touchdowns last year. He's always been talented; that's why the Bears selected him in the first round of the draft. But how, and when, he's used this season could be a wild card.
Olsen should still be considered a good pick as a starting TE this year, but owners might want to handicap him on draft day to safeguard against Martz not using him much.
Everyone knows about the Bears defense: the middle linebacker is the king of the locker room, and everyone else falls into line. But entering this season, for the first time in a long time, that's not the case in Chicago.
Brian Urlacher suffered a freak wrist injury early in last season's opener that cost him the entire season, and the Bears also lost Pisa Tinoisamoa at outside linebacker as well. Those injuries proved to be too much for the unit, and they were mediocre for most of last year.
This year, Peppers is the richest player on the roster and Lance Briggs is the stud linebacker. If Tommie Harris can stay on the field and plays effective football, this Bears defense could be a very good unit with lots of IDP value all over the field.
However, injuries are going to be an ongoing concern. The only two players that deserve top-tier status on your draft board are Peppers and Briggs; Urlacher could end up being fantasy gold this year if he's healthy, and Charles Tillman always puts up solid fantasy numbers at corner. A sleeper on the Bears defense is Zach Bowman, who led the team with six interceptions last year.
2010 Regular Season Schedule (all times ET)
The Bears schedule has a lot of matchups that appear, on paper, to be favorable for fantasy owners. While four divisional games against Minnesota and Green Bay aren't great plays, the fact that one of those isn't a factor in Week 17 is a big deal. That being said, drawing a road game against the Vikings in Week 15 and the NY Jets in Week 16 should temper any seriously contending owner's optimism for a strong playoffs from offensive players on the Bears roster.
Martz brings a happy-chucking, spread-out offense that will push the tempo and has, when there was talent to perform the playbook, put up big fantasy numbers. How the Bears young receivers, and Cutler, handle the depth of the offense is a big question mark. Defensively, the Bears will continue to run a turnover-focused 4-3 set with elite pressure coming from the end in the form of Peppers; the Bears haven't had a consistent force outside like Peppers since Richard Dent.