Bears

Bears offensive needs not as great, but free agent pieces available

alexboone49ersslide.png

Bears offensive needs not as great, but free agent pieces available

The Bears' primary focus on offense right now is finding a new coordinator after Adam Gase was named Dolphins head coach Saturday. Then comes decisions on Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte (if they haven't been made already) before scouting potential picks at the Senior Bowl, Scouting Combine, and pro days.

We wrote here Friday night about the numerous options available on the defensive side for Ryan Pace to address in free agency, if he so desires. The Bears GM has stressed all along the real roster-building must come through the draft, but with roughly $58 million in salary cap space to spend, he'll pick and choose where to use those financial resources. That space puts Pace in the Top 3 in the NFL in cap room.

[MORE BEARS: Bears defensive free agent options include familiarity with John Fox]

Some perspective after zeroing in on some defensive names from three teams in particular: We looked closely at the Broncos and Jets for front-seven help. Denver right now has about $23 million to spend, while New York has only about $17.5. If looking for secondary help, we noted a couple of Chiefs. Kansas City is in a more comfortable position, currently sitting roughly $36-38 million below the projected salary cap of $151 to $153 million. As a side note, Gase has a lot of pieces to work with in Miami, but their roster is already at that projected cap for 2016.

As we did on the defensive side, all these players are 30-years-old or younger, with nearly all from the 2012 draft class entering their all-important second contracts. We'll zero in on the two potential primary areas of need: offensive line and, if the Bears want to move on from Martellus Bennett, tight end. But if things should happen to hit a snag with Jeffery, we'll start at his position.

WIDE RECEIVER TEAM 2015 SALARY (MILLION $)
Jermaine Kearse Seahawks 2.35
Mohamed Sanu Bengals 1.7
Rueben Randle Giants 1.0
Travis Benjamin Browns .780
Marvin Jones Bengals .585

Like the aforementioned Chiefs, the Bengals also have about $35-37 million available, and they'll probably focus on Jones (65 receptions, 618 yards, four touchdowns, opposite A.J. Green and with Tyler Eifert). Benjamin emerged this season amidst all the chaos in Cleveland (68 receptions, 966 yards, five touchdowns) but is strictly a slot receiver, if the Bears wanted to move away from Eddie Royal. The 6-foot-3 Randle has been frustrated playing in the shadow of another LSU alum, Odell Beckham, Jr., but still had 57 catches for 797 yards. If the Giants are allowed to make a play for Jeffery, Randle is a potential trade-off.

[MORE BEARS: With Adam Gase to Miami, Bears attention turns to finding OC successor]

TIGHT END TEAM 2015 SALARY (MILLION $)
Dwayne Allen Colts 1.7
Coby Fleener Colts 1.7
Ladarius Green Chargers .772
Garrett Celek 49ers .710
Larry Donnell Giants .585

Bennett is Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener wrapped up in one, and at least a more accomplished receiver than Joliet Catholic product Fleener. If the Bears wind up parting ways with Bennett and keeping Zach Miller, they'll have we to decide how high Khari Lee's upside is before shopping elsewhere. Green (37 receptions, 429 yards) was finally shut down after a mid-season ankle injury in that beaten-up San Diego receiving corps. Donnell is a restricted free agent and caught 29 passes before a Nov. 1 neck injury.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

OFFENSIVE LINE TEAM 2015 SALARY (MILLION $)
Russell Okung (LT) Seahawks 7.3
Andre Smith (RT) Bengals 6.4
Alex Boone (G) 49ers 3.7
Ramon Foster (G) Steelers 2.1
J.R. Sweeney (G) Seahawks 1.6
Mitchell Schwartz (RT) Browns 1.6
Cordy Glenn (LT) Bills 1.5
Jeff Allen (G) Chiefs 1.5
Kelechi Osemele (LT) Ravens 1.1

Kyle Long said he's been told he's a tackle next season. And Pace sure sounded pleased with Charles Leno Jr.'s development at left tackle. So maybe we should simply focus on the guards. Boone is among the best, and was solid at guard after starting his career as a tackle, where he could be used as a safety net for Leno Jr. (though Boone was a tackle on the right side). Allen, out of King High School and the University of Illinois, started the last two years but missed a chunk of games this season in Kansas City. He returned down the stretch and was praised by his position coach, former Bears tackle Andy Heck.

Pro Football Focus: Bears could be surprise playoff team in 2018

Pro Football Focus: Bears could be surprise playoff team in 2018

There's a lot of optimism about the Chicago Bears in 2018  because of the incredible offseason had by GM Ryan Pace. It started in free agency with several big-name additions on offense and continued in the NFL Draft with the selection of Roquan Smith, arguably the top all-around defender in the class.

Pace now finds himself in unfamiliar territory. He's entering a season with actual expectations. While those expectations vary, one thing is consistent: Improvement is expected.

According to Pro Football Focus, Chicago should end up challenging for a playoff spot.

No less than five additions on offense this offseason could make key impacts for the Bears, including wide receiver Allen Robinson who was one of the NFL’s best in 2015 before a down year in 2016 and essentially missing all of 2017 through injury. He’s joined at the position by Taylor Gabriel, who had three touchdowns on throws 20 yards or further downfield in 2016 and rookie Anthony Miller, who was tied for fourth among wide receivers in this draft class with 19 missed tackles forced on receptions. Add in tight end Trey Burton, who had three touchdowns from just 16 targets when lined up in the slot and rookie offensive lineman James Daniels from Iowa and it’s easy to see why this offense led by Mitchell Trubisky has the potential to trend upwards big time in 2018.

The Bears were one of five teams PFF listed as a surprise wildcard candidate. The road to the post-season will be challenging, however. Not only do all of the new pieces have to gel, but they have to do it while playing in one of the toughest divisions in football.

The NFC North could have three teams -- not including the Bears --  playing in January. The Vikings may be the most talented club in the NFC and the Packers will always be a contender with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. The Lions have some vulnerability, but they've had more success than Chicago in recent seasons.

Still, Pace deserves credit for winning the offseason.

How the new kickoff rule may impact the Bears

How the new kickoff rule may impact the Bears

NFL owners voted for sweeping changes to the kickoff play Tuesday, a decision that presents a new challenge for Bears special teams coach Chris Tabor.

Player safety was the focus of the rule change. Collisions will be reduced and the play will look more like a punt than the traditional kickoff fans have become used to. Here's a breakdown of what's coming in 2018:

With less contact and physicality in the play, Tabor's game planning will be tested. Kickoffs won't require as many power players like the ones traditionally seen in the wedge block. Skill players like receivers, running backs and tight ends could be viewed as more valuable special teams pieces, as was suggested by NFL Network's Bucky Brooks.

Tarik Cohen could become even more lethal under the new rules. If kick returners end up with more space to navigate, Cohen will improve on the 583 return yards he managed as a rookie. He'll conjure memories of the recently retired Devin Hester.

The ability to contribute on special teams is critically important for players on the roster bubble. It'll be interesting to see if the Bears apply the approach suggested by Brooks. If they do, undrafted players like Matt Fleming and John Franklin III suddenly have more value and a better chance to make the team. 

For a complete breakdown of the new kickoff rule, click here.