Heading into the 2014 offseason, center was an obvious position of need for the Chicago Bears, with 2011 undrafted free agent Taylor Boggs (only has appeared in one NFL game) the only center on the roster. And when I say "position of need", I mean both short-term and long-term in this instance.

In February, general manager Phil Emery chose to re-sign center Roberto Garza to a one-year deal. Garza has been the Bears' starting center for several recent years (and a starting guard for the team for many years before that), and was solid for the Bears in 2013, but is now 35 so he obviously isn't the long-term answer at the position.

So even after signing a capable 2014 starter in Garza, the Bears still needed to consider finding Garza's successor soon for 2015+ (if I were a betting man I'd guess 2014 is his last year with the Bears).

And they may have done that on Sunday with the surprising signing of 29-year-old (in May) center Brian De La Puente to a one-year deal:

Heck, it's possible the 6'3", 306-pound De La Puente is the short-term answer at center as well. It's likely that De La Puente, the Saints' starting center for the last three seasons, at least challenges Garza for the starting job in training camp.

And current Bears offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Aaron Kromer was De La Puente's offensive line coach in New Orleans from 2010-2012. Kromer surely influenced Emery's decision to make this signing.

Pro Football Focus's Pete Damilatis tweeted out this infographic comparing the PFF grades of De La Puente and Garza since 2011:

Demilatis also shared this PFF article which ranked De La Puente as the second-best center on the market entering the 2014 free-agency period:

De La Puente is a good pass-blocking center; in his three seasons as a starter he has never posted a Pass Blocking Efficiency under 98.2 and has given up a total of 46 pressures in 2144 passing snaps. In his best season has a pro, 2012, De La Puente managed to take his pass-blocking skill set and add to it by drastically improving his run blocking. In 2011 and 2013 he put up a poor combined run blocking grade of -8.5, but showed in 2012 what he was capable of by recording a +13.6. 

With De La Puente turning 29 before the season, interested teams will either have to accept the idea that he is simply good pass blocker who struggles in the run game, or bank on him regaining his form from 2012. The team that adds De La Puente to their roster will be getting a reliable player who, in the past three seasons, has not missed any time due to injury.

Then there's another idea, suggested by 670 The Score's Joe Ostrowski... could this signing be a precursor to a move of Kyle Long from right guard to right tackle (and one of De La Puente/Garza to guard)?

Whatever the case, De La Puente at least provides the Bears with two starting-capable centers and terrific depth at the position in 2014, as well as a potential starting option at center for 2015+.

Additionally, with this move, center is no longer a position the Bears will need to seriously consider using a draft pick on in May. Emery has provided himself with much more draft flexibility after these recent free-agent moves.

UPDATE- Details on De La Puente's contract per the Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs:
The Bears will give de la Puente a $65,000 signing bonus, the maximum in a minimum-salary benefit deal, and guaranteed $100,000 of his base salary.
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The Chicago Bears made notable additions, and a very notable subtraction as the 2014 NFL free agency season kicked off on Tuesday. They are also rumored to have interest in a few impact players that are still free agents.

Let's break down the moves the Bears made on Tuesday, as well as the moves they're rumored to be considering:

Defensive end Lamarr Houston signs 5-year, $35 million deal

For the third straight year, Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery made a "splash" just minutes into the NFL's first day of free agency.

After landing wide receiver Brandon Marshall (via trade) in the first minutes of free agency of 2012, and tight end Martellus Bennett and left tackle Jermon Bushrod quickly in 2013, Emery made a big move by signing former Oakland Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston (pictured above) to a five-year, $35 million deal in the opening minutes of 2014 free agency.

Rather than write basically the same stuff all over again, I'm just going to copy/paste what I had to say about Lamarr Houston in our link dump, right before free agency began on Tuesday:

"Houston, 26, has never missed a game in four seasons, after being a second-round pick by the Raiders in 2010. Houston is listed as 6'3", 300 pounds, but plays quicker than his weight would lead you to believe. He can be a 4-3 defensive end, a 3-4 defensive end, and can move inside to defensive tackle (something he would likely do for the Bears in passing situations). Emery covets players that transcend scheme, and that should be the case even more this year with the Bears likely to mix things up schematically.

Houston's six sacks were a career-high in 2013 and a lower number than you'd like when paying a defensive end like a premier player, but the number is misleading when talking about Houston's overall productivity as a pass-rusher. Per Pro Football Focus, Houston had 41 quarterback hurries, tying him for ninth among 4-3 defensive ends (and one more than Michael Johnson, ironically), and 16 quarterback hits, tying him (with Michael Johnson ironically again) for eighth among 4-3 defensive ends. Remember, kids: disruption is production.

And where Houston really is stellar is against the run game (where the Bears were of course historically awful in 2013). Houston's 10.3 run-stop percentage (a PFF signature stat) ranked him first for 4-3 defensive ends in 2013.

So, Houston is a very good all-around defensive end that you can play all over the line, and he still has lots of upside at the young (for a free-agent) age of 26."

With Julius Peppers being released (more on that later in the post), Houston is just one of two new (unless they bring back Corey Wootton) starting defensive ends the Bears will need in 2014.

Houston will likely play the right defensive end position (where Wootton and McClellin) played in 2013, and move inside to defensive tackle on passing downs.

Coming into Tuesday, NFL.Com ranked Houston as their No. 5 free agent available, while Rotoworld's Evan Silva ranked the defensive end as their ninth overall free agent (and even predicted the five-year, $35 million deal with the Bears).

Speaking of the contract numbers, here's the specifics of the deal according to the Chicago Tribune's Brad Biggs:

Houston receives a five-year, $35 million contract and the deal includes $15 million guaranteed with $21 million paid in the first three years, an NFL source told the Tribune.
The former Oakland Raiders defensive end agreed to a $4.95 million signing bonus, a $3 million roster bonus, $1 million in base salary and a $50,000 workout bonus for 2014, meaning he will total $9 million in his first year. Houston has base salaries in 2015, '16 and '17 of $5.95 million and that climbs to $7.95 million in 2018. He gets workout bonuses of $50,000 each season. So the guaranteed money is $14.9 million, or $15 million if he attends the offseason workout program.

Julius Peppers released

We all expected Julius Peppers to be released by the Bears due to the massive $18 million+ cap hit the defensive end had set for 2014. Peppers had a disappointing 2013 season, showing signs of decline that shouldn't be surprising at the age of 33 (and turned 34 in January). And releasing Peppers would give the Bears over $9.8 million of cap space to work with. Truthfully, Peppers is probably about a $5 million player right now.

But even with knowing all of this, it was still a bit weird to see the Bears tweet this news on Tuesday, right?
The Bears cut Julius Peppers. I mean, Julius freaking Peppers! A generational talent. An absolute beast for so many years in the NFL. A future Hall of Famer.

But again, it was something the Bears had to do, and it now gives the team a much-needed $10 million (approximately) extra to work with in cap space.

Julius is still a productive player and should have several suitors for his services. Bears fans are certainly appreciative of the production Julius put together in his four years with the team (he didn't miss a game either), and best of luck to him wherever he may land next.

Safety Ryan Mundy signs 2-year deal

After defensive end, the next most obvious position the Bears needed to address entering free agency was safety. And not long after signing Lamarr Houston, the Bears struck a two-year deal with veteran safety Ryan Mundy.

The 6'1", 209-pound Mundy was drafted in 2009 by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the sixth round out of West Virginia. He played in every game for the Steelers through 2012, starting five of them. In 2013 he joined the New York Giants, appearing in all 16 games again, starting the first nine games before behind passed up on the depth chart by Will Hill (who went on to be PFF's No. 2 safety in 2013).

Mundy received a +0.2 (-0.7 in coverage, -0.6 vs the run) grade from PFF in 2013, ranking 37th among safeties. That is a very average grade, but still extremely better than the -27.4 grade (the worst among safeties) Major Wright received and the -15.8 grade Chris Conte received.

The 29-year-old safety had 77 tackles, four tackles for loss, one sack, one fumble recovery, two pass deflections, and one interception in 2013.

Mundy has also been an asset on special teams, recording 64 special teams tackles since 2009, the third-most special teams tackles in the league since that time.

Mundy has experience at both free safety and strong safety, and right now the Bears have no clear starter set for either position. Free safety Chris Conte is still in the fold, but will likely have nothing guaranteed entering training camp. Strong safety Major Wright is a free agent and will likely move on elsewhere; it would be better for both sides for that to be the case.

So, it would appear that Mundy will compete for a starting job, provide proven safety depth, and help on special teams. You wouldn't think he would be the Bears' top upgrade at safety this offseason, though. Safeties Jairus Byrd, T.J. Ward, Donte Whitner, Malcolm Jenkins, Mike Mitchell, and Antoine Bethea have already signed with new teams, but solid veterans such as Chris Clemons are still out there. If the Bears choose to not bring in another capable starter at the position in free agency, you'd have to think they will attack the position with one of their early picks in the draft.

As for Mundy's contract details, we should find out more on Wednesday, but don't expect the price to be very expensive.

Linebacker D.J. Williams re-signs 1-year deal

Phil Emery has made it known that the team wanted to bring back veteran linebacker D.J. Williams, so it wasn't surprising at all when the two sides agreed to a one-year deal on Tuesday. Brad Biggs provided Williams' contract details:

After spending his first 10 years with the Denver Broncos (where he put up big numbers but also got into his fair share of off-the-field trouble), D.J. Williams signed with the Bears last offseason and started the team's first six games at middle linebacker, before going down for the season with a torn pectoral muscle.

According to the Chicago Tribune's Dan Wiederer, "Williams was credited by team statistics with 39 tackles, including 3 ½ sacks and 4 1/2 other tackles for loss" over those six games with the Bears.

Williams looked much better at middle linebacker than rookie Jon Bostic did, and would currently enter training camp as the favorite to start at middle linebacker. Williams has experience playing in different linebacker spots, and different schemes, so his versatility is another plus for the Bears. There's several reasons to really like this move for the Bears, especially at the price.

Linebacker Jordan Senn signs one-year deal

Linebacker Blake Costanzo is expected to sign somewhere else over the offseason after being the Bears' special teams ace over the last two seasons. But, it appears the Bears have already found Costanzo's replacement in linebacker Jordan Senn, who signed a one-year deal with the team on Tuesday.

Senn, 30 in June, was the special teams' captain for the Carolina Panthers over the last couple of seasons, and was a member of Carolina since 2009. The 5'11', 224-pounder came into the league with the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent out of Portland State in 2008.

Senn is very serious about special teams, understanding it's what keeps him valued in the league. Here's what Senn told ChicagoBears.com about playing special teams:

"It's my career really," Senn said. "It's always been how I make my living. It's a hidden game that's underappreciated and a lot of times overlooked until it loses you a game. So it's a big thing. It takes a special kind of person to take on that role and to embrace that work that you have to put forward with really little appreciation."
Senn started seven games at linebacker for the Panthers in 2011, recording 71 tackles, three forced fumbles, and one interception. Like Costanzo, Senn would probably only get linebacker playing time with the Bears in an emergency situation (like, if a ton of injuries hit the position as was the case in '13), but he's proven capable of contributing there if need be.

The Bears now have six linebackers that you would expect to make the 53-man roster, in Lance Briggs, D.J. Williams, Jon Bostic, Shea McClellin, Khaseem Greene, and Senn. It's hard to see the team doing anything major at the position for the remainder of free agency, barring an injury of course.


The Bears were mentioned as being interested in a few other players on Tuesday that still remain free agents. The two most notable names that popped up were at the defensive end position, in Jared Allen and Justin Tuck.

ESPN's Adam Schefter tweeted that the Bears and Seattle Seahawks were talking to Allen, after the Denver Broncos had turned their defensive end attention to DeMarcus Ware:
Brad Biggs then said he doesn't see Allen and the Bears being a match, but it's hard to say if that's simply his speculation or based off sources he's spoken with:
ESPN Chicago's Michael C. Wright also doesn't think that happens, but clearly based on what he's heard:
Ty Youngfelt, who has had some good scoops on the Bears and particularly the Chicago Cubs in the past, tweeted that the Bears and Justin Tuck are "in play", for what that's worth:
Youngfelt also is hearing that free agent cornerback Cortland Finnegan (who may also be open to playing safety is interested in signing with the Bears, but the feeling is not mutual at the moment at least:

The Bears have reportedly shown interest in veteran wide receiver Domenix Hixon, who would likely play an Eric Weems-esque role on the team: a no. 4 or no. 5 receiver, and special teams contributor:
In regards to notable players among the Bears' own free agents, quarterback Josh McCown and Charles Tillman visited with Lovie Smith and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Most reports have Tampa Bay as McCown's most likely landing spot if he chooses to not return to the Bears. Tillman seemed like a very good possibility to sign with the Bucs until the team signed cornerback Alterraun Verner to a huge deal on Tuesday night. Still, they're likely to release Darrelle Revis on Wednesday and Tillman is unlikely to break the bank, so he's still a possibility in Tampa.

Then there's defensive tackle Henry Melton, another possibility for the Bucs, but someone the Dallas Cowboys are reportedly quite fond of.

What to expect from the Bears in day two

One thing that we know the Bears will do for sure on Wednesday, is hold a press conference at 1:30 PM CT to introduce Lamarr Houston and Ryan Mundy to the media at Halas Hall.

As for actual player movement, the Bears may wait to learn more on their own free agents that they may have interest in bringing back, such as Josh McCown, Charles Tillman, Henry Melton, and Corey Wootton. All of those players would command multiple millions of dollars per season to sign, so if you have interest in bringing them all back, it's hard to go out spending much more money on other free agents until you find out what direction the aforementioned players are leaning.

But, in terms of the team's checklist, they still need another starting defensive end, another starting cornerback, a starting safety (or at least more quality competition), defensive tackle depth, a No. 2 quarterback (unless they  believe Jordan Palmer is that guy), a No. 2 running back (unless they believe Michael Ford is that guy), a No. 2 tight end, etc. So there is plenty of work to be done for Phil Emery between free agency and the draft. It will be interesting to see if they address any of these areas on Wednesday.

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With the 2014 NFL free agency ready to kick off, here's some great material to get you ready for the Chicago Bears' free agency...

Report: Bears pushing hard for DE Lamarr Houston- Ian Rapoport tweeted on Monday night that the Bears are targeting Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston in free-agency after losing out on Michael Bennett, who re-signed with the Seahawks. Rapoport said that the Bears are "pushing hard" to sign Houston.

Since then, defensive end Michael Johnson has also agreed to terms on a deal with Lovie Smith and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Bennett, Johnson, and Houston have been widely considered the top-three 4-3 defensive ends on the market, so you'd have to think the Bears are indeed pushing hard for his services.

Houston, 26, has never missed a game in four seasons as CSN Chicago points out, after being a second-round pick by the Raiders in 2010. Houston is listed as 6'3", 300 pounds, but plays quicker than his weight would lead you to believe. He can be a 4-3 defensive end, a 3-4 defensive end, and can move inside to defensive tackle (something he would likely do for the Bears in passing situations). Emery covets players that transcend scheme, and that should be the case even more this year with the Bears likely to mix things up schematically.

Houston's six sacks were a career-high in 2013 and a lower number than you'd like when paying a defensive end like a premier player, but the number is misleading when talking about Houston's overall productivity as a pass-rusher. Per Pro Football Focus, Houston had 41 quarterback hurries, tying him for ninth among 4-3 defensive ends (and one more than Michael Johnson, ironically), and 16 quarterback hits, tying him (with Michael Johnson ironically again) for eighth among 4-3 defensive ends. Remember, kids: disruption is production.

And where Houston really is stellar is against the run game (where the Bears were of course historically awful in 2013). Houston's 10.3 run-stop percentage (a PFF signature stat) ranked him first for 4-3 defensive ends in 2013.

So, Houston is a very good all-around defensive end that you can play all over the line, and he still has lots of upside at the young (for a free-agent) age of 26. He would be a great get for the Bears. (CSN Chicago)

Report: Bears attempting to trade DE Julius Peppers- The Bears are trying to trade Julius Peppers rather than outright release him, but finding a trade partner is quite unlikely. He'll almost surely be released, and it will save the Bears $9 million+ in cap space.

The problem of course is then the Bears are in need of two starting defensive ends, and one of them to be able to get to the quarterback from Peppers' right end position, where you're taking on stud left tackles. Phil Emery has quite a task ahead to address this situation. (Scooby Axson; Sports Illustrated)

Bears cut veteran RB Michael Bush- Inevitable given the veteran running back's price tag, and especially with his lack of production at the price over the last two seasons. I've said frequently that I think the situation wasn't all that fair for Bush and his game; he's a rhythm guy that needs repetitions. Understandably it was tough for him to get those carries with Matt Forte as the starting running back. Bush is a bruising back that shouldn't have much trouble landing a new job, as a goal-line/short-yardage specialist at worst.

Releasing Bush saves the Bears $1.85 million in cap space. It will be interesting to see if they attack the running back position in free agency or the draft. If the season began today, 2013 undrafted rookie Michael Ford would be Forte's backup. Ford was very impressive in the 2013 preseason so it wouldn't be a total shock if he ended up as the primary backup, but it's still unlikely. (Larry Mayer; ChicagoBears.Com)

Bears release tight end Dante Rosario- This move was a stunner as the Bears had just re-signed Rosario 11 days before it. Now, to go with a backup running back, the Bears need to add a No. 2 tight end as well. So while the offseason will absolutely be defensively-focused, the Bears will also look for a couple weapons to add on the offense. (Mike Wilkening; Pro Football Talk)

Report: Bears nearing deal with LB D.J. Williams- Phil Emery made it clear that the Bears would like to bring back veteran linebacker D.J. Williams and the rumors are that the two sides are close to a deal. Williams apparently wants a multi-year deal and that's the hold-up for him at the moment, but expect the situation to be resolved soon.

If Williams is indeed back, he will join Lance Briggs, Jon Bostic, Shea McClellin, and Khaseem Greene as part of the Bears' linebacking corps. Williams would be the favorite to start at middle linebacker, as he did for the first six games of 2013, before going on injured reserve with a torn pectoral muscle. (670 The Score)

McCown looking for more than just money in free agency- Dan Wiederer caught up with Josh McCown and has this great article about what McCown is looking for as a free agent. (Dan Wiederer; Chicago Tribune)

McCown preparing to hit road on free-agent visits- McCown has scheduled a couple free-agent visits, something the Bears expected him to do. It doesn't necessarily change anything in regards to his chances of returning. (Dan Wiederer; Chicago Tribune)

Michael Bennett was not the savior- (Adam Hoge; 670 The Score)

Losing out on Michael Bennett only a minor setback- (Michael C. Wright; ESPN Chicago)

Creating the Chicago Bears' free-agency fallback plan- Great stuff from Matt Eurich on a fallback plan for the Bears if some things don't go as planned for the team in free-agency. (Matt Eurich; Bleacher Report)

Chicago Bears final free-agency outlook and predictions- Matt Eurich with a nice overall look at free-agency for the Bears, along with some predictions on their moves. (Matt Eurich; Bleacher Report)

Bears' 2014 free agency primer- Dan Durkin with a great Bears' free-agency primer. (Dan Durkin; 670 The Score)

A deeper look into Bears free agency- Bears writers Patrick Finley, Adam L. Jahns, and Mark Potash with a nice roundtable discussion in regards to the Bears' free agency. (Chicago Sun-Times)

Bears cannot overpay to fix defense- Mike Burzawa with a nice take on how even though the Bears need to drastically improve their defense, they can't get crazy with money in free agency to do so. (Mike Burzawa; Bear Goggles On)

5 moves the Bears must avoid in free-agency- Ross Read with a good look at five things the Bears have to make sure to avoid doing in free agency. (Ross Read; Bleacher Report)

2014 free agency forecast- (Evan Silva; Rotoworld)

2014 NFL free agents, rankings- (Nick Mensio & Evan Silva; Rotoworld)

PFF's 2014 Top 75 free agents- (Pro Football Focus)

Top 101 NFL free agents for 2014- (Chris Wesseling & Gregg Rosenthal; NFL.Com)

The NFL's best GMs- Phil Emery comes in at 11th on this very interesting piece from Patrick Daugherty that ranks the NFL's general managers. (Patrick Daugherty; Rotoworld)

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In October, we graded the Chicago Bears position-by-position during the team's bye week.

While we're now in February and it would've been much timelier to do this immediately after the Bears' season ended (sorry, we're lazy sometimes/a lot), we decided to do some position-by-position evaluating for the Bears' entire season. This is also a way to look at what areas on the roster the Bears will look to improve heading into 2014.

Anyway, here are our grades of the Bears' offense in 2013...

Quarterback: A-

The Bears' quarterbacks were highly productive in their first year under the tutelage of quarterback whisperer Marc Trestman (and of course their first year in his system). Jay Cutler and Josh McCown combined to throw 32 touchdowns (19 for Cutler, 13 for McCown) compared to just 13 interceptions (12 for Cutler, 1 for McCown).

Cutler had the best quarterback rating of his career (89.2) and the second-highest completion percentage of his career (63.1 %). Cutler ranked sixth by Pro Football Focus' adjusted quarterback rating, at 91.47.

And statistically, McCown was even better than Cutler by most measures. By a lot, even. McCown had a 109.0 quarterback rating, ranking him only behind Nick Foles and Peyton Manning. PFF graded McCown out as their No. 5 quarterback (tied with Aaron Rodgers) on the season as +16.6.

Prior to 2013, McCown's best quarterback rating for a season was 74.9 (2005 with the Arizona Cardinals). He only threw more touchdowns than interceptions in one season (2004 with the Cardinals, when he threw 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions). So, while Trestman, the system, and the Bears' weapons certainly helped the 34-year-old McCown, how well he performed in 2013 is still nothing short of stunning.

Running Back: B+

If I were grading this only on the starting running back, it's an easy 'A'. Matt Forte, once again, was outstanding. In fact, I personally feel that this may have been the best season of the star running back's career.

Forte set career highs in rushing yards (1,339), rushing touchdowns (9), rushing first downs (74), receptions (74), and receiving yards (594), while his 4.6 yards per carry was the second-best average of his career. He ranked second in the NFL in rushing yards, second in rushing first downs, tied for sixth in rushing touchdowns, and ninth in rushing average. His 83.7 rushing yards per game ranked fourth in the NFL. You can go on and on, across the board; he was a stud in 2013.

But, Forte's backup, Michael Bush, was a disappointment for the second straight season after signing a four-year, $14 million contract in the 2013 offseason. Bush only had 197 yards rushing and a 3.1 rushing average, with three touchdowns, while catching four passes for 48 yards and a touchdown. I was a huge fan of the signing when it happened, as Bush was a very productive running back with the Oakland Raiders and a bruiser that looked like he would greatly help the Bears' short-yardage game, but it hasn't quite materialized.

To be fair, I think Bush is a rhythm guy and the lack of touches he's had in Chicago may have had a negative effect on his game when he actually saw the ball. Combined between 2012 and 2013, Bush had 177 carries. With the Raiders in 2011, he had 256 carries for 977 yards, and over his four years in Oakland, he averaged over 4 yards/carry. But with Forte on the team, you rarely want to take the guy out; you want to get him the ball as much as you can. So it's been a tough situation for Bush.

Bush will be 30 in June, and has a cap hit of $3.85 million in 2014, although $2 million of that in dead money. So, the Bears would only get $1.85 million in cap savings to cut him, but given his lack of production and the Bears having major needs across the board defensively, it seems likely that Bush will be a cap casualty. The Bears could then turn to Michael Ford (very impressive in the preseason) or another cheap option to be Forte's backup.

Wide Receiver: A

After years and years of incompetent play at the wide receiver position for the Chicago Bears, wide receiver is now the team's strength. In fact, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery formed the best wide receiving duo in the entire NFL in 2013.

Jeffery's second-year emergence got most of the talk, but Marshall may have actually had his best all-around season yet. PFF would certainly agree with that suggestion, as they gave Marshall their best grade (+37.7) at wide receiver since they began grading in 2008. That grade is significantly better than PFF's second-best wide receiver on the season, Jordy Nelson (+23.7).

The main reason Marshall graded out so much than everyone else? Blocking. PFF gave Marshall a +17.0 blocking grade, the best blocking grade they've ever (again, going back to 2008) handed out, and far ahead of the second-best blocking grade at the wide receiver position in 2013 (Drew Davis, +6.2). Bears first-year offensive coordinator/offensive line coach, Aaron Kromer, put a big emphasis on the receivers blocking downfield and it turned Marshall into an absolute beast in that department.

And yeah, Marshall wasn't too shabby in the pass-catching department either. Marshall had 100 receptions (the fifth time he's reached 100+ catches in his career), 1,2695 yards receiving (the seventh straight year he's gone over 1,000 yards receiving), had a career-high 12 touchdown receptions, and led the NFL with 70 first-down receptions.

But like we said, Jeffery got most of the fan and media attention, and understandably so given that he was making circus catches weekly. After posting a 24/367/3 line in his rookie season (in which he only played 10 games, due to injury), Jeffery absolutely blew up in his sophomore campaign. The 6'3", 216-pounder had 89 receptions, 1,421 receiving yards, seven receiving touchdowns, 62 receiving first downs, and averaged 16.0 yards per reception. He also had 20 catches of 20 yards or more, good for sixth (tied) in the NFL.

PFF graded Jeffery as the eight-best receiver on the season at +18.7, and he was also great as a blocker, like Marshall. And a department nobody saw Jeffery contributing in, in which he ended up being a big factor? The rushing game. Jeffery had 16 carries for 105 yards and six first downs. The success Jeffery displayed on end arounds and fly sweeps allowed Trestman to simply put Jeffery in motion on many of those plays, while not actually giving Jeffery the ball, and it opened up many runs for Matt Forte.

So Marshall and Jeffery were far and away the stars in the receiving department for the Bears, but veteran Earl Bennett played a key role as well. Although fifth in targets on the Bears' offense, Bennett still had 32 receptions and four touchdowns. However, like Bush, Bennett's role in the offense may not be large enough to warrant bringing him back in 2014 given the amount of money he is set to make (a $2.45 million cap hit). And the organization seems very high on wide receiver Marquess Wilson, a rookie in 2013.

Tight End/Fullback: B

After watching the train wreck that was Kellen Davis as the team's starting tight end in 2012, Phil Emery signed free agent tight end Martellus Bennett, and Bennett went on to be a huge part of the Bears' 2013 offense. Bennett provided Cutler with a great target in the middle of the field (an area the Bears greatly struggled in 2012) and red zone, and Bennett also turned several seemingly minimal gains into first downs.

Bennett finished the season with 65 receptions, five touchdowns, and 40 first downs. The reception total and first downs are particularly impressive numbers when you consider that Marshall and Jeffery were in this same offense. Bennett's blocking was up and down on the season, but much of that had to do with a bothersome shoulder, and he figures to perform better in this area in 2014.

After Bennett, the Bears didn't get much production out of the tight end production though, and that's okay, because they were mainly just looking for blocking from Dante Rosario and Steve Maneri (although Maneri was released in-season). Rosario ended up being a very solid blocker after coming over from the Dallas Cowboys in September for a seventh-round pick.

At fullback, Tony Fiammetta did exactly what the Bears were looking for out of the position: Again, blocking. The 27-year-old even earned himself a contract extension with his performance, assuring that he'll be the team's starting fullback again in 2014.

Offensive Tackle: C

Jermon Bushrod was (unsurprisingly) a major upgrade over J'Marcus Webb at left tackle and gave the Bears stability at the most important place on the offensive line, serving as Cutler and McCown's blindside protector. PFF has Bushrod responsible for only four sacks allowed on the season, and he really only had one clearly bad game. That came against the St. Louis Rams, and Robert Quinn, a guy that dominated vs most every offensive tackle he went up against on the season, so we'll let that game slide for Bushrod.

Jordan Mills, however, had some struggles, and that's to be expected from a rookie fifth-round pick. Mills graded out as PFF's third-worst offensive tackle, and they had him down for 62 hurries allowed, the most they've ever recorded. However, Lester A. Wiltfong Jr. at Windy City Gridiron had a very nice write-up on how the hurries statistics are a bit misleading given what the Bears do schematically.

Overall, Mills' play didn't really hurt the Bears, but he didn't do anything to make you say, "This guy is definitely our right tackle of the future", either. Still, you would expect Mills to only improve going forward.

Eben Britton lined up in all sorts of spots on the Bears' offensive line, and even at tight end (but for blocking purposes only). He replaced Mills in week 17 when Mills left with an injury, and played extremely well. I have to think the Bears would like to bring Britton back given his versatility, and to add some competition for the right tackle position in camp.

Guard/Center: B+

The Bears' interior offensive line was extremely improved in 2013, and the headlining addition to the group was most definitely Kyle Long.

After being a highly questioned first-round selection out of Oregon last April, Long garnered much positive attention with a very impressive showing in the preseason. He had his ups and downs over the season, something you'd expect out of a rookie. But overall, Long gave plenty of reason to believe that Phil Emery made the right choice in selecting him with the No. 20 overall pick, and his upside is exceptional at guard. Long may even be considered as an option at right tackle going forward if the organization doesn't feel Mills is the right choice at the position, or if they simply want to get the most out of Long's tremendous ability.

Long was named to the Pro Bowl as the replacement for the San Francisco 49ers' Mike Lupati, after Lupati suffered a broken leg against the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship.

However, the truth of the matter is that Long wasn't even the best guard on the Bears this season. The best guard on the Bears' offensive line this season, and the most consistent player on the offensive line in general, was left guard Matt Slauson. In fact, Slauson ended up being one of the best free-agent bargains in the entire NFL for the 2013 season.

After spending the previous four seasons with the New York Jets, Slauson signed a one-year, $815,000 deal with the Bears in the 2013 offseason. Slauson played so well for the Bears (he graded out as PFF's no. 6 guard overall), that the team made sure to lock him up for the next four seasons with a contract totaling $12.8 million.

At center, Roberto Garza surprised with a decent 2013 season at center after a pretty awful one in 2012. Garza graded out as PFF's no. 12 center, and he also has immeasurable leadership qualities as the anchor of the offensive line. Keep in mind that he also had two rookies playing to his right on the offensive line in 2013.

Garza's a free agent and there's no doubt the Bears need to begin looking for his successor, but the organization may bring the 35-year-old (in March) back for one more season as the starting center. He's unlikely to command much money on the open market, and with so many needs on the defensive side of the ball, the Bears may not want to spend for a more expensive center in free-agency or use an early-round pick at the position. Re-signing Garza to a one-year deal and drafting a center in rounds 3-6 to groom behind Garza seems like a very possible scenario.

Offense Overall: A-

A team driven by defense in Lovie Smith's nine years as the head coach immediately became a team driven by offense in Marc Trestman's first year on the job. And that's not just because the Bears' defense was arguably the league's worst in 2013; the offense was damn good by most any measure.

One of the league's worst offenses year after year became one of the league's most explosive. The passing attack was behind only teams like the Denver Broncos and New Orleans Saints, and figures to only improve with more familiarity in Trestman's system.

While Josh McCown was statistically better than Jay Cutler in the system, Cutler was very good himself and showed many promising signs that would lead you to believe the best is yet to come from him in this offense. Many of the bad habits Cutler showed in the past with his mechanics and decision-making were much less evident in 2013, thanks largely to Trestman's coaching and scheming.

With that coaching (particularly Aaron Kromer in this department) and scheming -- in particular the focus on getting rid of the ball out of the quarterback's hands quickly -- also came an offensive line that only allowed 30 sacks (tied for fourth-best in the NFL), after allowing 44 sacks in 2012, 49 sacks in 2011, and 56 sacks in 2010.

And overall, the talent level on offense was certainly much higher than any Bears team in recent history. With Cutler, Matt Forte, and Brandon Marshall already high-level producers, Alshon Jeffery became a star at wide receiver, and Martellus Bennett provided a weapon at tight end the team hadn't had over the last few years.

The Bears' offense became one of the NFL's top-ten units in 2013, and (health-provided) there should only be growth from the offense in 2014.

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Charles Tillman has spent all 11 years of his decorated NFL career as a Chicago Bear, but the cornerback is an impending free agent, and speculation has been that he'll be playing elsewhere in 2014.

But, 'Peanut' made it clear on 670 The Score's The Laurence Holmes Show that he wants to be back with the Bears, that there is no bad blood between the two sides... and guaranteed that he will retire as a Bear:

“The Bears and I are in good spirits There’s no bad blood, there’s nothing. We are in good spirits. There’s no bad blood with myself or Coach Trestman. Like, everything is good. We’re are all on good terms.”
”In a perfect world, I will finish as a Bear. I guarantee you I will retire as a Chicago Bear. I guarantee that.”

Keep in mind that "retiring as a Chicago Bear" does not necessarily mean Peanut would ever even play another game for the Bears. In August 2012, we saw defensive end Alex Brown sign a one-day contract with the Bears, just so he could retire as a Bear.

Whatever the case, it's pretty damn cool that Tillman intends to retire as a Bear one way or another.

It's also nice to hear that there is no bad blood between Tillman and the Bears, after the Bears have apparently not offered him a contract yet (or at least not one to his liking so far). The Bears and linebacker Brian Urlacher of course had an awkward falling out when the two sides couldn't agree to a deal last offseason, so it would be nice to make sure that doesn't happen again with the Bears and a longtime star (and fan favorite) of the team in Tillman.

I'm in the camp of trying to keep Peanut around for the 2014 season,  but at a team-friendly price. And again, you want to make sure to not insult him, or you may end up with another Urlacher-esque uncomfortable relationship. But, it sure sounds like that won't happen between Peanut and the Bears judging by his comments.

Even if the Bears make Peanut an offer, odds are that he'll be offered more money by another team(s) on the open market. Perhaps the Lovie Smith-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers, for example.

Would Peanut take a bit less money to stay with the Bears? It would sure seem possible after he's guaranteeing he will retire as a Bear, right?

It will be interesting to see how Phil Emery and the Bears handle this situation, and it's possible the situation has already been handled as far as we know. But at least we know that Charles Tillman intends to exit his tremendous NFL career as a Chicago Bear.

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